Comment

Return to Basics & Advances

This is a declaration of apology and excitement. I haven't written since July. I will be back with a long travel post this month. Along with travel entries, I will write shorter anecdotes of sociable and cartographic happenings.

The news of the week includes my new job at the University of Utah and a DJ gig.

I became a mentor student athletes. I held a similar position at the University of Oregon in the Services for Student Athletes Department. I provide counseling and tutoring sessions a couple of male student athletes.

I will be spinning at the W Lounge in Salt Lake City, Friday night (September 16th, 2011). It is an intro spin/mix from 9pm-10:30pm because I haven't built a strong reputation here. I am sticking to my disco/funk passion. No more new top40, hip-hop, electro, reggaeton, techno, and r&b.

Here are some links to the music I will play Friday night.
Flight Facilities - Foreign Language (Drop Out Orchestra Remix)
Bit Funk - Rap Music
Justin Faust - Girl Talk
Kartell - Get Down

Comment

Comment

Dr. Maggr's Revenge

Journal Entry # 65 - Road Entry#55 (Flight --> Salt Lake City to Burbank - June 9, 2011)

I wake up at 6:30AM and shower quickly. This means I've missed my run time at 5:30AM on my first morning in Cairo. The purpose for getting up so early after the travel day and getting swindled by Dr. Maggr was for the pyramids tour we'd lined up for the whole day. Ahmed, our host, concierge, and Egyptian educator set up the driver so that we could visit all the pyramids in one day. There are more than just the three main Giza pyramids like I thought. There are roughly 12-15 pyramids in the greater Cairo area, and our first stop was Giza.

The opportunity for one of the original seven wonders of the world awaited us. The driver maneuvered through the morning traffic towards the massive pyramids surrounded by morning fog/smog/clouds. The pollution dense above; preventing the sun's preeminent power. I think it helped that it was the middle of January and the day was remarkably dry, temperate, and somewhat brisk. I was wearing shorts and a long-sleeve running pullover.

We made it to the base of the pyramid area where we were greeted by 3 men and a gentleman who spoke superb english. I knew we were in for a long sales pitch as soon as we stepped inside his 'office'. His sales office was a entry-room of a housing development that was composed of stone, grey, and dilapidated. He gave us a stunning overview of the 9 pyramids and the Sphinx that make up Giza what it was as a city, landscape, and space. The tour he verbalizes can be enjoyed on only horseback or camel (more expensive). I know from my research that the cost of entry into the pyramids is only 35 egyptian pounds with a student card and 70 without. I also know that entering the Sphinx area is another 15 egyptian pounds with ID. As soon as I running these numbers through my head in his presentation he says that the biggest packaged tour costs 250 egyptian pounds. He says we'll have a guide, we'll get to do everything imaginable in the Giza area, etc, etc... I crap on his initial price by counter offering 70 egyptian pounds for the horseback ride and a basic overview including the Sphinx. He then begins to explain that the 250 pounds were for the camels and the horses are cheaper. Sam asks, "How Much?". He responds with a quick '175 pounds'. The pricing was all over the place. He started to fire off different horse packages for different options in the area. I was still stuck on 70 pounds and didn't care what he had to say. I'm not going to get bamboozled two days in a row.

Johnny wasn't even appreciating the situation and decided to walk out on his own and test the prices at the gate. (I suspect he was insulted because he did a bunch of research online about tourist prices at Giza.) I was tempted to leave with him but Sam, Jackie, and I came to the conclusion that the horses would be a decent adventure for 100 pounds.

From 8:00AM - 10:00AM we rode the abused stallions around the Giza landscape. To enter Giza with our tour guide, we had to enter through the 'backdoor' and tip a guard that relaxed with tea and hookah. He stood guard at a portion of the wall where it had been smashed. There were dozens of locales with their camels entering the gate as the same time as us. These men were prepared to take the camels to the pyramid area where people would tip them a negotiated fee for a picture on the camel in front of the massive pyramids. The three of us had a blast taking pictures the two hours we were there. Here is a shot of me at one of the large pyramids and Sphinx.



Even though we didn't want the group to split up, we agreed with Johnny to meet back at the car between 10:15 and 10:30 so that we could go to the next pyramid. He kept his word and we drove off to the Dashour pyramid southwest of Giza. The Dahshur pyramid is unique in that it is one of the pyramids you can still enter as a tourist and for miniscule negotiated price. This massive pyramid stands on it's own with two other pyramids in the far distance from it. The four of us hiked up to the entry point near the middle of the pyramid. I had imagined that the pyramids would be a hard and straight climb up on a slick surface like a paved parking garage.

This hike up was quick and easy because of the steps and the traversing aspect to the stairs. At the top, we found a man asking for a photographers fee that we quickly disregarded with "We don't have any cameras with us" and climbed into the pyramid's descending tunnel. The tunnel was roughly 3 feet wide by 4 feet tall. Sam and I crammed ourselves into the space where Johnny and Jackie weren't having as difficult a time.

Finally, we made it to the bottom of the pyramid with a quick re-stretching moment. During the arm and leg extension, I inhaled deeply to a rotten aroma of what smelled like rusted nails the were marinated in eggs. All four of us got over the pungency by taking out our cameras and snapping "illegal" photos. We walked from the first catacomb to the next through a little 3x3 tunnel and then up a 'newly' manufactured wooden staircase to the final room. We spent about 20 minutes inside the pyramid before ascending back up the chute to our original entrance. We took some more photos on the steps of the pyramid while we walked down. I posed for a picture (trying to simulate lifting a boulder) in commemoration of the enslaved jews who built them.

Jackie and I walked around to the east side of the pyramid where we found a group of 4-5 puppies. It was completely random to find them there without the mother or father. A police guard to the pyramid approached us as we walked further down the east side of the pyramid. At first, we thought we were breaking our tourist pyramid 'code', but as his face manifested as he neared, there was a natural smile.

Ali, the police officer, offered to take multiple pictures of Jackie and I on his camel and near the pyramidion on the east side. The pyramidion there is the reconstructed top of the 'Red Pyramid' in Dahshur. At the time we didn't know, but we were metaphorically standing atop the 'Red Pyramid' when Ali offered to boost us up to the top of the pyramidion for a photo. We obliged and took a couple shots.



Jackie and I jumped down from the reconstructed monument to retrieve our cameras and move on to the next tourist site - Memphis. We were driven to Memphis were I was not in the mood to pay more for seeing historical pieces and architecture. Jackie and Johnny were sharing my sentiment, so Sam went into the tourist site of Memphis on his own. The three of us played cards with our cab driver at the cafe outside the entrance. We enjoyed tea and ate some chips that Jackie brought along with her. Our driver tried to explain us a card game called '41'. It was tough to understand why he kept on winning every hand even though Jackie and I each got to 41 at times throughout the card session.

I guessed we missed some pretty amazing sites and historic pieces in the Memphis necropolis. Using the web, I discovered that Memphis is the location of Rameses II Colossus statue standing almost 33 feet tall. Sam didn't elaborate on the magnitude of the exhibits in Memphis and we drove quickly over to the step pyramid of Djoser in Sakkarah. Our driver realized our desire to save some money so he recommended to drive us as close to the pyramid as possible without paying the tourist admission prices of 20 or 30 egyptian pounds. We tipped the front gate guard in a quick chat and we drove through the gates. He pulled over to the side of the road 500 meters from the first memorial courtyard of the pyramid. We took some pictures and wondered why this pyramid looked so different from the rest of the pyramids. We got back into the car and jetted off back to the hotel around 3pm.

We were all dropped off in Tahrir Square where I got lunch for 20 EGP and then back to the hotel. There I finished my lunch and waited for Ahmed to get back. He said he would help me get my money back from Dr. Maggr for the swindle job he pulled the day before. I was excited for this confrontation and to get my money back. I used the internet for a bit as well before Ahmed showed up. He explained how it was all going to 'go-down' at Dr. Maggr's shop.

I was to walk into Dr. Maggr's shop with Jackie and demand our money back after throwing the fake papyrus on the table. I was to emphatically demand the money back until he never produced the cash. I was then to say I'm going to call the police and storm out of the shop. Ahmed said in order for it to all work out, I was to never loose my firm position and agree with anything they said. I understood completely.

Ahmed then took Jackie and I to an 'authentic' papyrus shop downtown where they quickly got to joke around with our fake papyrus and explain the difference between the authentic and counterfeit. I took it as a slight insult to my intelligence and didn't appreciate being additionally mocked/ridiculed. From there, Ahmed walked with us all the way until a block away from Dr. Maggr's store.

Our minds were set on a refund, and it felt as if we threw the door open to Dr. Maggr's store. I took the initiative to unroll my papyrus and throw it down on the desk. I said, "Give me my money back, these are fake." Jackie followed my lead. Dr. Maggr wasn't there at this moment and his "son" or more-likely associate said in great english, "excuse me but how do you know these are fake". We went back in forth arguing for a couple sentences and then I turned around and said I was going to the police to report them. As I walked out, Dr. Maggr was walking towards me on the street. He pretended not to recognize me and I shouted, "you better give me my money back or I'm getting the police!" He proclaimed that everything was legitimate and that he had done nothing wrong. I was enraged, pointed at him, and loudly said "bullshit!" He and his associates at a strong resistance to our demands Ahmed came by our side with the police. The conversation subsided slightly and we finally agreed on a 200 pounds refund for myself and 75 pound refund for Jackie. This was half of what we both paid and we finally 'settled' for it. It was a great swindle job by them and a learning experience for myself. I'm glad I got this lesson out of the way within the first day of traveling in Egypt because there would be plenty of other 'touts' viewing my white skin as a $$$ symbol.

Ahmed walked with us back to the hotel and we took a pit-stop at a convenient store for a "celebratory" Pepsi-Cola on Ahmed's dime. I was jacked up on testosterone and finally relaxed when I got on the subway to David and Adam's house. Before getting on the subway, I packed all my belongings, my 200 pounds, and said goodbye to Johnny, Jackie, Sam, Ahmed, and Walid for my first couch surfing adventure. I was off to stay with David, an Australian expatriate living in Maddi, Egypt. Adam was his British roommate and they had been living there for 4 or 5 years. They both taught at the British International School in Maddi.

The subway ride south from Tahrir Square contained a intense mixutre of emotion. Fear, freedom, joy, desperation, anxiety, excitement, inclusion, exclusion, paranoia, and more flooded my brain and senses. As I walked out of the subway station, I felt happiness following David's great directions to his flat. Maddi is definitely a quieter area and suburb of Cairo. Even though it is only 10 minutes by subway, it is aesthetically wold's apart from downtown. I walked past the Maddi police station like David instructed, but never found his street. Luckily, a different Australian was walking by and heard my english - asking for directions from a police officer. He kindly guided me to David's street and explained he had just moved to Cairo for a job in the oil industry.

I entered David and Adam's flat after knocking politely on the door. It felt wonderful to be with some Couch Surfing representatives in a totally foreign place. I continue to find this beautiful and delicious sentiment with almost all couch surfing users. The three of us talked for an hour and a half in the living while awaiting the food delivery. He explains that dinner will cost 15 pounds and it will be huge. I was excited. It was "comfort" food and didn't contain distinguishable flavor - but a great value nonetheless.

I finally went to be after using the internet at 11:00PM. I took this photo right before passing out. I was sleeping in the laundry room of their flat - much better than sleeping in a downtown Cairo hotel.

Comment

Comment

Worthy and Worthless

Journal Entry # 63 - Road Entry#53 (Mom's House – La Canada, CA - March 8, 2011)

wRite iT... wRite
5:35pm ... ... ...

The four of us wake up, exit the bus, and enter the bus station. The first thing we find is the terminal in which our 8:00am bus is leaving from the station to the boarder crossing. We have almost 3 hours to kill so we slept. I positioned my bags in a way so that I could spread across the seats comfortably and lean back.



You can see Sam's strategy for sleeping in the bus terminal, but Johnny and Jackie decided to sleep on the ground away from us vigilantes and our make-shift blindfolds. I slept until about 6:45am when I got up and walked around the bus terminal to find an internet cafe. I paid the nice lady to use the computer for an hour and sent some e-mails back home and checked my subscribed websites I love so dearly. It was here that I got my first real understanding and view of the Ducks National Championship game against Auburn and all the highlights. It was brief, but I understood what happened and was somewhat relieved not to have seen the whole game because of the severe disappointment that a lot of my friends must have felt afterwards. It was an incredible season and I can't wait for the Ducks to do it again later on in my lifetime.

I got off the computer, got my things, and then boarded the local bus to the border crossing. We each paid 6 shekels for this 10 minute bus ride through Eilat to the border. On the bus, we met this British guy who was on his way to Nuweiba to go scuba diving for the day.

Once the local bus arrived at the border, the five of us got off and casually started to walk to the gates. The British guy walked much faster and by the time we got to the gates, he was already on the other side of customs and in Israel. He knew exactly what he was doing, where to pay, who to talk to, and didn't have a bag quite like ours. We walked through the first patrolled area to the departure zone of the Israeli border. We each paid 101 shekels to leave the country. The border tax here is actually the lowest amongst the entire country. I found out later that the departure tax from Israel to Jordan in Aqaba and through to Amman are higher than 101 shekels.

I was the first to pay, and I stopped to set my bags down and change my clothes once I got through to the "limbo" zone between Israel and Egypt. I was completely changed and refreshed with my lenses in my eyes once the three of them got through and we walked into the Egyptian customs/border control area next.

The entry into the Egyptian customs station from the Israeli customs station was a like stepping through the closet into Narnia in terms of differences. The Egyptian x-ray machine wasn't stationed with an attendant and we didn't even scan our bags. We walked straight through to the next area where there was just a podium and a man in a blazer jacket standing there. There were maybe a dozen or so Egyptians scattered throughout the station, collectively in groups of two or three, and either smoking, drinking tea, or just staring in ____________(curiosity, angst, frustration, awe, adjectives).

There were only two military/police personnel there. We had to fill out some papers and talk to the only Egyptian customs agent that spoke English. He told us that he had to make some phone calls on our behalf regarding our intended trip to Cairo and what we had booked through Masada Tours in Tel Aviv. He confirmed our story and prescence in Egypt so he allowed us to purchase our visas in the border control station for $15. We all left the customs station relieved that we were allowed to enter and find our private ride to Cairo.

It was our first experience with the touts of Egypt while walking to the private van. The taxi drivers and shuttle providers were all yelling at us to take their ride ("Sharm El Sheik!", "Dahab", "Cairo", they all yelled). We got to the van, showed the driver our receipt from Masada Tours and Tel Aviv, and started driving to Cairo. The total cost in getting from Tel Aviv to Cairo was $160, much higher than I anticipated in going by land and through a "cheap" country. The distance was only 480 miles and it was taking us 15 hours approximately. Nevertheless, we have a whole experience of getting through and across the Negev and Sinai deserts and through the Suez to Cairo. The most interesting part of this experience came when we got into the private van with this Egyptian driver.

