A 39 Day Odyssey

That’s it. I’m quitting my job and traveling for the summer. No, really. I am. And yes, it sounds pretty crazy to me, too. It was tough to do, but change is good. And this is a trip I’ve wanted to make for a while…

My itinerary will take me to the Middle East, where I’ll travel from Amman, Jordan to Jerusalem, Israel (entering via the King Hussein/Allenby Bridge). From Jerusalem, I’ll travel to Ramallah, capital of the Palestinian Authority and then to Bethlehem to participate in a two week volunteer program at Aida Refugee Camp in Beit Jala, outside of Bethlehem proper. (More on Aida later, but it was the impetus for my booking the trip.) After volunteering, I will travel to Tel Aviv and then fly to Athens.

I am meeting my partner in Athens for a few nights, before flying to Corfu. From Corfu, we will take the ferry to Saranda, Albania and travel up the Albanian coast. When we reach Tirana, we’ll hook up with a three day guided tour of northern Albania (including a lunch stop in Prizren, Kosovo), and then return to Tirana for our flight home.

That’s the plan, anyway. Barring unforeseen closures of border crossings, strikes causing flight cancellations, and the break up of Greece into city-states, it should work out. My to do list is still a mile long, but it will get done. Either way, I leave on Monday!

The whole trip will take 39 days from start to finish. It’s the longest trip I’ve taken since I studied abroad in France almost 10 years ago. I’m not even sure how the 20 year old know-it-all me managed to survive that experience. (After drinking some tainted water from a Soviet-era train en route from Zagreb to Budapest, I almost didn’t!) But the knowledge I gained in the last 10 years will only help as I make the 11,000+ mile journey by land, sea, and air this summer. At the very least, I’ll avoid water from anything that has CCCP on it.

It’s always a bit scary traveling to a place you’ve never been, but for me, it’s all part of the excitement. I was motivated to make this trip for three main reasons: 1) to help people at home understand that there is much more to the Middle East than the confused and confusing stories we hear in the U.S.; 2) to see a part of Europe that is overlooked by most travelers; 3) to better understand the Palestinian perspective on the ongoing conflict by participating in community service projects, educational initiatives, and interfaith and cultural workshops.

I will volunteer with Lajee Center, established about twelve years ago at Aida Refugee Camp. You hear “refugee camp” and probably think tents, UN guards in their blue helmets, and people lining up for a few cups of rice. But Aida was established in 1950 and since then has grown into more of a city. Yes, there is running water and internet. No, camels and magic carpets are not the only mode of transportation. Yes, there is a school and a library. But poverty and unemployment are rampant, and, despite the ability to check Facebook, it will be a very challenging two weeks. I’m sure I’ll be looking forward to some R&R in Greece and Albania when all is said and done.

So, there you have it. This is how I’m spending my summer “vacation” (which I only have because I quit my job). After that, on to the next adventure!

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