Time Travel Tuesday~ Leaving Jerusalem

Originally published in 2007

Leaving Jerusalem

A young Palestinian mother sat down beside me on a bus bound the Mount of Olives. In her arms was a beautiful little boy, around age two, with large brown eyes and little curls that brushed his cheeks. He reached out to me several times as we wound our way up the Mount, and gave me a sly little smile each time his tiny fingers grabbed my shirt.

A young Bedouin family takes refuge from the sun on a summer afternoon.

He rested his head on his mother’s shoulder and looked at me without his smile. His round eyes seemed to hold all the pain and suffering of the Palestinian people that he was born into. We exchanged a long, knowing glance for several moments, I was thinking of how difficult his life was going to be growing up under occupation in a land with no hope for peace and he seemed to understand my thoughts. With a little sigh and another stare he seemed to say; “yes, I know my path is long and difficult and I know there is little hope for my future.”

While I was simply projecting my sentiments onto a young toddler, I’ll never forget his face and that look of knowing he possessed. The look of sorrowful understanding that only a child born into the pain and suffering of a people can know. I’ve seen the same look on the faces of toddlers in a Nepalese orphanage, of street children working in the landfills of Kathmandu, of Indian children living in a beggars camp in the Himalayans, on the faces of Tibetan toddlers living in orphanages separated from their parents in China and on the faces of children living in the public housing units in downtown Durham, N.C.

Such a look of pain, understanding and resignation should not be inherently present in the eyes of a toddler who cognitively does not know his role in this world yet.

A young Palestinian girl watches the sunset at the Sullha Peace Festival in Israel.

My departure from Israel took the form of an overnight bus filled with young Jewish adults heading to the Red Sea resort of Eilat. The bus was filled with teenage laughter and iPod music, soldiers in uniform heading for vacation and the occasional western tourist. Our bus arrived at 4am in a destination very similar to Atlantic City; neon saturated streets, all night bars and cafes and drunken young adults staggering about scantily dressed and looking for mates. Quite a shock from the conservative young adults of Jerusalem, dressed modestly and reading from the Torah at a coffee shop while gossiping with friends.

After a brief wait for the border to open, I was allowed to cross into Jordan. I was shocked at the ease of leaving the country, when compared to the seven hour ordeal of entry. A Jewish couple also crossed into Jordan for a day of vacation and asked if I’d like to share a cab. We walked to the Jordanian side of the crossing and I could tell they were a little nervous. The young man admitted this was his first time entering Jordan. Eilat is 2 miles by car from Jordan and a mile or less by boat. The couple lived in Eilat and had never crossed the other side. Odd.

The Jordanian border crossing was a welcoming site. The guards were taking their time opening everything and as is custom in Muslim countries, the pace of activities is much slower then elsewhere. The guards were having their morning coffee and chatting in a room as they told us to wait a few moments until the coffee was done.

Crossing at Eilat warrants a free visa with a one month extension, with no questions or interrogations. The man happily stamped my passport and smiled at me.

“Like the sun!” he exclaimed as he pointed to the blue visa stamp in my passport, which bared the resemblance of the sun. Jordanians possess a strong sense of nationalism and this can be seen even in the tiniest of actions. Such a stamp has never been so welcome in my recently weathered passport.

“Welcome!”

And welcome is just what I felt. As our cab drove towards Aqaba, I saw the enormous Jordanian flag flying over the shore and felt a warm sense of relief. Jordan is a very comfortable country and the people are so affectionate and pleasant, even towards Americans. They may give a little ribbing about Bush, but they enjoy American people. While eating lunch with my driver and his friends at the Dead Sea, one friend said he loved Americans because they are so open and so happy, unlike the Europeans. I am always amazed at the misconceptions that we in America have of most people living in the Middle East.

Upon returning to the hotel in Madaba, where I began my journey three weeks ago, I was greeted with a warm smile and handshake from the receptionist. The next morning as I sat in the lobby waiting for my favorite driver to take me to the Dead Sea for a little float, the receptionist asked me to join her at her house for dinner that evening. I accepted and she gave me a warm smile and said she just cooked a big meal yesterday and that I will enjoy her family.

