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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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