Alright. Two months post-return. Easter is coming and I have failed miserably at my commitment to my awesome supporters to tell the story about what exactly happened when I came back from the Middle East.
I cannot believe it’s done and that I’m back. After getting back, it started off with jet lag and work. Flower runs and photo editing. It then became hospital visits, school issues, sleepless nights, bills, vets, sadness, and an insane amount of gas to buy. Gas prices dropped when I needed them to, but other than that, stressful events delayed my projected storytelling extravaganza. Not to fret, I’m good. I experienced small victories along the way and fun days to get my mind off it all.
Looking back, I cannot believe this all worked out. It was in God’s plan for me to experience this place. Shoutout to my parents for not freaking out too much and ultimately letting me make the final call whether I should have gone or not. I remember in the fall, talking to my friends about how I was so unsure about going, how I had a bad feeling about it, how hard fundraising would be. I almost passed it up. I went to my first meeting and was so unsure, but after tears and frustrations, I made the decision. Here begins the story.
I’ve already written about my heart for the trip and how I fundraised. With $425 left to pay, I frantically packed my bags and got to LAX for a flight to Tel Aviv after uttering a last “boker tov” to my dude. After meetings, icebreakers, and prep for this adventure, I felt as though the community aspect became real once hitting up the airport. Once you’re in the airport, everything feels right and so much more real for me because honestly, packing the night before, I had no realization of the things I was about to see and do. Down time consisted of learning some last minute Hebrew and Arabic, getting the journals ready, reading about the conflict, and just preparing our hearts for what was to come. With passports and a few treats from Lemonade in hand, we boarded the flight to JFK. Landing 4 hours later, you could already feel chilly New York outside the frosty window. That was a slight taste of the biting cold we would soon experience hours, and I mean SO MANY HOURS, later.
At JFK we waited on the tarmac for an hour or so before we were even allowed to taxi into the gate. Counting the minutes, we were for sure not going to have enough time to get on the second flight to Tel Aviv. But ALAS! No need to switch our bags over and no need for running to the international gate because it was right next door.
Boarding to Tel Aviv was so interesting because you see how eclectic the mix of humans getting on the plane are. Students, religiously dressed folk, pilgrimage groups, tourists, family members, white collars who travel for jobs, you name it. Did you know that young Jews, 18-26 years of age all over the world get a free trip to Israel? It’s called Birthright. More about this later on, but heck, my great-grandfather was a full-blooded Spaniard. Might have another great who was a pure Portuguese too so do I get a birthright trip too?!
Okay. . . So I made it on the plane. Might as well have stopped for a sammich because we’re still waiting to take off for another three hours. My stomach was ready for overheated airplane food and rock hard rolls of bread by this time as all the youngins were getting up from the seats and frolicking with each other, asking each other’s majors and stuff of the sort. After a long period of sitting on a plane on a New York runway, we finally took off and this is where I forgot what happened for the next 12 hours because it was a mix of movies, sleep, bathroom breaks, and shifting in my uncomfortable footrest-less seat.
I don’t quite remember the time we arrived and it doesn’t even matter. All I remember was getting to Tel Aviv, preparing to go through customs, people getting cash at the ATM, and feeling so bad for Greg and Julia who waited a really long time for us to land. I recall arriving, being so overwhelmed by the fact I was actually not sitting anymore, and it was night time. A really, really cold night. Greg said our bus was waiting outside and I just remember watching the sliding door exit open as a huge gust of wind and rain came rushing through. I dropped my bag and said, “HOLD UP. Let me put my dang jacket on and change into my rainboots.” We were prepared for this, hehehe. Wow, it’s somewhere on my phone but I think one of my first videos is this moment, where I’m just yelling, “whoaaaaa,” while the rain drenched me and my belongings within 10 seconds as we booked it to the bus to get out of the storm.
2-hour ride to Nazareth. Cool. Told a few jokes on the ride there, got edjumacated by Greg a bit, and just had time to look outside the windows at the storm and the yellow street lights. Driving through Israel reminded me of driving through Palmdale or other said desert cities if you’ve ever done so. It felt like there was just one way to get anywhere. Intersections were scarce and small. The dry, Mediterranean land on either side. I may or may not have fallen in and out of consciousness on this night ride, but I remember waking up to us going through a really warmly lit tunnel and ascending a hill into a city. Nazareth. The city where Jesus grew up. I learned that Nazareth is the largest Arab city in Israel; varying between Christians and Muslims. Much of the country is bilingual, and many people speak both Hebrew and Arabic. However, sometimes I definitely started picking up on what language to use depending on where we were.
The above is not our hotel. Our hotel is just the left part of this building. Pretty tight. Cool tight and also space tight. We had to take turns going up the elevator because we all couldn’t fit. However, we were kindly welcomed with sweet, warm wine infused with chopped apples as we dropped our belongings in our room, and within 10 minutes, went to Tishreen, a local restaurant for dinner.
Commence food coma and a good night’s sleep. We would then be spending nights in Nazareth for a few days and venturing out each day to different locations. Stayed tuned for Part 2 where we meet our first guest and things get crazy, complicated, and not just fun and games.
I think my stomach ate itself by this point, but I do declare that this was the best dinner I might have ever had on the trip, or in life. It could have been because of my hunger or just honestly that the food was amazing. Through all the fundraising, I loved not having to worry about what to order or to where to eat. Greg is awesome and took care of us so my indecisiveness wasn’t an issue. I wrote down all the food we had and I have all the photos. It was A LOT of food and, but let me just add a few photos here. Tabbouleh. Hummus. Coffee chicken…. UH. Chicken-wrapped shrimp. What? CHEESE BALLS. FRIED CHEESE BALLS. THIS IS WHY TRAVELING IS AWWWESUUMM. Food. People. Stories. Food. Guys, the mint lemonade. It’s always mint, always blended, always fresh. Side note: I feel like such a pretentious brat because I came back to California and started asking people, “Oh, um… may I ask how you made the lemonade? Oh, a box? Powder? I’m okay, I’ll just stick with water…” Whoopsie.