My Jordanian dinner hosts.

Later that afternoon, we walked through the streets of Madaba towards her home. We chatted and were shocked to find out that we were the same age, born only a few weeks apart. I told her how refreshing it was to be welcomed into stranger’s homes for coffee and dinner. This was not the first invitation I received on this journey and it never failed to amaze me the hospitality of the Arabic people.

A budding photographer.

Could my hosts be any more adorable?

As we walked, we talked about how in America the people have a distance between themselves and that, while in my own country, I have never received an invitation from a stranger to join them for coffee in their home. I asked if she had ever been to America and she replied, “No, I will only go to Syria, not America.” When asked why, she gave an interesting answer. She said that America was too fast paced. That people worked too hard with too much stress and often times missed out on the enjoyable aspects of life. She feared that Jordan may become the same fast paced landscape one day and she doesn’t want her children to live that way.

Walking through Madaba.

She has a point. I’m guilty of neglecting the finer things in life, the things that bring joy and relaxation because I’m too busy for such an indulgence. In fact, the past two years have been such a whirlwind, that I’m ready to find an island all to myself and hide from the world for a year, and I’m only finishing my undergraduate degree. I can only imagine what has been missed by those who have been grinding away on careers at break-neck speed for decades.

Yes, we need to support ourselves and we should seek employment that allows us to do so while finding enjoyment from our jobs and our professions, but when I visit other countries and see how happy people are with so much less than Americans, I have to question our motivations.

Life can be a simple endeavor, we can seek enjoyment from things other than our professions and we can also derive pleasure from our professions while enjoying our personal lives. Yet, often we choose not to do both. When did we sacrifice the self for advancement of careers and what will happen when we reach the end of that career and we see all that we might have left in its wake?

An interesting point of contemplation as I return to America and debate my own career path and the desire to start a family; can the two co-exist, particularly when part of my career requires extensive travel, to at times, undesirable places?

Or better yet, should the two co-exist? Should one seek both family and career, knowing that one will be sacrificed in the end? And what happens when that career is also, and always has been, your passion? Is there room for both the passion and the family? And is that a fair environment to bring a child into, knowing that young children can not, nor should they, understand the parent’s passion for a profession? A never-ending debate- which I am beginning to believe has no solution, only a warranted compromise.

Time Travel Tuesday~ A Futile Protest?

Originally published in 2007


In a small town just outside of Ramallah, international tourists, protesters and several local Palestinians gather for a weekly engagement with the IDF soldiers who guard the road leading into Israel. Following afternoon prayers, the Palestinians gather, along with the visitors and press and walk towards the checkpoint to engage in this dance, complete with tear gas, rubber bullets and rock throwing. International protesters place themselves between the soldiers and the Palestinians, with the belief that the IDF would not fire upon them due to the passports they possess.

Over the past several years, Israel has been consuming the rural landscape which is the livelihood of many of the Palestinians living in Bil’in. While the legitimacy of any protest can be questioned on many levels, the core reasons for engaging in this protest seem justifiable, if one faced the prospect of losing their livelihood due to occupation. (I apologize for the lack of research on this point, but here’s a link to more information about Bil’in: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bil%27in)

Curious to see this event and its role within the broader context of this conflict, my colleague and I decided to witness firsthand the protests and the interaction between the IDF, international demonstrators and Palestinian protesters.

What lies beneath the surface of this weekly event reflects the banality and absurdity that civil disobedience and peaceful protests can produce when the message is muddled by outside ‘revolutionaries,’ the media and some thrill seeking tourists. Sadly, this revelation is not surprising but to actually see the events unfold and the media’s role in the process is appalling and somewhat deplorable.

After our cab dropped us at the guest house which was the temporary home to these Friday protesters, I and my colleague walked to the protest site and waited quietly under a tree for the crowd to approach. A group of photographers arrived first, complete with helmets, vests and gas masks. Their helmets had the letters AP taped to them (Associated Press) and they had the word PRESS on the back of their vests. I couldn’t help but think that such an outfit might come in handy in about ten minutes.

As the protesters approached, I began to shoot from one side of this small group, trying to get a feel for the amount of people and identify the heart of the scene. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw several people dressed in pink clown suits complete with costume makeup. I paused for a moment to process the presence of clowns.


