33 – Wildlife in the desert and the potter’s wheel

Near the south end of the Arava, Israel’s south-eastern desert, is Hai Bar Wildlife Preserve/National Center for Biblical Wildlife http://www.natureisrael.com/haibar.html   They are re-building the population of native species named in the Bible but “lost” to the land through centuries of drought, unrestricted hunting, and whatever else. It’s a work in progress, because some species struggle to adapt… much like China’s panda’s who don’t survive when released into their natural habitat.

Here are 4 to see, including the cranky one who attacked my car.

As with many birds, males ostriches are colorfully attractive.

 

It seemed my presence aggravated this female ostrich (Job 39:13; Lam 4:3) – she attacked my (rental)car, but fortunately didn’t leave a dent.

There are baby ostriches a-comin’.  She or one of the other gals must have been friendlier at some time; perhaps with the fetching pink, black, and white dude in the first photos.  The huge eggs will take around 45 days to hatch and both papa and mama will take turns sitting to warm them.

 

Below are Addax, a type of antelope, translated assorted ways depending on the Bible translation

 

The next are onager, a type of wild ass, usually translated “donkey” in English Bibles  (many references). They were far away and it’s a bad video, too long, so take a quick look, but I included it for you Bible-knowers who will remember Balaam riding the donkey who sees the angel in their way.  Perhaps these fellows are ancestors of that donkey.

Here’s the Bible story – um, sort of.   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EPE1gwBLbz4 

Finally, check out these White Oryx’ great back scratchers!  They’re also a type of antelope (Deut 14:5; Is 51:20).  They star in this video with Israel talk radio in the background, just for fun; don’t ask me what they’re talking about!!

A Few More Differences  Israel – U.S.

  • Israeli’s don’t leave a voicemail message, or seem to check theirs. However, they return calls to numbers that have called them, even numbers not recognized, and expect the same.  It’s just the way it’s done.
  • Israeli traffic signals flash green before changing to yellow.  It helps!
  • While U.S. drivers are likely to hurry through the light before it changes to red, most Israeli drivers stop for yellow as though it were red.
  • At the end of the signal, most U.S. drivers seem to be momentarily cautious before entering the intersection after it changes to green, but the red light flashes before changing to green here and Israeli’s enter the intersection the Moment! it changes.  You can count on being HONKed at if you’re not immediately moving to a green light.
  • No right turn on a red light.  Ever! That’s a tough habit to break.

I have graduated to (almost always) being able to put gas in my car without having to ask for assistance. That means navigating the various computer instructions at different stations, entering information required (assorted combinations of my ID#, the car license, how the charge will process on my VISA, etc).  It’s still such a new phenomenon that I can’t resist doing the Snoopy Happy Dance each time I succeed.


a few shots in my farming community neighborhooddoes anyone know why the birds crowd together?  Family groups?  Good buddies?  Or are they like strangers who crowd together in an empty theater?

This farmer obviously wants his Thai workers to enjoy their time off!

sunset

The community’s mailboxes.  There were more at my college dorms and we had an exceptionally low residence-on-campus program for the 20,000 students!


The Hands of the Potter – a nearly missed opportunity

My hostess on the farm mentioned several places to be sure to visit during my stay in this community, so I took phone numbers and names.  Later that afternoon one returned my call and 15 minutes later I was in her ceramics studio/shop.

Her craftsmanship was impressive and she explained (in Hebrew!!!) the why’s and what’s of her collection/items for sale. While I couldn’t pass an exam on the specifics, I was delighted to find I understood reasonable chunks of her narratives! I think.

Better yet, she mentioned teaching a class that evening, so I asked to visit. When I returned for the class an hour later, both students were at the 2 electric “wheels,” one shaping a mug, the other a small bowl. 

The pottery teacher alternated from one to the other, explaining, demonstrating, guiding their hands to model pressure with a tool or a finger inside the vessel. I understood enough of her interaction with her students to realize why her Hebrew had been clearer than most: a teacher at heart gracefully simplifies to the student’s level.

My heart became a collage of learning-memories.

At first I was envious of hands-on teaching. I thought of countless attempts at pie crust and cakes from scratch – failed projects I’d tackled from a recipe alone, without skilled hands to guide mine.  Learning to make my own clothes by trial and many costly errors.

Then my Memories found me, times of being taught for which to be grateful.  A few:

  1. voice lessons detailing how to use my instrument to its capacity
  2. dance partners patiently guiding me to “feel” their lead
  3. my mother teaching me how to make macaroni and cheese for a girl scout badge
  4. a favorite prof teaching teaching-strategies in graduate school
  5. Bev Powers, my counselor, teaching me to this day how to live as who I am

I regret not taking advantage of opportunities for fear-based reasons, like not taking, or fully participating in, classes in high school – art, ceramics, drama, chorus – because I didn’t know how to do something.  DUH! That’s what classes are for.

Not always knowing when to ask for help or bother someone with our troubles is universal, right?!  What do you think?

I realized my own not-trying occurred primarily during my years of childhood and adolescence, but not entirely. While the trip through Europe and Israel alone at 19 (blog 32) cracked open a door to risk… released confidence…and a sense of not wanting to miss opportunities, I see that the fears holding me back as an adult were about earning/keeping (“important”)critical people’s approval.

They certainly knew so much more than I did. If they didn’t see my potential, how foolish would I be to even try? That door has opened more with the years, allowing me to GIVE IT A SHOT.  Sometimes to disappointment, but not every time.

