Friday, August 30, 2013

A Jewish soul still yearns, and onward, towards the ends of the east...

A SodaStream commercial airs as I type this in my office.   I have spent zero time in here for the last month, and now, in the last week, it has become the drop zone for anything and everything travel-related.

That is because week ago, I was enjoy warmth kissed by the breeze of the Mediterranean Sea; this week I have been stifled by the sweaty arm of a late Minnesota summer heat wave.  This time last week the discussion was still on Yemen; now gas masks have entered the security lexicon (again).

But this does not change something that was made very clear last week and in the three weeks prior: I love Israel.  A lot.

Yes, there were early moments when I wondered "What am I doing here?"  Many, many destinations were originally avoided to avoid using my bad Hebrew.   But the longer I spent in the Middle Eastern sun, these simple thoughts melted away, unprecedented feelings trickled into my heart and soul, and I was at home in Israel. I felt so at home in the end that coming back to Minnesota felt like the vacation because I knew I would be back; my soul wouldn't have it any other way.

And now, my soul only wants to do one thing: to write.  To write the reviews of the restaurants.  To write the stories of the people met and observed and the interactions with them.  To write the research inspired by existence in an area that all know, few seen, even fewer absorbed.

But most importantly, to write about hope--of return, of peace, of progress--because even as the snowflakes and temperature (undoubtedly) fall and my (shockingly dark for me) tan begins to fade, my gaze will be fixated towards the east, where a soul can be free like the bubbles in an at-home carbonation station (which also finds its home in the land of Zion and Jerusalem).
"Hatikvah" - Israeli National Anthem

Monday, July 29, 2013

This Israel...Syria-sley (Oh, Kuwait it Already).

All my life, I have been THAT girl.  Not that bouncy, perky, perfectly backcombed coif female that tosses her hat into the air. Oh no.  That OTHER girl--the one that splashes everyone as she swims upstream against the grand rapids.

In terms of my travel destination, then, I was once again on the outs with some who didn't understand.  Some was few, and with them were fewer words (and even fewer that made sense).  Over the planning period, I collected a few quotable notables that may be based in truth (I read, I watch, I see the turbulence, too), but these serve little purpose beyond highlighting the humor of ignorance (because sometimes, that's all we can do).

With that said, let me say I get it; I know where people get these thoughts.  But what I heard here with these statements is not security or safety; I hear minds closing--slamming shut with such force those framed photos of pride and prejudice rattle on the skull's wall.  That's what sad about this, because it's those closed minds that make these situations displayed below an unfortunate reality. Our perceptions shape our interactions, so if we aren't open to what the world and its people have to offer, how can we ever expect to be a full partner to our planet by shutting some out of our real worlds?

So, without further ado...actual shoot that real people say to me about Israel:

“Isn’t it dangerous there?"
(Insert brief discussion about not connecting in Amsterdam)
Everyone HAS to go to Amsterdam once—if for nothing else to at least see the sex, drugs, and violence!”
Moral:  Danger is in the eyes of the beholder.

“I don’t know about this…do girls even have freedoms there?"
Moral: To some, the Middle East is the Middle East (even if it's the new Middle East).

“If you didn’t know, they don’t see Christ as our savior there.”
 Moral:  There is more than one way to call it the Jewish State.

“How are you going to handle the food?  It’s all spicy.”
Moral: To some, the Middle East is India, and some people just need to eat more hummus.

“Why would you go to a country at war? They better not ask for US help.”
 Moral:  “War” is a word we use a little to eagerly nowadays.

Everyone hates them.”
 Moral: More Americans should read international newspapers.

"If you wanted beaches, why not Mexico?"
Moral: More Americans should just read a newspaper.  

Monday, July 22, 2013

The Infrequent Flyer's Guide to Overpacking

I don't travel much, but when I do, everything goes with me.  Sometimes double.