The press hovered about the group and once they reached the barbed wire, I crossed the line onto the Israeli side to shoot with the other photographers. I slowly began to distance myself from the group, knowing that at any minute canisters of tear gas would be shot towards the crowd. As I walked towards the filmmakers and the soldiers, I noticed that the main “director” of the film crew was sending his cameraman towards the soldiers when they were clearly yelling at them not to come any further. The “director” continued to yell at the soldiers and checked to make sure his crew was in position.

As I tried to digest this reality and still create distance, the sounds of canisters being shot into the air drowned the yelling protesters. I found a nice little rock wall blocked from the wind and the soldiers and watched this dance from a close vantage point. The clowns kept walking up the street and the soldiers kept shooting canisters at them. Laughter rang out from the IDF positions, and I can not say that I blame the soldiers. One clown received a canister to the rear end, which created quite a bit of laughter from the soldiers, some of whom documented the event with their camcorders and cell phones .

Several of the international protesters, with point and shoot cameras in hand, continued approaching the post where the soldiers were standing and shouted silly phrases of peace and cursed the soldiers, only to have a tear gassed response.

Beyond the ridiculous nature of clowns and “tourists” shouting at soldiers with teargas; what I found quite amazing during this time was the behavior of the press. I use the term press loosely; several AP photographers, some local shooters, some filmmakers, bloggers and the brother of a famous writer with a digital point and shoot.

Several of the Palestinians remained close to the barbed wire and the photographers would stand next to them and wait for the gas to be shot. Often times, some of the photographers provoked the soldiers to shoot the gas canisters and approached the point where clearly they would be fired upon and waved for the protesters to approach as well.

While waiting for a gas cloud to pass, I heard a cell phone ringing nearby; and the protester actually answered it. In a calm voice, amidst a cloud of tear gas, the protester told the caller that he was at a demonstration, now was not a good time to talk and that he would have to call them back soon.


Afterwards, several protesters gathered the canisters and more photo opportunities were available for the press. Off to the side of the protest, just below the heart of the village, several young kids began throwing stones at the soldiers and the IDF engaged with more tear canisters and rubber bullets. The international protesters ran to the hills to participate in this engagement while the remaining participants made their way back to the guest house.

At this point, the real tragedy of this dance presented itself. After witnessing the behavior of the adults, these young children with slingshots began to aim for the soldiers. In theory, international protesters are supposed to provide a physical barrier between the Palestinians and the IDF, yet as soon as the rubber bullets began to fly, the international protesters cowered behind a wall as the young children continued to throw stones and receive rubber bullets.

A Palestinian man yelled “welcome” to the international protesters and they ran over the hills to watch this part of the demonstration. Having seen enough, I walked back to find my colleague and digest the events I witnessed.


What are these young children learning from this event? Each week they watch the process unfold and they participate in ways that could cause them serious harm. There have to be better methods of protest, better means of conveying a message, better ways to conduct an effective act of civil disobedience that does not end in harmful fumes and rubber bullets.

Outside the falafel stand, people swapped stories of near misses, shared photos and laughed about their involvement while eating ice cream and having refreshments. The ‘documentary filmmaker’ bragged about their footage, gloated about starting the revolution in Kashmir and then asked who was heading back to Tel Aviv for drinks?

While driving back to Ramallah with several very kind and informed protesters, I raised the perspective that the presence of clowns (members of an NGO who uses clowns in demonstrations to show the soldiers that the violence is comical or unnecessary) degrades and demeans the movement of the Palestinian people. While this weekly protest, in my opinion, seems to have little positive effect and influence on the conflict, the fact that people are dressed as clowns gives the impression that the cause itself is something for amusement. The people in the car had never viewed their presence in that manner before.

Left behind was a town filled with Palestinians who have to live the side effects of occupation every day. Every Friday, their children have to breathe the gas fumes from these interactions and they watch tourists and demonstrators fulfill some personal need to feel engaged in the Palestinian movement. The press arrives and provokes an escalation- either through their presence alone, or deliberately as the filmmaker demonstrated- the mass media picks up a few photos of angry protesters and people watching the news gain incorrect perceptions of the reality that exists in the West Bank.

