Sunday, July 10, 2011

Settling in: Final thoughts

Well, it took me five days to get motivated enough, but my bags are unpacked, my clothes are put away, and with the exception of a few notebooks and miscellaneous papers, everything is in its place.  I even took a break to eat a thoroughly non-Israeli lunch: a peanut butter and jelly with banana sandwich.  I am officially home.

My melancholy of a few days ago has subsided a bit, especially after celebrating a joyous occasion with a huge portion of my close and extended family yesterday.  I have spent time with most of the close friends I missed so much while gone, and I've even been accepted back at my summer job which I'll start on Wednesday.  All in all, I'm feeling a little less "out of it" and a whole lot more "part of it."

There was also an innocuous moment a few days ago when my dog decided 6:30 am was the perfect time to wake up.  At her whining command I got out of bed and followed her downstairs to the door.  Normally I would just open the door for her, let her do her business, then let her back in, but that day I decided to go outside with her.  At that quiet early-morning moment, I stood, breathed, and was washed over with a scent I had forgotten I loved so much.  You know how it smells early in the morning, when the dew is just getting warmed by the sun and the grass is particularly green?  It's a smell associated with that special feeling of being awake just before everyone else, when the neighborhood is still quietly clutching to the final moments of a dream.  It's a smell associated with summer and a frolicking dewy-pawed dog, fewer obligations and walking around barefoot.  It's the smell of home.

I breathed slowly and deeply as I tuned my senses to all the things I didn't realize I had missed and finally felt truly happy to be back in the comfort of this particular home.

In some ways it's hard to believe I did what I did - traveled across an ocean, lived nearly half a year in a different country with different languages, learned and worked alongside people from around the globe.  I look back and wonder "Did this really happen?  Or was it just a dream?"  But my e-mails and Facebook conversations in Hebrew, the pictures filling my hard drive, and this blog are all evidence of my journey.  They are also reminders of what I am capable of and that maybe the world isn't quite so terrifyingly big after all.

But for now, my journeys as a temporary kibbutznikit are over, so I think it is the perfect time to thank you for reading this and joining me on my journey.  I may not know you personally, but knowing you read this, even occasionally, gave me something of a feeling of purpose.  At the very least it's nice to know someone is interested in what you're doing.  I hope throughout it all you learned something and smiled a bit, and maybe it even gave you the extra little push you needed to go on your own adventure.  Lech lecha.  Lechi lach.  Lechu lachem. לכו לכם

I do have one final request of you, though.  Some have recommended I continue writing and I must admit, I do enjoy it.  What do you think?  Should I keep blogging, throwing my thoughts into cyberspace for the benefit of anyone with a few spare minutes in their day?  I'd love to hear from all of you, so please feel free to leave a comment and tell me what you think!

Until next time (whenever that may be), להתראות, au revoir, goodbye.  It was wonderful traveling with you :)

Thursday, July 7, 2011

I'm home!

Back when I first arrived to Israel I published a post with the same title, so it seems only fitting that now, having returned to my first home, I do the same.

I've been at this home for slightly over 30 hours now and I'm not sure if it's jet lag or weird body rhythms that has me up at 6:30 in the morning.  It should be noted that on my last day in Israel I also woke up earlier than necessary, so I'm not sure if this is entirely the fault of travel.  Either way, I'm not quite as rested as I would have hoped and I'm still feeling the effects of not sleeping more than 30 minutes the day I traveled.  I may be due for a nap today.

People ask me if I'm happy to be home and I respond that I'm happy to be with everyone again.  But home?  For five months my home was on the other side of the world.  Is it weird to say I'm homesick?

Coming back into town, walking into my house, even seeing my family again, it was almost like I never left.  Sure, the paint on the bathroom walls have changed since I left, there's a new rug in one room, new lawn chairs, and my dog is a bit scruffier than when I left, but nothing significant has changed.  It's almost as if I put my real life on hold when I flew across the Atlantic in February and now that I'm back I can just start again right where I left off.  No big deal, right?

Except it's not so simple.  I'm restarting my "real" life with a new language on my tongue, new memories behind my eyes, and new experiences reverberating through my body.  Everyone is more or less as I left them but I just got back from a life-changing experience.  How do I just "start again" with all that in me?  I want to tell everyone, to share my excitement, but without people near me who have had a similar experience I don't know exactly what to do with all the memories roiling around in my head.  I never realized that returning to normal would be such a daunting endeavor.