Hindsight is glorious

Back to the potter’s wheel:

The teacher’s hands made it look so simple, easy. The students struggled not because of anything other than inexperience and learning curve.  For one, this was a second lesson, while the other had had several lessons months ago. Can aptitude even be revealed before we give it a good try, with effective instruction and guidance?

The clay resisted the students.  An odd lump refused to yield to pressure. Later, the other student suddenly found herself holding half of a vessel, the clay in her hand having separated itself from what remained, now spinning wildly and threatening to fly of off the wheel.

Failure?  Absolutely NOT.

Learning? Big Time.

The teacher’s words were gentle, her hands knowing when to guide theirs, when to simply rescue, always explaining.

Then I smiled at thought of my high school sweetheart, Tom, who taught me how to write for a class report.  Literally, how to structure sentences.  It was humbling, but that lesson was the best equipping for college I received, proved to be crucial to my career, and developed into a lifelong interest.

Risk-taking-to-learn reveals abilities and NON-abilities.  When in your life might a (better?) teacher have made the difference, or unlocked skills to a higher level?

FAILURE!Learning.

Calling it what it is has taken a lifetime

Back again to the potter’s wheel

The hands at the wheels were covered with clay from the vessels in process.  It was intimate, the potter and her vessel.  Even the most simple bowl or cup required skill, concentration, time and energy, with clay-crusted hands.

The teacher prepared a handful of clay by throwing it on the hard surface again and again, again –  WHAP WHAP WHAPWHAP.  I was the clay: thrown hard to get the “gas” out, being made into something solid, something real.

These days, I have several precious friends who are wrestling with their worth – to God, to friends, in life. Whether simple bowl or more complicated 8-stemmed Menorah, we are in the hands of the Master Potter.  And loved while being remolded.

Much of my life I’ve embraced the concept of being clay in God’s hands (Jeremiah 18).  The 2 hours in the potter’s studio, watching a seasoned craftsman, deepened my understanding of being molded-by-design-for-purpose.

Also, the process of being SMUSHED for remaking.  Still not my idea of a good time.

This greater knowing is peaceful within, because I’ve come to trust the Potter.


Holocaust Memorial Day

was January 27 – remembering liberation from the camps. The recurring theme for me is (No surprise!) COURAGE.

This link includes interesting bios of several survivors, now living in Denver. http://mizelmuseum.org/program/eyewitness-to-history-a-holocaust-survivor-speaks/   They are choosing LIFE rather than destroying their lives with resentment (or denial) of their suffering and loss.


Films with Courage to live ~ Courage to love

Sometimes movies inspire me towards courage. 

Hidden in Silence  Living in the remote desert, 1½ hour drive to a theater rules out my (rare) desire to see a movie.  One evening I searched the internet and found a WW2 movie that I hadn’t seen. It rang within me because of the heroine’s COURAGE, thankfully without battles and war scenes  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bIFI_MneBQg&spfreload=1  Let me know if you watch it, what you think.

Defiance is a movie I found at the library years ago…. It’s a true story, intense, and intensely inspirational. Violent.  Based on one family’s leadership of over 2000 Jews hiding about through several years of WW2 in Poland’s forest http://www.yadvashem.org/yv/en/education/newsletter/28/bielski_brothers.asp

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bielski_partisans

You’ve Got Mail  I admit the romantic me responds to the courage in Tom Hanks’ determined, for the good, pursuit of Meg Ryan. It was a gamble more likely to fail than succeed, and I appreciate the character putting his heart on the line.

The Age of Adaline is about a woman whose injury in an accident results in her not aging. At All.  She lives her situation with grace and learns to live with short relationships, since after some number of years, anyone expects their friend or sweetheart to age.  The concept is heroic to me because, well, instead of lamenting that her life isn’t “normal” or even typical, she lives it, adjusting her expectations and pursuits.

Adaptation to new versions of ourselves  – whether chosen or forced upon us – requires choosing life over regret, failure, disillusionment

Braveheart – Great courage inspires me, especially for the good of those who need help.

Bucket List – the surprise precious friendship of Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman!


Tamar

One afternoon I explored a nearby archaeological site with a name the Bible readers may connect in the wrong direction: Tamar.  The name of the daughter of King David who was raped by her (half) brother.  euuuuu.However, in this case, Tamar is the name of a way-station, confirmed by archaeologists to date back to King Solomon’s Empire (around 1000BCE), (Gen 14:7; 1 Ki 9:18; Ez 47:19; Ez 48:28) and the Ottoman Empire(1300-1500CE), and of course today’s Israel.  It may even have been a way-station in the days of Abraham.

http://www.biblewalks.com/Sites/BiblicalTamar.html#Structure

A 4-room home – what remains of it – stands here.  (the panorama shot makes it appear curved, but it’s squared and straight)Alone, in the barrenness of old stone structures and dry sand, I heard the voices of life.  Building, loving, crying, bearing babies, carrying water from the nearby spring, offering hospitality to travelers.  I wondered about predators then.  From what did mothers protect their young?

I live so comfortably, even when I’m not comfortable.  I’m acutely aware that I have no capacity to even imagine what their lives were like.  And yet, imagine, I do.  Better to imagine than sign up for some sort of bizarre survival excursion to experience living as they did. It’s enough heartbreak for me to know some in today’s world live lives only somewhat more comfortably than did they.  My life, my heart, is full, thankfully, and filled with thanksgiving.  Without experiencing everything possible.

The more I learn the less I know.

my prayer these days?  fill my heart with what You want me full of.  

oh, and please show me what to do with it.