Most journalists wage a constant struggle with the ethical ramifications of their presence in the situations they document. At what point does my presence effect the situation and at what point does my presence introduce an element of falsity? Would this child be throwing stones and provoking soldiers to respond with bullets if my camera was not documenting the process?

Am I misleading the news consumer by selecting the ‘intense emotional’ moments of a weekly protest and placing them into the mass media for consumption; while leaving out the clown with the point and shoot camera and the Japanese teenager eating ice cream after he’s gathered the gas canisters for the Palestinians to place in front of the camera for a perfectly emotional photo opportunity?

At what point do the peace protests and demonstrations become completely futile? The ease of showing up every Friday, getting gassed, taking some snapshots, yelling slogans of peace and provoking IDF soldiers seems to be a simple escape from becoming engaged in a diplomatic peace process. Seeking an education and work experience in conflict resolution; working on diplomatic levels to enact a broader level of change for a country or for individual people; documenting the actual issues in a manner that has a purpose and is framed in the context of reality are all methods for those seeking solutions to truly be engaged with the peace process. Some people at these protests have genuine intentions and are engaged in the process on a level that will promote a viable outcome on some level; but I must question the motivations from most, not all, of the people I interacted with on that day.

Adapting to Life at 10,500 Feet

My recent Western Relocation has landed me in the highest incorporated town in America.  With a whopping population of 600-ish people, Alma is about as high as you can get for a Rocky Mountain town.  While walking outside my door and being dwarfed by a 14K foot mountain peak that’s literally half a mile away is a wonderful way to start the day, there are a few adjustments for this location independent nomad.

Our daily walk in the shadow of a 14K footer!

And while the move went smoothly (give or take a few weather systems), my ability to adapt has been challenged in several ways since I came to this quiet little town.  Here are a few of my recent adaptations.

Connection.

Connectivity is by far the greatest challenge in this move.  You truly do not realize how dependent you are upon the internet in this line of work until you can’t find a connection.  The local coffeehouse is wonderful, and for good reason, they do not provide wifi for their customers.  Being a strong proponent of community gathering places, I totally understand.

So, while walking through town on my first day here, I noticed the local pub had a wifi sign on the window.  Perfect.  And they’re open at 6 am for breakfast- even better.  So, the following day, I bundled up- did I mention the average temperature is about 15 degrees at this elevation- grabbed my backpack and walked down to the pub at 9 am.  Amazingly, a people were actually having a beer and playing pool.

Did I mention that I’m next to South Park- or the town where the cartoon was based? I can see a novel or a sitcom growing out of this town.

I grabbed a table next to the window and parked my ass there for hours. I ordered a ‘giant pancake’ (literally twice the size of my head) and a bottomless cup of coffee and commenced to getting my wifi on.

And I’ve been back almost every morning since.  I’ve opted for just the Sysco coffee sans ginormous pancake.  And I hate to admit this, but I really like it.  When I open the door to the pub, literally and figuratively called “Alma’s Only Bar” I kinda feel like Norm walking into Cheers.

I know who will be sitting at the bar, that the bartender will be having her coffee and chatting with the locals and that the chef will be sitting at the bar table with her laptop.  I join her in the mornings, we share a table and get to work.  And she always gives me such a warm welcome when I walk in.  There’s a fire blazing in the wood stove and the coffee is hot.

What more can you ask for?

The transition of the bar crowd vs coffeeshop crowd in the morning does take a little bit of an adjustment.  Luckily, I grew up in the restaurant industry and was a bartender for ten years, so I speak the language.  There’s no NPR or folk music playing, usually the entertainment news or CMT is on the bar television.  There’s no debate of politics, in fact there’s very little talk of politics at all. Unless the Rogue politician gone Hollywood pops onto the TV and the bar will fire up with the latest talking points spinning out of the media cycle.

But, a little color in the morning is a nice change of pace.  I met Uncle Johnny the other morning, who kept the fire stoked and the conversation interesting.  A former police officer from Pittsburgh, Uncle Johnny is the go-to guy in the bar and probably in the town. I have a feeling if I need anything, Uncle Johnny would be the man to ask.

