11 December 2006

israel. it has been a dream of mine to go there. to walk the streets of Christ. to walk the streets of David. to breathe the holy air. and i finally got my opportunity. 2 of my favorite people are both living there right now, one in school, one working. and they met me, together, on the corner of king george and hillel st. as i got dropped off by the sherut (a taxi/ van). Libby asked me if i wanted to go to the western wall and i of course jumped at the chance. driving into the old city was pretty surreal bc that is more how it looked back in the day and more how i pictured all of jerusalem to be like. the streets were slightly crowded w many headed to the wall along w us. i tended to notice the hasidic jews. they wear all black suits w big black fedora hats or shtreimels (a huge round fur hat) and then the kippah (what we call yamaka) underneath, which is a custom of recognition that God is 'above' humankind. so we go towards the wall , men on one side, women on the other, and there are beggers offering red strings. i joked on kabbalah but libby said, no you wear them on your right wrist to remind you to pray. she gave the lady a few shekels so that me, her, and chris could each have one. the closer we get to the wall the more surreal it is to be there, we have to dodge women walking backwards, bc you aren't supposed to turn your back on the wall, and we get a torah and just stand there. surrounded by intense religion. women crying, women w their face pressed into the torah praying and turning side to side or back and forth, all i can do is stare. stare at the wall that used to complete Solomon's temple. stare at how small i am against it. finally we pushed our way through so that i could actually touch it. i just leaned my forehead against it and shut my eyes. every crack in the wall is full of tiny pieces of paper w written prayers.

obviously there are so many stories to tell but nothing can describe actually being there. the ride to and from the airport to jerusalem looked like I-95 and the new city of jerusalem is real modern with high rises and parks. obviously not what i expected. but there are a lot of giant stone sidewalks that i tended to get my heels caught in. i love stone sidewalks. i did as tamice told me walked dragging my hand along the stone buildings as much as possible. i ate falafel and schawarma, corn pizza, and anything else typical of israeli food that i could. we went to the biblical zoo, the time machine ride -that is a simulation ride that takes you back in history, saw the mt. of olives, garden of gethsemane, the prison where Jesus was kept overnight, mary's tomb,

one day we went to the arab markets, also in the old city. entering through damascus gate, floods of ppl and open air weapons every where. guards were the only sign of war to me there really. there were endless alley ways of little shops hidden in the walls. we had lots of short conversations w men as we walked through. we also had long conversations. many invited us in for tea and hookah. one guy yelled, "its my birthday, everything is for free!" so we went in and drank tea, smoked cigs and he made us jewelry- complimentary to what wasn't actually his birthday. we continued to wander and ran into this little man with a photography shop. libby had bought things from him before. he invited us in- got us mango juice and we flipped through his pictures that either him or his father had taken, some dated back to the late 1800s. after we made our purchase and were about to leave he said, 'wait i want to photograph you three!' so we went in his studio and smiled infront of a wall of poppy flowers and Jesus murals. continuing on i realized that we were on part of the via dolorosa- Traditionally, it is held to be the path that Jesus walked on the way to his crucifixion. It is marked by nine of the fourteen Stations of the Cross. The last five stations are inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The church of the holy sepulchre is one of the two places they believe Jesus' tomb was. it is very gaudy and it was quite hard to take seriously. supposedly it is a pilgrimage destination since the 4th century and that is quite evident. we waited in line to get into the actual tomb. it is a big box built around it in the center of the church. every one is taking pictures outside of it so depressed looking i just wanted to shake them and say- did you forget that Jesus rose from the dead!? inside they all rub their Jesus trading cards on the stone in lamentation. yea glad i went there but i don't necessarily think God approves of that place.

another day when i was left to myself for a few hours i was just walking around the city and ended up in two back to back parks. everywhere you go there are stands that sell lottery tickets and outside one of them there were two old men playing shesh besh, backgammon, yelling in hebrew back and forth, rolling dice and drinking tea. i stood and watched and one of the guys offered me his tea so i sat and joined them. they couldn't speak english past the simple questions of 'where are you from?' and 'what is your name?' and i definitely couldn't speak hebrew so i just observed- determined to learn how to play. didn't happen. so i went inside the little stand and there was a filipino girl in there that spoke english real well and we talked about the philippines and she translated for me to the owner of the shop. he was a precious man, upper body of a over weight 50 y/o w the legs of a 10 y/o boy. he had on a correction shoes and a dog was tied up to bottom of his chair . he was yelling back and forth w his friend outside playing shesh besh and talking to me at the same time. he kept asking me if i was hungry and finally i gave in and he made me a hot dog. (just like in france when they take the baguette and toast it by shoving it onto a metal rod the size of the hot dog and then when its done sliding the hot dog inside)

these are the kinds of situations that made me enjoy the trip. there were so many places i had planned to go to that i didn't get to like the dead sea, hezekiah's tunnel, galilee, bethlehem, hebron, see the dead sea scrolls. but its ok bc those are simply things to check off a list. i decided that i would much rather experience culture. those interactions w the ppl were what made me happy. and being w libby and chris was enough fun in itself. no matter where in the world we are it would be fun w them.

we did finally learn how to play shesh besh one night when me and libby were walking back to her apartment and walked through some street vendors. the guys were playing it bc that is what all the vendors do to pass their time and we told them we wanted to learn. so they lit us a hookah and explained to us the rules of the game. since we were so slow to make decisions on our next move it wasn't until a group of ppl came over they had to sell things to that we actually got to play for ourselves. later we went home and made a shesh besh board out of paper bags (i even rigged some dice) so that we could continue to play.