I have two bags--a duffle and a large purse--that accompany me on overnights.  Weekends are a backbreaking nightmare, and a week-long excursion has a chriopractic appointment waiting on the other side. This is unfortunate for two reason: One is the female traveler stereotype I not only meet but exceed, and the other is the fact that among the mounds and mounds of excess, I have certainly forgotten something.

I couldn't take that chance with my Trip of a Lifetime, so even if I was going to over pack, I at least wanted to hit all basis first.  This required an exceedingly thorough list.  Like all free printable resources on the Internet, they were almost perfect, but not quite.  As I had to do with planners, I took matters into my own hands, and made my own packing list.  I've been told that it is quite inclusive by those that travel more than I do, and really leaves no item left behind.

For those of you who find themselves in the same overflowing sea of carry-on clothing, uncertain if the necessary items are hidden in the cottoned rip currents, I give you this.  Use it, abuse it, make it--like your trip--your own (and let me know if I have forgotten something).

Saturday, July 20, 2013

“Beyond the howling deserts with its sand, there waits beneath His stars the Promised Land”

I’ll start this by being honest: I am a cookie.  Not just any cookie, but that last one on the sheet, the one that's a little stuck, holding on with every bit of chocolate chip grip.

I say this as what was once months is now days for the trip that has been, in reality, years in the making. In just a few short days, I will board the 747 that has been waiting nearly 20 years for me, to bring me to the land of milk of honey and junior high dreams.  I am finally going to make it overseas; I am finally going to make it to Israel.

Why so long, you may ask. Life is comfortable on that silver-lined cookie sheet. Everything that has externally impacted on me—such as careers, coworkers, and creative endeavors—has done little to change my gooey insides, and those chocolate chips, walnuts, and fruity chunks that are the center of my existence have not only sustained, but have gotten more and more flavorful and obvious the older I get. 

I have made lots of promises to myself over the years.  Many I have kept: I don’t smoke, I don’t drink (much), I wear my seatbelt and I smile to myself everyday.  Ever since I turned 29, though, when I thought I had it all together—Dream Job, Big House, Happy Times—I’ve had this whiny, aggravating, annoying little voice of The Fourteen Year Old Me reminiscing of every promise I hadn’t kept.  “You don’t write anymore, Kayla” she would say one day, and then add the next that “You haven’t mastered Russian like you said you would, either, and your German is still nicht ser gut.”  “Traveling?  You haven’t left the United States and only Minnesota twice, and you’ve gotten as close to God as you have Boris Yeltsin (may he rest in peace).”  

This voice became a (literal, stress-induced) pain in my neck that was not eased by chiropractors, two rounds of physical therapy, and numerous medications; I decided the only way to feel better was to shut her up; and the only way to do that was to do what I tell my students to do: Listen for the answers.

For the most part, it has been working.  I’ve started to write again (much of which can be found at this other blog).  I have found my God, and with that creator came Judaism, who brought along Hebrew.  My English brain, looking for connective answers among the ordinary, loves that my covenant to be kept is taking me to a land where I can live the traditions that will build my future.   

After thirty-one years of baking, it is time for me to sit back and enjoy who I am.  I can think of no better place than on the shores of a Tel Aviv beach.  As I listen to the soft shores, I will be listening to myself.

Let me make this promise to you, my reader, whoever you may be: This is NOT an “Eat-Pray-Love”-like blog.  Personal narratives will occur, but so will fictions inspired by random life such as a bus ride, reviews of restaurants and attractions, Middle East travel tips and tricks gained through experiences, regional recipes, stories told through my perspective and the ones that only photos can tell in their own words.  Like the cookie, ripped in half and dunked into milk, this is my removal from the warm, comfy known into the shocking cool unknown, from one world and one life into another, and I’d like to share it with you—for your entertainment, for your information, for your assistance.  

This is my promise to the Promised Land. 

(Chaim Nachman Bialik, "The Last Dead of the Desert")