When he introduced himself, I had to smile a little.  I had an Uncle Louie in Pawleys Island who could, and I quote “make things happen. If you need me to take care of somebody, you just let me know.  I know people.” Literally, his exact words.  Love it!

So, while my connectivity is still a little spotty, I am learning to adjust and hoping my online communities will understand my lack of availability at the moment.

My favorite "office" from last winter's Walkabout. I hope to be there in a few more weeks! Image from my Blackberry.

Work Schedule


As a location independent professional, I’ve learned to work almost anywhere when necessary.
But even when not traveling, I have certain times of the day when my creativity emerges and I ride that horse for all it’s worth.  My new living arrangement (and it’s only for a few more months) is very small.  Tiny.  300 square feet tiny, with my dog and a roommate.  Yea, wrap your brain around that for a sec.  No bedrooms or quiet corners for this little night owl to dive into her writing and production.  Conundrum.

I have found the local coffeeshop- sans wifi- to be an excellent place for contemplation and writing.  I sit next to a giant picture window that looks out over Main Street and that mammoth 14K foot mountain by my house and work away.  Or try to.  I’ve met some wonderful people there and have gotten some writing done, but mid-afternoon is my least creative time and they close at six.  My most creative time is at night, and I’m hoping to find a little more rhythm there soon.

My other major work schedule adjustment relates to the first point of connectivity.  Not having evening access to the wifi- unless I want to be that girl chained to her laptop in the corner of the bar, sipping whiskey and being anti-social- has meant that I only check email once a day.  I hate to admit this, but I rather like that aspect of this new schedule.  It takes some getting used to, but I enjoy not being chained to the inbox.  So, I’m left to have conversations with my roommate in the evenings or read a book, both of which are rather enjoyable.

I do worry that my writing will begin (or is already) slipping with the lack of late night writing.  Hopefully my muse will adjust as well and as I find my rhythm here, I’ll be able to compensate for my challenging work schedules.

My winter chalet from last year. If I can adjust to this tight living space, I can live anywhere! Image from the blackberry.

Finding a New Market- or Not

My new town is only 30 minutes from Breckenridge, where people, business and social life abounds.  My plan was to drum up some local business to tap into when I’m not traveling. I researched the town prior to moving and lived here ten years ago, so I have some idea of what to anticipate when putting my freelancing self into this market.  But, putting myself out there requires one major element of a business that I am lacking at the moment- transportation.

If you’ve been reading this blog the past few weeks, you saw the lovely pictures of the Vintage Vanagon I so diligently navigated cross-country with the canoe/sail on top.  Well, she took a big shit last week and left her exhaust system in shambles on a mountain pass.  So I am sans wheels. In a town of 600 people, with a handful of businesses’ and no mass-transit to the next major town.

Oops.

And oh, did I mention the big mountain pass that you have to traverse, complete with hairpin turns and snow banks to get to Breckenridge?  Oyyy.

So the other night, when faced with the possibility of no wheels all winter, I did some serious spreadsheet forecasting of all the possible scenarios of living here with or without a car and running my business.  I highly recommend everyone do this often, particularly when you’re contemplating new avenues of your business or trying to understand where your opportunities lie.

My major question in this whole line of rationale was the following- was the Universe trying to force me to focus on just the online business by taking away the vehicle and the wifi all at once.  I understand that there’s the element of free will in here- and I can choose my own vehicle and such- but I tend to pay attention when things unfold and try to find the lesson within the mayhem.  By not having the distraction of the internet and having very limited options for income, I would literally HAVE to build my online business now and not mess around with more freelance jobs and “real” work.

My spreadsheets helped- tremendously.  I made about 10 different versions of the possible revenue streams and how they would budget out through the year.  I used Mac’s Numbers and their built in budget template and played out all the possible options.  I narrowed my possibilities down to three and then focused in on the one budget that was my ideal goal- both monetarily and for the type of freelance/online business balance I see myself juggling this year.

I then busted out the iCal and put all the budget milestones onto my calendar and planned out the following year!  Holy Crap!  And today, when I was beginning to stress a little about creating local fliers for freelance services and getting over the pass to network, I opened up the spreadsheets and looked at my calendar to see what I truly should be focused on.  And I did just that.

