Lost touch with tumblr.
Back in NYC. Went to Israel again, and finally settled in.
Here is a New York story.
Two days ago I was on the F train. Now I either have a terrible cold or allergies. Whatever it is I can’t stop sneezing. So, I was on the train and I sneezed. I live in New York, I have semi low expectations. I wasn’t expecting a bless you. What I received was the girl sitting next to me to move over.
Today I was riding the same train. Still stuck with this cold/allergies I didn’t give up my seat when an older religious man boarded the train. When other people left and he still stood in front of me, I stopped feeling guilty. I was examining him, the way you watch people on a subway. Then I let out the same level of sneeze the day before. This man who I was creepily staring at looking into my eyes and said bless you. It wasn’t much. At the very least it was basic human courtesy. But in a strange way it totally made my day. It reaffirmed that we weren’t living in a self absorbed, seat-moving city. It also reminded me of Israel.
Or maybe it was just a nice older man saying bless you to a girl on the train. He was gone by the next stop.
His piano playing ALMOST outweighs his vocals.
I have officially completed the Israel Trail.
The last day of the trail was perhaps, I don’t know. I don’t even think I can properly articulate it. It was the largest, the most shocking and at the same time placing moment of my life. I guess I should stop trying to categorize what happened and just tell the story.
So the last week of the trail was noteworthy. It was like the last half of the country we were on our own, but this last week we met up with other groups. It was almost if they were there pushing us to the end. One group was a group of religious girls from a field school where our guide, Omer, acted as their guide. Another was a group of eighteen-year-old Americans on a gap year program with a former tour guide of ours, Beni, performing as their tour guide. Lastly there was an army preparatory school from the Golan Heights comprised mostly of Ethiopian-Jewish teenagers. For the last four days on the trail, we saw these groups at every campsite we slept at and played cat and mouse with them along the trail.
It was the morning of our last day hiking and we woke up to the sound of rain ticking on the roofs our tents. At first, I remember being confused. I heard the sound and didn’t know what it was. It took me a good three minutes to realize our last day in the desert it was raining. I heard the Americans scream that they were going to sleep-in order to try to escape the rain. The religious girls were way gone, and we watched the army prep get on a large tour bus. There was a tension in the air. We all knew it was the last day we were going to wake up to the silence of the desert. We knew it was the last time we would be walking as a group. We got dressed; we left the tents and packed our jeep. We woke up to our first ascent.
Climbing the first mountain we were all silent. We reached the plateau and continued walking with the same awkward mindset. No one wanted to mention the obvious. We walked for another twenty minutes or so and then we saw a group of about fifty Africans with an army officer in front of them. At first we assumed it was the Ethiopian prep school on some pre-army drill or something. But at the same time, we knew something was wrong. There was an orderly fear in the way they were sitting.
We got closer to them and realized they were certainly not the young, energetic boys. There were men, women, children and again that certain severity among them. Our guides stopped about fifty meters from them. They spoke in Hebrew to each other and poked at the map. We all stood there not knowing necessarily what was going on or how to react. Here was a large group of people with an Army officer in front of them. They say dogs can smell fear. Humans can feel it.
We continued to walk. Now keep in mind, this was on the Israel National Trail. It was not in some deserted area or in a heart-wrenching Hollywood blockbuster. I promise. We stopped. Our guides spoke to the Army officer who was standing in front of them. We stood like a group of sheep, not knowing where to go or what to do without instruction. We stood in front of these people. As our guides were talking, I tried to look at them. I could barely bring myself to do it. I didn’t want to look in their eyes. Part of me was ashamed. For the last four months I would complain sometimes about being tired or how my feet hurt or how my bag was too heavy. Meanwhile, I had the most comfortable hiking gear on the market cradling my feet and resting on my back. Here were people who without a word from their lips told me that they had absolutely nothing. The guides confirmed that they were trying to hop the Egyptian boarder, hoping for work in Israel. They paid to fly out of Eritrea to Egypt and from Egypt came to Israel.
With our bleeding American hearts we asked what was going to happen to them. We were told they were probably going to be sent to a detention camp and then sent back to Eritrea. I wanted to do something. I had a loaf of bread in my bag that we didn’t need. But, at the same time there were soldiers with guns in front of me and I was too scared to do anything. I asked myself later: “Was that my ‘do the right thing’ moment? And did I make the wrong choice?” I still can’t answer that.
We were still standing in front of them. I had to get away. I think we all did. Around the same time, we all presented the general consensus of “Let’s go”. We started walking and I started thinking how different and similar we really were. Both groups were on a journey that ending in the same southern-most spot in Israel. Both groups were running away from something in hope for a better life. Both groups paid money to be in the very spot there were both surrounding. Both groups journey had just ended with the proverbial new one beginning. The main difference is the obvious one. While my journey ends, I am going to travel for a bit. Live a taste of the homeless vagabond life and eventually return to a comfortable lifestyle. Soon I will be back in a large apartment in New York City with a bed, and a dog, heat, an ever magically full refrigerator and a family that loves me and will support me. This life I’m living now will be a memory and stories to tell at my yuppie cocktail parties and to show my future children that their mother wasn’t always boring. The Eritreans on the other hand have nothing to return to. They spent all of their money on hope and something went wrong. Now instead of a better life, they have so much less then what they started with. I might be making assumptions, but I have a feeling you don’t leave a perfect life to start a new one.
I left that encounter feeling privileged. I don’t come from a wealthy family. Both my parents are teachers. The way I came on this trip was by using my entire life’s savings, with a gift trust from my uncle, along with working the whole summer. But seeing those people, I felt just truly blessed. That sounds so cliché, however this experience put me in a place where only the clichés can be applied. When nothing can really be said about a situation, only the things said over and over come to mind.
The story comes to an end at Shabbat dinner this weekend. We had Shabbat at a religious family’s house. The Torah portion of the week was about the exodus from Egypt. Hearing the story of Moses and how he led the Jews out of Egypt to a promised land, I automatically thought about the Africans and our small group of Americans. We all made it to the Promised Land, yet upon reaching it we were all surprised. I can only speak for myself, and to be truly honest, I still don’t understand anything. I do know that throughout the trail I was searching for a spiritual moment and in that beginning of the last day, I think I am beginning to uncover it.
So, with my blackberry I fell in a river. My boots also broke and I had to get new ones. Yet, that fact pertains less to my blogging ability. Both of these things make me sad. Now I will have many less photo posts(boo). Also, I can only post when I have internet access which, living in the desert, is rare. Now I am in Mitzpe Ramon.