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WORLD FOCUS: Middle East intermezzo

January 3, 2013
FRANK SHATZ , Lake Placid News

Col.Yafeu Nantwi, (Ret.) and his wife, Carol, planed their trip to Jordan and Israel, carefully. What they had in mind was a leisurely tour of the two countries, so rich in Biblical sights. They expected the trip would also include the proverbial rubbernecking- tourists, routine. Alas, they had a different experience.

To start with, upon arrival to Amman, Jordan's capital city, while processing through customs, Carol's passport was confiscated and eight armed Jordanian security guards took her out of sight, for a lengthily interrogation. Than, a week later, after checking into their hotel in Jerusalem, the Nantwi's found themselves hurried into an air-raid shelter. To provide a safe place, from a possible hit by rocket-fire coming, from the Hamas-ruled, Gaza. .

Apparently, it was Carol's small binoculars she carries with her on every sightseeing trip that aroused the suspicion of the security officers. "It didn't help," Carol said in an interview with the Lake Placid News and The Virginia Gazette, "that the man just ahead me had eight fully loaded clips of bullets on him. I don't know what happened to him, nor did I inquire."

After having been detained for more than an hour, her husband, waiting anxiously to be told what is happening, Carol was let go. They spent the next day in Amman, amid anti-government riots. "The tour-company rushed us out of the city and sent us to places in the South of Jordan," Carol said. "Seeing the ancient cities of Mont Nebo, Petra and the ancient trade routes through to the Wadi Rum desert was enlightening."

They learned that Bedouin smugglers are using the same routes to transport weapons to the region. "The Romans could not stop them thousands of years ago, and modern technology can't stop them now." said Carol.

After arriving to Jerusalem, and checking into their hotel, the rockets from Gaza started flying. "They ushered us into the air-raid shelter. We have never been in real danger," Carol noted. "The poorly aimed rockets landed in the outskirts of Jerusalem."

Surprisingly, while the air-war between Israel and Hamas was taking place, the Nantwis' tour of Israel went on without a hitch. They visited Biblical sites all over Jerusalem, at the Dead Sea and other places. They toured the Golan Heights, captured from Syria, two kibbutzims (collective farms,) and dozens of other "must see" places.

"Israel and the region are full of contrast," the couple said. "In Israel, women are seen in every segment of society. They clean streets, but also drive tanks, legislate and farm. Yet across the border, women are almost invisible.

"The view from the Golan Heights is also instructive. The land in Syria and Jordan is dry, arid brown. Israel has turned the same land into green lush valleys with an abundance of fruit, vegetables and live stock (no pigs)."

The Nantwis had visited Egypt four years ego. "We never thought anything come near our experiences in Egypt, "Carol said. "But our trip to Israel and the region exceeded all our expectations. Standing in where three of the world's greatest religions originated is breath taking. The region is a living history. The emotional and spiritual reaction you have walking in the same steps of Moses, Jesus and Muhammad can not be adequately described."

But it was hard to escape the reality of the situation in the Middle East. "We sat though the entire military build up along the Gaza strip and the diplomatic effort to avoid war," the Nantwis recalled. "We were not sure if we could get out of Israel. As it turned out, we were not allowed to enter Tel Aviv until four hours prior to our flight departure."

No wonder that their Middle East intermezzo remains an enduring memory.

Frank Shatz lives in Williamsburg, Va. and Lake Placid. His column was reprinted with permission from The Virginia Gazette.



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