Funny how that whole planning thing works, isn’t it?

I know, seems rather obvious, but for this artistic entrepreneur, planning doesn’t always come naturally.  I can strategize like nobody’s business and I can visualize the big picture, but putting the tiny little steps necessary to get me there into action, well that’s a challenge.

So, back to my transportation adaptation.  Looks like someone will be driving cross-country- AGAIN- in two weeks.  My truck is going to have to make the journey out here, so this nomad can be mobile again.  Hitching a ride over that pass and to my desert town next month is not a task that I’m looking forward to.

Now, it’s your turn.

So, if you’re still with me, how do you adjust your work routines and schedules to a new location- be it on a business trip or a major move?

What are your necessary elements for productivity- no matter where you are?

Are you a serious planner or fly-by-the seat of your pants person?

Do you have spreadsheet planners for year long forecasting or a special method for bringing your plans to action?

What’s the strangest place you’ve worked in for wifi access?
Go on, you can tell us!

Ten Lessons Learned on my Cross-Country Journey by Vintage Bus

Yea, that title’s a little ridiculous, but it’s true.  Actually, I learned quite a bit more, but here’s the top ten lessons.

Ladybug spent many hours in the bus while we packed. She sat in the driver's seat and figured that we couldn't leave her behind if she sat there for hours.

A Quick Background

As some of you may already know, I recently decided to move cross-country to a tiny little rocky mountain town on a whim.  That’s usually how I make major decision, so it’s not truly surprising.  But, this go round, I brought my little furry companion, Ladybug and was part of the “Powder Hound Caravan”.

Huh?

Myself and a dear friend loaded up two of his vehicles, a vintage 1977 FJ40 and another vintage vehicle, a 1984 Vanagon with our gear and headed West.  Being a minimalist, my belonging were pretty sparse and fit neatly in a section of the van.  My fellow powder hound does not favor the minimalism, so every inch of space in both vehicles was filled, including the roofs.  I was ‘fortunate’ enough to have the 17 foot aluminum canoe on top of the bus, which would later become a sail when driving through multiple weather patterns.

So, last week, we left Pennsylvania, loaded down and ready to tackle a new town and find a little slice of simplicity and normalcy for our lives.

The Caravan, loaded and ready to hit the road.

And, here’s what I learned.

1. CBs Rock. Yep, I thought they were just for fun at first, but each of us had an ass-kicking trucker set-up in our vehicles so we could keep in touch while driving.  Came in very handy when the bus was getting blown off the road in a thunderstorm and when my furry friend needed to stretch her legs.

2.  Learn the proper CB Lingo
.  And don’t become a CB Chatty Kathy.  I learned that the terminology, “Come Again” when asking someone to repeat themselves is considered dirty language from a group of people who talk about sex, alcohol and women as though they were channeling an inner Howard Stern. I was told to watch my mouth when using this phrase.  I also learned that a few truckers in St. Louis have some pink silk thongs they like to hang from their mirrors and some of them secretly want to start shaving their legs.  I won’t even repeat what I heard about politics and racism.  Scary.

Ladybug watches while Grover installs a new CB unit at a truck stop in Missouri after the original one died.

3.  Pack Scooby snacks.  Lots of them.  For you and your furry travel partner.  And keep them handy and accessible when driving.  Be sure to stock up on the natural organic snacks, if you, like myself, can not stand the thought of fast food for any meal.  After driving for 10 hours and not eating a solid meal, a chicken nugget takes on a new persona.  I managed to avoid the fast food train-wreck, but I did have to concede and eat Subway. Twice.

4.  Watch the Weather Channel- often. The Weather Channel is your friend.  We did check the weather in the mornings, and really didn’t have many options for altering our routes due to our timetable. But we managed to hit two big weather systems.  The first one sucked.  Badly.  The second wasn’t quite as bad, but hitting St. Louis at rush hour and the start of a rain storm sucks.  Making the long trek across Kansas in high winds also sucks.  Which takes us to number 5…

5.  Don’t strap a 17 foot canoe to the roof of a VW Bus.
Not the best move, in my opinion.  Though my fellow powder hound may disagree, driving that bus with a canoe on top was similar to sailing a boat through a tropical storm.  The bus is already light and bullied by the wind on a good day, with nothing inside her or strapped to her extremities.  But add an aluminum sail on top and you get one stressed out driver.

