30 Driving in Israel and Love

30  Driving in Israel

What if STOP had a different symbol?  How long would it  take for you to respond automatically?

I received a parking ticket,  because I didn’t notice the curbs were painted blue and white, meaning “pay-to-park” during certain hours/days. Besides the ticket, came the indignation of not being able to read it or know HOW to pay it.  As it turns out, a trip to the post office, cash in hand, is the way to pay a parking ticket in Israel.  And going forward, I’ll pay more attention to the signs.

How long before the symbol for “WRONG way” catches your eye as it should? (saying: this is a one-way street, dummie, and you can’t be here, facing this direction!).

Driving, like most things, is same-but-different in Israel!

img_1982Road signs!

img_1983Learning them is one thing, NOTICING them, and responding smartly, immediately, is another.

img_1998It’s hard to not miss the automatic responses of 40+ years of driving is only one aspect.  I remind myself often that missing “autopilot” in multiple aspects of life is exhausting.

 

I’m finally accustomed to seeing 100km for my speed, which is just under 60mph, and 120km on most highways.  Much like open road driving in the U.S., the rule is to let faster vehicles pass on the left.  Israeli’s do a lot more moving-over, even straddling the right shoulder, to allow or invite faster vehicles to pass.

Since some of the roads in the Golan are simply too narrow for a compact vehicle (mine) + huge oncoming buses or military trucks hauling tanks, I slow substantially to cleave to my edge.  Although professional drivers are typically the best, even when hugging their side they take up much more than their share; it’s tempting to flinch and close my eyes when they pass. . . but I don’t, unless I’ve stopped as I did for this photo.img_1969

How to describe the Golan? Besides beautiful hilly nature, small communities and a few larger cities (6,000 residents), agriculture, livestock, beautiful huge homes and simple dwellings, bicyclists, motorcycles, army jeeps/tanks/huge trucks, soldiers and many others hitchhiking.  Prices for dental floss, groceries, etc reflect the isolated nature and I’ve been told many plan 45-60 minute biweekly “big shopping” treks to major areas to save household funds.

 

Holy Cow…

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no BULL

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Fences surrounding fields adorned with signs warning of landmines!  I found one community surrounded by this 10ft wide “border” of of landmine fencing and signs.  img_1986Imagine them “cleaning out” the community area (of landmines) before building. Wouldn’t the landmine border provide a certain security to the residents, albeit cause for concern for parents…

img_1970Driving in the Golan is entertaining: I see horses in stables or luxuriating in huge fields. Cows roam free, but seem to give right-of-way to vehicles.  I saw several drink from a small lake at which an assortment of Israeli’s (Druze, Muslim, Jew, ??) were fishing. Foxes, jackals, and other creatures dart across the road.

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(this sign says buses cannot enter – it’s so nice to be able to read some things)

Others often remark on my courage to live this way, but I’ve also been told the most courageous thing I do is to drive Israel’s roads.  Israeli drivers describe themselves as aggressive.  That’s accurate.  In order to accomplish my purposes: arrive safely and see what I’m passing, note places of interest, etc. I do a lot of straddling the shoulder to invite them to pass.

Searching for a specific restaurant or signage for landmark is a greater problem in traffic since reading signs takes longer, to sound-out words. It’s often complicated further by artsy script on many non-government signs.  I remember thinking as a child that it was so unfair when letters strayed from the long banner of upper and lower case, printed or cursive letters surrounding the walls of the classroom.

Besides a variety of compact, gas efficient cars and commercial and military trucks, motorcycles “fly” at break-neck speeds, and scooters and golfcart type vehicles share Golan Height’s roads, some impossibly noisy and others slowing traffic.  Some of the motorcycle riders are fully equipped with helmet and road gear, while others are in sandals and tshirts; they generate visions of peeled skin and head injuries, and again it’s tough to not close my eyes as they whiz past.

PROGRESS! A few weeks ago I took on the challenge to transition from GPS navigation in English to Hebrew, thinking the open roads of the Galilee and Golan would be the place to begin, and it’s working!  Whoohoo!!!

