Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Rolling in the Deep

Salaam! I’m back in Jerusalem now wrapping up the final 6 weeks of the program after last week’s amaaaaazing trip to Jordan! There’s so so much to share about the trip so I’ll stick to highlights for now…

For months now I’ve been writing and thinking about those “other” and “normal” themes. I’ve been noticing how so much of what I think of as so “other” from me I actually experience to be far more “normal” than I thought I would, once I get up close and personal with it. Such was the case in Jordan, an Arab country. For example, our first day there we stayed at an Eco-Friendly guest house and going on a hike with several Jordanians and an Egyptian. So, there we are, wandering the wilderness walking side by side as Jews, Israelis, and Arabs. In the conversation we shared, which was just like any conversation I’d have with friends at home, I was so moved by how much more we had in common and our collective enthusiasm around that. On the flip side, it saddens me to think how on an individual basis none of us really know each other but so frequently hear members of our nations speaking of the other with so much hate. It’s understood, it’s complicated, it’s sad, and yet it’s still so hopeful.

Speaking of “normal…” Despite the peace treaty, there’s nothing much really normal about the relationship between Israel and Jordan. As such, our security measures required us to refrain from speaking Hebrew, not tell anyone we were a group from Israel, our Israeli members were asked by our leadership to lie about their nationality, and it was definitely not a smart move to engage in political conversation about the Middle East, even with each other, in public. The relationship between Jordan and Israel reminded me of middle school friendships. It was like Jordan was a part of the popular crowd, which hated that loser Israel, but Jordan was the nice one in the group and willing to quietly befriend Israel as long as Israel didn’t show too much enthusiasm or speak too loudly about the friendship. Understanding that this relationship is complex, I don’t illustrate this analogy to criticize it, rather just highlight my critical thinking about it. Really, I mean that.

So, the food. Really? It was ridiculous. Best hummus I’ve ever had in my life. Probably the most hummus I’ve ever had in my life, too. The tahina was prepared differently with water, yogurt, and onions mixed in (I will be living off that when I get home), the falafel was super tasty too, and generally, I’d say we all ate pretty well :) Ah, and perhaps one of the most memorable moments out at lunch was in Petra when the waiter offered 500 camels for me to be his wife. Well, it was only 13 years ago when my family was offered about 25 for me so if there were no other indicators to prove I'm moving up in the world at least now we have one.

There’s so much more I want to share about some of our visits, but, we were actually told we’re not able to release any information about any of the individuals we met with because several of them could be at risk of losing their jobs if it’s known that they met with a group from Israel. How bout that? So… those good stories will have to wait til I get home and can tell ya’ll in person.

Finally, the last day Phil, Rachel, Gabe, Amy, and I stayed on for a day trip to Petra. It was so so much fun! I have to say though, I still think it has nothing on Hampi given that Petra has so many tourists, is so expensive, and is also so big that it lacks the intimate environment Hampi has, but still it was worth every penny and every minute spent there. The whole trail is 3.5 km and we made it all the way there and back over the span of a full day. There were lots of laughs, mini adventures, and lots of climbing along the way.

Well, I could talk for hours about the Jordan trip and how much I loved it but I think some is best saved for my return home. In the meanwhile stay tuned for the final 1 or 2 blog posts from my year overseas adventure!

Much love,

P.S. I almost forgot one of the most exciting parts about the trip was how much of my Arabic came back! I also learned a few additional fun words and phrases: Zaki is what you say to express the food that you're eating is good, Al HaKefak (also used as slang in Israel) means as you like/wish/so desire/etc., mumtaz means perfect, and finally itcharrafna means nice to meet you :)
P.P.S. Pix aren't uploading so check out my album on facebook and also see the pix I'm tagged in on Amy Milin's album.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Dear Israel, I Have Never Loved You More

Written one week ago...

I have never had more of a genuinely Israeli experience than I did this prior weekend.
I spent this past Thursday – Sunday up North in the Golan Heights and Galilee regions as a participant on a program called Puzzle. The weekend was a pilot run to test the vision of this Puzzle initiative that’s in the early phases of still being developed. I can’t imagine the weekend having had been more successful than it was. I had fun, I deepened my connection with Israel, I made tons of new friends and became a part of a new community, and I was so tremendously motivated to continue working on my own projects.

The weekend started on Thursday with an afternoon of horseback riding up in the Golan Heights. It was so much fun to do this with Rachel too because horseback riding is one of her biggest passions, it’s a huge part of her life, and after 7 months of hearing her talk about it, it was just so much fun to see her in her element J After riding we went to a dairy farm where we spent the rest of the afternoon in the rain doing outdoor training activities (ropes course/team-building type stuff), eating absolutely delicious gourmet food made by our fabulous staff, and then whipping out the guitars and drums for a late night sing-a-long under a big Bedouin-like tent. To wrap up the night I tucked myself to sleep in a log cabin with the windows open during a thunderstorm. Needless to say it was a pretty perfect day.

Friday morning I kicked off the day with an hour of yoga at 6 AM. I haven’t felt that good in so long! I miss my practice (especially in Nashville) and look so forward to getting back to it on a regular basis. We had a quick breakfast then went for a tour of where we were staying (Avnei Eitan), saw a robotic cow milker (cool machine ever), fed cows, made cheeses, and then hit the road for a tour of the rest of the Golan and Galilee. We spent that afternoon hiking out in the Golan where we saw the biggest waterfall in Israel and the ancient ruins of Gamla. I got to see the place where Jesus is said to have walked on water and I viewed the scene from a distance where there were vultures flying overhead – what an energetic and spiritual experience that was! We then wrapped up the day by setting up our campsite and working together to cook a giant gourmet meal that was undoubtedly the best one I have ever had. I helped make focaccia bread and the final product was absolutely unbelievable. If I had to pick one food to live off of the rest of my life it might be that bread… No joke. We all ate outside together and enjoyed drinks and dessert around the campfire where the Israeli staff shared stories of their experiences in the army and we later took turns just telling funny and crazy stories from our own travels in Israel and elsewhere.

I woke up early Saturday morning and went for a nice long walk before breakfast with two other friends from the trip then came back to join the group and pack up the campsite. The rest of the day was spent on an off-roading Jeep trip around the Golan, eating a lot, laughing even more, and finally sitting together at the end of the day to wrap up the weekend and say good-bye. It was such a powerful closure and even though it had only been about 2 days with these people I found myself fighting to hold back tears when we had to say goodbye :)

This trip not only affirmed for me how much I love this country but it also highlighted for me the career path that I really feeling a calling to pave for myself. I want to create initiatives where other young adults can be a part of communities like this one that I was so fortunate to be a part of. While participating on the program this year has certainly had it's ups and downs I can confidently say that my experiences with LIFE and the opportunities it's created for me has really helped me realize this career path.

Dear Israel,

I have never loved you more than I do right now. In my trip to the North you showed me your resilience and your vulnerability - I am forever grateful for the chance to get this glimpse into who you really are. Thanks for always keeping your door open to me and I promise to use these next 2 months to get to know you better.

All my love,

Jeep trip

Boppin around the Syrian border with the group. We came across an old tank there and when the Israeli border patrol came to kick us off we asked them to join us for a picture... so they did :)

This is where the ancient city of Gamla was. In the distance you can also see the Sea of Galilee.

Oh man... world's best tentmate

Feeding the cows at Avnei Eitan

Hiking in the Golan Heights