The Grammen canoe, me nemisis for this journey. Though she is quite beautiful.

6.  Learn to anticipate the Trucker’s draft. That draft can be your friend or your enemy.  The draft was my enemy to start.  I was still getting used to driving this rig when we hit a nasty low-pressure system in Ohio.  Crosswinds gusting up to 50 mph and driving rain were pushing the bus off the road and every-time a trucker would pass me, the bus was sucked into the truck, then pushed back out as the draft passed.  At that moment, in between leaving the truck’s draft and hitting the crosswinds, the bus seemed to float about on her own, not touching the road or staying in a straight line.  We stopped shortly after this little train-wreck started.

And I have to give a shout out to B-Rad, a future powder hound.  He graciously gave me a bottle of Jack Daniels for the ride, which I bonded with after that driving debacle.

7.  Don’t give the dog spicy mustard while driving.  I know, that seems obvious.  But, Ladybug was looking a little worn and tired and was drooling over my sandwich, so I gave her a little treat when I was finished.  And, my little piece had spicy mustard on it.  Let’s just say that Kansas takes even longer to drive through when your furry friend is stinking up the bus every 20 minutes.

Spicy mustard plus dog equals a long afternoon.

8.  Don’t put total shit gas in the vintage bus. When we hit eastern Colorado, we were filling up the tanks and I noticed they sold 85 octane, even cheaper than the 87 I’d been told to use all trip.  After a brief consultation, we decided that 85 falls under the shit gas category and filled her up.  After Denver, there is a very long, very steep journey into the Rockies and a never-ending tunnel at the end of the incline.

The bus began to sputter and jolt as we hit the first major incline and we limped off the road to see what the problem was. Luckily, my fellow powder hound is mechanically inclined (a necessity for driving vintage vehicles) and figured out that the problem was the shit gas.  After a phone consultation with a mechanic back east who originally worked on the bus, he was able to do some McGuyver moves and got her running again.  So, we limped up the hills (thanks to a trucker’s draft) and I held my breath and prayed through the tunnel.  She started to balk just as we hit the long-ass Eisenhower Tunnel and I just floored it (all of 30 mph) and muddled through.  Worst case scenario, the FJ 40 would push me through the tunnel.  She made it.  And we stopped at the bar shortly after so I could consult with Jack again.

The truck that helped pull me into the Rockies.

9.  Arrive at your destination in the day light hours. We planned this properly and were able to arrive at our new home just at sunset.  Hitting the Rockies during the day is quite a sight.  After the long, long hours of flat driving, the first glimpse of those tall peaks on the horizon are a sight to behold.  Well worth the extra hotel room instead of the 14 hour haul to make the final leg in one day.

We made it!

10.  Drink lots of water when going to altitude. When you go from sea level (literally) to a town of 10K plus feet in elevation, drink an ass-load of water.  All the time, for days.  Lots and lots of water.  And don’t expect to catch your breath for a week or two.

Bonus lesson: Don’t leave your oatmeal cookie unattended while you run into the mother-ship for espresso.  Even with her overwhelming separation anxiety, Ladybug managed to gun my cookie in just a few minutes.

The cookie bandit.

In all, the cross-country trek went well, we made it in one piece and no major break-downs or train-wrecks.  I am rather spoiled in the way I normally travel, a bag or two and the train or plane, so for this minimalist the journey seemed to take a very long time.  The last time I drove to Colorado from the East Coast, I made the trek with a friend in 24 hours and we never stopped driving.  I was 24.  And I’m not anymore.  That much was evident.

But the new town is amazing, and I feel as though I may have found a place that gets me.  When the majority of the people you meet are your own age and said they moved here for the same reasons, that’s a good sign.

And, there’s a fabulous coffee-shop next to an amazing pizza joint.  What more could this nomad need.  Her two mother-ships are next door to each other and a 5 minute walk from her house.  Perfect.

