Thursday, April 28, 2011

Middle East Recap: Days 9 & 10

[Catch up: Days 1 & 2, Day 3, Days 4 & 5, Day 6, Days 7&8]

March 16, 2011

Photo of me, courtesy of Becky.

A quiet moment on the rockery overlooking the Mediterranean Sea.  It's almost 80 degrees and a cool breeze ebbs and flows with the clean sea green waves.  After an awesome night out in Tel Aviv last night, dancing like American tourists in a packed club randomly situated inside a trashy shopping mall, we could all use this moment of calm.  The only reason we're not more hungover, frankly, is that drinks were nearly $20 USD each so we all had to cut back a bit.

This weather, this breeze, this sea does more to replenish me than an egg sandwich and hot cup of tea.

A shot of me writing this entry in my travel journal.  Meta!   Photo courtesy of Beth.


We spent the day exploring Tel Aviv.  We began on a somber note, walking to the spot on which Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated.

The government has placed small metal discs on the ground indicating where everyone was standing when the shooting occurred---the locations of the security guards, Rabin, and his assassin are all marked.

The distance between Rabin and his assassin.  The disc with the bright silver border is Rabin.  The disk on the far right (with writing on it) is his shooter.  The third disk in the middle is a guard.  The assassin walked right through the security detail and stood right behind Rabin when he fired.

The post-assassination graffiti is immortalized behind a wall of plastic.  That Hebrew word on top says "S'licha," which means "Sorry." 

From there, we walked towards the ocean and had a reflective moment on the rocks overlooking the sea.  We walked along the ocean to the ancient town of Jaffa, where Jonah (of being-swallowed-by-a-whale fame) lived.  All of the streets in old Jaffa are named after Zodiac signs and are marked by beautiful tile plates with happy cartoonish animals smiling at you.

Tel Aviv Beach.

Street signs in Jaffa.


I took this picture to remind myself of the door I want somewhere in my future house.

After watching a presentation in Israel's Independence Hall, the spot where Israel declared its Independence, we had some free time to eat and shop in Tel Aviv before our evening departure for the airport.  Hilariously, many girls---myself included---needed to buy a second piece of luggage at the Tel Aviv market to fit all of our souvenirs!  With airline overweight fees clocking in at a massive $150, and with a second bag being free to check, the luggage practically paid for itself.  (Plus, I spent about $25 on mine, and it's cute!)

At the Tel Aviv Market.  I don't know why this was happening.

Tel Aviv Market.

The bag I bought.  It even has a pull-handle and roller wheels!

We left the market and, with most of the day behind us, our tour guide found a beautiful circular dais overlooking the Mediterranean Sea.  We sat around the border of the dais and reflected on our "aha" moments during the trip.  I think my most significant moment was on the dais itself while I reflected on the note I put in the Western Wall.  The things I prayed for were relatively general, and I realized I did that because I was afraid that if I asked/prayed for something specific and it didn't happen---well, I think I just wanted to believe.  I want there to be some force that reads those notes, and to believe that everything happens for a reason.  The blissed-out Kabbalistic artist in Tsfat told us that if we knew the master plan for us, we would all be jumping for joy every second of every day because it's all leading up to infinite happiness.  It would be nice if that were true.  I guess some part of me wants it to be true.

Sun setting on the dais.

The core of this realization goes back to something I've already mentioned:  I want to find a way to bring some amount of faith back in my life, even in a small way.

After dinner at a delightful outdoors restaurant called "Doctor Shakshuka," we all went to the Tel Aviv airport.  Those of us who extended our trip still had to go to the airport, according to the Birthright rules.  We said our goodbyes as the group went through security (a long preliminary scan just to get to the ticket counter!) then the small group of us trip-extenders made our way back to Tel Aviv.  Our amazingly generous group leader, Jake, has an apartment in Tel Aviv that he opened up to anyone needing a floor to crash on.  My sister and I took him up on this offer partially, leaving our bags at his apartment and taking only small pieces with us on the solo leg of our trip (see the adorable rolly-bag purchased above).

Jake is in the middle.  And yes, he had these hats printed himself.  Long story.  Image courtesy of Jake, taken on a different Birthright trip than mine.

As I write this, my sister and I are on the midnight bus to Eilat at the very southern tip of Israel.  We learned on Birthright that Eilat is world-renowned as an excellent place to scuba dive.  Neither of us scuba but we do snorkel.  We hope to find a place to snorkel, but since we haven't researched anything we may just end up on the beach all morning.  We arrive at 5am and don't need to cross the border into Jordan until 4pm or so, so there's some time to figure things out.

I feel very anxious about traveling on our own without a tour group.  Becky and I read and understand a few basic Hebrew words, but we are still dependent on people knowing English.  Fortunately, it is common here.  Not sure what things will be like in Jordan---neither of us speak or read a word of Arabic---but at least we'll be traveling with friends once we get there.  Getting on this bus was a scary prospect in itself; although we asked whether the bus we boarded was going to Eilat, it's hard to feel comfortable when English is not the first language of your driver and when you don't actually know what Eilat looks like.

Beyond the language barrier, though, I feel a great deal of responsibility for the trip in general and for Becky's safety, both as the primary instigator of the Jordan leg of our journey and as The Big Sister.  We waited in the bus station for about half an hour before the bus arrived (the bus was on time...we were early) and I felt myself getting nervous when it took Becky a long time to come back from the bathroom (which, I later learned, was because it was kind of far from our gate).

As Becky and I packed our small travel bags at the Tel-Aviv airport, she asked me in a somewhat worried tone if I still planned to wear my necklace.  I looked at her neck and understood what she was talking about when I saw that she was wearing one, too---a star of David.  A Jewish symbol.  Were we ready to walk into an Arab nation with our Jewish faith displayed so prominently?  It's easy to forget in the haven that is Israel that this part of the world isn't exactly friendly to Jews.

We decided to wear them.  I mentioned that I might rethink things if our cab driver is mean to us.

...I hope he's not.

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