Saturday, April 21, 2012

The More the Merrier: My Second Tel Aviv Adventure And The People Who Made It Wonderful.

Last time that I went to Tel Aviv, it was with two other internationals who were working at the Bible College with me. This time, I went with a group of students and a few of the staff from the college. Typically, no one would have been able to go because Palestinians are not generally allowed into Israel for "security reasons," but during Christmas and Easter, the Christians in the West Bank can apply for permits from the Israeli government for temporary access to Israel in order to worship at the holy sights. They don't alway get a permit, but if they do then they have a month where they can visit Israel. The students often joke that Israel thinks they're terrorists... except over Christmas and Easter. It doesn't make much sense to me why for 10 months out of the year, you classify someone as a security threat and don't allow them to travel in, to, or through Israel, and yet the other two months you give them unrestricted access to the entire country... but that is a post for another day.

Our wonderful Soheir, the college mama/professor/translator/all around fantastic human-being decided that since some of the staff and students had NEVER SEEN THE SEA BEFORE (even though Tel Aviv is only 35 miles away from Bethlehem), she would rent a bus and organize a day trip for everyone. She is the absolute sweetest. The Christians' Easter permits expire tomorrow (Sunday, April 22nd) and so it was decided that today was the day for a seaside adventure!

Isn't she adorable? Told ya so!
There ended up being 20 of us total, Soheir, Hala (the college librarian) along with her husband and three kids (none of whom had ever been to Tel Aviv before), Rita (one of the cleaning staff) and her friend, William (the groundskeeper) and his wife, Ron & Joanne (the new couple who run the Guest House), seven students, and ME! We left Bethlehem at about 8am and arrived in Tel Aviv around 9.

Before we did anything else, we (obviously) took a few ridiculous pictures... and some pretty cute ones. Haneen, one of my good friends and a first-year at the college, wanted a jumping shot, and so I dutifully played photographer. It took us four tries, but eventually, we captured it:

Haneen and the Jump Shot!
Me and Haneen in Jaffa's town square.
We began in Jaffa, the town that is right next to Tel Aviv; if you started out in Jaffa walking toward Tel Aviv, you would get into the city without even realizing that you'd left Jaffa... they sort of just run into each other. In the morning, we visited St. Peter's Church, browsed the street merchants, and went on a little museum tour to learn more about the Jaffa sea port that has been active for over 5,000 years. 

St. Peter's Church
We all went to lunch together around noon, and then afterwards we split up and each went our separate ways for a few hours. I ended up hanging out with Soheir and Jabra, a student at the college. Jabra speaks basic English, and I speak very basic Arabic, so luckily Soheir speaks both languages fluently. We ate ice cream, walked around Jaffa, explored the little artisan shops scattered throughout the town, talked, laughed, and basically just had a pretty rad time.

Jabra in Jaffa, overlooking Tel Aviv.
Jabra is one of the male student that I'm closest to at the college, but male-female friendships are not encouraged in Palestine, and you are DEFINITELY never supposed to hang out one-on-one. Most of my closest friends in college were guys. I tend to connect easier with men than with women (maybe it has something to do with only having brothers?), and I've found that to be even more true when there is a language barrier. Somehow guys just don't need as many words to communicate; you can totally bond nonverbally, which you can't often do with girls. The fact that it is not culturally appropriate to have any real male friendships here has been an incredible challenge for me. Jabra and his roommate David (who unfortunately was sick and not able to come to Tel Aviv) are two of the sweetest, kindest, most humble guys I have ever met. Jabra especially has such a gentle spirit. He is essentially the opposite of the "loud, angry, domineering Arab man" stereotype that we so often hear in the West. At 24, he is the oldest student living in the college dorms, and he is definitely having a positive influence on the other guys who are living there. 

Here is a story from today that basically sums up who Jabra is in a nutshell:
[Ok, backstory: so I trimmed my bangs a few days ago because I always cut my own hair and it wasn't a big deal at all. Well I'm an idiot and wasn't really paying attention, so I ended up cutting my bangs short. Wayyyyy short. I've been pinning them back until they grow out, but unfortunately for me some of the shortest bangs constantly come out of the bobby pins and I totally can't tell because instead of falling in my eyes, they are so short that they stick straight up. Seriously, it's a tragedy.] 
So today we're all sitting on the bus waiting for one last person to arrive when Jabra, who is in the seat in front of me, looks at me and says "your hair is sticking up." I was super frustrated with myself and my stupid hair and totally overreacted by basically yelling: "JABRA. I KNOW. I can't do anything about it and my hair just won't work and I'm so tired of trying to fix it and I don't have any hairspray with me and it looks ridiculous and I hate myself for being so stupid and not paying attention to what I was doing and now everyone is going to stare at me all day and I'M JUST GOING TO SHAVE MY HEAD." Also I may or may not have teared up... but I'm blaming that on my lack of sleep. 
Now instead of calling me a crazy person for totally mis-directing my anger at him and/or yelling back at me, Jabra doesn't even bat an eye. He calmly gets up and comes to stand right in front of me. Without a word, he gently takes all of the bobby pins out of my hair and begins to slowly and carefully twist the short bangs under the longer ones and pin them down. Ten minutes later, I had no more sticky-uppy bangs; they were all pinned down, and they stayed pinned (despite the windy beach) until half way through the day (when I immediately had Jabra re-pin them).
RIGHT? I know. He definitely wins the award for "kindest way to deal with a girl trying not to sob over her hair." I'd bet every penny I own that he has a sister.

After the whole group met up again at about 4, we headed down to the beach! Again, we all split up as some people went off to swim, some went to walk further into Tel Aviv, and some (like me) went off to find a quiet place to relax and enjoy the weather.  I ended up walking down the beach until I came to the portion that has huge rocks piled on top of each other to create a sort of wall against the tide. I decided to climb down the rock wall/pile a little ways to find a quiet, more out-of-the-way spot (side note: doing this in a dress was a super classy idea). I spent an hour just listening to my iPod and watching the waves. It was the most soothing thing I've done in a long time.
I know it looks like I could just step onto the beach, but I'm actually about 25 feet up.
The view of the sea and the sun was beyond incredible.
We ended up heading home at about 7:30pm, and got to Bethlehem a little after 8. I was left with some beautiful pictures, wonderful memories, approximately eight pounds of sand in my purse, a very fancy flip-flop tan...

SUNBURN. My poor, poor burned body.
Although it's never officially summer until Meredith forgets that she's caucasian and goes out in the sun without sunscreen only to come back hours later burnt to a crisp

There's really nothing better than having a mini-vacation. I feel so recharged and refreshed, even though technically I was only away from my "regular life" for 12 hours.

In other news: get excited for the next few weeks... I have visitors coming! I'll be doing a bunch of traveling, which I will obviously share with you all, and I'll also explain why I intentionally haven't done much traveling up until this point.

I hope you all are doing well - Happy Weekend!

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