Taste of Home Hospitality: Neil Eschenfelder

In September of 2016, Neil Eschenfelder and Shielia Nash were Home Hosts to International Visitors Baha Halassa of Jordan and Bashar Thoqan of Palestine. They spent a wonderful evening exchanging life stories while enjoying American barbeque. Neil shared with UCCD his experience with Baha and Bashar and the resulting friendship that lead to an adventure of his own in Jordan and Palestine.

Neil Home Host Utah Council for Citizen Diplomacy
Neil and Shielia with International Visitors

During his day job at Pixels Foto and Frame, Neil had been “plotting and planning a visit to Jordan for an up close and personal look at Jordan’s Petra antiquity site.” This was in part due to many of his customers submitting photos of the “Treasury” in Petra for printing.

Neil shared, “I knew I had to see this amazing Nabatean achievement in person, standing in the footprints of Indiana Jones.” Upon the arrival of our International Visitors, Neil saw his chance to make this dream a reality. “I intently quizzed our Jordanian guest regarding Amman based contacts with whom I might communicate regarding Petra photographic opportunities. Baha seemed quite excited about our potential visit offering to hook me up with local contacts. As Bashar listened in he offered his home country as a partner destination for our trip. He said, ‘You should also come to Palestine as we are right next door to Jordan. It would be a shame to miss this opportunity.’”

Neil continued, “It turns out Utah’s own Jim Gee, owner of Discovery Explorations and Adventures Tour Company, is one of my customers. Working as an archaeologist in the Petra area for more than 20 years, Jim runs Jordan and Palestine tours several times per year, convincing us we had nothing to fear in Palestine. I asked if he’d run a trip for Pixels Foto customers. He agreed, assembling all our flights, tours, guides, meals, buses and more over our ensuing 2 to 3 weeks. I launched our trip hoping we’d hear from 8 or 10 guests. Over the next 8 months 21 Pixels customers honored us by signing on to our October 21st, 2017, departure.”

 Neil Utah Council for Citizen Diplomacy
Neil and his photography group at Petra's Treasury

“I teach digital photography classes for The U’s Continuing Education department with 2017 making my 17th instruction year.  Since I started Pixels’ International Photo & Adventure Travel Program in 2005, I twice taught my digital class to interested local photographers in Kathmandu, Nepal. It was great fun making many photo friends. I closely worked with NGO Wildlife Conservation Nepal helping them integrate photography into their conservation programs, following up by judging their 2010 national photo contest as well as presenting a program to our US ambassador and embassy staff complimenting WCN’s wonderful work.

“I just knew Jordanian and Palestinian photographers would want my photo instruction. I asked Baha and Bashar to help lay groundwork for my trip and photo classes... Bashar came through with flying colors, putting me in touch with US Consulate photographer Jeries Mansour. Jeries helped set up contacts with local photographers and their Facebook page. Everything took off for Palestine. October 29th brought 18 very excited photographers to Jericho’s Oasis Hotel and my class. Jeries, Firas Jarrar and Yahia Sunina took turns translating my material as I spoke it.

“Our overall trip lasted 12 days revealing some of Jordan and Palestine’s most revered treasures. 16 hours’ flying time each way wasn’t too great a price to pay for such beautiful sites such as Petra’s vast archaeology, Wadi Rum’s Bait Ali desert camp, the Dead Sea, Jerusalem and Bethlehem wonders along with too many more sites to list."

Neil concluded his remarks, “Photography is truly the world’s universal language.” UCCD thanks Neil in utilizing this amazing tool in promoting respect and understanding between the people of Utah and other nations. We look forward to his continued association with our International Visitors!