That means I’ve graduated from Google maps in English to the Hebrew language version on Waze (Waze is improved GPS navigation plus many other features including speed traps, invented here and recently bought by Google).

Why is this an accomplishment? My understanding is improved enough to follow Waze’s vocal instructions in Hebrew about where/when to turn, what’s ahead, rerouting, etc.  At first I relied on the map on my phone to learn-to-understand what “she” was saying, but now I know by listening to the directions in Hebrew.

The next test will be in busy city traffic.


A Yoga Studio in a beautiful Yurt was hosting accomplished young, local musicians for a night of Music from India… isn’t that what you thought Israeli’s do?!?!

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As with most of what I do (except for washing clothes in the bathtub) the evening was more than the event itself. The narrow mountain roads enroute were lit only by my bright headlights and a few drivers very familiar with the curves and driving much faster.  Next, I navigated by “braile” of memory among homes and streets I couldn’t see.  There was no assurance that I’d find the Yurt I’d visited during a daylight visit 2 weeks prior. Thankfully, the tiny community of less than 200 people has very few streets.

Upon entering the Yurt, I found the musicians setting up and tuning instruments, but the ccccold was assaulting and  the heater was yet another 30 minutes away from bringing comfort to the large space and high ceiling.  The yoga teacher and husband, 3 year old in tow, entered and left repeatedly to bring items from their home next to the Yurt, each door opening and too often incompletely closing, blasting us with another frigid chill.

I was grateful for each of the 25 or so eventual attendees, partly for making the evening successful for the musicians, and even more for the warmth their bodies contributed as the Golan Heights’s evening dropped below 4C(39F).

The round building, approximately 40ft diameter,  was constructed with wood walls and ceiling, skylight in center, a (Pergo) wood floor, and was lined with 3- inch pads and stacked yoga mats, pillows, and thin blankets.  The guests staggered in before and an hour after the music started.  I always feel badly for performers, especially in a small venue, having to stay focused as people arrive late, later, and later still.

I played my game of “Imagine”: how did this one meet that one, are they a couple, what is her story, is that a happy couple, why is he wearing shorts and barefoot in this extreme cold?…

Usually I corner someone, or many someone’s, into conversation but something about the crowd interfered with that.  I heard Hebrew and English and had even met one couple at a previous visit to a hostel, but it was one of few instances that I was not compelled to interact.  I wonder what we’d see if we could see at all levels, beyond the substance of matter…Do I feel that I “fit” or not because of the group, or because what I ate for lunch is doing something to my metabolism/ mind/ whatever? Are some “my people” and others not, or am I not “theirs”? Am I “peopled-out” and need to take this time to reflect, watch, listen…

click to download: Indian music

I felt as though I was Julia Roberts, from the movie Eat Pray Love.   (Romantic-me appreciates her best in the Cinderella story of Pretty Woman, but I’ve certainly never felt like I was in that story!!!)

The lovely music became my pre-sleep calming time, rocked like a baby before the cccccold drive home.  Still, I slept well, and am taking note re sleep after music, rather than the computer screen before bed.  Hmmmmmmmmmm.  Just as they say…

My prayers these days are for God to fill my heart with whatever He wants in it… and for me to learn to nurture those things.  I believe what He puts in my heart is to give away, and my responsibility is stewardship.  How could I not give what I’ve been so freely given.

More often than I can recount, I am again the 19-year-old visiting here so very long ago.  The encounters I have, brilliant vistas, conversations, moments of realization, peace. . . it’s as though a part of me is alive here that never was fully alive.  I understand some of this may be attributable my season of life, and yet I know the air here, the land that resonates in me, brings to me a great settled-ness.