Collectively, we were very excited to get on the road and on our way to Cairo. We took pictures before and during the first 20 minutes of the car ride until the luster wore off. Then our personal states indicated that we were still tired. Jackie, Sam, and Johnny slept at different times all the way to Cairo. The ride to Cairo from the border was a little more than 6 hours. We stopped along the way to eat lunch at this oasis cafe right before the Suez crossing. We didn't know that until later, the food was severely overpriced for us "tourists" (we all had to get used to this).

The array of sand, dust, checkpoints, and limitedly populated villages were continuously within our peripheral for the drive. I stayed awake the whole time writing and jotting down cliff notes. With 96km left, I dozed off until we entered city limits of Cairo (waking up with 25km to go). As we entered the city limits, our enthusiasm, curiosity, and demeanor lifted to the point where we entered the country earlier. The four of us found a recommended hotel online for backpackers and last-minute arrivals called the Osiris Hotel. We gave the driver the name and general vicinity to where the hotel was, and he weaved our vehicle through the immense amounts of traffic to the city center. Along the way, I took a picture of this huge mosque silhouetted against the afternoon sun.



The driver finally pulled over to where our hotel was so Sam and I could run upstairs to the hotel and check if they had room vacancy for the four of us. The Osiris hotel was on the top floor of this building and staffed by two french owners. They told us there was no vacancy so we asked for a local recommendation. They were very nice and pointed us in the direction of the Paris Hotel around the block near Tahrir Square (the central square of Cairo). We were in the thick of the tourist area where we got out of our van and met Walid outside on the street. Walid escorted the four of us up the lift to the hotel and explained that he was the owner of the hotel. He and his brother owned the hotel and named it the 'Paris Hotel' because the area in which it is located was colonized and influenced by the French. The squares and the architecture of the area reflected this influence. I somewhat felt like I was in the film 'Inception' because of the buildings and the fact that I knew I wasn't in France (an identity conflict scenario).

Walid said that we could pay 75 Egyptian Pounds a night ($15) for the room. He showed us a multi-bed room for the four of us. This dorm style room came with a shared bathroom and plenty of space to make it a 'home base' for our time in Cairo. I was insistent that I needed to Couch Surf in Egypt, so I kept sending messages to hosts in the area hoping that I didn't have to stay multiple nights in this hotel. The four of us were satisfied with the accommodations, settled in, and then left to walk around during sunset. As the navigator, I led us towards the Nile river and the cairo tower. We had to walk like an Egyptian through the streets to get to the Nile. That meant that we had to strategically dodge, maneuver, and weasel our way through the city streets.

We made it to one of the bridges that connect the east side of Cairo to one of the Nile islands. We stood on the bridge and took pictures (group and individual) like quintessential tourists. We then made it across the bridge to the island and started walking south past the Chilis restaurant. We were amused with the fact there was a Chilis in the middle of the Nile river, Egypt. We actually tried to go inside the river boat where the Chilis restaurant was because I had to use the bathroom. We were denied because there was a formal, guest-listed event going on inside.

The four of us walked further south along a river parkway to the point where we hit another bridge that connect the island with the east bank. We then looked right and saw the facade to Cairo's opera building and another large mosque. We took a chance to get closer and look at both of the buildings from outside until walking further towards the west bank and a different bridge.

I was getting somewhat tired and hungry, so I was the first one to suggest that we turn around and head back to the hotel. We stopped by an ATM on the way back and then crossed the southern bridge over to the east bank to where the other main square was.

That is when we met Dr. Maggr on the street. Actually, he introduced himself to Sam, Jackie, and Johnny when I was walking ahead (across the street). I went back across the street to see why Sam, Jackie,and Johnny had stopped to talk. This was when he introduced himself and revealed that he was a business man and had been to the United States many times. He inquired to our hotel location, where we were from in the United States, and to our purpose in Egypt. He then told us that his daughter was getting married the next evening on a Nile Cruise and we were all invited.

I was so thrilled that we were being accepted and greeted in such a kind manner. Dr. Maggr asked us if we would come to the wedding and I was first to blurt out,"Of Course, I would love to!". He then proceeded to ask us back to his shop next to the Intercontinental Hotel so he could give us his card, directions to the wedding, and drink some tea. I remember feeling dignified, joyous, and thankful to have met such a hospitable and generous Egyptian man so quickly.

He escorted the four of us around the corner of one street and then through a ally-looking street to his corner shop - directly across from the Intercontinental. He invited us to sit down and drink tea, with his son going to fetch/make the tea for us. At this point, Sam started to refuse to enter, sit down, and drink tea with everyone. I mistook his discomfort with the idea that he was being a pessimistic American that needed to open up his realm of opportunities, possibilities, and cultures.

I sat closest to Dr. Maggr with Jackie immediately to my right and my other two friends to the right of her. Dr. Maggr's associate/son brought in the tea and he began showing us the variety of artwork throughout the shop. There were huge papyrus pieces on the walls varying in price from $50-$500. He then began by saying that he like us so much that he was going to give us a free smaller piece from his collection. He said that he hand painted every one of these papyrus designs and each one took more than 4 months to complete because of the intricate detail. He then provided us with the option of adding a specialized hand-caligraphy of hieroglyphics on each piece as a gift for a friend or family member back in the United States. I said it would be nice to give one to my brother and have his name written on the artwork. Then he suggested that we could have our names written on another piece of artwork for ourselves.

After all the names were written and the tea luke-warm, Dr. Maggr then pronounced another monologue addressing that it is very expensive and time consuming to produce each hand-painted papyrus. He politely asked us to contribute whatever we thought the artwork was worth in respect to our budget. He sympathized with the young and fresh outlook we had on the cost of travel and our backgrounds. By that time, he knew that we wouldn't be able to afford the $100-$200 asking prices displayed amongst other artwork hanging on the wall.

I was first to act and I offered up 400 Egyptian Pounds for my two customized souvenirs ($70 USD) thinking I was getting a great bargain. I felt so good about this purchased and the fact that we were attending a Egyptian wedding the next night! Then Jackie paid 200 EGP, then Johnny paid 80 EGP, and Sam paid 40 EGP. It took me about 20 steps to realize I had been bamboozled for ridiculous artifacts I didn't even need. I was so enthralled by the hospitality and wedding option I was more than happy to offer up $70. Dr. Maggr was and still is an official Egyptian enemy to myself and the United States of America.

The fury in my eyes finally subsided when I spoke with Ahmed back at the hotel. I explained the story and he settled my anger with a solution to getting my money back the next day. Although he provided a solution to my problem, I still felt residual effects from my anger while we went downstairs to order dinner for 9 EGP. The food was mediocre and the only resonating quality was the price. I was off it by the time I turned myself in for sleep. I sent out some e-mails a posted a blog/journal entry before going to bed.

Welcome to Egypt.

Comment

Comment

Time on Time

Journal Entry # 63 - Road Entry#52 (Mom's Office Garage – La Canada, CA - March 2, 2011)

It's the first full day of traveling independence. I have from January 21st until March 1st to do whatever I want in as many countries as I want. I am still committed to running the marathon in Egypt, so I set out for a morning run at 8:30am from Itay's apartment.

I take my bag with me, including some clothes to change into, because Itay's shower still wasn't working. I ran along Nachalat Binyamin Street to the Carmel Market and then west towards the sea through some surrounding neighborhoods. I got to the promenade once again and ran north towards the hotel where the rest of the extended travelers were staying. It was still early enough in the morning that I found other people running and working out. Especially in this one area with muscle resisting equipment. Along the promenade, there are these public workout stations. Each machine is designed to use the body-weight of the user to provide resistance. I worked out at this specific one near the Marina Hotel. In total, I spent a little more than an hour running and working out before walking up to their room in the Marina Hotel.

As I entered the Marina Hotel, the bellhop stopped me and asked me if I had a room in the hotel. For some reason, I lied and said I was staying in Room 307. I did stay in that room the night the Taglit group stayed there, but not currently. I obviously didn't look like I "belonged" in this hotel, so I guess my tone and confidence proved to be sufficient for him as he let me walk upstairs. I got to Adam, Sam, and Johnny's room and knocked quickly. There was no answer.

I was slightly worried because they said they would be there until 10am and I could come meet them. Luckily, the girls were staying in the room next door and Anna answered the door after I knocked. She was the only one in the room. The television was on and she was getting ready for the day. She told me that everyone was down at breakfast. I asked to use the shower in replacement of Itay's shower.

After my shower, Sarah, Nettie, and Jackie returned from breakfast. I was eating some bread, nuts, and dried fruit for breakfast. I had purchased them the day before near the Carmel Market. The girls finished getting ready while I was chatting with the guys about how they got breakfast for free this morning. They said that there was another Taglit group in the hotel and the staff assumed that they were apart of that group. They suggested that I go to the cafeteria area to try my luck with the staff and a 'complete' breakfast. I told them it was fine and I was grateful enough just to have a shower.

The first move for the 8 of us was to walk north to where the Egyptian Embassy was. Jackie, Sam, Johnny, and I had to get our visas for the trip to Cairo. We were scheduled to take a midnight bus from Tel Aviv to Eilat this day. After getting confused with the location a little bit, we made it to the embassy at 11:20-11:30AM. The embassy was closed.

There hours are 9-11 on weekdays. It was a Thursday morning and we were pissed that we missed it. We didn't know what to do and the security guard at the embassy told us to go across the street to a tour company called Massada Tours for help. Johnny and I did research on the prices of everything and also didn't want to spend an arm and a leg to get to Cairo. We knew that it should only cost $15 for the visa and around $20-30 for the bus ride from Taba to Cairo.

The problem was that we didn't and couldn't get our visas processed now. This tour company could expedite the process only if we booked a private van from Taba to Cairo for us. They had business connections with the right people to make it all possible for us at the reasonable rate of $75. I was pissed that I had to pay more than I was supposed to. I got over it quickly enough because it was our only option and we had all agreed to go together.

While the 4 of us were working on our Egypt trip, the three girls (Sarah, Anna, Nettie) and Adam were preparing for their weekend trip to Jerusalem and Shabbat dinner with Lee. They finished their plans as we finished paying the 250 shekels each and getting our "confirmation receipts". The 8 of us then walked north a little before heading west again to the promenade. It was almost lunch time now and we were all getting hungry. I suggested going to the new port area of Tel Aviv because I saw a bunch of shops, restaurants, and vendors there on my morning run the day prior. We leisurely made our way there; taking pictures and joking along the way.

The boardwalk market was congested this Thursday afternoon. There were temporary and permanent vendors throughout this portion of the new port area. A variety of specialty foods could be purchased along with lunch options. We all called it the seahorse market and cafe area because of a giant seahorse image/logo on the main portion of the building.

We walked throughout the open and closed air market for a little. I then decided on eat a hot pastrami sandwich for lunch. Everyone got something of their own to eat, and we sparingly shared each of our items as we sat on the deck of the new port area. Nettie and Sarah bought bread, cheese, and foie gras (fat liver of a duck or goose). I liked it along with Sarah, Anna, and Nettie. Mostly everyone else didn't enjoy the taste and flavor. It was my first time eating foie gras.

I liked the foie gras to the point where I was extremely tempted to wash the flavor away with some sweet yogurt dessert on the boardwalk. I had a vanilla yogurt with banana slices, strawberry slices, chocolate syrup, and crumbled granola. I shared my treat with the group as we walked back to the hotel to meet up with Michal. Michal had the rest of the day off from her base. She was waiting in the lobby when we arrived. We all shared time speaking with her before all heading out the lobby down the boardwalk south towards Jaffa. Noah met up with us on the promenade as we walked south as well. It was nice to add some more people to the walk. I unfortunately had to leave the group and the walk to get some laundry done. I had thrown my clothes in the wash at Itay's place, but it wouldn't be fully dry by the time I had to leave that evening. I split up with the group after we passed the Intercontinental Hotel and headed back to Itay's flat.

I split off back east and walked through the carmel market area again on my way to his flat. Along the way, I bought almost 2 kilograms worth of dried fruits and nuts. It was a great decision because these little snacks lasted me more than a week during my next leg of my travels. I got back to Itay's place with my goodies, a mission to get my laundry dry, and to write some of my previous travels during the drying process. I found a local laundromat a couple of blocks away from his place. I dropped it off and went to a cafe around the corner. There I had a tea while writing a bit of the travelog. While I was there, I also used the internet to send out some couch surfing requests in Cairo and Luxor. I also made it a point to correspond with some e-mails, Facebook, and some of my favorite websites from home (ESPN.com, Mint.com, and Nikerunning.com).

Maybe 2 hours later, I was finished with my communication and correspondence and ready to pick up my clothes. I took my bag-o-fabric back to Itay's flat and started folding it. Once I was done folding, I started to clean up his apartment for him. It wasn't in a catastrophic state, but I figured I could help in anyway because I was only staying less than 24 hours. He was being so gracious and hospitable, and I just gave him the disc as a thank you so far. I packed my bag once I was done with cleaning his place up a bit. I didn't attempt the bathroom, but straightened up the living room, bedroom, and kitchen. I then went to meet my Taglit friends that had walked to Jaffa and back. They were only a couple hundred meters away from my location. I had communication with them because Sarah let me take their cell phone. They called me once they had gotten close.

I walked with them from Allenby, along King George, to the Dizengoff center area to find a place to get dinner together. We all settled on a restaurant called Bar Giyora. It was a bit pricey, so I chose to have just the soup on the menu as my main entree. They called it 'Orange Soup' because it was a blend of butternut squash, carrot, and sweet potatoes in soup form. The 9 of us sat down to dinner, took pictures, shared more fun tales of the Taglit trip and other trips. Then Ron and his girlfriend came and joined us 30 minutes into our arrival. They had come Ra'anana, a little north of Tel Aviv (suburb). Now the 11 of us took up the entire space of this restaurants rear end. We ordered another round of beverages and cocktails and continued to have a great time chatting! It was great to be there as Johnny, Sam, Jackie, and I knew it would be goodbye to Noah, Sarah, Anna, Nettie, and Adam. We all finally said "see you later" outside the restaurant around 9:30pm.

From there, my three travel companions went back to the hotel as I went back to Itay's to grab my bag and stuff the final things into my bag before getting to the bus station at 11:00pm. Once I got back to Itay's place, he was there and we said goodbye to each other. He graciously sent me off with a couple snacks and I walked from his place to the bus station. The central bus station of Tel Aviv is actually in the south of town - where I would be meeting Jackie, Sam, and Johnny for our midnight bus to Eilat on our way to Cairo.