 


 

If you were reading along on this journey in the first year of living here, you might remember the wait through scores of numbers for my turn in Jerusalem’s main post office.  As it turns out, outside of the big city, a visit to the post office and government offices is, well, “small town easy.”  It took 5 minutes to apply for my Israeli passport. No one waiting. Quiet office. It took longer to find a parking space.


The school at which I volunteered in the Central Arava includes all 800+ students, from preschool through high school, and their very own mini-farm – animals and two large greenhouses filled with colorful arrays of veggies.  I spent two or more mornings each week with the kids, as a teacher’s helper in the farm area. The children work together for projects, learn to prepare and sell produce, care for animal families (goats, chickens, guinea pigs, rabbits), go bird watching and other outdoor excursions on and off of school grounds.

They are curious and fun and happy, and they take care of one another. Some were interested in this new face, and then more-so or not-so-much when they realized I couldn’t speak or understand well. Others brought me classmates who spoke English, having immigrated as families from elsewhere.  Some naturally spoke slower, patiently offering correction of my vocabulary or grammar – probably future teachers.  The youngest counted or asked questions in English to show what they knew.  Since they spend most of their day in the traditional classroom, their time at this school farm is a favorite for most, and I enjoyed the “side” of them that I saw.

Some gravitated to the pens with the animals.  I imagine they were working out the rough things-of-life that are softened by holding a fuzzy rabbit. Rubbing the scratchy head of a baby goat as though he were a dog, feeding the fish, catching the baby guinea pigs.  Does it give their souls a break from whatever bothers their hearts?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

They were more affectionate with one another than American children. Hand-holding, arms around each other, leaning in to see or speak with body contact. Not sexual, but comfortable.  Perhaps a manifestation of small community? the farm school area’s relaxed atmosphere? fewer lessons about the danger of (big city)strangers? other ideas?

A deep hole was needed for a project and some (mostly boys) were eager to use the shovel to help.  I felt their moment of realization that it’s so much harder than it looks, digging into the dirt, lifting the too-full shovel.

Picking vegetables, learning about the roots and weeds, peeling countless cloves of garlic for yummy pesto.  They work as a team, mostly, to prepare the food, and if they’re not selling it at the fair, they’re consuming vast quantities of the just-picked veggies from their farm: munching on raw cabbage, cherry tomatoes, carrots, cauliflower. . . without dipping it in anything!!!

Work Dodging:  a few in the older classes usually managed to do no real work, instead flit from one working group to another, always below the radar of distracted teachers. I guess that’s universal!

This city gal had never before pulled a vegetable out of the ground, so I was way out of my element.  The immersion in Hebrew and the loving energy of children, the warmth of the teachers. .  .  I should have paid them for the opportunity and the fun.

32 – Desert at the right time

Desert at the right time  because the weather in my new January-February home in Israel’s desert has January temps of 65′ days and 40′ nights, a far cry from summers’ 103′ days!  More about the Arava and this new region, later.

Like the Grand Canyon…amazing…like Mars…I want to stay to do all these hikes…who knew(this was here)?…breathtaking…no one told me. . .

After map-studying and internet research I visited Timna Park. What I found rendered me muttering aloud “like the Grand Canyon…amazing…like Mars…I want to stay to do all these hikes…who knew?!…breathtaking…no one told me. . .  over and over, all day.

My photos don’t do it justice, but I’m sorry to say that were you to fly here for a full 2-week tour, you’d likely not make it this far. Most don’t.

Copper was first mined here at Timna when Egypt’s Empire was at its strength – probably before 1500BCE.  The above “holes” are natural, due to erosion. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timna_Valley

the Mushroom below is also from erosion!The 15,000 acre park is filled with a variety of rock formations of truly salmony-pink sand and rock.

It is laid out so visitors see the main sights by driving from one to the next, in/out of the car to walk short distances to the vista, cave carvings, or whatever.

The dry sand in some areas so deep that I was reminded of the extra effort of each step while walking through Southern California’s far-from-the-water, deep, dry beach sand .  But here at Timna, right beside the deep loose sand is hard stone or a thin layer of dirty-sand scattered with rocks. This desert’s absolute mix of texture and line and color lends drama and beauty.

 

The following 3 photos of the worship site are the only man-made items in these photos from Timna. (Besides the 2 children in one photo and handrails in another)

And here is the view  from above – a good climb, although this is the highest view of it that I could get, about 1/2 way up.

My ascent continued and the following photos are the view from the TOP.

An Israeli around my age concurred with my muttered exclamations of awe and we had a conversation. Although he was born here, this was his first visit(!), bringing his mother on an outing. Besides them, a few families, a few sweethearts, and a mini-tour-bus of well-behaved tourists, I had the park to myself.

Can you see the camel nursing her calf on the ancient etching, below?

or the people standing below, on the left, then someone beside a table. Are his/her arms raised?  What might he/she be doing?

P.S. After spending the day resisting the gorgeous hiking trails’ that beckoned to me, my plan is to return when the weather cools next Autumn for a devoted 4 days of glorious hikes. I’m already looking forward to it.  Fortunately, lodging is available nearby, since I’m way, way, way past camping outdoors.  I’ve paid my dues with all that effort and discomfort.


I’m now staying in the center of the Arava – that means I’ve left the north to learn-live in the south-eastern region.  The Arava is the eastern region of Israel’s desert, bordered by Jordan and extending south of the Dead Sea all the way to Eilat, a beach city at the southern tip. The above described excursion to Timna Park was 1 1/2 hour desert drive south, nearly to Eilat.