 



Let me know if you hear this one on CNN…

Muslim Arabs – Palestinians –   who love Israel enlist in Israel Defense Forces (the Army) http://www.reuters.com/article/uk-israel-arabs-army-idUSKBN13X1YF 



Sometimes it’s Easy

One recent morning I left early to catch the lab technician’s 1 hour window of either 7-8am or 7:30 – 8:30 am for a routine blood draw.  (I couldn’t sort out which information was accurate, so I targeted the 7:30 – 8am window)  The lab was in a larger village – a whopping 6,000 Druze, twice the size of “my” village.

Besides the time factor, I didn’t have an address for the Clinic and couldn’t find one, even with Google and Waze and other internet searches.  Since the language of the Druze is Arabic, I’d been told that it was unlikely to find many English speakers on the street but that merchants might be reasonably fluent in Hebrew.

Hopeful, off I went, wondering when I would be reasonably fluent in Hebrew.  Shortly after entering the village, I pulled alongside a car to ask for directions.  One of the passengers was, thankfully, a Hebrew speaker and familiar with the Clinic.  He gave me directions and they drove off.  My ever-limited understanding caught only the first half of several turns and landmarks.  Completing that much, I didn’t know the next step, so I asked school girls standing on a corner.  All but one were startled into silence – was it my Hebrew? My face? My rented car? But one forged through and jabbered something in Arabic, pointing.  So I went that way and sure enough in 200 ft found the Clinic, clearly marked.

And Open.

With no one waiting.

And even warm, to comfort the serious chill of the early morning.  The orders were in my electronic file as my doctor had said, the computer and printer worked, the clerk and lab tech were friendly, happy and efficient, the needle painless.  I left in 10 minutes!

It’s not always that way!

Sometimes it takes a second trip to find an agency or office, read through the opening hours posted, and then return again to wait my turn only to learn I don’t have all the documents I need, so return again to find I’ve neglected to notice it’s a holiday or the afternoon before a holiday – it’s posted on the hours, but some of the holidays my first 2 years caught me by surprise.  Then there are crying babies and cranky clerks and people who’ve been waiting too long and those hurrying back to work or other obligations and needing to step ahead in line… arggggh

I’m giving you both ends of the spectrum: the smooth-as-silk perfection and the challenging because I’m pretty sure you’ve been at both ends, too.  Here, the language ups the ante, plus the  culture (think: New Yorkers on steroids!!).  Summer is worse, because with too many too hot, potentially aromatic bodies crowded for too long, it’s just, well, uncomfortable.  Hardly suffering, but certainly character building.

 

In China

We sat in the home of Tibetan nomads and learned that during growing seasons, the women care for the children and elderly in the homes.

Where are the men? Tending to Yak herds high in the mountains to keep them away from roaming into fields growing much needed produce.  Later, during Tibet’s harsh winters, at 16,000 feet, it’s impossibly cold to live on the mountains in tents, so the men and the Yak are home.

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Their hospitality was humbling. The homes basic, yet decorated elaborately, crowded with Buddhism symbols, relics, and icons, obviously a priority.

Prompted by our tour guide, we brought them instant coffee packets and toothbrushes. We were told other essentials like soaps would go unused. He was right.  While their warmth and simplicity was endearing, these are a people for whom cleanliness is not a priority.img_1171

 

Gathered into the chilly salon/guest room/meeting room lined with couches that could serve as beds (think narrow beds with bolsters), we drank the national beverage: Butter Tea (black tea leaves with yak or cow butter and salt). It tastes like broth – easy to see how substantial and warming it would be on impossibly cold winter days.

We also drank Sweet Tea (black tea leaves, with sugar), another popular drink found in Tibet’s Tea Houses.  Liken those to Starbucks, except a cup of the tea is (the equivalent of) a few pennies.

img_1173We were treated to amazing steamed dumplings filled with a lightly sweetened white cheese and literally dripping with butter.  I’ll remember those for a long time, but will never even try to find them. A lifetime of lessons-learned includes the truth that attempting such a replay is most always a disappointment.  Instead, I’ll savor, really savor, the memory.

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The Chinese Government has supplemented costs for Tibetan nomad homes up to 80%. Another way to say that, is that the tax payers in China have supplemented Tibetan nomad homes up to 80%, but that’s not how it’s said.  So to that extent, it’s like the U.S.