In order to get to the bus station, my walk required me to walk through the tougher neighborhood of Tel Aviv - (alone and at night). It wasn't the most comfortable walk in the world, but it was predicated by Ron telling me that this area was the "dangerous" neck of Tel Aviv. Nonetheless, it was fine and I was a little late getting to the bus station (around 11:15pm). My lack of punctuality wasn't appreciated by Sam because we all agreed to meet at 11:00pm in the train station. I was trying to get there as fast as possible with a mini-bus from Itay's place, but none came and I decided to walk.

Once I got to the train station, I got the tickets from the electronic kiosk and we waited for almost 30 minutes before boarding the bus to Eilat. While we were waiting, these two Arab teenagers were singing in the bus station and I was appreciating their musicality. I was smiling, tapping my foot, and slightly moving right and left to their singing. They noticed this and started talking to me in Hebrew. I said "Ani Lo Metaber Evrit" (I don't speak Hebrew) and continued in english. They had fun with me, tried to teach me a part of the song, and then started making fun of me because of my naivete.

Johnny and I were relieved that these two rascals didn't board our bus to Eilat because they had a lot of energy and could have been singing all the way down to Eilat as well. We all passed out on the bus and then woke up in Eilat at 4:45am when the bus ended.

Comment

Comment

PC - Political Cartoon

I found a political cartoon on this guys blog and it was interesting in relationship to my travels and interest in sports.

Day 42 (2) - Brett Mubarak “Can I send you a...

Robert Doodles on his Blog Daily. It is pretty cool considering he is a quality artist and somewhat funny. The next posting of mine will be regarding my trip from Israel to Cairo... be prepared for the upcoming details in Egyptian Revolution.

Comment

Comment

Inspired Modernity

Journal Entry # 61 - Road Entry#51 (Uludag University – Gourkle, Turkey (Outside of Bursa) - 12:11pm (Local) - February 22, 2011)

I am sitting in a Turkish Economics class at Uludag University with my Couch Surfing host Ertug. I will write about this eventually, but now back to the story of my journey in Israel on the final day of the Taglit-Birthright program.

It is January 19th and Ron is sleeping on the ground near the beds. He is the first to wake up as he, Matan, and Oria have to catch a taxi to the train station to get back to their respective bases. They have to work today. I get up right after Ron gets out of the shower to put on my running clothes. I am 9 days away from running my first marathon and I have to get at least 5 miles in this morning.

I left the hotel as the soldiers are getting into their cab and I say goodbye and “see you later”. I then warmed up for a minute before setting out on a run north along the promenade. I took my camera and iPod with me and took some morning-glory photos while listening to music along the way. The run took me 2.5 miles out past the new-port area of Tel Aviv. This is where you can find trendy shops, discos, cafes, and beach-lounge areas – with a “Miami” type flare. Past this area you find an old lighthouse and the beginning of an air force base. The air force base here in northern Tel Aviv serves all the small planes coming to and from other bases throughout the country (the majority coming from Eilat).

I ran back to the hotel, showered, ate a quick, last-second breakfast with Marat, Bobby, and Audrey; and then got my bags packed and stored inside the room where Sarah, Anna, Nettie, and Jackie were staying for their extension night in Tel Aviv. Johnny, Sam, Adam, Sarah, Anna, Nettie, Jackie, and I decided to rendezvous at the hotel after the program ended and to make moves from there. We all got on the bus and rode off to the Jaffa Institute for our first agenda item of the final day.

Before we boarded the bus, we all noticed that Roxy had to be helped down the stairs and into the bus. She said she had twisted he knee the night before while coming back from Mike’s Place. She was obviously too intoxicated to be dancing or showing off to the point where she hurt herself severely. She was taken to the hospital right after the bus dropped the abled-body members off at the Jaffa Institute.

Jaffa (Yafo) is the southern part of the metropolitan area. We went to the Jaffa Institute, a non-profit organization, which assists low-income families and children of the country (this branch specifically servicing the local Jaffa area). Jaffa is currently known as the low-income, poor, rough, and immigrant ridden neighborhood of the Tel Aviv area. We came into the Jaffa institute and were split into two groups. The group I was in was placed in the conference room where we introduced to the history, statistics, operations, and mission of the institute. The summary took 30-45 minutes where we then switched with the other group to take on the service part of our day. We formed two lines to pack almost two dozen boxes with non-perishable food items. The kindness exhibited on behalf of the Taglit group meant a lot to me. I felt uplifted and inspired to help in the future.

(continued writing in Bornova, Turkey after I got off the bus – Café Hane waiting for my host, Ece)

The next move for the group was to get charted around the block to the old port city of Jaffa. This area is considered the oldest port city in the world. We started on the northwest portion of the port, near the sea along the promenade. Ran guided us towards the central port area where we got introduced to the current architecture and the history of the docks. We then went up some stairs and through the narrow streets and ally-ways to the central square of the current old city. We took a bit of time here to take some pictures and use the restrooms.


I Found These Steps Especially Charismatic

Ran told us that Jaffa was and is a historically significant place for the Arab people. Thousands of generations of Arabs lived and worked in this tight community by the sea. He Ran also took us to the historic ruins of the old city, where you can still see some of the underlying foundation. This area is adjacently situated next to a monument and park area of Jaffa. Here we saw other tour groups, tourists, and locals all spread throughout the grass and walkways.

We all sat on the grass and then Ran had us to an activity to recap our whole experience throughout Israel. He used three volunteers (Sam, Adam, and I) in this activity. Adam and I were holding cards with the names of all the places we had been to over the 10 days. Sam modeled his body as the state of Israel and its boundary. Adam and I would hold up the cards one by one and then group would tell us where everything went. It was a geographical quiz that had everyone laughing at Sam and his modeling skills.

After this we walked down to the clock tower in Jaffa, east of the port. Here is where Ran allowed us to venture out for some free time through Jaffa’s Sheinkin Street market, have a last chance souvenir shopping spree, and get some food. Nettie and I walked for a little bit, checking out some antique places before we split off and wandered the area alone.


There was great art throughout Jaffa.

I then bought some sweets: some pistachio sweets and a kinafet pastry. This was the second time I was eating kinafet. Kinafet is a cheese based dessert – a classic in Arab culture. I like it and it was introduced to me by Oria. She loves it and says it’s her favorite dessert in Israel.

I took my huge kinafet and sweets to find a place to sit and eat when I saw Nettie with her souvenirs and a huge shwarma wrap. We mutually agreed upon splitting each and having lunch together. We sat down by the clock tower and talked about Los Angeles and getting together once I get back from traveling. We also talked about the next couple of days and what we wanted to do in Tel Aviv on our extension. We finished with time to spare and walked around more. Eventually our walking around more led us to a place within the market area we must have missed earlier. It was a tiny little ally with vendors crammed in side-by-side. I bought a small bracelet for 10 shekel and then we had to get back to the clock tower to meet the group.

The group boarded the bus and we drove 10 minutes north to the Yitzhak Rabin Square (Kikar Rabin). Ran sat us down to fully detail the events of modern Israel and the events the led up to Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination after his speech. To give us young Americans some perspective, he told us that Rabin’s death was like the assassination of JFK or the death of Princess Diana. Everyone with affiliation to Israelis and Palestinians know where they were on November 4, 1995.

(continued writing in Izmir, Turkey at the central bus terminal on my way to Kusadasi)

“Imagine all the people living in harmony. You might say that I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one”. Our voices resonated in unison as Ran played Lennon from his little mp3/speaker set in Yitzhak Rabin square. Rabin was a visionary and an unforgettable leader of the Israeli people. I felt that most of us were in awe of his legacy as our voices didn’t embellish the lyrics of such a popular song. Ran took us to the exact location of his death after we finished singing. After his death, there was a mixture of emotion resonating amongst the Israeli and Palestinian people. And at his death-site, you can find his official memorial and some old graffiti on one of the walls nearby. I forgot what the graffiti said exactly, but it was preserved by the Israeli government because it symbolizes the positive impact Rabin had on the people. (I should look up what it says again…)

We walked back through the square to a fountain where Rachel and Ran gave us evaluation forms to fill out. The entire group had to review the tour from start to finish. We were allowed free time along with this process. Adam and I decided to fill our forms out and talk at the café across the street. We got a couple of caffeinated drinks, talked, and wrote. Adam is a program coordinator for ‘Teach for America’. He was a teacher in New Orleans in the low-income neighborhoods for 2 years after graduating from Grinnell University. I can say that Adam definitely opened my mind to a lot of possibilities in teaching both in the United States and abroad. I hope I can visit him in New Orleans or wherever he might build a home. He is originally from Sherman Oaks and I appreciated his sense of humor, candor, and laugh. What a friend!


The Fountain in Yitzhak Rabin Square

Another reason we chose to sit at the café was to access some WiFi after our evaluations were filled out. I had to check my messages regarding Couch Surfing and Adam had to logistically plan for a return to work in New Orleans after a 4 day impromptu extension in Israel. We sat there while the majority of the group came to the café as well and ordered drinks/snacks. We left the café to visit Independence Hall by bus.

Another quick 8 minute bus ride later the Amazing group is at a new location...

We are now on Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv. Rothschild was one of the founding streets of Tel Aviv when Jewish settlers moved from the Jaffa area. It is a wide street with a small promenade running through the middle of it. Its promenade has trees, grass, art sculptures, benches, and a bike path. We enetered Independence Hall to meet our institutional guide for the evening. During this process, we started to sign the Tarbuka for Ran as a thank you gift. Sarah bought a Sharpie earlier and the drum was being passed around through the bus and the conference room for people to sign.

The conference room is where we were introduced to the foundation of the state of Israel and it’s 20th century history. We saw and 15-20 minute video on the Zionist movement, immigration, foundation of Tel Aviv, and establishment of the state in 1948. Our institutional guide for the evening was candid, funny, affable, and laughable. I wish I could remember his name because he knew exactly how to capture our attention and hold it for the remaining 45 minutes in the main room where Ben Gurion declared independence. It was remarkable to see that everything in the room was in original condition since 1948* (besides slight modifications of course). The chairs we were sitting in were the exact chairs! I was awestruck and inspired.

The inspiration triggered hunger. (HAH! – yeah right…).

But we al went up the street to Z Bar & Grill for our final meal together and final group summary. We sat in a convoluted circle facing each other. Ran instructed us to close our eyes and remember all that we had done. He carefully recounted each location of our journey. His voice was soft and as reminiscent as an old man tells the story of his one true love. We all opened our eyes and found smiles beaming across the room. He then opened the floor to personal reflections, pinnacle moments, and appreciative remarks. A lot of people said something and I felt tears of joy creeping towards the sides of people’s eyes. I said something thankful and appreciative to then try and find the nomadic Tarbuka to present to Ran. It was my idea to give him this gift, and I wanted to present it to him. At the end of everyone’s share-&-tell, I got up and presented Ran with the gift. He said that it was the first time any group had given him such a gift, and he sincerely appreciated it.

Then FOOD!

The floorspace was rearranged to a cafeteria style floorplan and I sat with Ben, Hannah, Carter, Igor, Marsha, and Adam on one end of the table. We all enjoyed eating hummus, pita, cucumber, tomato, and meat together one last time! It was so delicious and heavy. They must have brought out 15-20 dishes just in our section (Americans eat a lot…)

The elation, spirit, and grace of the group hit its pinnacle. The people boarding the flight back to Los Angeles got on the bus and the extension group stayed on the ground. There were hugs, goodbyes, and best wishes. 11 of the 40 Taglit-Birthright members had an extension. Johnny extended the longest, 90 days. I extended the second longest almost 60 days. Everyone else extended 2-9 days more. The bus was away…

Now I was free! Free from a program, plans, rules, restrictions, and liabilities. For moments throughout the journey, I felt as if there wasn’t an adult level of trust between the staff and the members.

I’m pausing the story because I just realized that trust in my self is more important than other people’s trust in me. When I was traveling in Boston, I wrote innocence, that of a child, is my ideal way of living and operating. This is true to a degree where I must include trust, accountability, and honor as a man and adult. I need to trust that holding my head high, opening my eyes wide, and broadening my shoulders in taking responsibility in my personal and professional decisions.

Story time…

The girls and Sam got in a taxi back to the Marina hotel were all of our bags were. Noah was the only one that brought his bags with him. I was inconvenienced by the fact my Couch Surfing host’s (Itay M.) apartment was only 3-4 blocks away from the dinner location and I didn’t have my bags with me. I had to go back to the hotel and then return to almost the exact location to spend the night with Itay. Noah, Erez, Johnny, Adam, and I all decided to walk up Rothschild and over back towards the hotel instead of taking a taxi. Noah was staying with his friend nearby so he walked with us for a bit before peeling off. It was a beautiful night in Tel Aviv. There were people everywhere on the streets. Tel Aviv is a city that never sleeps.

The four of us joked, talked, and enjoyed the evening stroll back to the hotel. Adam and Johnny were staying there and Erez and I were leaving back towards Rothschild. Erez lives right off Rothschild, actually a block away from the Z Bar & Grill. He and I took my bags to Ben Yehuda Street to catch a 6 shekel bus. While on the bus, Erez helped Sam, Johnny, Jackie and I I book our tickets to Eilat. We were off to Egypt the next night! I paid for the four tickets via credit card and they reimbursed me. The bus south was a midnight express leaving Thursday and arriving at the border at 5am Friday morning.

I got off the local Tel Aviv bus with Erez to call Itay and meet up with him. Itay met me once I got off the bus and said goodbye to Erez. Itay’s friend Gilad was with him as well. We walked 2 blocks from the bus stop back to his place where I set my things down and we got to talking. Itay’s first offer was a Gold Star beer or a whiskey drink. I chose to relax with a beer and have conversation. It was around 11pm when I settled into his place.

Itay is 28 and works for Pay Pal. He just got back from Austin, Texas and San Francisco the night before I arrived at his place. He said he was still jet lagged. He finished university and started working for Pay Pal right after graduation. He does sales and business development in Israel. We talked for hours into the night. Before sleeping, Itay helped me do some laundry and give me a rundown of his apartment. He had a slight malfunction with the drain and his shower, so he tried and go to the store for a snake or liquid snake. He came back with no solution and I decided I would shower the next morning at the hotel with my friends. I finally got tired and went to bed around 2:30am.

Comment

Comment

Israeli Elephants

Journal Entry # 60 - Road Entry#50 (Train from Akko to Haifa, Israel - 10:56pm (Local) - February 16, 2011)

Late nights lead to late mornings. I woke up at 7:45 still needing to fully pack my bag and get ready for the day of hiking and driving to Tel Aviv.

This late sleep-in meant that I wasn’t going to be able to get breakfast in time. Victor, one of my roommates for the night, volunteered to grab me some to-go food from the cafeteria as I packed my bags. He was a pal and brought me one peanut butter and jelly pita sandwich along with a hot egg and cheese sandwich. They were both great and I was thankful. He asked how I like the, and I responded with a mouthful of “good” and “great” when asked.

