According to the clock on my computer, it’s 4:45 AM California time. Which is 2:45 PM Wednesday afternoon in Turkey. We have less than three hours to go before landing in Istanbul.
I am forever grateful to the travel agent who landed me a bulkhead aisle seat in front of the bathrooms where I could get up anytime and stretch. The seats recline like a LaZBoy, so I have actually slept and awakened without the pain of a contortionist.
Here is what you get in economy on Turkish Airlines. A clean pillow, a clean blanket wrapped in sealed plastic, a little kit with socks, eyeshade and lip balm. A bag of hazelnuts (not pretzels), A bottle of water, a choice of HOT entrée served on a ceramic plate. After flying American, United, and Continental frequently in the US where I’m lucky to get a can of diet Coke, this is the lap of luxury!
At the moment we’re over the English Channel. We flew north out of LA over Fargo, N. Dakota, into Canada, staying south of Greenland and Iceland. We’re now curving south to cross Europe and into Istanbul.
Most of the passengers are either Turkish or are making connections on to other Middle Eastern cities. The young woman next to me is a graduate in Finance from USC, going home to Iran to see her father. She has not lived there for over ten years. She moved to the US with her mother and then went to college. She worked for a couple of years after graduating from high school, and then went on to college.
I’ve been reading one of the recommended books for this trip – Crossing Mandelbaum Gate by Kai Bird. The author grew up in an American diplomatic family in Israel in the 50’s and 60’s. He writes from the point of view of a Christian child observing the changes taking place as the Israelis asserted their claim upon the land, and the Palestinians grew more marginalized. He writes about real life people that his diplomat father and mother knew and entertained, and the experiences they had living in a country seeking its identity with the interplay of American political interventions, and the Arabic countries surrounding Israel attempting to keep a stronghold on borders that were in continual flux. He writes of what it was like to be school child living in the Arabic quarter of Jerusalem, going to a Christian school, and making friends with families of every religion in a country that had
All the names are there – Abba Eban, Golda Meir, Abdul Nasser, David Ben Gurion, and Moshe Dayan of the six day war fame. It is very descriptive of the entire Middle East, as his family also lived in Saudi Arabia for several yars.
I want to keep my own mind as open as possible to see the complexity of the fragile peace process taking place in Israel and the surrounding borders right now. It seems to be that although American sentiment has been and continues to be in support of the Israelis, the Israelis cannot let go of any action that has ever happened in the short history of their country, and therefore tend to keep the conflict alive and keep retaliation for any act of aggression as overwhelming as possible.
However, I have never been to Israel, and I can only imagine what it must be like to live in a country the size of New Jersey surrounded by people who politically do not want you to exist.
How does one solve a challenge like that? Will I have any more clarity after being there? Can I play a role in any way to bring about a peaceful understanding of the issues when I get home?
Day 2 Istanbul to Tel Aviv
Ataturk Airport in Istanbul is a mega mall! AS I had a six-our wait there, I had a chance to peruse the many shops – both duty free or not. I also enjoyed a delicious Turkish meal and sat at a table with a beautiful woman who now lives in Cincinnati, but was raised in northwest Iran – she was a professor of English Literature who recently left her position at Kansas State University as she and her husband moved to Ohio. She hopes to find a position at the U of Cincinnati. She and her four month old baby boy were traveling to Tabriz, Iran to see her parents. We had a most interesting conversation about the misconceptions people have of middle easterners.
She said she had been raised Muslim, but does not practice anymore. She said she views God as bigger than one religion, and that she sees people such as Gandhi, Buddha and Jesus as her heroes – people to emulate but not to worship. She was resentful that while she is back in Iran she will be required to dress with a headscarf, and deal with the suppression of women that is taking place there. She had a very low opinion of Achminijad (sp?), feeling that he and the Ayatollahs have done much to ruin the country.
After wandering the malls of the airport, and waiting for my gate to open for check-in, the flight finally took off at approximately 12:45 AM, arriving in Tel Aviv around 2 AM.
Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport has a very clean, sparse and somewhat cold feeling after the hodge podge energy of Istanbul. The attitude of people was also very different. The people on my flight to Istanbul were very relaxed, very friendly, very easy going. Most of he people on my flight to Israel acted as though they were on a mission. Getting off the plane was a crush. I sat in my seat for a lon period of time holidng my arm up next to my face because there was a man with a big camera bag standing in the aisle oblivious to the fact that he had hit me in the head two or three times. When I was able to walk off the place and on to the waiting bus to take me to the terminal, and young man very politely assisted me with my bag which in the atmophpere was a major act of kindness. Inside the halls of the airport, no one spoke – they all walked as though they had an urgent appointment. I kept wondering “where does one go in such a hurry at 2 AM?” Thankfully customs and baggage were easy and efficient and I was out the door in into a taxi in short order. Arriving at the hotel, the driver had to clear security - a flashlight was shone into my face and I was asked what I was going to do there. They must have been satisfied with my answer, and they allowed us to pass.
My hotel, the “Sadot” was actually on the third floor of a major hospital. It had a very Euro-modern feel, and was so comfortable. I got to bed around 3:30 AM, and slept until nearly 11:00. I took one of those showers that feels as though you have sloughed off weeks worth of sweat and skin cells, and felt so refreshed to get into clean clothes.
Thus Began the Israel Adventure
I arrived back at the Ben Gurion airport to meet my group. As I waited in the receiving area, I found our driver, Sammy. He is short and a bit portly, with a beard and glasses. Sort of an Israeli Santa Claus. It took a while for our group to get through customs, and out to our area. But we joined one another and off we went to drive to the Galillee area, and check into our Kibbutz. On the way, we saw many Arab villages, part of the wall along the West Bank, and signs posted pointing to Jersualem, Nazareth, and to get to our kibbutz, we were on the road to Damascus. We also passed by the area which is known to be the place where Armageddon is to begin. Interestingly enough, it didn’t happen last Saturday. So it looked like a very peaceful valley – crops growing, even fields of sunflowers! Not too ominous.
Our group checked in and off we went to our respective rooms. They to shower, and I since I had been refreshed with a good sleep and shower, to get organized a bit.
We then met a man named Rabbi Marc Rosenstein, an American who has been living in Israel for the past forty years. His mission is to educate both Arab and Jewish people about getting along together. His organization is called the Galilee Foundation, and one of the ways he does this is by having Arab and Jewish children learn to do circus acts. He says, “It’s about overcoming fear, and it’s about trust. It’s based on non-verbal communication, it represents a multi cultural tradition – and its purpose is to make people smile.” Learn more at www.eng.makom-bagalil.org.il
Off we went to an absolutely fabulous dinner at an Arab restaurant with all kinds of wonderful dips – hummus, baba ganoush, tabbouleh, other things I do not know the names of, but that were yummy, fresh home baked pita bread, and kabobs. We findihed with Moroccan Mint tea, and off we went to bed.
My room – I would rank it one step less than the ashram in India. The bed is a flat slab of foam. The hot water does work, and the shower was adequate. I discovered these little flying bugs in the room which seem to especially like the lights in the bathroom, and the mosquitoes, which liked to buzz bomb me until I applied my trusty Off wipes and left the dry cloth on my pillow for extra protection. No bites for me – but in this part of the world, the birds don’t seem to know that they are to be quiet until morning, so they began at 3 AM. Since I went to sleep just past midnight, this was a short night.
Now it’s 7:15 AM and it’s time for breakfast. Today we go to Nazareth- then to a Basilica, then tonight to a Druze Village where we will learn about the Druze people and be hosted for a dinner. Then back to the kibbutz for a restful night’s sleep (my affirmation).