Helping the Nomads by establishing sewage and other simple services is surely crucial for public health goals and even more likely, bespeaks of the long term goal to settle this nomadic people.

During the Q&A through a translator, we’d learned our hostess’ childhood home had been a village far south, so I asked how she met her husband, whether through matchmaker or other. She sparkled with the memory and explained they’d met in Lhasa, not through a matchmaker as I’d presumed.  Our interpreter elaborated, “Theirs is a marriage of love.”  May it ever be.

But her sparkle dimmed when asked how often she visits her parents in that village far away.  So much is universal: close families want to be near each other and love comes with sorrow.

There were no indoor facilities: shower or bath or toilet, although they had a sink for food preparation/clean up; I don’t recall whether it had a water faucet or not. We were told that toileting had a designated area in their home’s courtyard and I regret not asking to see it.  I think.

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After touring her home, we walked through the village of around one hundred souls.  Some would allow us to take their photo, while others forbade it because of the belief that a photograph extracts something from one’s soul.  A few minutes after our departure, our hostess rode past us on an old green scooter.  I wonder where she was going because we were in the middle of NOWHERE.

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Tibet is a land of streams filled with fresh water fish, but Tibetans absolutely do not fish.  Buddhist philosophy is that it is better to take the life of one large animal to feed many people, rather than many lives of fish to feed only a few.  Lhasa, the largest city, is filled with huge statues honoring Yak, THE large many-people feeder.  Prayers evidence a palpable guilt/appreciation towards the huge beast for feeding multitudes.

Agriculture has improved dramatically due to the recent introduction of greenhouses; we drove past long tents filled with produce.

 

Clothes define culture and often faith: can they be separated? Tibetan folks everywhere – whether in Buddhist temples, the young Nomadic housewife (jeans and a nondescript sweater), shopkeepers, etc – were dressed in traditional or western garb.  Having spent nearly 2 years in Jerusalem, where some outfits send clear messages about the person’s religious practice and external lifestyle, I was particularly interested in Tibetans’ attire.  “What is practical rather than religion dictates clothes”, they explained, and yet the robes of Monks, color coded scarves, head coverings, etc remind me of dress codes of many other faiths.  Is there a religion or culture without some garment dictates?  Practical makes so much sense, but then it’s seldom about “sense”.

Tibet’s largest city, Lhasa, has 2 medical facilities. Climbing the steep stairs and dark narrow hallways of the Tibetan Traditional Hospital, it was impossible to miss the dirty floors and walls, the long lines of people waiting for service.  Obviously lacking economic resources.  I was uninspired, even though I genuinely value the strategies employed (eg, pulse and tongue analysis, herbs, acupuncture, cupping, acupressure etc).

The facility’s directing physician met with our group for over an hour, explaining the philosophy underlying traditional Tibetan medicine’s diagnosis, disease, and cure paradigm.  Since the efficacy for certain ailments is undeniable, they enjoy a mutual referral process with the nearby western medicine hospital – what to westerners is “traditional” medicine.  I appreciated the successful model of healthcare workers comfortable using or referring to all applicable techniques for the benefit of their patients.

As an aside, several days after this encounter, I had my own visit to a physician with combined specialties.  I’d suffered from altitude sickness on the 3rd day in Tibet and benefited from a Chinese Traditional-Medicine Physician (not Tibetan, but there are vast similarities).  Dr. Who (yes, for real, his name) was the ship’s physician, dual trained in western + traditional Chinese methodologies.  Besides teaching tai chi each morning as we cruised along the Yangtze River, he treated several of my traveling companions who were debilitated from intestinal something-or-other from the undrinkable water or food presumably washed in it.  He used acupuncture, cupping, and herbs to set me aright.


DRUZE.  I’m currently living in a Druze village in north-north Israel, in the Golan Heights, and have met a number of the locals, but wanted to see their homes…I prayed they’d invite me in.