The group loaded our belongings into the bus and we walked over to David Ben Gurion’s grave site. He and his wife were buried here at DBG’s wishes. We learned that DBG loved the Sde Boker area and completely felt connected to the area and the kibbutz he lived on. The first thing we were greeted with at his grave site was a large ibex mountain goat. It seemed as if everyone was taking pictures of the goat instead of listening to Ran explain the life of Ben Gurion and his prolific meaning to the state of Israel. We walked from the grave area up this beautiful stone-lined path to a different parking lot where the bus and Ran’s parents were waiting. We all boarded the bus and drove to Ein Ovdat natural land preserve.

Ein Ovdat was the location of a morning hike and where we got to learn more about the natural landscape of Southern Israel. This particular part of the Negev Desert was spectacular with multiple natural water sources and springs. There was a waterfall area without water and many majestic sights. It was serene. Our hike lasted a little more than an hour, increasing in elevation the entire time. Our bus met us at the top of our hike, where we found ourselves ascending some old hiking stair/ladders on the side of the cliff. Initially, some people were very afraid of these vertical ladders, but once they started they were fine. I was at the back of the group with Sam and Marat. We chose to take our time because there were some cave rooms near our trail. We went to go through them for a bit while the people ahead of us were taking their sweet time climbing up the trail. We took some pictures and shared a laugh until Roie, our medic on the trip yelled “Yalla” to us. “Yalla” in Hebrew and Arabic means “Let’s Go”, “Come on”, and “Hurry Up”. It was one of the first words the entire bus knew within one or two days.

At the top of Ein Ovdat, we took some more pictures and boarded the bus. Our bus was now on its way to Tel Aviv, our last stop on the Taglit-Birthright tour. We first got to Tel Aviv and landed at the Karmel Market on Nachalat Binyamin Street and Sheinkin Street. Noah, Erez, Josh, Shanya, Oria, and I went to eat at a restaurant on the boulevard where it was somewhat expensive. The food was fantastic though! All of it was made in a small kitchen by the manager and host’s mother. She even served us the food. I had the vegetable medley with rice and it was a bit cheaper than everyone else’s that got types of meat and meat stuffed bell-peppers.

We walked around for another hour as we gazed at the local street artist’s merchandise. Oria took me down Sheinkin Street as well just to show me what it was like because it is famous for being crowded on Shabbat afternoon. It was a Tuesday night once we got to Tel Aviv though.

Air Force Base – Next stop on our tour – CLASSIFIED…



I’m just kidding. Our next stop on our journey was spontaneously unique for a Taglit-Birthright group. We were taken on to Dan’s Air Force base just south of Tel Aviv. Dan works as an environmental technician and engineer. Dan’s base specializes in repair, testing, and improvements on the computer and electronic equipment found throughout the Air Force of the Israeli Defense Force. We got to see how they specifically repair and maintain the electronic/computer systems for the Air Force’s helicopters and fighter pilots. It was an interesting look into the realities of the soldier’s everyday lives. When we arrived, both our group and the soldiers on base we eager to see and meet each other. It was a great treat! I think we all had a good time seeing some specifics in the operations of a military base.

The hotel was our next stop to set our stuff down, relax, and eat dinner at the hotel. Jonathan was my roommate at the Marina Hotel which sat along the promenade of Tel Aviv and the Mediterranean Sea. We also added an unofficial roommate, Ron, who was coming from his home outside of Tel Aviv to party with us one last night! In fact, all the soldiers were there for our last night together as a group. Some of them were staying at the hotel with us, but others would catch late-night buses or trains back to their hometowns or army bases.

I was on the computer for 30-45 minutes as we set our things in our room. I was catching a limited internet single from our room, so I sent out some couch surfing requests and some e-mails. I then showered and got ready for dinner and going out but forgot the extension travelers 7pm meet up in the dining area. By the time I got down to the dining area, the group had finished dinner and had seet travel and accommodation plans for their extension period. I was just a bystander when it came to the extension. Actually, Johnny and I were the only people extending our trip beyond 7 or 8 days.

I ate dinner quickly before the bus left with everyone at 8:00pm to the Na’Lagaat Theater. We were off for a cultural event/show in Tel Aviv that promoted blind, deaf, and mute awareness through art and food. It is a cultural center for the impaired in Tel Aviv and their stage-show is called “Not By Bread Alone”. The show was performed, directed, written, and choreographed by the Blind-Deaf, and Mute community of Tel Aviv. In addition, there was a restaurant and café attached to the theater. Each location was staffed by deaf and blind employees. The deaf employees worked the café where the blind employees worked as waiters in the pitch-black restaurant. We never made it into the restaurant, but Ran our tour guide said that the menu is either pre-selected or you go with the chef special of the day (a surprise!).

The show lasted a little longer than an hour. It was in subtitles at the top of the stage on a small screen with a projector. There were two sign-language interpreters on each side of the stage, along with able-body support staff for each actor and for set changes. During the show, each actor is kneading, pounding, shaping, and creating fresh loaves of bread that the entire audience enjoys at the end of the show. The concept is remarkable, yet our attentiveness as a group was porous (and that is putting it lightly). The majority of our Taglit group slept or dozed off throughout the hour-plus stage show. It was admittedly difficult to stay awake when all of us were struggling against a full-day of activities, a foreign language, and the mundane act of continuously reading subtitles for more than an hour.

Hypocritically, I was happy to eat the bread at the end of the show and order a cappuccino from the café. The group boarded the bus again and was off back to the hotel. On the bus, Ran and Noah instructed us on how our “free-evening” in Tel Aviv was going to work. There would be a bedroom check at 1:00am if you hadn’t signed your name in at the lobby before curfew. The majority signed their name when leaving the hotel at 10:30pm – problem solved.

The group then made its way out to ‘Friends’ bar on Ben Yehuda Street. The entire Taglit group had an ecstatic aura to them throughout the night. When I entered the bar, I met an Israeli guy that had been in North Carolina for a JCC (Jewish Community Center) development program with children. He was hosted by an American Jewish family and said he had an amazing 2 years abroad. He was kind enough to give me some perspective on living in the states and Israel. He also said that he was driving down to Eilat – only 2 days after I was planning on going to Eilat in order to cross over to Egypt.

There was a surplus of beers, chasers, and photographs. At one moment in the bar, I was taking impromptu photographs with Sarah where I would shout out the first word that came to mind. She has a sweet photo of us embodying “Elephant”.

After “Elephant”, we moved as a group to Mike’s Place bar on the promenade. It was a bit of a walk for everyone, but once we got there we had a great time playing billiards, talking, and listening to live music. This was our last location for the night before the hotel. I got back to the hotel with Oria around 3:00am. We found a secluded place in the lobby where we talked, made-out, and kissed until 3:45(ish). I went to bed and remember thinking how I didn’t want to wake up the next morning at 7:30am.

Comment

Comment

Salty Waters

Journal Entry # 59 - Road Entry#49 (Jerusalem, Israel – Avishag’s Flat - 10:05pm (Local) - February 9, 2011)

During the middle of the night, I woke up around 4am and took a leak. On my way to the bathroom, I saw a Taglit group all barely moving themselves and their bags to the bus. They were on a early morning ascent of Masada. At the time, I wasn’t jealous of their journey; but now I look back and wonder how amazing their morning must have been. Our group woke up around 7:30am and had breakfast before a morning Camel Trek in the desert. Our trek wasn’t very far, just for 20-30 minutes next to the tents on a bunch of camels. It wasn’t as glorious as it sounds. Camel riding isn’t for the weary. Some of the girls shrieked when the camels stood up and lowered as they rise and descend over 8 feet. I found them to magnificent creatures. The Bedouins sometimes race them in the desert for money or for the right to own a camel (like racing cars for pink slips). Many camels are a sign of wealth among Bedouins and they are the usual method of payment for a father when trying to marry his son off to a female.

The camel ride was painful for most of the males amongst the group. Some even said they had soreness and chafing after only 20 minutes. One of the girls mentioned that riding one was better than riding her boyfriend.

We hopped right into the bus after the camels to make our way to Masada. We ascended Masada via the Roman ramp on the southwest side of the compound. Masada was a strategic military base and winter home for kings and rulers over many years in the region. It is most famous for the fact that when the Romans finally conquered the peak, the Jews that were defending and leaving there killed themselves by mass suicide instead of falling under Roman control. Not as many people died as in Gamal, but the story was popularized over time.

Ran led us on an entire tour of Masada once we hiked up the Roman ramp. He gave us all the pertinent information of the construction of Masada, the kings that lived there for many years, and the story fo the suicide. We took dozens of photos and shared a large group picture on the balcony of where the main bedroom existed. It has a magnificent view of the Dead Sea and the desert to the north.

Once the tour was finished up top, we descended the mount by taking the Snake Path on the east side. Our bus was driving from the west to the east to meet us. It took us 45 minutes to walk down the path – whereas the Roman ramp up took only 15 minutes. Along the way down the Snake Path, I showed Roxy my ski-slope technique so that impact on our knees wouldn’t be as severe.

There is a museum at the bottom of Masada, and we took 20 minutes to rest and have some free time before boarding the bus off to the Ein Gedi Dead Sea Spa. There is where we would be eating lunch, relaxing in the water, and getting the famous Dead Sea mud treatment.

I went with Hannah, Ron, Johnny, Nettie, Sarah, Anna, and Josh to the sea first. We took some pictures initially before walking into the salty water. There was sand away from the water – but as soon as you got close to the tide, the floor was crystallized with salt and felt as if you were walking on extremely coarse sandpaper.

But once you got in far enough, all you had to do was lie back as if you were falling into a lazy-boy arm chair. The water grabs your body and allows you to lounge around. It is truly amazing. I swam around while lying on my back and on my stomach, making sure I didn’t get my face and eyes wet. The salt water begins to sting or burn any wound or sensitive part of your body (i.e. Rash or just sensitive skin). The 8 of us had a lot of fun lounging around and then caught the tram back to the mud treatment area, where the rest of the group was just getting the mud on their body. The majority of them ate lunch first, then put on the mud, and then went into the sea. We did the opposite and met them halfway. The mud was fun! We lathered all up and then played some “mud ninja” as well. Matan was there to take some pictures because he didn’t have a bathing suit. The 8 of us rinsed off in the hot, sulfuric showers next to the mud. Then we made our way inside to change and eat lunch before catching the bus to Sde Boker.

Sde Boker is the location of David Ben Gurion’s grave site and kibbutz. He joined the kibbutz after serving as the countries founder, president, and prime minister. He is basically the ‘Thomas Jefferson’ of Israel. There is a university in Sde Boker, along with the kibbutz, and many other things. Sde Boker is also next to a natural wildlife preserve called Ein Ovdat and an Israeli Defense Force training facility. Some people, Ben Gurion included, believe that Sde Boker can be an important, expansive, and major city of southern Israel.

It took us almost two hours to drive from the Dead Sea to Sde Boker, but once we settled in I decided it was time for me to unpack, repack, upload my photos, and recharge all my batteries since I was without my main bag for a day and a half. I almost missed dinner because of it. I walked with Max, Ian, and Noah to the dinner location that was 500 meters away from the guest house area where we were staying. Once we got into the dining hall, there was a large mural of Ben Gurion and Max said that he looked like a “little koala man” which I found amusing. David Ben Gurion, in his later years of life, had a “Friar Tuck” style haircut and all-white hair.

I wasn’t even that hungry for some reason. So I just ate a bit of veggies, hummus, and bread. From there we went back to the guest house area before our evening program with the soldiers that had been setting something up for the past couple of days.

The IDF members divided the 40 of us into 3 groups. The groups were sent to different locations for different activities. Our group was sent to the fun, improvisational room first. Here is where we played a game explained by Erez. It was a combination of Comedy Sports and “Who’s Line is it Anyway”. The twist was that during the middle of the improve scene, Erez would make one of the characters say a phrase in Hebrew without knowing what it meant (and only the audience knowing). We all had fun with it before the next station with Ron and Oria. Here is where we learned more about the IDF and were allowed to ask any question about it. They answered all of the questions honestly and straightforwardly.

The final station was the mock “boot camp” area where Dan and Lee whipped us into basic training mode. They treated us like they were treated on their first days of being in the IDF. They made us work as a team, communicate as a team, march in unison, run, and do push-ups as a unit. It was grueling for everyone and helped us appreciate what they had to go through right out of high school at 18.

The evening program ended with the soldiers speaking one last time to the whole group and thanking us for participating. We shared the same sentiment. It was very interesting.

The final occurrence of the evening was the night hours with some wine, beer, and games in the guest rooms. Everyone was having a good, fun, and somewhat intoxicated experience together. I had some wine. I went to talk with Oria for an hour and a half overlooking the desert and where a river used to run through the valley of Sde Boker. The moon was bright and full. It was a good night. We went to be around 2:45am in our respective rooms.

Comment

Comment

Internal Combustion

I need to get this out and into the world. I have been at odds with myself since staying on the Sinai peninsula...

I woke up to a dream at 7:30am in my Bedouin camp in Dahab - CRYING. I have never woken up to a dream where I was crying in the dream and physically crying at the same time. The dream had something to do with walking empty streets alone looking for friends, family, or even strangers. I then remember that in the dream I fell through a deep black hole onto another unpopulated street. I was sitting on the ground, cross-legged, crying in loneliness when I turned around to see my friend Sam standing 50-100 meters away with his arms open. I then woke up after he said, "What's up buddy?"

In Tel Aviv today, I found myself in this restaurant called Benedict's. It is a cool breakfast place on Rothschild that is open 24 hours. I was there at 3pm approximately. I was by myself and I had ordered a cappuccino. There were two girls sitting to my left that were eating breakfast food and speaking in English. I failed in approaching them with a friendly hello and introduction. I failed to seize the opportunity to get to know some new strangers.

Pursuing opportunities like this is the reason I began to travel in the first place. The dilemma I'm facing is that I'm generating these experiences only with foreign men. I have been completely scared and afraid of rejection from women. I have been actively not introducing myself to women and generating spontaneous moments in Israel, Jordan, and Egypt. I am AFRAID to open my mouth. I am PETRIFIED of REJECTION. I NEED HELP and SUPPORT. Before and after the weight-loss, I constantly feel SELF-CONSCIOUS and LONESOME. My mental health is now at risk. I have completely revolutionized my physical fitness, but my mental health in the areas of the pursuit of women and jobs feels hopeless.

I cried in public today it was so bad. I was sitting in the cafe tearing up after the two girls left. I am depressed that this is happening to me. I am sulking. I'm not making friends really... I'm making acquaintances. And even though these acquaintances can turn into friends in the future (which I hope they will), the conversations we're having are only trivial. And when asked how I feel, I play hypocrite and say everything is alright and wonderful.

