It's not that much fun waking up at 2 AM, especially at the end of a ten-day tour where you have have been going all day long, visiting one site after another. But getting up early is essential if you want to make it back to the US. When you fly from the US to Europe, you generally leave in the afternoon, flying into the night and arriving in the morning (though your body clock tells you it's the middle of the night). The reverse is true when you fly from east to west. You leave early in the morning and fly with the sun so that even though you are traveling for 18 hours, you are in sunlight all the time.
There is another reason for getting up at 2 AM. Since our plane leaves at 6:45 AM, we have to be at Ben-Gurion Airport outside Tel Aviv three hours early. To say that that the Israelis are fanatical about security is an understatement. They live in a part of the world where lots of their neighbors would like to see them dead so they take no chances. Here are the security steps as I remember them:
1) Our bus was stopped, and the guard checked the papers of our driver and our guide. The guard then came on board with an automatic weapon strapped around his shoulder.
2) Once inside the airport, a serious-looking woman asked to see the tour leader. She asked me a series of questions. Why did you come to Israel? How many are in your group? Did you know everyone in the group before they came with you? Of those you didn't know, what was your connection with them? Why did they come with you? Were they related to you? When did you arrive? Where did you go? Where did you stay? What did you see? Did anyone give you anything to take back? Any gifts, plants, books, anything at all? Do you understand why I am asking you these questions? Why did you fly Turkish Airlines? She smiled slightly when I said they were the cheapest. It was not so easy answering these questions at 4:15 in the morning.
3) They put our bags through a huge machine.
4) About half our group had their bags personally examined.
5) Another round of questions.
6) Checking our passports.
7) Checking our handbags.
8) Through the X-Ray machine.
9) More questions.
10) Another check of our passport.
11) Another check before boarding.
I had warned the group not to make any jokes at all. After there, there had been an explosion or a fire in the Gaza Strip several days ago and rioting in Beirut that day. Not a good time to be funny. Just play it straight and answer everything. It probably took an hour and a half, but eventually we all made it to the gate.
We said goodbye to Mark who is flying back to China on a different flight. Everything was good until he hugged us and said, "See you in six months." Marlene and I both teared up when he said that. He and Nick were a huge asset on this trip. Besides the fun of having them along, they helped in so many different ways. We calculated that it will take Mark 49 hours (counting layovers) to fly from Tel Aviv to Beijing to Shanghai to Bangkok and on to Chiang Mai, Thailand. He should arrive there sometime Sunday morning.
Our flight from Tel Aviv was delayed for almost an hour because of fog, causing us to arrive late in Istanbul. Since Turkish Airlines doesn’t fly into Chicago every day, they held the flight until we arrived. What then transpired was quite a mess. We were taken by bus to the far side of the terminal. Then we went to passport control, where they asked questions and stamped our passports, then to check-in where they asked more questions. Then we walked a long way only to run into more security, another checkpoint, more questions, another X-Ray, then another checkpoint, then "hurry, hurry," and more questions. Finally we made it on to the plane.
Ten hours--and three meals--later, we arrived in Chicago. As we disembarked and headed for customs, we said our goodbyes. Our happy band of pilgrims was breaking up, some to go to New York, others to Ohio, one to Alabama, five to Mississippi, the rest to Chicago.
There were hugs and handshakes and smiles and tears as we all rushed to make our connections. And so our trip to the Holy Land came to an end where it began--in O'Hare Airport in Chicago.
When we first dreamed of this trip last June, we wondered if anyone would want to go with us. I can look back and see that the Lord perfectly put our group together. We were strangers, then friends, then pilgrims, and finally, a family. As with any good family, the memories will last forever.
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