The family from whom I’m renting this tiny apartment for a month was the first to invite me to come for tea, which turned into a whole meal.  We sat on 3-inch cushions lining the large room, with “backs” of more cushions and huge pillows.  The room’s 3 walls lined with these cushions could have easily accommodated 30 adults sitting, assuming all were in shape to get Down and back Up from the floor cushions.

The colorfully painted walls were adorned with 3 separate paintings – a photograph of bearded sheik, a large fantasy print of a knight slaying an animal, and soldiers on horses.  The 4th wall was lined with built-in cupboard/cabinets surrounding a mid-sized flat screen which seems to be always on. The loud Arabic “background” mingled with my hosts’ Hebrew into auditory chaos I struggled to decipher.

While my hostess was out of the room, I noticed the show: ET Entertainment Today.  Is that still a U.S. program? But it wasn’t the U.S. version, it was from Turkey, my hostess’ daughter explained.

Arabic is their language, and they learn Hebrew and English in school – some better than others, as would be expected.  The Druze university students I’ve met speak fluent Hebrew, the language of their studies at Haifa’s university, and less refined English.

Centered in the room was a wood-burning stove producing welcoming, albeit dry warmth. The top was flat, which I soon learned was for food preparation.  After snacks of popcorn and tea, my hostess spread a cotton floral tablecloth on the floor of the corner area in which we sat, which then became our table. I found myself stepping around it.

I initially obeyed her refusal to let me help prepare or bring items in from the kitchen, and talked with her college-aged daughter, using our phones to translate Arabic to Hebrew or English and visaversa when her Hebrew or mine met its limit.  My hostess returned with a huge tray of shallow bowls and plates filled to delight: humus-like sauce with fava or similar beans, sliced raw veggies, a creamy white cheese (labani) garnished with olive oil, mashed avocado, pickled miniature eggplant about the size of roma tomatoes, green olives  (think substantive, with seeds and flavored with spices, rather than flavorless, pitted variety from a can), Druze bread, which is an unleavened wheat product, thinner than a flour tortilla.

She spread the white cheese on the flatbread, folded like a burrito, and warmed it on the stove.  It was perfect alone or wrapped around any/all of the other flavors on the tray.  It seemed messy for me, without napkins, but manageable and truly delightful.

An assortment of unsalted seeds (pumpkin, sunflower, peanuts in shells, some other small dark black) and tea ceremony with Mate tea brought closure to the meal.  The tea tray included a hot water teapot, sugar bowl, a bowl of mate tea leaves and one tiny pitcher you might think used for coffee cream, but not so.  The pitcher was our cup to share. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mate_(beverage)

The dry tea is put in the pitcher, then a bit of sugar, and water while stirring to help the dry tea accept the water until the pitcher is filled.  Since she’d been offering me “firsts” at everything else, she clarified that with this she goes first (“a ceremony!”, I thought) and she placed a stainless “straw” in the pitcher to sip, gingerly at first because of the heat.  After a few minutes sipping and chatting, the tea leaves were relieved of the hot liquid and she rinsed the mouthpiece of the straw under a splash of hot water from the teapot, refilled the pitcher to the brim with hot water, replaced the “straw” and handed it to me with a warning, “hot”.  I sipped, thankful for the sugar I’d said yes to because that’s the way she likes it.  I’ve survived most of the cultural experiences by first doing it like they do, modifying later as warranted.

Throughout Israel I say “no thank you” to meat and alcohol, explaining I don’t eat/drink those items at all, and thus far all seem to understand without taking offense, even if encouraging me that both are healthy.

The tea was not tea-like, but heartier, as though from an herb, and the texture thick as the straw sat surrounded by plumped leaves.  A few good sips, perhaps an ounce, and a serving of hot water was drained, handed to the hostess to prepare with more hot water and sugar or tea leaves as needed for the next person.

The hostess does not have to do all the tea preparation, but usually does. Another female relative might help, and if there are many guests they use 2 common pitcher/tea cups, but tradition dictates that a woman must prepare this tea. Starting with the eldest or most honored family member or guest, the cup is passed in this way around many times.