I have to stop lying to myself and others regarding my feelings. It is currently the bane of my mental health.

Comment

Comment

Converter & Catalyst

Journal Entry # 58 - Road Entry#48 (Dahab, Egypt – Mike’s Flat - 5:55pm (Local) - February 2, 2011)

On the morning of January 16, 2011 in Israel, we managed to check out of the hotel after a complete breakfast and morning conversation. The morning conversation was regulated to recapping what had happened the night previous – innocent gossip at it’s finest.

We boarded the bus to Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum on the west side of Jerusalem. Our group was the final group to arrive out of the 5 or 6 Taglit-Birthright groups there. We were regulated to the very back of a large conference room and I was sitting in the last row. The opening ceremony of the museum was provided by one of the directors of the museum. He welcomed us and encouraged us to attentively listen regardless of our Holocaust knowledge and experience. He then welcomed to the stage a Holocaust survivor.

She was an old woman by now – living in Israel. During the war, she was in her later teenage years 15-19. I wish I could remember her name, but I didn’t write any cliff notes down for this day. I also didn’t take the director’s suggestion seriously with my fellow Taglit members watching me doze in and out of her hour long speech as if I was taking Psychology 102 with a monotone professor.

Her account from the war ended in an uproar of applause with a variety of peers graciously standing in ovation. A man then dismissed the entire conference room to their respective tour guides, but informing us that the “Group of Ran” would be led by him and should remain seated in the back. Our Yad Veshem tour guide was named Mordecai.

He led us into a hallway where we could use the bathroom before getting situated with our tour guide listening devices. His wireless microphone was conveniently connected to our headphone devices – allowing him to comfortably address each section of the museum to the 48 of us.

Right off the bat, he addressed the fact that he had a unique English accent and that we probably wouldn’t be able to guess where he was from. He spoke 6 or 7 languages and had been working for Yad Vashem for over 10 years. In addition, he instantly noticed that we were Americans due to our courteous physical spacing. Due to the fact that the museum was almost at capacity this Sunday morning, he continually encouraged us to gather as close as we could to him to hear what he was explaining.



Architecturally, the space was designed as a large triangular corridor. The museum has natural light radiating through the top of its small windows and those are the only windows in the entire building. Mordecai methodically showed us the museum; the war’s detailed account of each region (ex. Poland, Italy/France, Denmark/Sweden/Norway, etc…), and deliberately encouraged us to respond to his rhetorical questions regarding its history.

The tour was long and detailed oriented. There was plenty of information to learn and we probably could have spent another 2 hours there. The thing that stood out to me most throughout the museum was frequently seen – the last name similar to mine - ‘Goldsmitz’ / ‘Goldschmitz’. I asked Mordecai what region the last name originated from, but to my inclination, he told me that it was profession last name and not a region. There were Goldsmiths from all over Europe during the war. He then finally then revealed that he was born and raised in the Transylvania area. His wife is Dutch; so many people think he is Dutch as well, with his ‘Dutch-English’ accent. One of the last exhibits in the museum was a large circular room with shelves and shelves of names. The museum had collected and archived as many victim names as possible in books the size of old Britannica encyclopedias. This final room was magnificent and very powerful, but not as powerful as the next exhibit.

The holocaust memorial dedicated to all the lost children was the final stop along our tour with Mordecai. It was a dark, foggy, circular room with faux-candles lit in commemoration to the children. A tape-recording was speaking the names of children throughout our time in the memorial. Mordecai asked us to remember at least the name or place-name of a child lost in the war. We shared our thoughts and feelings at the end of the memorial and the end of the tour; thanked Mordecai for his time as our charismatic tour-guide and boarded the bus to a strip-mall area for lunch on our own.

Lunch consisted of slow service at a café, which led me to get some quick falafel and hummus with Marat, Shay, Ron, Roie, and Adam. I then got a 3-shekel ice cream at the pizza place before meeting up with the group and listening to Loren, the Amazing-Israel tour director, again…

Loren “checked” in with us in Jerusalem and then mentioned how we should provide the name and contact information of 3 others for the Taglit-Birthright gift. I referenced my brother and his friends (all 22 years old) for the upcoming summer trip. They said that our references would allow for our friends to receive priority in registration. After the quick speech from Loren, we got back on the bus towards Mount Herzl Military/Memorial Cemetery.

The morning had already been somber. Now we were compounding the sentiments of struggle, honor, demise, and mortality – a tough pill to swallow. We started in the cemetery at Herzl’s grave site. In his will and last testament, Theodore Herzl wrote that he wanted to be buried in Zion and the land of Israel whenever it would be established. I kept quiet the entire time at the cemetery in respect to the 8 Israeli soldiers in our presence. Ron had told me it would be an emotional day for them, because everyone in Israel knows at least one person who has been killed in a war or a terrorism bombing in the past 63 years of statehood.

We went to the grave sites of Yitzhak Rabin and other prominent leaders of Israel before walking amongst the hundreds of graves on this mount. Each grave site of a soldier is commemorated with a stone head (as the pillow) of engravings along with a small garden (blanket) of plants. It is a rule in the cemetery that each soldier’s grave has to have the pillow and blanket, but families can now come and celebrate the life of their loved one with additional plants, flowers, stones, and commemorative family pieces.

Our tour was followed by a long bus ride to Kfar Hanokdim in the Judean Desert. It was the location of our Bedouin tent/hospitality experience. In the program, it says “overnight: under that stars, in a Bedouin tent” – therefore leading me to believe that I would be sleeping in the cold and in a tent under the glistening, and light-pollution-free, stars. Consequently, I had packed many layers and didn’t expect a giant tent accompanied with a heater to keep us “comfortable” for the night.

Once the group got to the tent, we were led to the dining area where we sat on the ground and enjoyed Bedouin comfort. The floor was lined with handmade carpets, pillows, and small tables. The food was comprised of pita, hummus, chicken, kebab, rice, and cucumber/tomato salad. I don’t know if it was the setting or not, but it felt like the best meal yet in Israel – authentic and not sterilized.



We set up our sleeping locations in the tent after dinner. Once everyone was satisfied with their sleeping location, we met in another tent with two Bedouin hosts. One was sitting next to the fire, brewing tea and coffee for the group, while the other one officially welcomed us to Bedouin lifestyle. The Bedouins are nomadic people and of the Islamic faith (usually). They have lived in the Negev, Sinai, Judean, and surrounding deserts for thousands and thousands of years. They specialize in shisha, tea, and camels. They are true hosts – making sure guests are comfortable and worry-free for their time as an individual and part of the “tribe”.

Traditionally, a Bedouin is supposed to welcome any guest with tea or coffee and without questions for a three day minimum. If the guest decides to stay longer than three days, his energy would most likely be at full capacity – making it possible for Bedouins to question his intention, reason for travel, and response to the hospitality the Bedouins would be providing. Guests would stay with Bedouins due to the extensive and dehydrating travel across these deserts. The Bedouins have been generous providers of food and shelter for other travelers. It was a great introduction! I loved it!

Our host, Mohammed, invited a few to share in traditional dance and song as he played the Ood and Carter played the stick-and-pot instrument. Carter was the first one to volunteer for interacting in the musical experience. I got up with Matan and Shay to the right of the Mohammed and Carter – dancing to the rhythm and lyrics. I was picking up on the melody and started humming along. The two songs we did were great! I played the stick-and-pot instrument on the second song.

Fire, song, fun, games, dancing, and the tarbuka made up the rest of our night. Even though the majority of us partook in these activities, Ran led us on a moon-lit hike into the desert. He said that it was the largest group on a evening hike, and could see that we had all started to bond beyond measure. He instructed us to spread out amongst the rocks, wind, sand, and silence. The desert was at rest. The stars pierced our souls while the moon illuminated our heart in gratitude and serenity. I sat down on the ground and fumbled around with the rocks beneath. I remember closing my eyes and carefully examining the texture of the sandstone with my fingers and palms. It was meditating. I remember feeling it was conversely pleasurable as to touching the smooth skin of the opposite sex.

The effortless walk back to the tents was accompanied by the desert wind. We huddled around the fire and started to play the game, “Contact”. It is difficult to explain, but ultimately it challenges the participant to be keen, flexible, cunningly quick, and relatable. We must have played for an hour to two before I switched over to a game of “Ninja” with some of the guys. At first, it was only 5 or 6 of us. The ninja circle grew in size as we played into the midnight hour.

I then grew weary and dreary. I tucked off to bed in the artificially heated tent after brushing my teeth and taking out my contact lenses. I slept next Jonathan, Oria, Shay, Matan, Bobby, and Audrey. Oria and I talked together before deeply sleeping on the Bedouin futon pads they offered as a hospitality option. The blankets were warm and I assume were made of lamb wool.

Two separate components, one glorious day of emotion, reflection, and cultural firsts.

Comment

Comment

12th Floor

Journal Entry # 57 - Road Entry#47 (Dahab, Egypt – Club Vass - 2:18pm (Local) - February 1, 2011)

Shabbat morning had a relaxing and calm feeling to it. It is our fifth day in Israel together and there is not as much planned on the itinerary today. I ran for an hour this morning – getting up everyone and running throughout the park, the surrounding neighborhoods, and through the University Campus. It was a calm and peaceful run. Even though I was told not to leave the hotel for a run, I did so anyway because the Egyptian Marathon was 13 days away. I hadn’t had a run for over an hour since being in Los Angeles.

For the majority of the day, it felt as if we had a vacation from the continuous stream of data that was being uploaded to our minds. We all had breakfast together and I used the avocado I bought the day before in my breakfast. I made breakfast sandwiches with the provided hard-boiled eggs, challah, cucumber salad, and sauces along with my ripe fruit.

After breakfast, we all gathered in the lobby with Ran where he led us on a walking tour through the Knesset Rose Garden to the Knesset. The Knesset is the parliament building of Israel. We got a brief overview of the past 60 years of Israeli government and what political parties exist. There were questions raised by the group and Ran thoroughly answered each one of them. It was nice having the IDF soldiers there as well, because they represent a contemporary view of the political issues in Israel. Lee was the most vocal of group.

We walked back through the rose garden to a grassy area for a group game/activity. It was windy and overcast by this time, and some people looked to be a bit cold. We played a circular game called “Bang” – or pistols. We played this once and had some free time for 20 minutes to play other games. I taught some people the game “Ninja”, which I played most recently in Oregon.

We had lunch in the hotel after our free time and walk back. I forgot what I ate, but I was grateful it was complementary. A complementary break was included after lunch – all the way until 4:30PM. Most of us took the time to go to the indoor pool of the hotel and swim, and then use the Jacuzzi. I brought my camera down and we took underwater pictures together. It was great fun. I also shared a conversation in the sauna with Sarah.

The group met all together at 4:30PM upstairs on the 12th floor in the conference room. We sat together in 6 or 7 groups of 7 people. Ran then led us in conversational questions about the Holocaust and related topics. Ran told us that our next day would be somber, depressing, and conversationally much different from our previous days together. We were going to Yad Vashem, Israel’s holocaust memorial site and Mt. Herzl Military Cemetery. We talked for an hour together, sharing viewpoints and experiences in relationship to both the holocaust and any connection we have to soldiers that have fought for Israel. The conversation lasted all the way until sundown, where we concluded with Havdalla – the portion of prayer and song to close Shabbat.

We gathered on the patio deck of the hotel outside, with a beautiful evening view of stars and the city. Along with Noah, the Shabbat committee once again led the group in the prayer and song. Everyone embraced together to form a circle and enjoy each others company. You could feel the excitement building in anticipation for our “free night out” in Jerusalem on Ben Yehuda Street. Right before we all went downstairs to get ready, Ran recommended that we use good judgment in our activity as we had a long day ahead of us in going to the sites and then driving to the Negev Desert and the Bedouin Camp.

The evening began with everyone getting in the bus and being dropped off on the north side of Ben Yehuda Street. We were there to have dinner and fun on our own before 11pm, our curfew to be back on the bus and going back to the hotel.

My ‘free time’ began with Oria buying me a proper Kippot from a store. It is navy-blue with artful stitching. It is quite simple, basic, and nice. Marat, Oria, Roxy, Jackie, Becca, Michal and I then walked around looking for a dinner location. Roxy, Becca, Michal, and Jackie settle on the burger joint while Oria, Marat, and I chose to have a more authentic Israeli dinner at a restaurant. Marat got the kebab meat while I got unique Israeli chicken dish. I think it included the liver and other random parts of the chicken – not the traditional parts.

We then walked to a popular bar in the area where a majority of the group was sitting, eating, drinking, and smoking hookah. I had a couple beer-steins there before going with Jackie, Oria, and Roxy to a university-dive-bar further away from the majority of the nightlife activity on Yehuda. We all got a drink together and wanted the DJ to start spinning music. The problem was that Israeli night life doesn’t really get started until 11:30-Midnight. So we were out of luck on a good dance scene. We got back to the bus right before it left and made our own party on the 12th floor of the hotel again.

For a brief period, I went back downstairs to gather others. I found a group playing “Never have I ever” in a room with some cocktails. I joined in on the fun, making up a lot of stuff in order to fit in with the other Americans who might seem more promiscuous and salacious. I don’t care for sharing my own or anyone else’s sexual experiences publicly, so I will leave out everything that was said.

This game was transferred from the hotel room to the 12th floor where a ton of people played together. I was getting tired of the game and physically tired – so I joined Oria and Noah to go back down to our respective rooms. We went to bed before the majority of the group up top.

Comment

Comment

Plethora

Journal Entry # 56 - Road Entry#46 (Dahab, Egypt - 1:02am (Local) - January 30, 2011)

I am sitting on the roof deck of the Sea Dancer Dive Center in Dahab writing. The Red Sea is right in front of me. I am about to snorkel. This corner of the earth smiles at me.

Back to the future – Taglit-Birthright 2011 – Israel Day 5 – January 14, 2011

I wake up at 6:30AM after a great night’s sleep. “I feel great!” as my brother would say proudly.

The breakfast in the morning is not better or worse than the one in the kibbutz. Aesthetically, it looks better, but the food quality is the same and I am happy with a free meal once again. I notice during my morning meal that the IDF soldiers that will be joining us are gathered around a table together meeting one another. After breakfast, it was time to have our Mifgash opening ceremony with the soldiers and learn more about them.

There were 8 soldiers in total. They came into the meeting room with their civilian uniforms on, pressed, boots shinning, and smiles on their faces. They were as happy to meet us as we were to them. The soldier’s ages ranged from 20-23, with one now working as an officer. They represented different divisions of the IDF: coming from the Navy, Air Force, Special Forces, and Intelligence. Their functions within their divisions varied from environmental engineer to paramedic to flight simulation instructor. These 5 men and 3 women represented the diversity of what makes up the Israeli Defense Force.