me and my favorite teacher from high school, had been talking for awhile about places we wanted to travel to next. (she is one of my travel inspirations and i took a trip w her to italy 5 years ago) i was telling her i really wanted to go to egypt and she was saying she really wanted to go to petra- in jordan. and being that israel is bordering jordan (it borders egypt too but thats a trip in itself) so i decided i wanted to go to petra. so we did it. we took a bus down to eilat. its a beach town which we heard was amazing (who ever said that has obviously never actually been there). we left at 7am so we could get there in time to lay out but that didn't happen -so long story short- we ended up at a bar with a $150 dollar check between the 3 of us and soaking wet from impulsively dunking ourselves (well i dunked me and libby) into the red sea. i mean moses parted that shit! we had to get in. then we went to bed at 4p and woke up the next morning real early to catch a cab to jordan. it was only a 7 minute ride to the border. as we were going through passport control a older man came up to us and asked if we needed a ride to petra- we trusted him and said yes. but we didn't get that far. after we payed entrance tax and all we got in the car- ends up they were like 15 45 y/o greek orthodox men from nazareth that were going camping in the desert. at the next passport check spot we ended up just hanging out w them for like an hour. they gave us drinks and we just talked and smoked. they were the nicest guys. we wanted to go camping w them but we only had one day in jordan bc chris stayed in eilat so they hooked us up w a cab and ended up paying 20 bucks of the ride for us. the cab driver was amazing too . he stopped and bought us drinks and muffins and stopped to show us overlooks in the desert and once we got to petra we gave him money and he got our tickets for us and then told us he would be waiting in the parking lot for us when we were done and would get us back to the border before it closed at 8.
so we went in and bought scarves, bc it was colder then we thought and the guys at the shop talked us into riding horses. they walked us horse back to the entrance and then we walked for a bit w stone walls towering above us until we saw the palace facade from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. and what seemed to be for our amusement were two camels laying there waiting for us to ride them. (i rode elephants in thailand and my next animal to ride was a camel). so we found out how much and choked out the money. as we were riding we noticed that we are gonna be on so many peoples video cameras and in so many pictures. and the bedouins kept riding up next to us on their mules talking to us and offering to take us to more interesting off the beaten path places. so of course we did. we got off the camels and hopped onto the mules. just me and libby and 2 bedouin guys set off to the creek in the mountain. probably wasn't the wisest thing to do but we decided to trust and we learned so much about petra and their culture bc of it. they wanted us to stay and camp w them but we couldn't leave chris for another day. we both got proposed to 5 times each w offerings of 10 camels and 10 horses. pretty tempting to be living in a cave by candle light- to have paid our way into petra and never left. but unfortunately we did leave- the cab ride home made for probably the best conversation i've ever had w libby (ha!) and the cab driver bought us falafel.

the day i left, my flight wasn't leaving until 1130 at night so i had all day to wander. i woke up early and w chris' map i walked all the way back to the old city (jerusalem is pretty small). i ran back into the old photographer man and had mango juice. he advised me not to go to the mt. of olives bc its dangerous for women to go alone. and he told me i couldn't go to temple mount bc during that time of day it was muslims only. so i found my way back to the arab markets. a random guy gave me a chocolate puff, which i gladly accepted. (we had been eating chocolate all week- there is pop rocks chocolate there. its brilliant. milk chocolate w crunch, and the crunch is pop rocks. don't let me forget to mention the chocolate milk in a bag. tiny little plastic bags you bite off the corner and suck the milk out. so freaking good.) i walked out and around the outer walls of the old city and made my way back to the western wall so that i could see it during the day. i got another prayer bracelet and went and just sat infront of the wall for awhile. i wrote for a bit and just watched people. lastly i wrote my prayer on a piece of paper to leave in the wall. (not that God honors prayer more there but it was something i just had to do.) i noticed that i had lost chris' map and so i ended up walking way out of my way asking everyone how to get back to jaffa st. once i reached the gate a man stopped me. he asked me where i got my earrings (target) and told me he was a jewelry maker. he asked me how long i was gonna be in israel and i told him i was leaving today. he said- 'really? let me give you something'. so we went to his shop and drank tea and he let me pick a stone- Israel's eilat stone and made me a necklace. the interesting part this time was he began to read me. he said when i walked by he noticed something in my eyes. he felt like i wasn't satisfied and that i was looking for something. that there is a depth to me and that ppl that know me the most don't actually know me. he wanted to help me and i didn't know how to open up. he definitely broke down a wall in me though.

the main thing i learned from this trip was how amazing it is to trust people. the last two guys in the jewelry shop i talked with mentioned that the nicer they are to ppl the more skeptical the ppl become. it is really sad but bc of the news and bc of how we are raised not to trust ppl, not to talk to strangers, not to take things from strangers, we have a guarded mindset that we don't even necessarily realize. i loved the warmth of the ppl and i hate how they are perceived. every situation i would have been guarded or stood strong in but ended up trusting resulted in some of the most beautiful experiences i've ever had. i feel that life should be about trust and sharing culture w each other. we all help each other out and teach life. share stories. one is deceived if they think that they can not learn from each person they meet- even if its just one thing. we've all seen something different and taken different paths. every place i go and will go has changed me in some way and i want to become more and more open each time.

now I'm home w beautiful israel and jordan stamps in my passport and its time to start saving up for my next trip. might be china to hike the great wall, might be turkey to see the whirling dervishes, might be hungary for a spiritual journey. time only tells and thank God i am graduating in may.

here are my pictures

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