*Apologies: We did not take pictures basically at all today because most of it was 1) on a plane 2) driving in rain or 3) late at night. So, I am using other people\’s pictures to illustrate my points.*
I Think He’s From Ecuador: Flight from London to Tel Aviv
The next morning we woke up at a horribly early time. Our flight was around 7:00am from London to Tel Aviv, Israel so I had think we were up around 4:00am which felt like who knows what time for our Texas-blood. Thankfully we were able to be stirred awake by our many alarm clocks and got to the airport in plenty of time. My anticipation started growing at the airport when I saw a number of Hasidic Jews waiting for our delayed flight to Tel Aviv. There are the ultraorthodox Jewish men in all black with Hats and long curly sideburns. It was starting to actually feel real. We were going to Israel. The Holy Land for the Jews and the Christians and the Muslims. The crossroads of culture and religion. A truly dynamic land where so many different types of people call home and so many more call Holy.
I can’t recall much of the flight itself. I tried hard to sleep as much as I possibly could on all planes to ensure that I was rested enough once we got to our destination and to pass the dragging time. However, I did bring a book to read, Tales of a Female Nomad, that I had checked out of the library right before we left. I thought it would be the perfect travel companion. It is all about a woman who, after a divorce, decided that her American life was boring and went to all sorts of countries around the world to live among the locals for months at a time. I had high hopes for this book. I really enjoyed Eat Pray Love which is a very similar kind of book. I like reading about empowered women finding themselves in foreign lands I guess. However, I realized from the get-go that this book was going to be much harder to muscle through. Yes, I could relate to her discovering new lands (as I was also doing), but she had cut off all her community ties (basically) to do so. She left her husband, children and friends behind and spent most of the book bragging about how amazing it felt to be “free”. In a way it was really disappointing. Why can’t a woman be “free” when she is part of her community? Why does she have to abandon all of her social support to truly find herself? Is our society so inept at fulfilling the needs of women that we literally must leave it in order to find some kind of balance? I sincerely hope this is not the case. I would rather stay home with my loving husband forever than travel the world alone. Instead of feeling empowered by her story, I felt sad that there are so few voices of women finding their voice and freedom within their own lives, within their own space. It’s disheartening when I myself am striving to do exactly that and gain balance where I am located in every aspect of my current life with my family and local community.
But who cares about a book with an increasingly annoying and self-righteous author? We were approaching Israel! The reason for our entire trip. We left the airport a bit weary (as travelers often are), but optimistic and excited to finally be here and ready to see some friendly and familiar faces. Now we just had to get through customs / border control. The woman at the desk looked at our American passports.
“What brings you to Israel?” She droned, completely uninterested in us.
Luckily, Jessa had e-mailed me with all the information I would need to satisfy the airport employees.
“We are visiting our friend who is a student at Hebrew University”
“What is his name?”
“Rodolfo [Last Name]”
“Is he Israeli?” (Does that sound Israeli?)
“What nationality is he?”
We stopped in our tracks. I knew from personal experience that though Jessa was American, Rodolfo was originally from Ecuador, but had an American degree and wife and had a Spanish passport as well. Apparently that can happen. I had no idea what his visa in Israel might have said.
“Umm, he’s from Ecuador”, I stammered weakly, hoping that I sounded confident enough to not draw attention to the fact that I seemed unsure about the ethnic identity of my friend.
The woman looked up at us quizzically. Her brow furrowed a bit. Things were about to get serious. “How do you know him?” she asked suspiciously.
“We went to college together.”
Those were the magic words. It is totally believable that an Ecuadorian / Spaniard went to college in Texas, married an American and proceeded to move to Jerusalem. Her face lightened. She returned our passports to us and before we knew it we were at baggage claim and I saw a cheery and familiar face coming towards us with arms wide open. Jessa gave each of us a huge and welcoming hug. We saw her husband, Rodolfo, behind her accompanied by two people I knew, but not extremely well. Amelia was in the same sorority as me in college, but she was several years older, so we weren’t really active at the same time, but she would come back every so often and cook for us during important events like pledge initiation. Her husband, Nathan, I knew even less, but I had seen him around at the University Catholic Center from time to time. Poor Evan had never met them before, as he didn’t come to the Catholic Center until long after they graduated. Our hosts, however, we are pretty close with. After college, Jessa and I were in the same young women’s professional group through an organization at church which has met relatively regularly over the past several years. I met Rodolfo through Jessa for the most part. When they would come back to America to visit their family, they would try and make it up to Austin and my group would always try and see them. The initiation of this entire trip actually started at one of these gatherings. Jessa and Rodolfo were at a mutual friends’ party and were talking about their experience living in Israel. When Jessa told me we should really consider coming to visit, she didn’t actually believe that we would. It was the kind of off-the-cuff conversation that she has with so many people, trying to get them to come and we responded with the usual “That would be so cool” response that seemed extremely non-committal. However, I knew that in this case, we would never have this opportunity again. In several months, our friends would come back to America, taking with them the opportunity to travel to the Holy Land with friends and staying in their apartment for free. We just had to figure out how to make it work financially and by golly we would. That’s the thing about inviting Evan and me places. We will go. When I first met Evan, I had invited him to a weekend trip to Dallas, mainly to be polite. He went. We knew each other for less than a month. Who does that? I guess we are the kind of people that try to be open to opportunities that arise. So here we were, in a foreign land with friends, acquaintances and, in Evan’s case, complete strangers, ready to embark on whatever Israel had to offer.