Men and women both get enlisted in the nation’s army after they complete high school. They said there are different ways to get out of serving the required 2 years for women, and 3 years for men if they wanted to. Their names were Matan, Shay [Shy], Erez, Lee, Oria, Dan, Ron, and Michal [Meechall – Female]. I am happy to have them as friends after our short 4-5 days together.

The large group of 48 plus staff got into the bus for our short ride to the outside wall of the Old City of Jerusalem. Along the way, I sat next to Dan from the Air Force and got to know him better. The conversation quickly turned very serious as I was asking detailed-specific questions about Israel’s conflict. I had this clouded perception and limited knowledge on what the IDF was what they do, how they do it, and why they do it completely. Dan was gracious to answer all my questions straightforwardly. As we were talking along the way, he mentioned that the entirety of our time together doesn’t have to so serious as I was making it. He helped me grasp the fact that they are 20-23 years old and like the same things we do in the states (i.e. – Facebook, music, parties, movies, friends, and the opposite sex).

The bus dropped us off and we walked to the outside wall where Ran had us sit down for a 30 minute overview of Jerusalem and it’s history. We were presented with the camp-friendly script of Jerusalem which included a long time-line sheet with dates, historical events, and 3rd grade images to summarize over 5,000 years of a city. From here, we got to walking to King David’s tomb and where the ‘last supper’ (Passover) happened. The room where the last supper was located is now decorated with Islamic script, moldings, and art because the room was converted into a mosque more recently than that dinner.

We walked down the old stone walkways through the Zion gate into the Jewish quarter of the city. The old city is divided into the Islamic/Muslim quarter, the Christian quarter, the Jewish quarter, and the Armenian quarter. The Armenian quarter was established during and after the Armenian genocide as a refuge area.

We walked along old roman columns that still stood in the old city which used to lead to the central market of the city. Most of the data and facts were interesting at the time to hear, but there were so many that I failed to write them all down and remember them all. Amongst the information overload session, we moved all the way into the heart of the Jewish quarter where Ran showed us the recent completion of the Ashkenazi synagogue. He directed us to have some free time on our own in the quarter, making sure to emphasize that we couldn’t venture into any other quarter for liability reasons. He also recommended that people should follow him on a voluntary min-tour to see another side of the old city – which I obviously opted for.

There was about 10-12 of us who went on the mini-tour. He took us to the roofs of the old city where we got a fantastic panorama view of the four quarters. It felt totally liberating to be above it all at the intersection of the quarters. I took some photos with Adam and others before going back down to the street level to find a quick fix of food.

On my walk to find the food and the bathroom, I quickly passed a barber shop where I considered shaving my beard and head to change things up a bit. My conscious advised against it.

I wound up walking around a bit after the bathroom before settling on a bunch of fruit and an avocado. I was craving bananas since we arrived in Israel. There are fields and fields of banana trees everywhere. I ate them in the center by the synagogue we were at earlier.

Ran gathered the group together and took us down towards the Western Wall. I fell quiet on the walk there. I started to try and gather my thoughts and start putting them down on my small scroll of paper. I hadn’t experience such spiritual emotion since my bar-mitzvah. Introspective, introverted, and ever other inner reflective word consumed my being. I started to write my prayer in English, and for a moment – it didn’t feel authentic. I thought it should have been in Hebrew. Then I realized it didn’t matter and just wrote what I felt.

In the moments walking alone to the wall, I felt somewhat oxymoronic. Here I was at the center of the Jewish world, on a trip that was reconnecting me with my Hebrew school education and upbringing. Yet I was lost, running away, and questionably taking advantage of a “free” trip to the Middle East. Although it felt like hours, I was at the wall for 20-30 minutes and it took me only 3 minutes to put my prayer in the wall.

As I was walking back to the group meeting location, I couldn’t release the insurmountable load of thoughts racing through my head until a man stopped me. A Hassidic Jewish man asked me, “Where are you from?” in a perfect American accent. My head cleared instantaneously, as I answered, “Oregon”. He then proceeded to ask, “Did you just finish college? Why are you here?”… I responded with, “I’m on Taglit-Birthright”. The next question was the most shocking to me – “Why are you so sad?”

I told him I wasn’t sad and that I was happy. I was happy to be here at the wall and in Israel. I felt blessed and thankful that I was in that spot and that time. I was excited to be having a Friday night Shabbat at the wall later that night. I was misrepresenting my emotion and being hypocritical with my external demeanor. The first four and a half days I might have looked depressed, sad, or downtrodden – but I was constantly at odds with my reality in Israel and the expectations and perceptions I had before coming. I wasn’t following some great advice that was given to me by my brother. He wrote me once – “The fullest life is the one that breaths deep, breaths constantly, consistently full.”

I was taking short and sporadic breaths and thoughts up to that moment at the Western Wall. My trip changed dramatically from that point forward.

This led to a plethora of positive emotion with the group on the walk back to the bus. I felt elation, gratefulness, celebration, and growth! The group moved on it’s way to one of Jerusalem’s central outdoor markets where you can find anything you need for Shabbat or otherwise (produce, nuts, breads, wines, gifts, etc…)

On the way there, I sat next to Oria and talked to her about her Wall experience and the market. She said that I had to try this amazing falafel place and some other things along the way. It was good to have a local guide of the market. Oria lives in Reut, which is 30 minutes from Jerusalem and Tel Aviv – right in the middle of the two cities. Along with Matan, Shay, Dan, Ben, and Hannah, we walked through the throngs of people trying pastries and dried fruits before making it to the falafel place that was off to the side of the pedestrian streets.

Oria said that there were only a handful of these falafel restaurants throughout Israel and they are so delicious. When we got into the doors, there was a line of 15-20 people amongst the people eating at their tables – absolutely crowded. It took us 25-30 minutes to order and get our food. It was worth the wait.

Pitas, hummus, kubbe, kubbe soup, and a couple of beers together were spectacular. It hit the spot perfectly. Hannah, Ben, and I were luckily treated to this lunch and didn’t have to pay. I was surprised that they covered it all because we got a lot of food - so much in fact that we didn’t finish it all. On the walk back, we stopped by the candy store to pick up so Israeli chocolates and candies for our sweet teeth.

We made it back to the hotel where we all got ready for Shabbat at the Western Wall. I wanted to take a quick nap, but that wasn’t in the itinerary. It was actually opposite of what I had to do because I volunteered to be apart of the Shabbat committee. We had a meeting 30 minutes before the bus ride to the Wall. Adam, Hannah, Noah, and I discussed what prayers, songs, and stories would be shared with and for the entire group at the Wall. Before we headed for the wall, some of the ladies lit the candles in the hotel lobby and said the respective prayer for the candle lighting. It was a nice moment.

Once we got to the Wall, Noah said a few things as the Shabbat leader while Hannah, Adam, and I followed suit. We helped by standing strategically amongst the group during the songs and the prayers so that others could follow along. Each one of us also read a story from the booklet we had that explained the significance, importance, and simple definitions of what Shabbat is to the Jews. During the committee meeting, I suggested that we have a speaking moment to allow people to share what they were grateful for in the past week, what Shabbat means to them, and what they were looking forward to in the next week. It is something we did at home at our Shabbats, and Noah agreed that it would be a nice sentiment for our group.

Once we were done with our Shabbat program overlooking the Wall, we moved down to the heart of the prayer and celebration for the end of the week. There were thousands of people there. It was an amazing site to see and I tried to imagine what it would look like if it were Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, or Passover.

Marat, Dan, Shay, and I walked through the different congregations of people near the wall. There were layers upon layers of prayer and song resonating from the space. The energy was invigorating and comprehensively communal with “Shabbat Shalom” being said to and around me constantly. I felt as if everyone there was a brother, cousin, friend, and loved one. I felt safe, complete, and blessed. It will be a moment that lives with me forever.

We then walked an hour back to the hotel. I felt as if it went by in 20 minutes. For most of the time, I was talking with Tami (the Taglit observational researcher) about life in Jerusalem and what she has done for most of her life there. She asked some questions, but I forgot what I answered – just the truth. When we got back to the hotel, we had dinner together and a Shabbat evening program discussing what we had felt. At the end of the conversation, Ran let all of us that we didn’t have to wake up as earlier as we were used to. That got everyone excited for a night full of drinking, talking, playing card games, and getting to know each other better.

A group of us wound up going to the 12th floor to play some card games. We had two decks and split into two groups. We played cards for a while, but I went to bed by 12:15AM because I knew I had to run the next morning.

~~

Time to relax on the Red Sea with some sunshine while listening to John Legend.

Comment

Comment

Mystification

Journal Entry # 55 - Road Entry#45 (Dahab, Egypt - 1:02am (Local) - January 29, 2011)

While there is civil unrest in Egypt at the moment, I lie before my computer typing to you about my experience in Israel on the Taglit-Birthright (gift).

Thursday, on the fourth day in Israel, I began my morning with a morning run around the perimeter of the kibbutz. The kibbutz is approximately 2 miles in total circumference where I ran two full laps. For part of the run, I thought that I would feel sick again and my day would be ruined, but then realized how special and great of a day it would be and how lucky I was to be there. My mentality of the trip started to change and I felt great throughout the whole day after my run.

The following activities came in the morning at the kibbutz before we left for Haifa. I packed my bags after a shower. I ate another breakfast salad with the pita/sage bread that I bought in Tsfat (which was delicious and great to save for breakfast). The group went on a small tour of the kibbutz with Ran where we learned about the fence/tower concept of a kibbutz and saw the cow house with many cows and calf. The fence/tower concept of a kibbutz is where the kibbutz creators would first build a look-out-tower and a large fence for security purposes against foreign and domestic enemies. The cow house is how they provide all dairy and meat products for consumption and sale.

The bus started to warm up as we got a quick fruit-snack option before taking the hour to two hour bus drive to Haifa. I got to sit next to Anna where we shared life stories, interests, insights, and musical preferences. Anna was the little sister to Sarah and friend to Nettie Rose. The three of them were luckier to do Taglit-Birthright as a tripod more so than getting randomly accepted on three separate trips. Before I sat down on the bus, I had learned that Anna was living in Portland, Oregon and she was originally from Spokane, Washington. This sparked my curiosity beyond that fact that she made a very kind impression and was strikingly beautiful.

The arrival in Haifa approximately came at 11:00AM where we headed straight to the Bahia gardens. The Bahia religion is a newer religion in the history of the world. Their “Mecca” is located in Haifa at these gardens – where millions of dollars in donations by their people keep the scenery remarkable manicured and beautiful. Ran provided this information while we took dozens of pictures of the gardens and the city due to the slope where the gardens are located. Frustrating for some people were the heavy gusts on the hill but I was embracing the wind and occasionally spreading my arms like a bird for complete dramatic effect.

I was in a very happy mood after visiting the gardens. Ran led the group over to a small patch of grass near a playground and a zoo where we had to learn about the Bahia people considering there were no questions allowed in the garden space. After the information Ran gave us, we had another ice-breaking ceremony in the form of a concentric circle. Two circles were made (20 people making up each circle) with the Taglit members facing each other. We were told to share stories and information with one another for a minute or so before one circle rotated to the right. It was a great exercise and I got to know Shania, Marsha, and Igor more during this time. We then stayed on the grass a bit more to learn about the Droze (pronounced [drooze]) people that live in Daliat El Carmel – our next destination after Haifa.

But before driving to the Droze Village, we went to the San Francisco lookout point in Haifa. Haifa actually reminded me a bit of San Francisco before I had learned there was a lookout point in the city of the same name. There we took some pictures and heard a story about the monastery/army base that is situated right next to the lookout point. Here is where Ran told us a story of a young female IDF soldier that was working in the base. He said that she was on radio communication duty with the many ships of Haifa Bay. During her time on the radio, she had frequently talked to a IDF soldier aboard a ship in the bay doing patrol. They spent so much time talking through the radio that they got to admire one another without ever seeing each other. They finally met in Haifa for a date and they are no married today. Ran eloquently told us this romantic love story as to reveal that he was proud to have a new step-brother from the navy and that his sister is happily married with children now.

Ran smiled and then led the group down the hill towards old bunkers and the place were Ezekiel supposedly hid (from what I can’t remember?) during his prophecy. I wasn’t paying full-attention at the time to Ran’s lecture in this area as I was talking to others and enjoying the scenery. We then got in the bus and headed to the Droze village in Daliat El Carmel.

The next portion of our day was stuffed with delicious Israeli/Droze food. We had a 35NIShekel lunch at a restaurant that was primarily reserved for our whole tour group. We were served with pita, hummus, vegetables, falafel, and a drink. The food was delicious and was served family style. I had a non-alcoholic beer called “Black-Beer” that is the Israeli form of root-beer. It had a much different flavor than root-beer, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.

I then walked with Adam throughout the Droze village on a mission to find a belly-dancing skirt-type material with bells for his girlfriend. Adam is from California but now lives in New Orleans as a program coordinator for Teach for America. Throughout the course of the trip, we got to talk more and more to become great friends. I can’t wait to visit him in NOLA or wherever he might be next. We wound up finding a skirt for his girl-friend and then spent some more free time window-shopping. The window-shopping turned out amazingly when I had the great idea to communally buy a tarbuka drum for the group and then give to Ran as a thank you gift at the end of our trip. I gathered 5 shekel coins from many people in order to buy the small drum. I played it a little but was really saving it for a larger jam session when we got to the Bedouin camp in the Negev desert.

The bus then took us along a ridge line in the hills where a large fire happened within the last 9 months. Ran said it was uncommon for a fire so large to happen, unlike southern California wildfires. Ran was very knowledgeable of American issues and regional occurrences which were refreshingly interesting. The ‘Amazing Israel’ bus was now on its way to Jerusalem for the next 3 days.

On the ride there, I wrote down some cliff notes and slept for a bit next to Anna. We made it to a west-Jerusalem lookout point right before sundown.

At the Haas promenade as it was called, the visibility of the city wasn’t ideal, but we got a good understanding of the cities size, structural makeup, and spiritual intensity. The moment was dynamic. There must have been a million different thoughts running through my mind at this point. My emotions and thoughts were increasingly interrupted by the various photographical moments the group was engaging in. It was a special moment for me and the interruptions were unwanted but politely accepted.

We then walked down some stairs to a grassy knoll to say the Kiddush and Hamotzi. Ran also had some people read some stories from a booklet before we took the bus over to the hotel to check-in for the night and have dinner.

We stayed at the Leonard Inn Hotel on the newer west side of Jerusalem. It is walking distance away from the Parliament building, a large university, and a large park. The hotel accommodated for our Taglit group plus many others. The first night, I stayed in a room with Sam and Johnny. Sam is from the Seattle area and Johnny is from the San Luis Obispo area. We were all some of the older tourists in the group – so we got along well and shared similar values and interests. It was nice not to have a “party” in the room like we did at the kibbutz.