What will I do without hearing at least four languages every day, or without speaking at least three?  How will I feel when, because of social custom, I won't get a kiss on the cheek when I say hi to an old acquaintance?  And then of course there are all the challenges associated with returning to a country where, as a Jew, I'm the minority, which never really bothered me before but there's something indescribably cool about saying "Shabbat Shalom" to the stranger who picks you up when you're hitchhiking on a Friday afternoon.

I will admit, though, I'm glad to be in my bedroom, in my house, in my town.  I'm glad that I just answered the phone and the receptionist making the call was nice, courteous, and understandable.  I love that it's a little cooler and I'm not suffering even without the air conditioner on.  And, of course, I am immensely thrilled that yesterday I spent hours with some of my best friends, talking about boys and family and life and trying our hardest to make up for all the hugs we couldn't share for so long.

Homesick at home?  An interesting predicament, but if I've learned anything in the last five months it's how to deal with interesting predicaments.  Luckily, unlike in Israel, this time I'm surrounded by all the loved ones I missed so desperately.


The Photos page has been updated with an album of pictures from my last few days in Israel.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Plane ride musings

In some ways, a long plane ride is a perfect way to transition from one experience to another.  As the plane gained speed down the runway I wanted to scream “slow down!” like I did the first time I rode the log ride in the Wisconsin Dells.  I distinctly remember us in our little fiberglass log, slowly climbing, climbing, higher and higher, ever nearing our impending fall, and all I could think about was how terrified I was of falling, so I tried desperately to plead with anyone who would listen to stop the ride!  Let me off! 

But the plane was cleared for take off and in the air we went. 

So many miles in the air, so far away from the cities and fields and streams and deserts of either of my homes, it’s easy to feel disconnected from them both.  Sitting in this metal cocoon shooting through the sky, distance is created for me, an ending made and a different life renewed.  I am leaving Israel.  I am going to the United States.  I left one life behind and am on my way to continue the one I put on pause five months ago…

…from before I fell in love.

I’m not that old, so it goes without question that I remember the first time I fell in love.  I remember how terrified I was to utter those words to that boy but how satisfied I was once I heard it and how I silently let a tear or two drip down my cheek when he said it back that night over the phone.  I remember how, for the first time, I really trusted my gut and let myself express what my heart was trying desperately to tell my brain through its pulsing Morse code.

Now I’ve fallen in love a second time and not with a single person but a whole society, a country.  In five months (or more if you include my first trip there), I fell in love with tall, dark, and handsome men.  I fell in love with wide-eyed black-haired women.  I fell in love with frolicking care-free children.  I fell in love with old, wrinkled, smiling faces who’ve weathered war and peace and cared for so many children as their own.  I fell in love with strangers on the street and taxi drivers and produce sellers and security guards.

And I think they love me, too.

I suppose it doesn’t matter how or with whom you fall in love because the feeling itself comes from the same place – somewhere deep and secretive, rarely revealed but always waiting to be seen.  So why don’t we let it free more often?  Because it’s terrifying.  Just when you think you have it all figured it out, Love sneaks up on you and messes things up, puts thoughts in your head to which you never paid heed, and shakes your world just enough to make you lose your balance.

Then again, common sense should tell me that like any new relationship this is just infatuation, pure and simple, and when I get home I’ll realize where my heart really lies and leave it at that.  I’ll continue living my life as I’d planned it originally: become a high school music teacher, marry a nice Jewish boy from a suburb with a strong Jewish community, have a few kids, and spend all the major Jewish holidays and celebrations with my family.

Then again, man makes plans and God laughs.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

A whirlwind end to the trip of a lifetime

In the spirit of full disclosure and record-keeping, I present to you a summary of my final travel experiences in Israel.  I’m not even going to pretend to lie and label it a “short” summary.  Hah!  Brevity has never been my strong suit.