All places within 2 1/2 hours of this current home are a desert drive.  Pay attention to the gas level, bring water and food. Hydrate, but not too much unless you’re nearing facilities!

A simple map:  http://www.aicat-arava.com/86748.html  This is website of the University in which I’m volunteering with North Vietnam students.  13 nations come here to learn Israeli agriculture techniques!

website about the region https://www.facebook.com/centralarava     Also, the videos at the bottom of this website are a fun view of the what I’m seeing every day (albeit the singing by students from the Agriculture University program in which I’m tutoring is not for the musically inclined)

More about the University’s students that you might find of interest: http://www.thetower.org/3358-thousands-of-african-asian-students-study-agriculture-at-israeli-institute/  and more at http://www.jnf.org/byachad/winter-2015-byachad-articles/spotlight-aicat_p5.pdf

And here are more maps, in case you’re struggling to envision Israel in relation to our neighboring countries:  https://images.search.yahoo.com/yhs/search?p=arava+israel+map+today&fr=sgm&hspart=SGMedia&hsimp=yhs-sgm_fb&imgurl=http%3A%2F%2Fisraelproject.kolemeth.org%2Fimg%2Fmap.png#id=22&iurl=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.elciudadano.cl%2Fwp-content%2Fuploads%2F2012%2F01%2Fisrael.jpg&action=click

 

 

This move means I’ve traded Lebanon and Syria as neighbors for Jordan.  There is no fence on Israel’s 307 km (191 miles) eastern border with Jordan.  I’m told the IDF has it under control, which means the security process is in place but not made public, as is appropriate.  Also, the Jordanians have benefited from keeping the border peaceful since 1994’s agreement; nowadays they are also motivated to keep our shared border (as well as all of Jordan) free of ISIS and their lot. 

However, the residents of the Arava talk of “when” not “if” conflict arises from Jordan’s border.  It is doubtful that Jordan has the strength to resist ISIS, plus 70% of Jordan’s population consider themselves refugees – Palestinians – (although now 3 or more generations removed from the actual refugees) and are easily manipulated by the “push the Jews back into the ocean” dogma of Palestinian leaders and as preached in many mosques.  In addition to that, Jordan’s king does not have the support of the people that his father enjoyed.  It seems only a matter of time.

The road east, towards Jordan’s mountains

Driving to explore, I’ve seen landmines-warning signs around fields (remember the landmines in the Golan?).  I rest peacefully, knowing the IDF has set in place whatever other defense measures are warranted, without posted signs or fences.

If there isn’t enough danger from landmines or terrorism or war, this region is challenged with flash floods.  Earthquakes (California) and blizzards (Colorado) are the limit of my dangerous natural phenomenon experience. I’ve learned that don’t need to experience something to want to stay clear of it:  films of floods have left me with respect enough for their strength.


Wikipedia translates the Arava as “dry and desolate” although I’ve not heard those words from the residents.  They love their lives here in Arava’s central area, where around 3,700 residents live and work in 7 (mostly farming) communities.  These pioneer-spirited folks appreciate what they have:

  • One supermarket,
  • 3 gas stations,
  • 1 school for all 800 students,
  • 6 restaurants that are open 2 or more days each week… most of the time,
  • A Mobile phone/computer shop,
  • A Medical clinic,
  • Assorted artists and entrepreneurs (soaps, candles, massage, etc),
  • Tourism specialties (lodging that ranges from Bedouin-like tents to pricey-romantic get-aways)

What to do on day off?  Family outings for hiking or support local entrepreneurs:  jeep rides, crocodile farm, bird watching, guided treks….

A visit to the hospital, buying clothing , vitamins, large appliances, furniture and most everything else means a drive of 1 ½ hours to Beer Sheva or Eilat.

Many of the area farmers employ short-term or long-term laborers from poorer countries (Thailand, Nepal, Philippines, India,…) and so have built simple housing for them on the farm property.  Some have also built guest-housing for vacationers to rent for weekends or special events in the area.  My guess is that the nearest hotel is 1 1/2 hour drive elsewhere.  I’m renting a perfect little studio apt on farm property.  This weekend the 3 other guest houses on our property are full as well, as there was a big bicycle race in one of our communities.

Whoa! this is my backyard? what happened?!  I’m a city-girl!!!

I spent my childhood in San Francisco!  And then many years in the hustle, bustle of Southern California and the 2 largest cities in Colorado, and 5 years in NYC. My reservation for 6 weeks on a farm in this tiny community would be a first!

Turning from the highway towards my next home, my first thought was “oh no.” It looked too barren!!!

The gated entry is not like prestigious like “The Gates” of high-end property. Instead, these gates surround most small Jewish communities throughout the nation. Schedules vary, based on terror risk, but most are closed every night, and the communities’ emergency plans include them closing against terrorists.  So the gate didn’t bother me at all, and I was encouraged to see a few trees.

and then delighted with the oasis-feel!  It’s lovely, and an I’ve since discovered each of these communities of the Arava to be oases.

Walking my neighborhood these days, multiple senses are startled by horses and goats and chickens in neighbor’s yards, laborers driving noisy farm equipment, huge packing houses on most everyone’s property filled with produce from today’s harvest, and greenhouses on fields in every direction from the community filled with …GREEN.