After dinner, we had a evening programmed scheduled for 8:00-9:00PM with the ‘Gift of Life’ non-profit organization. They came in and talked about bone-marrow transplants and how we could get involved. I was EXTREMELY tired during this presentation and must have dozed off twice or three times disrespectfully. I couldn’t help myself.

I bypassed the volunteering ‘sign-up’ period like most of the group and went straight to bed. I fell asleep at 9:30PM and slept beautifully until 6:30AM the next morning.

Comment

Comment

Tickle Tickle

Journal Entry # 54 - Road Entry#44 (Cairo to Luxor, Egypt - 8:35am (Local) - January 25, 2011)

Walking the road and covering Kilometers... Train warrior

It is now Wednesday, January 12, 2011 in Israel – Day 3. I wake up after 8 hours of good sleep, but I have a tickle in my throat. I drink some hot tea in the room and then some more at breakfast to prevent a full-blown soar throat. I have a modest breakfast salad and keep quiet as to not strain my throat. I was very somber all day, thinking how getting sick would ruin my experience with the group and individually. I did not run this morning.

The group first got in the bus for a drive north to the Green Hulan Agolan park reserve – north of Lake Kinneret. We were scheduled to have a guided tour by a local park ranger about the swampy park reserve. On the drive to this park reserve, we drove through the city of Tiberas – the spiritual city of water for the Jews. Tiberas is a quaint city on the west side of the lake with dynamic panorama views of the lake and the Golan Heights. Even though we spent no time in Tiberas, I enjoy its atmosphere and geographic positioning as a city. At the time, I said to myself that Tiberas would be the city I’d live in if I moved to Israel.

The group took a quick bathroom break at the entry of the nature reserve before driving through the park by bus. Our park ranger guide got on the bus with us and spoke about the park through the microphone. We learned about the hupo bird – the national bird of Israel – which was voted upon by the people of Israel recently. The hupo bird is an exotic looking bird that is rarely seen in Israel; and significantly less populated that day in comparison to the hundreds of thousands of cranes in the park.

We learned from our park guide that January is crane season for the park and there are over 100,000 cranes that migrate through Israel this time of year. During this lesson, our park ranger guide took us out of the bus and across the gully-ferry to a bird-amphitheater where we learned more about the bird migration of Israel. It was a windy day, and the group stimulated each other with body heat by sitting closer to one another than ever before (maybe a subconscious ice-breaking moment).

Here we learned that there are over 500 million birds migrating across Israel every year. Every winter and summer, the park employees are furiously at work to capture, tag, and record the data of many different species of birds. The Hula Agolan park captured and tagged more than 17,000 birds last year (talk about collecting primary data!).

During our return trip across the gully, Sam and I pulled the wooden platoon in a hand-over-fist motion. Then we got back on the bus and drove to the Pelican lookout point to the north of the point. This was our last stop in the park – where we got to take some more pictures and look through microscopes at the birds (specifically cranes). The park tour ended and I came away impressed with the information and data from the area. I learned a lot, including the fact that only Israel is rivaled by Panama in terms of bird migration patterns.

The next part of our day continued with a drive west and dramatic increase in elevation to the city of Tsfat. Tsfat is a mystical city in the northern mountains of Israel. Spiritually, it is signified as the city of wind and is also the place where Kabbalah was started. The bus driver navigated some seriously tight turns and ledges on the journey up the mountain. We got to Tsfat in time for some free time with a lunch before learning about the city from Ran.

During our free time, I ate a pita stuffed with shakshuka and then bought some bread from the bakery with Jessie and Stacey. Jessie lives in the Tahoe area and Stacey lives in the Mammoth area. We then walked back up the main road to our meeting point, stopping at a café along the way and enjoying the sight-lines. Stacey was deeply inspired and moved with the city of Tsfat – like she had live there in a previous life. Personally, it felt like she was having a totally positive psychedelic experience there.

The tour began with Ran explaining a lot of the city and the history. Then we walked down to the smallest alley-way in all of Tsfat. This place is where the messiah is supposed to come through on the climb to the top of the city. We walked down this staircase and then around to the Ashkenazi synagogue. We went through this synagogue and then had some free time for a small shopping experience in the old city. I used the bathroom at this time and paid the 2 shekel fee to the restroom attendant. The interesting thing about this man was that he was a immigrant from Russia and Marat and Igor spoke to him in Russian.

I found this positively interesting and spoke with Marat later to learn that the man had lived in Israel for 20+ years and never learned English. He is partly blind and has worked in the restroom for years on end. He wished Marat the best of luck with his ambitions. There is more I am forgetting – but nonetheless and interesting experience.

We then walked around more with Ran guiding the way before he let us go through the artist’s quarter of this old city. During the free time, Ran led a small group on the optional tour of the Sephardic synagogue as well. I went on this adventure and immediately saw the internal differences of each synagogue. Here are 2 different pictures of the A). Ashkenazi & B). Sephardic synagogues

PICTURES of TEMPLES* (Coming later...)

Then I walked on my own, snapping more pictures, through the Tsfat tourist path with it’s vendors and artisans selling anything and everything religious/spiritual. I remember that my state-of-mind was almost in solitary confinement throughout Tsfat. Individually, I was admiring the city and resting my voice at the same time. I was reflecting in thinking about my religious side in comparison to my emotional, professional, nutritional, and societal complexes. In Tsfat, I was thoroughly impressed with their dedication to the religion as a sacred honor.

From Tsfat, we drove to Lake Kinneret Cemetery to learn about part of the Zionist movement in the early 1900’s. We learned that groups of young people were being disowned by their families in Europe (and other places) to come to Palestine and start living in a “Jewish” way. These early pioneers of the land made a lot of mistakes along the way but showing dedication and a resilience in the belief in a ‘Jewish’ state of Israel. There was a beautiful sunset that evening and many people took amazing photos of the sun setting behind the palm trees of the area.

The cemetery was stunning and we only spent 20-35 minutes there. Ran gave a quick overview of 3 tombs that were significant there and then we got back on the bus to the kibbutz. At the kibbutz, I swam in the heated pool for some limited exercise that day. Then I took a hot shower and somewhat packed my bags before dinner and bed. Right before bed I typed some cliff notes about the day’s activities.

Comment

Comment

The High Plateau

Journal Entry # 53 - Road Entry#43 (Maadi – Cairo, Egypt - 9:35am (Local) - January 24, 2011)

The High Plateau

5 Days away from running my first marathon.
But that is not the topic at hand.

The Taglit group starts every morning with breakfast at 7:30am before a 8:30am program activity or depature on the charter bus. My first morning on the Kibbutz began with a brisk run throughout the grounds due to the fact Ran (our tour guide and trip leader) told me I could not cross any fences and run on any major streets. Even though I wanted to run more, I still didn’t wake up early enough to get much running in before breakfast at 7:30am. I ran around once side of the Kibbutz and through the pathways that make up the community. It was before school and work started for everyone on the Kibbutz, so I saw a bunch of children and adults commuting to their respective destinations. I was running in a tank top and shorts at 7:00am with the temperature around 10-12 Celsius / 52-58 Fahrenheit. I assume that from their perspective, I looked like a crazy white man running around in the dead cold of winter – and technically I was. The children pedaled faster if I got close to them and the adults gazed with dumbfounded stares; but I didn’t care.

I showered in the European style bathroom (which I love by the way) – and made my way to the first breakfast of the trip. There was a variety of foods available for everyone – but the diary products were the cream of the crop (pun). This kibbutz had it’s own cow farm / cow house, so the milk, cheese, cream, and yogurt foods were great. I made a breakfast salad with some Lahane cheese dressing and hard-boiled eggs. I had this salad three mornings in a row at the kibbutz.

Once everyone got on the bus, Ran told us our first stop was a lookout point in the Golan Heights instead of the morning hike that was written on our itinerary. Ran said that the terrain was muddy and wet, and they altered the itinerary for comforts-sake. We drove for 30-45 minutes up the hillside to peaceful lookout point over Lake Kinneret (Sea of Galilee) on the north east portion of Israel. Lake Kinneret is the only fresh water source in the entire land of Israel. It was formed through a geological rift in the tectonic plates of the area. These plates have shifted over time to create what we see today (Lake Kinneret, the Dead Sea, and the Red Sea). The lake is the main provider of fresh water for things like tap-water, cooking water, and agriculture. Israelis are conscientious about their water use and meticulously monitor how they use/abuse it. I found out later in the trip that Ron, and Israeli IDF special forces member showers himself in 3 steps (1. Water-on to get wet, 2. Water off to soap up, 3. Water-on to wash off). He also told me that he makes an effort to correct other Israelis water habits when he sees that they are abusing water consumption.

The visibility was decent and many people took pictures together before getting back on the bus to our next location – Gamal Nature Preserve. At the Gamal Nature Preserve, we learned about the acient village of Gamal and the suicide that took place there during a Roman conquest period (I want to say the 12th century?). Gamal was a community of Jews that lived on the east side of hill that sat in between two rivers. This community had survived for hundreds of years – operating between the great heights of Golan and the valley of Lake Kinneret. Over 6,000 people died in the tragedy of Gamal once the Romans gained control. Even though the story of Masada is more popular in Israel and the world – Gamal is where the largest Jewish mass suicide in Israel occurred.

From the town of Gamal, we walked over to the Egyptian Vulture lookout center – 200 meters away. Here we learned about the vultures that are native to the Middle East and how the Israelis track the vultures between Israel and Egypt. I found this portion of the nature preserve to be just as interesting as the historical information of Gamal.

The bus then took us 40 minutes further north to the Syrian border at an old bunker at the top of Mt. Bental. Here we learned about the Syrian/Lebanon conflict with Israel and how they currently have to peace agreement. Politically, Syria and Lebanon don’t recognize Israel as a sovereign state for the Jews and the borders between the countries are closed. We all walked through the bunker and Ran said that it would be used as an Israel base if tensions escalated.

We finished here and then went to Qazrin to have lunch at a shwarma/falafel stand. Lunch lasted an hour and then we went to the Golan Heights Winery in Qazrin. There we walked around and learned about Israeli wine, how it’s produced, the differences in soils and grapes, and tasted 3 different bottles of wine. We had an option to buy some bottles and gifts for family and then hit the road to the Gator Hot Springs near the Jordan border.

The developer of this spa harnessed the hot spring sulfuric water from the land and brought it up to make a giant spa/zoo area. I guess some people didn’t get in the water and walked around and looked at the Alligators and other animals of the complex. I got in the water with the majority of the group and went straight for the jets. I used the jets on my back for 10-15 minutes before heading to the hot-room pool for 10-20 minutes. The Israelis were spread out throughout the grounds and our group clumped together in pockets in the pools – it was so easy to identify the difference between the people in the water. The hot springs smelt like sulfur throughout the area, stinging the nostrils with a funky mineral smell. It was a luxurious experience in my mind.

I showered off and got back on the bus for the sunset ride back to the Kibbutz with the group. We had a group evening program to learn about the kibbutz by having a mock auction in biddings for different components of a kibbutz (ala Cow House, Factory, Tomato Orchard, etc..). This lasted for 30-45 minutes and then we were free for the night. I first went to check if I could watch the Duck game on repeat (ESPN3 or GoDucks.com) by using the internet. It was a miserable failure as I found out the 22-19 score and then an ‘Associated Press’ recap of the game. I was depressed for about 30 minutes but then realized what an amazing season the Ducks had. I used the internet to send a quick message back to my parents to let them know I was having a good time in Israel. Then Victor, Ed, Gary, Audrey, Bobbi, Eli, and I played card games and an game called “My Penis, My Vagina”. It lasted for a little while before I kicked everyone out and then wrote some cliff notes from my travels before going to bed.

Comment

Comment

Track Listing for Couch Surfing Hosts

So I’ve been Couch Surfing for a couple days now, in Tel Aviv and Cairo. As a thank you to my Couch Surfing hosts I made them a mixed CD of 16 songs that I enjoyed listening to and deejaying with in Los Angeles leading up to this trip. Here are the songs on the CD for them to see and for your downloading/listening pleasure.

1. Thunderball – Road to Benares (Bombay Dub Orchestra Remix)

2. Nightmares on Wax – Passion

3. Jazzual Suspects – This Beat

4. Nightmares on Wax – You Wish

5. Blu Bizness – Funky For You

6. Nightmares on Wax – Nights Interlude

7. Bella Qause – All Night

8. Nightmares on Wax – Flip Ya Lid

9. The Roots – What They Do

10. Nightmares on Wax – Groove St.

11. Ta’Raach – Baaaby

12. Nightmares on Wax – Stars

13. Slakah the Beatchild – Enjoy Ya Self

14. Nightmares on Wax – Hear In Color

15. The Roots – The Fire (feat. John Legend)

16. Nightmares on Wax – Bringin’ It

Comment

Comment

Swollen with Excitment

Journal Entry # 52 - Road Entry#42 (Maadi – Cairo, Egypt - 1:35pm (Local) - January 23, 2011)

Swollen with Excitment

With a 9 hour time change forward, some of this day was “lost” once I landed in Ben Gurion airport at 1:30pm. Although I had only 2 hours of sleep from LAX to TLV, I didn’t feel as if I was still on “West Coast” time. I felt excited and ready to go right through customs and with the group to our first location, Sha’ar Hagolan Kibbutz.

I was one of the last people to get off the bus and walk through the airport to the security check. My new visa stamp came without trepidation by Israeli security and walked to the bagged pickup area. There I immediately went to the bathroom to change clothes, brush my teeth, and revitalize for an afternoon and evening itinerary with the group.

As a group, we took our bags to our charter bus for drop-off, to pick-up a cell phone if you ‘rented’ one, and to exchange out $US dollars for the New Israeli Shekel (NIS). I received 950 NIS for my $275 dollars. The current economic condition of Israel is very similar to that of the United States. I would say the prices of the same exact goods are the same or 10-15% more than of those in the states.

I moved with the group back into the airport on the second level above the baggage area and near the bathrooms. Here is where we met Loren and Rachel, director and coordinator of Routes Travel respectively. Loren began by officially welcoming us to Israel and giving a brief explanation in how this trip is made possible. This has been made possible for the past 13 years for over 250,000 people through the contributions of private donations (both anonymous and distinguished people), the Israeli government, and local/regional Jewish communities across the world. Loren actually mentioned that the government has been so pleased with the program that they have decided to double the budget for the next summer wave of 18-26 year olds from 25,000 to 50,000.

He then introduced Ran (our tour guide), formally introduced Noah and Alison, and introduced Tami. Even though she doesn’t like to be called an auditor, Tami acted as an auditor, observer, interviewer, and staff member of both our Taglit bus and the Taglit-Birthright oversight committee as well. She had pen and paper throughout the whole trip; writing down every little detail she could.

