PrefaceIt’s hard to explain why I decided to surf the Middle East. Perhaps it was the fact that when I graduated from college in May 2009, the U.S. job market was described as being in the worst shape since the Great Depression. I had just received a letter in the mail informing me that I had narrowly flunked the grammar section of my Foreign Service Exam, and that in one year’s time I was welcome to try again. My backup plan was to hop aboard a foreign nongovernmental organization. This ambition was quickly ended by unforeseen budget cuts. Most fellow graduates I knew were either swallowing their pride and moving back in with their parents or settling for some job that was unrelated to their increasingly irrelevant bachelor of arts degrees. As for the lucky few who had managed to find a career-oriented job right out of college, most seemed to be underemployed, transplanted to some funky town no one had ever heard of, and, perhaps most grave, taken from the magical shores of the Pacific Ocean. None of this had much allure for me. Perhaps that’s what opened me to the realm of possibility.
The idea of actually trying to surf from Israel to Lebanon came one day when I was meandering alone up the Pacific Coast Highway, looking for surf. I didn’t have post-college employment lined up, and the two things that bring me the most joy in life—surfing and trying to understand the Middle East—didn’t exactly fit into a conventional job search. So, out of the depths of the unconscious imagination, a story came of two stunning Levantine counties, sharing the same surf report on the eastern Mediterranean, yet with absolutely no contact with one another. Indeed, it was a wave worth riding.
Since I understood that I couldn’t simply cross the Blue Line, as the Israeli-Lebanese border is called, it became clear that surfing both the Israeli and Lebanese parts of the Mediterranean would involve what I later call “going around,” meaning that after I somehow found surf in Israel, I would have to go down through Jerusalem, into and across the West Bank, get to the inland airport in Jordan, fly over Syria and land at an airport in Beirut that isn’t exactly welcoming to the Hebrew visa in my passport. So many roadblocks. So many reasons why it can’t be done. So many lies I would be telling to travel a distance that is just a drive up the coast in my home state of California.
Through the seemingly harmless vehicle of surfing, this tale is about my experience traveling through some of the most divisive, hated and ready-to-explode places in the world. By the time this book is published, the places I describe may in fact be under siege by Israeli air strikes or sporadically rained upon by Hezbollah rockets. The very land humanity once chose to walk out of the desert and organize itself into civilization is still arguably the most-sought-after real estate on the globe. All eyes look in. And as hard as traveling through this part of the world was, it was possible only because of the hospitality shown toward this young American. Some of the people I encountered on my travels through the Middle East were less than helpful, yet the overwhelming amount were, and it is to these people I owe my eternal gratitude.
Contact the author: Jesseaizenstat [at] gmail [dot] com
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