Here are a few sights around town:

My hosts, an open-hearted couple, met almost 40 years ago as young adults on a kibbutz, when he immigrated from Zimbabwe. Note the well-worn stuffed character adorning the front of my ever-cheerful host’s tractor

Every few days I find just-picked tomatoes, red peppers, onions and/or eggplants at my door.  Fresh is wonderful! The only thing better would be if they prepared the meal for me as well, or raised chocolate.

As with my last “home”, in the Druze Village, there are no addresses here, although homes here are numbered.  Not street names, but numbers at least help to ask for directions.   A woman I met was one of the first families here 40something years ago.  She is still living in the same home, albiet modified over the decades.

In those days it was a Mosh-butz.  Kibbutz communal organizational strategies were used to begin the community, with intention of it growing into an independent, entrepreneurial community, which it has done.  Somewhat like an HOA (Home Owners Association), the Moshav committees maintain shared areas/facilities and addresses shared concerns that arise.

Did you know that the pioneering-Israel Kibbutz of the first 1/2 of the 20th-Century fully embraced socialist values and structure? However, in the past 20 years most have undergone re-organization for privatized ownership  and hence are called a “Moshav” (small community/town) instead.  I believe the Kibbutz model of communal care for the children and shared facilities was the only way to begin efficiently from scratch.  There still remain a small number of true Kibbutz as well, whose members are devoted participants to the communal idealism of the original model – except children now live with their parents rather than in Children’s Houses.

More about how a Kibbutz functions: http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Society_&_Culture/kibbutz.html

Some other Israel desert “words” you’ve probably heard:    

Negev – is the southern ½ of Israel – desert – of which the Arava is the eastern region,   

Sinai, is south of Israel – desert in Egypt – that Israel won when attacked in 1967, and then gave back to Egypt in keeping with the 1979 peace treaty with Egypt. 

 

 


I’ve learned the desert takes shape in countless ways.  Some places like Utah, others Las Vegas, and still others a movie set for the Sahara Desert.

Driving my Kia Picanto here feels like driving a toy car in a sandbox.  I see the Mountains-Hills-Rocks surrounding me as though the sand was poured and scooped and patted to create unique shapes as far as the eye can see.  My perspective is that of a toy soldier in a sandbox. Except I KNOW that the hills I drive between are solid, even though some appear to be poured sand with a peak that could blow away.

This past Saturday I sat atop a mountain,

or hill,

or hill-rock covered with sand and dirt and more rocks. . . Mountain feels too “Colorado”; Hill too inconsequential and soft, Rock is too small. What should I call these?

Whether mountain-hill-rock-sand, I sat on it for a very long time and it was very hard.  Its beauty, quiet, its big-ness, the peace was the best “Sabbath” for my soul. Prayer for me is conversation with God, rather than read or recited prayers of others.  We talked about issues inside and out, and I left the mountain-hill-rock-sand with Perspective and Peace accompanying me on the descent and return “home.”  As always, I thought about you –  and so wish I could give you what I received – soul-to-soul.


Throughout my stay in the Arava, several times each week, I’m helping Israeli children with their English, plus a group of North Vietnamese Master’s Degree university students use English in their classroom.  Logically, English is the universal language for education of multinationals and I was asked to help the Vietnamese students. Exceptional with reading/writing, they seemed less confident verbally.

I’ve discovered they are up against a huge cultural issue: “Good students” in Vietnam do not ask questions or offer ideas, and there is no class discussion.  Consequently, they are not only challenged with the pronunciation and vocabulary and grammar issues of communicating regarding course content with the professor, but even more significantly, out of respect and conformity, they have spent their lives as students not speaking in class.

We’ve discussed culture at length, and adaptation to learning/living among others with very different ways of doing things.  I’ve challenged them to adopt the mantle that they have earned – to intentionally shift from being “Vietnamese children in school” into “International Graduate Students (with a voice).”  As they are freed-up in the classroom, we’ll use our time together to improve their pronunciation.

I thought there would be a downside, that these English tutoring gigs would not be Hebrew-learning opportunities for me.  But I’m surrounded by Hebrew at the children’s school.  I even understand the teachers and children better than last year’s classroom gig.  Hallelujah!  More about the kids in the next blog.

The 7 Vietnamese students are so loving and warm that our sessions feel like friendship.  Also, their group is a simple, short-lived revisiting of my professional skills.  Given the many times each day that I make mistakes with Hebrew – although I know better, my heart still defines those mistakes as “failure” –  I’ve really enjoyed being in a “zone” in which I feel competent, even if only for these weeks.

Otherwise, as during my stays elsewhere, I spend time visiting places and hoping to make friends.


LOST

I was warned that not everyone is “made” for this desert. The colors and serenity, and the quiet, as far as the eye can see.  Stark. Troubling? Depressing?

I’m sure not all readers will understand, but I’ll take a risk and share it anyway: By the end of my first week here, I was troubled.  The only word for how I felt was Lost, and it took a couple of days to sort out why.  I was feeling the desert, and “LOST” is my heart’s response to it, this desert.  I’m not lost, but the desert resonates within me as that.

This is absolutely the time to be here! Days are around 68’ and nights 44’.  August averages are 103’ day and 80’ night.  Ughhhhhhhhhhhh  My friend who lives here concurs it’s just too hot, but not too hot to drive her and her farmer-husband and 3 year old to leave this land they love.  They’re raising their family in this community, plus being a part of building this community’s resources for future generations.


1974

My darling dancing buddy and friend, Richard, asked about my first trip to Israel.  The photos impossibly faded, negatives long ago lost in countless moves, I’ll do my best to paint the pictures with words.