Loren indicated that it is very rare for a Taglit-Birthright group to have an observational staff member on one of its trips, so he asked us to follow guidelines, rules, and regulations for the entirety of the journey. Not knowing of what to expect, Loren then proceeded into a proclamation of the “DON’TS” while on this trip.

DON’T DRINK, BECAUSE WE CAN’T TRUST YOU WAS HIS MESSAGE. Loren emphatically described the dozens of mistakes other American Taglit-Birthright members have made in the past. These individual cases led Loren to critically dissect almost any situation that could go wrong and what it’s consequences were. At the end of the speech, he wished for us to have a comfortable and pleasant trip throughout Israel and that he would be seeing us again in Jerusalem between the Holocaust museum and the Mt. Herzl memorial cemetery visit.

From here, we used the bathrooms before our 2 hour drive to Sha’ar Hagolan and our accommodations for the night. On the bus ride north, most of the group started to warm up to each other more and start developing new friendships. I sat in the back of the bus on my first ride north thinking I would be able to sleep for an hour to two all the way to the kibbutz. It wasn’t the case because everyone in the back of the bus had a fervent amount of energy that they kept talking the entire ride up. I was thoroughly impressed with their energy after so a long flight.

My intention on the first night in Israel was to sleep when I could so that I could wake up in the middle of the night (3:30am) to watch the Oregon-Auburn National Championship game online or on a television at the kibbutz. It was great that I had my computer with me, but once I got to the kibbutz I forgot to ask reception about internet right away. It was after dinner around 9:00pm when I realized the televisions in each room didn’t work and the reception had now closed for the night – making wireless internet access unavailable. I said to myself that it would be an issue and I would just watch the game when I could – hoping no one would find out the score and tell me.

My “no internet” realization moment came as we walked into a community conference room of the kibbutz for our first group evening program together. These programs usually consisted of us talking about the Middle East conflict, history, art, culture, spirituality, etc… But this night was reserved for more ice-breaking activities so that the comfort amongst each other would dramatically increase in such a short time span.

We played a dry-kosher-elementary version of “Never have I” with one person standing in the middle and everyone else seated in a circle around that person. That person starts his or her sentence with “never have I” so that other people in the group have done something to switch seats. In the chaos, the person in the middle runs and gets a new seat while others scramble to find a new seat as well. The last person without a seat then has to say something and the game continues.

After our game, Ran instructed us to share with the entire group what this trip means to us and what we might want to get out of it. Since everyone had different backgrounds and varying degrees of spirituality, it was no surprise that a lot of the answers were unique and insightful to the person’s mindset, vision, and goals of this trip (thus strengthening the bond between our relationship as friends, Jews, Americans, and people).

This activity ended and I was extremely tired. I shared a room with Eli and Johnny for the duration of our time together at the kibbutz. Johnny helped me find extra pillows for my bed so that I could elevate my feet and reduce the swelling around my ankles and calves. Overall, I had a mediocre first nights sleep as my slumber was dissected into 2 hour intervals with bathroom breaks or bed adjustments in between. Thankfully my swollen legs subsided and I was ready to start the day – The Golan Heights and Northern Borders.

Comment

Comment

Transcendence

Journal Entry # 51 - Road Entry#41 (Tel Aviv to Cairo - 10:44am (Local) - January 21, 2011)

Transcendence

The day is Sunday, January 9th 2011 and I am waking up for a morning run before flying to Tel Aviv, Israel. Although my first marathon is only 19 days away, I am more excited to start meeting new Taglit-Birthright friends and get into Israel. My morning run goes amazingly. I churn out 6 miles up Foothill blvd and back to mom’s house before Max Sugerman is supposed to arrive. Max is the first person I will meet from the trip as I offered him a carpool ride from La Canada down to LAX with my parents.

I am just getting out of the shower when Max arrives. He is right on time and I am running 10 or 20 minutes behind schedule. I still have to pack my bag in the living room where I have everything I need laid out on the ground. Max is introduced to Paul and my mother and the cordial introduction follows. Max is from San Francisco and is in La Canada because he has family that lives there. He is 21 years old and is working and going to school simultaneously. My frantic baggage-ing doesn’t allow me to listen completely to what Max is telling Paul and mom and it seems as if he’s withholding information from the 3 of us until I settle down.

Mom, Max, and I then drove to pick up dad at his house in North Hollywood / Toluca Woods. Once we arrived, I got out by hugging dad and making him get inside the car ASAP. It is now 9:08am and we have to be at LAX by 9:30am.

Dad asks to me to take a moment together in the kitchen where he wants to give me a gift before the trip. He generously gives me a book on the American Civil War – specifically Valley Forge – and a sentimental card that shows his appreciation, love, and admiration of his oldest son. I was deeply touched and moved from his thoughtfulness.

Dad then took over driving responsibilities from mom because he drives slightly faster with more emphasis on lane and speed efficiency. He got the 4 of us to the airport at 9:31am. PERFECT. I said goodbye to both of them before walking in the international terminal of LAX with Max. Initially, Max and I see a giant group of people politely standing in proximity to one another – with limited and courteous interactions. At this point, we have no idea of what dynamic and connectivity we will have with one another – but the feeling is mutual.

Right around 10’o’clock, we get into the El Al Airlines check-in line as a group with Noah B leading the way. Noah and Alison are our American trip leaders for the 10 adventure throughout Israel. As we get in line, we all start to slowly and methodically introduce ourselves to one another. I can feel the excitement amongst one another brewing in this period – right up until the El Al employees start questioning the first group of Taglit members.

I wasn’t in the beginning of line, and I could see why the organization calls for such a early meeting time before a 1:30pm flight time. There are a lot of people to interview!

During the interviews, I was standing in line next to Ben and Hannah – a couple that lived together in Brentwood. We spoke for 20-30 minutes about each others lives and the recent activity we had all had leading up to this journey. I learned that Ben was a Detroit, Michigan native and Hannah was a southern California native. They had met in LA and decided to do the Taglit trip together. Ben runs his own business and I think Hannah is finishing up school (nursing?). My interview with the Israeli airline worker came after I shared introductions with Ed and Liz as well (more about them later).

Rotan was my interrogation representative for the day. Rotan is from a small town in between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. I got to know this because I had asked her at the end of my questioning. She asked me all about my previous travels, my previous Shabbat and High Holy Day celebrations, if I had remembered any prayers, and if I had any family in Israel. Some of the questions were very specific, and it was hard for me to remember the exact details or dates for these questions.

Once I answered all of my questions honestly and whole-heartedly, I went to pick up some food from a food joint in the terminal before entering the gate area where I find food to be more expensive. Ironically, I walked by a sushi food stand and bought a $15 sashimi and sushi platter due to the misconception that the Middle East doesn’t carry or serve Japanese sushi.

I took my carry on bag and my sushi to the security checkpoint where I was scanned and patted down for toxic chemicals, explosives, weapons, and dangerous items. From there, I ran into Noah and Johnny in the hallway as Noah was doing a sweep of the terminal to make sure all travel members would be at the gate by high noon. I walked with them to the point where I was so hungry that I just sat down with the first Taglit-Birthright members I saw and joined in on the last minute scramble to eat. I didn’t finish my sushi, because we had only 5 minutes to walk the entire length back to the other side of the terminal.

The 40 Taglit members and 2 American group leaders were at the gate and gathered around 25 minutes later – right before the plane would be getting ready to board and depart. Noah instructed each of us to share our name, current place of residence, and an addiction that we enjoy.

This ended a the brief introduction to what would be a 10-day ice-breaking trip. After this moment I opened up to the group that I was an Oregon graduate and wanting to watch the Oregon-Auburn National Championship game once we got into Israel the next evening. I had the time difference between the countries figured out, I just needed to find a platform to watch or listen to the game live at 3:30am Israel time. And as for SERENDIPITY, this was my view-scape of the tarmac before boarding for the flight...




Everyone contributed to the ice-breaking ceremony and when it was my turn I said I am in search of a place to call home and that I am addicted to a variety of things that included traveling and running. From here, we all got to speak with one another for a bit more before boarding the 747 aircraft to Tel Aviv-Yafo. My ticket read seat 31F and I was greeted in this behemoth of a jet with a middle seat in the third cabin area. My travel counterparts, 31E and 31G, were both Israeli men. One was a younger, modern looking fellow with leather boots and Harley Davidson patches on his jean jacket. On my left side sat the complete opposite of my right. He was a white-collar business man from Israel that seemed to travel frequently between the states and Israel. All of these notes are coming based off observations as I only spoke to either of them as a courtesy before my trips to the restroom and stretching sessions.

During the flight I watched a couple of movies and wrote a blog entry. I saw “The Town” with Ben Affleck and loved it. I also watched parts of the new “Wall Street” movie and “The Social Network”. I wrote for as long as the battery lasted.

I could do all of this because the flight lasted 14.5 hours non-stop to Tel Aviv. I had planned to sleep for at least 6 of these hours and only slept for 2 of them. And 7500 miles (12,500 Km) later, I landed in Tel Aviv with two swollen feet/ankles at 1:30pm on January 10th, 2011.

Comment

Comment

Events, Memories, and the Los Angeles Stinky Cheese Man…

Journal Entry # 50 - Road Entry#40 (LAX to Tel Aviv - 9:57pm EST (Local) - January 9, 2011)

Events, memories, and the Los Angeles Stinky Cheese Man….

I guess I am going to have to continue my travel writing about Charlotte, Tennesee, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas at a later time. I am currently on my flight to Israel from Los Angeles – beginning a new adventure. On my previous trip, I was working from my MacBook – and I wrote down all of my cliff notes from each day on the road on that computer. I want to write about that experience with those notes, which I don’t have with me on this trip to Israel. I am taking my older laptop with me to Israel – trusting that a 4 year old laptop can perform in similar fashion to my newer Mac.

I will now give an update for the 3 months that corresponds between the end of my United States / Canada summer trip and this Middle East winter trip.

I pretty much ran dry by the end of September. I flew from Houston to Los Angeles to begin living with my family in Los Angeles – starting to save up money for my next adventure. I had decided along the summer road that my next destination would be Central/South America – a chance for me to strengthen my Spanish and start contributing along the way doing volunteer programs or a English teaching experience.

I primarily moved in with my mom and step-dad, Paul, for these months. I would usually spend time with my Dad and step-mom, Dede, on the weekends. The time spent in both homes was new and different for me. I hadn’t lived in Los Angeles this way since 2004. I had reference in what I was getting myself into – but I had newer living experiences that shadowed my southern California past. Ultimately, what you need to know about me is that I have an overall negative perception of this southern California area due to my personal social and educational growth from puberty onwards. I am constantly trying to work on this perception and be aware of my negative attitude towards such a dynamic city.

Wow, I just got side-tracked from talking about family to talking about a city…

My intention while living in Los Angeles was to do as much as I could with my family – in order to make them happy. I had been gone in Oregon and on the road for so long that my consistent presence was missed (I felt it). From time to time, I would relieve myself of family time to enjoy personal moments with some old high school friends (Mark & David). And I met some new friends along the way (Justin, Paris, Megan G, Jaime, and Lindsey S from Bakersfield). I wisely chose to spend certain moments with my brother and his friends as well. Consequently, I came away with more positive social experiences than negative ones over the 3 month period. Furthermore, I still believe that southern California is only a destination and not a home.

I just checked my battery on this computer. I forgot that it drains quickly in comparison to my MacBook. Maybe I should have bought a new battery?

Since I don’t have as much time as I did with my MacBook, I list the highlights and work experiences from the past 3 months in chronological order…
A. Get a DJ job for the UCLA tailgate party against Washington State (SAE – Alpha Phi Tailgate Mixer).
B. Get a personal training job for Ani Darakjian. I start helping her loose weight for her LIFE and HEALTH – not just her wedding.
C. Work on multiple storage and garage consolidation projects. First for my Mom and Dad – then for their friends and their friends.
D. Support Benjamin Goldsmith and his stand-up comedy career. Go to every show I can on Sunset Blvd. at the Comedy Store.
E. Get a resident DJ gig at a Hollywood restaurant called Lucky Devil’s. I start to spin music that I enjoy listening to and not TOP 40 / POP / HIP HOP / MAINSTREAM. I was happy with the music, selections, and performances, but not the late night hours.
F. Watch college football games with Dad almost every Saturday. We watch Oregon have a fantastic undefeated season in reaching the national championship. We go to the USC – OREGON game at the LA Coliseum together on Halloween Eve.
G. Some of my Oregon friends come down to LA for the Duck-Trojan game and we have a great time together pre-game and post-game.
H. I dress up on Halloween night as “A Guy in a Bathrobe”. Using the robe I found in Stephanie and John’s hotel room 20 minutes before going out to a bar/lounge/club in the same hotel. There I see a guy dressed as the stinky cheese man from one of my favorite old children’s books. My favorite costume at this party.
I. Have a jolly Thanksgiving weekend in East Oakland with my uncle Bruce, aunt Joanne, and cousin Alex.
J. Get waited listed for Taglit Birthright trip to Israel once again.
K. Apply for a job with Backroads Active Travel Company (based out of Berkeley and Utah).
L. Whole-heartedly lose my fantasy football season.
M. Run all the time in preparation for the Phoenix Rock and Roll marathon.
N. Hypothetically start planning my time in Arizona for the BCS National Championship and the marathon.
O. Get an e-mail from Israel saying I have been accepted to travel to Israel on January 9th, 2011. I decide win or lose against the Beavers, I got to Israel. Gut-instinct “There is a better chance of the Ducks making another national title game than me getting a free flight half-way across the earth for a travel experience”. It took me about 30-45 minutes to make this decision.
P. Ducks win against the Beavers on a glorious night – putting them in the BCS game on January 10th, 2011.
Q. Drive to Las Vegas to pick up Ryan from the airport. He flew in from NYC for the holidays and wanted to go to the Las Vegas Bowl (Boise State vs. Utah) – his alma mater. Great time together as best friends and I go to Palm Desert for the rest of the holiday season week.
R. Spend quality family time with Ben, Dede, Dad and Ben’s friends in the desert. Got very mad during a game of scrabble on some rules that I was right about and that Dede and Ben didn’t understand. Retrospectively, I could have handled that better and tried to explain the rules without getting so furious and frustrated. We spent better times together in other places and played golf, went to the movies, and feasted. I know Dad enjoys the desert together and I love making him happy.
S. New Year’s Eve morning – my Mom and Paul officially got married in their living room. Mom’s friend John presided over the marriage and it was a beautiful day. Mom had so many flowers throughout the house and she was so happy! I cried and it was beautiful. I am so happy that they love each other so much.

A well documented and happy 2010!!!!
Let’s learn, improve, teach, contribute, and grow in 2011!!!

I love my life.
Thank you.
Thank you.
Thank you.

Comment