By the time we landed, we were a bit famished so we stopped by the first of what would turn out to be many bakeries. I got a potato rosemary tart and my first taste of rugalach, a delicious chocolate croissant type pastry. The men got our luggage off of baggage claim, we walked to a rental SUV, crammed in (it was a little tight for 6 adults and all our stuff) and we were off being (to quote Jessa) “whisked off to the galilee.”
Just to Warn You, We’ve Been Using the Term “Suckas” Very Liberally Lately: Driving to the Galilee
I had never really had a particular desire to go to the Holy Land. I know, I should have wanted to go considering my interest in religion, but I was never drawn to the area. There is just so much political turmoil over there all the time. The safety concerns alone made it undesirable. Also, everything is depicted as being in the ancient desert and that just doesn’t seem to be my scene. I also let Jessa and Rodolfo (being locals and therefore experts in the area) completely decide our itinerary. We had input, but they were the main spearheads. I had no idea what to expect. At all. What first struck me as we were leaving Tel Aviv though, interestingly, was how organized the driving seemed to be. I guess because there are some parts of the world where the driving is downright terrifying (India, for example) without defined lanes and weaving in and out of traffic, I was pleasantly surprised that the drivers (while aggressive at times) were at least generally orderly. The biggest issue was that it was raining. Well, pouring is a more accurate term. The entire way we were driving. It was a great opportunity to casually talk about things. Amelia and Nathan had already been visiting for a week, so they were at the end of their vacation. They told us all about the experiences they had, with the locals, with the other tourists and some of their highlights. They stayed in the Holy Seplechure church, for example, all night long the night before. That’s probably why they all looked so tired! They also informed us that they had been saying “suckas” in response to pretty much everything and everyone lately. I knew, based on how entertaining our company was, this would be an incredible trip. We stopped at a coffee shop at some point along the way to take a break, go to the bathroom and get something to drink. Because of the rain, we got to our destination, Tiberias, much later than we anticipated. By then it was dark and we needed to eat.
Salad Anyone?: Shwarma in Tiberias
By the time we got to Tiberias, it had mostly stopped raining and though it was dark, we could start seeing the city lights on the hills in the area. Suddenly something clicked. “A city on a hill cannot be hidden.” Literally. The city lights were striking on the side of the hill, separated from one another by dark hills and valleys. This is probably what Jesus was talking about. It is so obvious. I’ve never seen a city concentrated on the side of a hill like that. Not so plainly evident at least.
We pulled up to a random side street to park the car. Frankly, it looked sketchy. It looked like a slapdash homeless village almost, with canvas holding up barely standing structures. I braced myself a little. Jessa mentioned that this is actually where the market in Tiberias is. Those structures are actually storefronts that, at night, look like shantytowns. We turned the corner. Have you ever been to a festival where there are
essentially food trucks in a row, only they aren\’t trucks, just little temporary looking buildings? Think of the state fair. That’s what I would say it looked like. There were several food stands trying to coerce us for our business. We walked to the very end. Nathan and Amelia hadn\’t gotten to eat Shwarma the entire time they had been there, so they had a hankering. I don’t know what the meat was, it was white. Probably turkey? Maybe chicken? I got the impression that lamb was the most popular meat in the area, but we didn\’t really come across that all too often. It was awesome. The meat was seasoned perfectly, the pita nice and warm. The first of many great meals. One of the cool things about the way that they eat in this area is that they have all these little salads you get to accompany your meal. Rodolfo, eager for us to try basically all the food available. As we were eating, he must have gotten up 7 times to bring us an assortment of mini salads (of are they just sides?). I honestly have no idea what they were: cauliflower? Fried bread? Eggplant? Are those zucchinis? No, they’re lemons. By the end of it all, we were all well fed and ready to go to sleep.
I wash my hands of you: Staying at the Convent House
Jess and Rodolfo had arranged to stay at the guest house of what I assume is a convent. I have no idea what it’s called or which nuns were there (maybe Franciscan nuns?) I only know that it is right between the Church of the Bread and Fish and St. Peter’s Primacy. By the time we had finished travelling and eating, it was pretty late. We pulled up to a gate, Jessa got out and started speaking into a box. It took a lot longer than Rodolfo expected and when Jessa returned to the car, she was obviously perturbed. They lost / failed to communicate / forgot about our reservation for two nights. They weren’t expecting guests and the nun must have already been sleeping. After a bit of negotiating and insisting we did make a reservation, we were reluctantly let in, given keys and settled in. Rodolfo profusely apologized in Italian to the nun who obviously didn’t want anything to do with us at this point in the evening. We were officially “the troublemakers”, coming in late with no reservation on file and waking up the sister to boot. Oops. My bad. We had no idea the rain would make us so late for their 9 o’clock curfew.
The room was very much like a dorm room. Comfortable twin beds and extra blankets. We all agreed to meet downstairs at breakfast at 8am the next morning. Jessa gifted us a pair of house slippers so we wouldn’t have to talk on the cold stone floor and we all drifted off in a relatively decent sleep (my internal clock was still funky, so for the first several nights in Israel, I kept waking up in the middle of the night.)
Next Up: Adventures in the Galilee (Magdala, Nazareth, Cana and Jish)