In the spring of 1974, I called my father to tell him that I’d decided upon a major I thought would be a good fit (Speech and Language Therapy), that it required graduate degree, and then took a huge leap to add that I’d decided what I wanted for college graduation, years away: a trip to Israel!  I’d been studying the Bible for several years and yearned to visit – where it all happened.  It was a far-reaching impulse, a dream, to so boldly ask for a generous college graduation gift I was certain he’d never consider.

However, he called me weeks later and said to put together a plan with costs for a summer visit to Israel.  “You betcha!” I got right on it and sure enough, found myself trekking Europe enroute to Israel that June.

I shudder now to think of how unprepared I was, doing it alone at 19… for almost 2 months. Really all I had were flight reservations and a pre-purchased Eurail-pass for 90 days.  I met a woman on the plane to Copenhagen who showed me where to begin – getting around, find a room to rent in a home, etc.   Three days in Copenhagen was my first experience adjusting to language/culture challenges of transportation, food, tourism, etc.  I took the train south, sleeping on the dreadful, upright seat through Switzerland, chewing on bits of bread and cheese.

As the train made it’s trek south through Italy, I talked at length with an “older” man – he must have been 40!! – from San Marino, a tiny country within Italy. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/San_Marino  Horrified that I was seeing none of his region except what daylight allowed through train windows, he persuaded me to leave the train with him for the afternoon.

I went! 

I know. I know!! Who does that?? And lives to tell the story?

He was the perfect gentleman, honorable and kind and charming.  Without agenda!

He took me to a lovely restaurant for one of the best meals of my summer. I remember tasting mineral water for the first time, at his urging, but my youthful palate thought it a poor substitute for sugary or artificially sweetened soda; now I love it!

He took me to the beach, sand hardly visible under large umbrellas filling the expanse like a silly puzzle.  I thought, “how absurd” to use umbrellas, since the point of the beach was to get as brown as possible.  Now I invest in and use quality sunblock products, wide-brimmed hats and scarves, and have wished many times to be sheltered under a massive umbrella like those that day, so long ago.

I wish, oh how I wish, I could tell you his name, but alas, it’s gone.  I’ll always remember his face.  After the most amazing afternoon, he took me back to the train station. I can’t recall whether we even exchanged contact information.  He was a gift to me on my journey, as have been so many others.

The next overnight was transit in another uncomfortable seat on the ferry from Brindisi, Italy to Greece, followed by a few nights on an awful upper bunk in Athens’ noisy, co-ed hostel, and then a late night flight to Tel Aviv.  It was a student flight and there were more of us than seats on the plane.  I remember sitting on the floor of the aisle of the plane with a number of others, certain this would not be allowed in the U.S.

The first few days in Israel I stayed with 2nd cousins in Tel Aviv and Haifa, although in those days I was really not at all clear how we were related.  They seemed so far away, their family here since before Israel was a nation, I didn’t put together that our grandfathers were brothers until years later.  I guess the language, culture, and national differences in a family that was already confusing to me, besides being fragmented, rendered me incapable of sorting out the family tree.  They graciously hosted me several nights, did a much needed load of laundry, introduced me to humus – which years later became an acquired taste and favorite – and off I went to explore the land.

A hostel in the Old City of Jerusalem became my home there many weeks, and I found a 10-day student tour to visit north and south regions that were impossible to access alone. The previous autumn, Israel had been invaded by Egyptian and Syrian forces on Yom Kippur – the holiest day of all – and miraculously conquered the Golan Heights from Syria, and nearly Damascus as well. http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3621090,00.html

Our tour bus passed countless tanks in the hilly battlegrounds of the Golan, still “parked” from the war 9 months ago.  In days long before iphones, we marveled at elaborate TV antennas on Bedouin tents in the south, in the Sinai Desert.  As is mandatory on all Israel tours, we floated and then shmeared our bodies with mud from the Dead Sea, the area far more rustic then, and the Sea much larger in mass than it is today.  http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/israel-dead-sea-shrinking-hundreds-sinkholes-are-opening-its-shores-photos-1513207

My heart was alive here in ways I’d never known, especially so in Jerusalem. Seeing the places about which I’d read, learning more of the history and archaeology was a dream come true.  The city of Jericho, caves in which David hid from jealous Saul, the Mount of Olives . . .

I yearned to stay, but that seemed a fantasy.  One day noticed a clerk about my age working in a local market, and realized I couldn’t even get a job because I didn’t speak the language, that I stood no chance surviving here.  I see now that I had absolutely no confidence to even consider studying the language, much less the international move.

Vision for a career path that felt like a good fit, for which I must have –  amazingly! – had  the confidence (“faith”), offered a more viable future. Looking today at the girl I was vs the woman I became, I see I had much to learn through career and life to be able to do what I do these days.

While the successes are more fun, I’ve learned far more from the failures and disappointments.

The trip wrapped with returning through Athens, and then more trains into Spain.  My destination was a small village where some other cousin-y person was somehow the queen of the summer’s fiesta.  I never did sort out how there was “family” in Spain. I’m painfully aware how disconnected I was in youth, so unable to ask for clarification of important things, feeling shame for not knowing so many things magically . . .

The train brought me to Barcelona just before midnight.  I’d been sitting beside a Catholic nun, and using my High School Spanish to ask without asking (why not ask?!) whether they had room for me to stay overnight at her convent.  She didn’t understand or didn’t want to… so I exited the train at midnight with no bed for the night.  The station’s resource desks were closed.