Friday morning I finished packing and met a friend for a goodbye lunch then left the kibbutz around 1:30 pm.  A man stopped for me outside the kibbutz and brought me straight to the train station, talking to me in Hebrew the whole way and complimenting me on my own apparently-impressive command of the language (“Five months?  How wonderful!”).  My distant cousin (second cousin once removed, to be precise) picked me up from the train station, along with her mom and brother who arrived on the same train.  Her mom and brother live in the U.S. but had come to visit in Israel, and that night for dinner we were joined by the other sibling and his boyfriend.  As it turns out, not only do I have family in Israel but they have three adorable children whose grandmother lives close to where I go to school.  Needless to say the distant family is not so distant anymore.

I spent Shabbat with my family, playing Monkey in the Middle with the young girls (which is called “hamor b’emtzah” – “donkey in the middle” - in Hebrew), spending some time at a nearby kibbutz’s pool, and sharing a mix of Hebrew and English with them all.  Saturday night we all went to a bookstore then got ice cream and I took pictures of the kids. 

Sunday morning my cousin took me to the bus stop and I rode a bus PACKED with soldiers going back to their bases after the weekend.  Now, when I say packed, I mean there was only enough room for me to stand in the middle of the isle.  Thank goodness Israeli bus drivers can’t go longer than an hour and a half without a break; instead of spending all three hours standing in the middle of a mass of sleeping soldiers, I was able to get a new spot sitting in the isle next to the bus driver – much better situation for my motion sickness.

I got to Kiryat Shmona where an exuberant lady from the busy rushed me around and helped me find what bus I needed next then sat me down where I needed to be and told me to wait, the next bus would be there in 45 minutes.  When the bus came I found five other girls who were going to the same state park as me – known as “The Banias” – and I tagged along with them from the kibbutz that was our starting point.  From Kibbutz Snir we walked the three km to the Hermon Stream Nature Park and Reserve, rested a bit and ate some lunch, then went through the park where we saw a most beautiful waterfall.

After leaving the park I hitchhiked back to Kiryat Shmona.  Again, the man who drove me was incredibly nice (if not a little sketchy), and before dropping me off exactly where I needed to be he gave me his phone number with the strict instructions to call him should I need any help at all.  I didn’t, but the offer was appreciated.

I spent the night with a guy I found through CouchSurfing.  He is a 27-year-old student, hiker, traveler, and mountain climber, and greeted me at his door with a hug.  I made myself at home, took a shower, we talked, then I took a nap while he studied for his exams this week.  We prepared a stir fry to share for dinner, talked some more, then I passed out from exhaustion.

Monday morning I took an 8:00 bus from Kiryat Shmona to Tel Aviv (three hours, this time with a real seat) and walked around the city for seven hours.  I went to a hummussia and hung out there for about an hour since I got into a conversation with a young guy from Darfur who recently came to Israel to go to school.  I also spent some time in Shuk HaCarmel where I bought a touristy t-shirt, helped some non-Hebrew-speaking women buy a ½-kilo of figs, and met a guy who just came back from a couple years in Lebanon teaching history and who will be going to the same university as me in the States next year.

When the train landed me back in Rehovot last night I was absolutely exhausted and I called the couple who I’d planned on staying with that night, the son and daughter-in-law of a couple I know on the kibbutz.  Well, they were all going to their parents’ for dinner and betach (of course!) I was invited, so I went there and feasted on homemade pizza and cheesy potato salad with one of my adopted families.  Since all my luggage was at their house anyway (his son hadn’t picked it up since I dropped it off there on Friday), I stayed with his parents instead.  His mother kissed and hugged me and took plenty good care of me, his dad gave me practical advice on traveling around the globe, and when I left they made sure I knew that if I’m ever in Israel with my own family we are all invited for dinner at their house.  You hear that, Mom and Dad?  You have a dinner invitation in Kibbutz Na’an.

Finally this morning, after a hearty breakfast and last goodbyes, my favorite taxi driver and friend picked me up and drove me to the airport where we exchanged thank you’s and I’ll miss you’s and tentative plans to get together when he’s vacationing in the U.S. next month.  That one might actually come to fruition!  Either way, we’ll be friends on Facebook and I know that the next time I’m in Israel he’ll be the first one I call when I need a ride.

And that was that.  I got in the airport, through luggage and passport control and security, and I got on a plane.  And miraculously, the plane is not over capacity even with all my memories and emotions from the best five months of my life.