Absurd as it sounds, I was reminded of how a marijuana cigarette might make its way around the room, except there is no drug effect.  I asked about protocol, and learned it would be inappropriate to drink and then refill the pot for oneself.

The assorted seeds-in-shell are a popular middle eastern post-meal or between-meal habit I’d seen in many Jerusalem households after a meal, Shabbat or otherwise.  Although unsalted, they remind me of the seasons during middle school that we’d munch our way through bags of sunflower or pumpkin seeds.

Was there something tangible that prompted them to invite me n?  Throughout that first week, they’d seen me alone in the apartment most evenings, when not out exploring the region.  Maybe they remembered I said that I want to learn about them as a culture, how they live, what they love, etc. Or perhaps they’d simply figured out that I’m ok, and don’t have a hidden agenda. What motivates people to express kindness or generosity of heart?  Regardless, I am grateful for the kind hospitality, the gentle explanations, especially their patient efforts at communicating with me.

Since then, I’ve been invited to return as well as into a number of other homes so I am learning the variations, what’s common, etc.  The Mate tea is everywhere, so far.  Wanting to have these experiences, and asking in prayer for the doors to (literally) be opened is a risk for me.  Why?  It’s pushing right up against a personal life motto: “be careful what you wish for”.  While that may sound cynical, it’s also a reflection of my life being in God’s hands.  These days, I’m trying to balance the risk of asking-and-wanting with holding-loosely.  I thank God for the amazing things that happen rather than whining about wanting more OR being afraid to ask for something….

Conversation with several Druze has turned to Syria and Israel relations.  It seems there as many opinions as individuals and I’m not sure my language limitations will allow a realistic understanding of their true perspectives.


Back to China

 

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Apprenticeship has always been interesting to me.  The thought of a young child or teen learning from a “master”, knowing his life’s work at such an early age and mentored . . . America’s university degrees bring longterm debt for unemployed graduates, while trades that might have been a better fit for their innate talents are not valued . . . Tangkka painting originated in India, then found its way to Nepal, and finally Tibet 2500 yrs ago.  Boys as young as 7-9 would begin apprenticeship, most often from their father, their lifetime career determined by heritage and gender.  Nowadays, apprentice for boys AND girls begins at 17-19, after compulsory education.img_1155

Finding love in China

One afternoon, settling back onto our bus, our tour guide described how love is found in China, revealing snippets from his own saga enroute to his wife.  That morning we had ambled through a huge park filled with exercise and dance-exercise groups, hacky sack players, Tai Chi, and board games.

click to download hacky-sac

Most were retirees staying well-connected socially, toned, flexible, and active.

click to download Chinese seniors

At one point we were told to put our cameras away, and the 14 of us wove our way past park benches and grassy areas filled matchmaker mothers and grandmothers sharing photos to arrange meetings of their unmarried children and grandchildren.

The criteria of value are whether the young man had purchased an apartment, how much he earned, and whether he owned a car.  Cars are typically one year’s income, and not bought with loans(!!)

Our guide told us that without those assets, a young man stood no chance to attract a wife. Hence, midlife and aging parents’ goal is to save every yen possible towards enabling their son to buy an apartment and car, along with educational expenses towards a career or government job.

Like a stand-up comedienne, our guide described multiple first dates orchestrated by cousins, friends, coworkers, etc.  The gals typically asked outright: “How much to you earn? Do you own your apartment?”

Why waste time, right? It seems the lines for dating to marriage are clearly drawn and the ladies’ goals clearly defined.  Harsh? Perhaps, but better than gals thinking they’ll whip this loser into shape.

 


On the subject of “love”

I met a Bedouin who has one wife and “is looking for love”.  To my response that I couldn’t go to coffee or a meal with a married man, he quickly explained that Bedouins often have 4 wives and besides that, it’s all fine with the mother of his 11 children who’s in bad health.

Sigh


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(Translation)  Have a good week with a smile, with joy, with a hug, with pleasantness, with a dream that comes true

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