A man appeared, inviting those of us who had lingered in the station to follow him because he knew of hotels with rooms available.  Winding through dark streets of Barcelona, I did what I still do when talking with others: not pay attention to the direction and completely lose my way. The hotel in question had no rooms and the group dispersed.  Alone I stood on the empty street.  The dark, empty street somewhere in Barcelona, Spain after midnight.

I began walking towards what I thought was retracing steps and quickly realized I had no clue.  High school Spanish gave me some ability, but there was no one to ask and even then I knew enough to hesitate to reveal that I was lost and alone.  Praying “though I walk through the valley of death You are with me and You guide me and …” I found myself at the train station.  Locked.  And Dark. Several others and myself “slept” (somewhat) on the steps of the Barcelona train station that night.

The next morning I found my way to the looooooooooong un-airconditioned bus ride through August’s hot oh-so-hot country terrain of Spain to the tiny village for the festival.  I stayed in the home of an old woman who I think was a relative of the relative… it’s still a blur and I don’t know who I could ask now.  The large, old home had an outdoor toilet.  She had no refrigerator, but walked every day to the village’s shops for fresh milk, produce and meat. The paella was amazing!

From seedling to tree

Writing this forces upon me the girl of then.  And the journey to the woman of now.  Unrecognizable, and yet so familiar.

During that trip I discovered museums in Athens and Israel surprisingly appealing:  clay pots for storage, pouring vessels, jewelry, tools, and weapons of ancient civilizations.  Museums, years later in England, New York, Austria, Germany, Kansas City had the same allure . . .

I came to understand they anchored me in a way.  Immersing myself in a people long passed, likely working much harder towards physical survival that I’ve ever imagined, settled an unsettledness within.  Their lives put a perspective on my struggles that complimented my practice of thankfulness to God for my blessings as well as the disappointments.

It’s not the same now.  I’m in a different space and those areas of a museum don’t pull like a magnet.  In hindsight, I see that my soul resonated there.  I needed to rest my life with theirs as part of a vast continuum – same though different.  It helped me feel less alone.  I don’t know how to define it any better, but please write to tell me how this resonates with you.

If it’s not apparent, one of the many reasons I write is with the hope to stir your heart, and your curiosity. I love hearing what you’re thinking on these or other matters that come to mind.

31 ~ Omri and LIFE

I live in the LAND of astounding archaeological discoveries.  Yet, on the other side of the globe is another of the 20th century’s significant archaeological excavations  –  the Terra Cotta Warriors – “guarding” China’s First Emperor’s tomb in Xi’an.

Terra Cotta WarriorsAt the age of 13, in the year 208, Ying Zheng assumed China’s throne, and at the same time began planning his own tomb.  After reigning 25 years, he had unified a collection of warring kingdoms, hence is considered China’s first Emperor, assuming the name Qin Shi Huang Di.

Throughout his 36-year reign, workers continued toiling to prepare his tomb as well as the entire mausoleum.  This included as many as 8,000 lifesize terra cotta warrior figures.

vast army

Each was painstakingly crafted with unique facial expressions(!)  Traces of paint suggest they were once brilliantly colored to accompany the Emperor during his final rest.  Excavations of portions of the 1974 discovery ultimately unearthed three huge pits filled with terra-cotta soldiers, cavalry, archers, their weapons, horses and chariots.

This warrior survived with more detail and color than most, so received a place of acclaim in the museum.

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Note the tread on his shoe!!

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The Emperor’s concubines who had not borne him sons were immolated (killed or burned as a sacrifice) at the time of his death and buried in small pits within his vast mausoleum.  Additional nearby digs revealed other kinds of figures such as acrobats, dancers, and musicians.  The guides leading my tour explained that for scientific/technical and political reasons, excavations are currently on-hold indefinitely.

http://science.nationalgeographic.com/science/archaeology/emperor-qin/in

However absurd to our 21st century ears, the entire story  – planning and funding laborers from the age of 13 to take countless terracotta soldiers with him into death – lends a new twist to cuddling a favorite teddybear during sleep.

I’ve attended funerals that were filled with joy over the life lived, and I envy that. I absolutely want those who love me to celebrate the life I lived, the person I became. I’m doing my very best towards that goal.

While I don’t particularly care about the event – except no “viewings” or open casket  (I prefer a nice photo, if one were ever to be taken).

How would you like people to remember you after you pass?  Some sadness, as well as happier reflections?  How about gathering for a special event to celebrate your life?  Once? Every year?

A new friend invited me to join her remembering Omri, a young Israeli, who died tragically 7 years ago, just months after completing his military service.  As usual, I had no idea what the event, or the experience, would be, but I most often go where I’m invited.

After High School graduation, Israel youth spend a year preparing to enter the military: a combination of physical training for the rigors ahead, volunteer work, and employment. I’ve been told by many Israeli’s that military service is the question following introductions. “Where/in what unit did you serve?” launches a series of connections and comparisons, instant bonding.

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As an aside, certain Ultra-Orthodox groups are exempted from military service, and most Orthodox gals and very few boys opt for non-military service entailing assignments in an extensive variety of community projects.  These are real “jobs” and earn the benefits of army service. Both military and community service require boys serve 3, while girls 2 years.

The women’s unit in the following video had gathered on the campus of Ben Gurion University in the Negev.  In an early morning walk, I happened upon their voices, laughter, and the breathtaking dessert view of their outdoor classroom.

Here’s where we pick up Omri’s story  After completion of military service, many Israeli youth spend their savings on the trip of a lifetime: 3 – 6 months overseas. India or South America are the regions I hear of most often, and Omri went to South America.

