That's right, folks, I made it to the city as described in the Talmud: "Of the ten measures of beauty allotted to the world, nine were given to Jerusalem." This blog post is dedicated to the beauty of the people I have thus far encountered in Israel, beginning with the space from which I am presently writing, and ending with my first adventure in Tel Aviv. Then, in the next few days I will fill in events between Tel Aviv on 12 July and now, as well as add some photos. As a preface, before leaving I told some people that I had this strange impression in my head of coming to Israel and being in a bubble during these travels, of being completely on my own. It was as though I was observing myself in my imaginings, as though I were a spectator projecting myself as a third-person narrator in this adventure. This preface is, therefore, an official bursting of that bubble because, as you shall see, I have been anything but alone.
Today, I write to you from Ortal's room in her apartment at Hebrew University's (HU) Student Village. Ortal is an archaeology student at HU, and worked at the dig at Tel Hazor. Two Thursdays ago, I asked her advice for finding a place to stay for a couple of nights close to campus and she offered me her room. She contacted her roomies, and they were cool with having me here, so here I am. The buildings and the apartments in them are modern, well-conceived, and clean; this one is a five bedroom, whereas others are two- and three-bedrooms. Ortal is at her parents' for the weekend, but her roomies, Sharon (from Haifa) and Ollie (from Berlin) have welcomed me with open arms. Already, they have taken me to the supermarket (yesterday) and today made me egg and hashbrown lunch with toast and pineapple juice and coffee. So yummy and helpful in the fight to forget the food at the kibbutz...don't worry, that post is in the near future!
From where I sit typing, I can look over my right shoulder out the bedroom window and see the Dome of the Rock in the Old City. If I stand up and look out the same window to the left, I can see HU, the hospital and its helicopter pad, and a cemetery. I wonder if this is the same cemetery that I saw in a documentary a few years ago about a group of older Jewish friends who met there every week for picnics. The temperature today is pleasant and the breeze is refreshing. A haze does, however, stand around the city's perimeter. Beyond the university's campus, the hills are sand-coloured and treeless; beyond the Old City the hills are greener. Jerusalem's green is a deep green of fir trees.
So, 3 weeks ago I left the Olimpia Hotel and grabbed a cab to the bus station. There are four bus stations in Tel Aviv, and I went to the one that the MofT guy had written at the top of a downloaded schedule for buses from Tel Aviv to Mahanayim Junction. The cabbie started to get out of the car when I heard a sickening crunch. I looked up from my purse, where I was pulling out shekels for him, and a huge truck had clipped his driver's side mirror and narrowly missed him. No one stopped to exchange insurance info, life continued: the truck moved on and the driver moved to the trunk to get my suitcases and knapsack.
Then, he vaguely motioned me in 'that direction' to the buses, got in his cab and left. It's noon, it's hot and superhumid, I'm not wearing a hat, I'm thanking god or whoever for my full waterbottle, and I'm looking at my luggage. It's very heavy. I put the small suitcase on top of the large one and strapped them together. I put the knapsack on my back. I began the trek to the little building resembling an old-school Dairy Queen or chip wagon that said 'Information.'
I get to this info-stand, and one of the women inside looked at me in disgust and got up and left. The other woman said this was for Dan Bus Lines, and I wanted Egged; she vaguely waved me in the direction of the Egged office. (ok, for clarification, I'm not including these women for their 'kindness,' and the same for the cabbie, but they are a part of the story.) I grabbed my stuff, crossed a parking lot meant for buses with some platforms to the left, got to the Egged office and it was closed. I'm not panicking about this (this is sincere and not sarcastic), after all, it can't stay closed forever. As I'm standing there, two young guys come along and they're speaking English so I asked for their help: 'Do you know where the platform is for the bus to Mahanayim?' They told me to stay where I was and they'd find out, and they came back shortly to tell me that it was on the other side of yet another parking lot, and added, 'you're heading to the Golan. That'll be one helluva ride.' Then they eyed up my heavy bags and were gone.
Now, most parking lots take what, 5 minutes to cross? Maybe 7-10 minutes if they're really big parking lots? Half an hour. It took me half an hour to cross this parking lot with all my stuff, stopping and drinking water and rearranging the smaller suitcase as it slipped off the larger. My face was dripping and sweat rolled down my back so that my shirt stuck to me and to the knapsack. (Um, ew.) Then, as I reached the street where the platform I needed was said to be, I thought a few things to myself:
1: The platform is probably the last one.
2: I wish someone would help me with these bags.
3: Did I really need all the stuff I brought? (yes, yoga mat, yes)
4: Big deal. You just need to get there, to the platform. You'll make it. Of course you'll make it - this will be over soon and you'll get through it just fine.
All this was thought in the last 30-40 seconds of that half hour of hell. As soon as I had finished thinking it, another young man (younger than me, older than the first two) approached me and asked if he could help. I looked at him, hesitated briefly, and said, 'Thank you.' He took the big bag, and we wheeled together down the sidewalk. I would like to take this opportunity to kiss the feet of whoever invented wheeled luggage.
As we approached (you guessed it) the final platform in a long line of platforms, an older man approached us offering sherut services to Tiberias. (For those of you who don't know, or if I haven't mentioned it yet, a sherut is a shared transport service taking usually ten people from point A to B and it's a little more than a bus but less than a private taxi as we know them.) I told the man where I was going, and he apologized that they don't go that far. I thanked the luggage-dude for helping me, and the bus pulled up. I watched all these people, including soldiers with their guns over their shoulders, throwing their knapsacks and bags into the bus' hold, and knew that taking a bus would be a bad idea for two reasons: a) loading and unloading would be, to put it mildly, a bitch; b) once I reached Mahanayim, I knew that I would have to walk about 800 meters, and if I could barely make it across two parking lots, what would 800 meters be like?
Quick thinking took over, a trait I'm not known for. Usually I have to ponder decisions for days. Not this day. I waved over sherut-dude, and asked him: if he gets me as far as Tiberias, what do I have to do to get to Mahanayim? (As I'm asking him this, I'm praying that Tiberias is where I remember it being on the map - just south of where I need to go.) He said no problem, he'd call his friend who would drive me from Tiberias to the kibbutz. We agreed on prices, I lit a smoke and finally stood in the shade. In Tiberias two hours later my stuff was transferred clickety-click from sherut to taxi, and in another half an hour/forty minutes I was at Kibbutz Mahanayim.
Till next time, darlings - let's say later this evening or tomorrow afternoon. Mwah.