It’s a time of transition and unwinding from the intensity of military experience before beginning university.  Easy to see why these Israeli young adults are far more mature and settled for the discipline of serious studies and career-prep focus than most fresh-out-of-high school 18-year-olds elsewhere.

Two days before Omri was to return from his post-military 3-month backpacking trek in South America, solo, he stopped calling home.  Family members flew immediately to search, but his body wasn’t found for many, many months.

He was 23.  The cause of death was a poisonous snake bite.  Someone buried him, so perhaps he was not alone when he passed.

The (7th Memorial) event was held on a beautiful autumn day in Omri’s home town, at a rented theater.  Approximately 150 guests gathered for an early lunch picnic-buffet-potluck that felt like a wedding reception, not a funeral.  Ages clustered mostly around 30, the age he would be now, and what I guessed to be his parents’ generation (and teachers?).  They mingled with genuine warmth, happy to see dear friends or heartily welcoming guests like myself to “meet” this amazing young man.  And meet him, I did, in the 3-hours ahead.  Time well spent.

After eating and meeting and greeting, we entered the theater for a professional-caliber presentation of family photos/videos of Omri’s life.  It seems each year a new “production” brings in different photos and memories.  Funny, happy, touching, heartbreaking, not morbid.

Then his father and sister and brother spoke about him, some tears and a lot of laughter.  I felt honored to be allowed into the intimacy of their loss, their joy of having had him, and they did well comforting each other with remembrances of the child/man they had known and still love.

A movie followed. A French film that translates loosely into “Funny Gods”.  I struggled to NOT try to match what I heard – French! –  with the Hebrew subtitles.  High school Spanish doesn’t help listening to French, and I can’t read Hebrew fast enough to benefit from subtitles beyond the few words I catch in the mere seconds they’re on the screen.  It’s a movie I’d like to see again with the benefit of dialogue.  I felt the audience’s engagement, serene nods, and laughter.  If you happen upon a U-tube showing of it with English subtitles…

Meeting Omri this way and seeing his family and friends loving him well wasn’t overwhelming or sappy, but a clean, clear MemoryStream that refreshed me.  The pure love of others for each other – how could it but invigorate?

Omri was obviously a leader, charismatic, well-loved, and seems to have loved well.  Fearless with character, not foolhardy. I like to imagine he was more about LIVING than being stopped by fears. I like the young man I met that day.  Perhaps more so now than ever before, I’m particularly tuned-in to what I hope is character-infused, wise, risk-taking,

His face and build and personality tore at my heart because he reminded me of 2 men I knew well: smart, charismatic, leadership potential, but for whom “wild” was a better description than “courageous”, perhaps because their choices were more about their drives and compulsions.  Neither seemed to reach their potential.  Why?  Shame. Addictions and unresolved “issues.”  Self-centeredness.  Secrets.

Omri’s death, as with all deaths of the young, leaves the “what would have been’s” unknown, so we imagine the best, most amazing future — missed.

Meanwhile, so many others who “survive” take few risks, but miss much of life.  For too many years I shied away from opportunities and pursuits because of fear. Reasons?  Of course.  But still I know I gave too much to fear. It seems that Omri LIVED well his 23 years.  Some might say he died young because of recklessness, but where is living safe? Each day I hope to succeed at the balance between LIVING fully and the wisdom to not be reckless.

How can I spend this day, oh Lord, as the precious gift it that is, from You?

I remind myself when disappointment finds me questioning my choices, that I’ll never know the outcome had I taken another route.  Better? or Worse?

I spent the first day of 2017 with a first “real” hike in the Negev, map in hand, water, sunblock, and hat.

However I found myself in a situation that required climbing with arms and legs up and down rocky hillsides, without the strength I needed.  The trail was extremely difficult to follow and I was seriously frightened over and over again – hoping each steep, slippery incline/decline was the last one that required hanging-on to…something (that I couldn’t reach, or grasp confidently).  I fought visions of lying disabled or unconscious after a fall or being rescued by the Israeli Army helicopter-rope…like a movie.  I had no recourse except to press on with hope that what lay ahead would be better than the overwhelming passages I’d survived.

Retreat was impossible.  I knew better than to re-attempt the terrain behind me.

I asked God for the help I needed.  For strength.  Direction.  Courage.

My left arm had been injured the week before and I had only a fraction of normal strength; had I been at full strength, I would still have been frightened and concerned at the situation.  The pain and swelling of my arm increased with each effort, but I had to use my hand for the little it was worth.

The silence of the desert is deep.  Peaceful, really, not barren. And I was alone the entire time, except at 4 distinct points, when other hikers appeared, helping perfectly.

The first literally pulled me up an incline that I simply could not have managed otherwise.  The family in the above video as well as a group of teen boys who came along later, each helped me re-access the trail I’d entirely lost on two separate occasions. The last approached as I stood at a fork, thinking of Dorothy and her friends in the Wizard of Oz at a similar fork enroute to their Enchanted City.  He directed me to the easiest route to the parking lot, to avoid further climbing.  Need I paint how relieved I was to climb into my rented (Enchanted) Kia Picanto?!

Upon my much delayed return, the woman who had recommended and carefully detailed the hike on the map said I’d gone left instead of right at one critical point.

How could I not be reminded of the many aspects of my life that were so difficult because of one wrong turn – mine or others’.  Some cost me years, untold sorrows and confusion.

This roadsign tells you I’m no longer on Lebanon or Syria’s border.