Two Days Late

Originally published in 2007.  This one is a little political, so feel free to skip it if politics or foreign policy aren’t your gig.

Two Days Late…

The flow of information in Jerusalem is somewhat slow and censored, generated mostly from word of mouth. At times, I feel as though I’m staying in a small bubble, and engaging in the outside world is an effort. So when news of Jewish settlers being forcibly removed from the homes they were illegally occupying in Hebron hit the Times and the BBC, I figured we should make an effort to seek some breaking news. One note, western media is seven hours behind my current reality- a point that seems obvious, but not so for this ‘journalist.’

A boy rides his bike through Hebron.

While sitting on a packed local bus with people smoking and yelling into cell phones, I think to myself there is a reason that journalists have expense accounts, translators and drivers. Oh, what luxuries! After an hour long trip, we hop off the bus while stuck in traffic and head off to the market to find our news. We meet a local Arab shop owner who graciously volunteers to act as our guide. Weaving our way through the bustling old Arab market of Hebron, we enter yet another Israeli check point. After passing the first checkpoint, we make our way to another gate with an armed guard and our gracious guide says he can go no farther. Arabs are not allowed entry into certain streets and neighborhoods, despite the fact that Arabs have lived in Hebron for hundreds, even thousands of years.

Deserted store fronts in Hebron.

We walk the empty streets and ask people where the house is located; some look at us as though we have three heads, others tell us to be careful because of the IDF guards and the large number of journalists. Arabs were forced to abandon the buildings and homes they owned in this area when the IDF blocked the streets; yet the Jewish settlers have no legal right to be in these dwellings. Blocks of homes and shops sit empty and abandoned, giving Hebron the feel of a modern day ghost town.

A Quiet Anger

An IDF soldier is standing watch outside the homes which two days ago were plastered about the news as though a major pullout of the West Banks had begun. Two small, two story homes adjoined by one wall look as though their guts have been ripped out in haste just moments before we arrived.

An IDF soldier watches as we tour the occuppied apartment.

Inside the first home, bottles of shampoo sit open on the sink, the windows are missing, a child’s drawing decorates the hallway and two holes speckle the wall in the room adjacent to the other home. Peering through the holes I can see the damage done to the other home where soldiers knocked down the door to reach the settlers. The holes were created to reach the settlers who had built a pillbox to barricade themselves within on the other side of the wall.

The pillbox used by protesters.

The soldier then takes us to the other home and we see the pillbox. He explains how the squatters built the box, filled much of it with cement and fashioned a large metal pipe to receive oxygen. The box is quite small, and off to the side there is a tiny entry hole. The soldier then states that the squatters had taken a baby into the box with them to participate in their protest. Such a statement takes a moment to digest. Who in there right mind would build a tiny wooden box, fill it with cement, use a 10 inch diameter metal pipe for air in order to hide from heavily armed soldiers and then bring an infant into the box as well? What would possess someone to do such a thing? Particularly in a home which is not owned by them and which an Israeli court ordered the Jewish settlers to vacate.

I notice a number of settlers stopping by the site of the extraction to view the carnage of the home. I wonder what is going through their minds. I can see the dismay and the anger on their faces. To them the IDF committed a crime against their own people and the squatters had a right to the home and the land because of some divine reasoning and due to various creative assertions of property rights. As I look through the holes from the other home, I notice a young Jewish boy looking at the pillbox and I can see the look of curiosity turn to a quiet anger as his elders talk about the situation. The boy can not be much older than ten and his impression of the Jewish right to this Arab land is being cemented in his mind. Misunderstandings and misinterpretations are being formulated as he stares at a box where his neighbors barricaded themselves to make a stand against the IDF and the property rights of these buildings.

A young boy walks through the apartment in question.

Stoned Soldiers

After lunch we decide to visit Abraham’s tomb. Christians, Jews and Muslims all refer to Abraham as a major part of their religious beliefs and the relevance is not lost on the security measures. There is an extensive check point to enter; passports or Palestinian papers, statements of religious affiliation and the justification of camera equipment. In 1994, a Jewish man opened fire on the Arab side of the tomb, killing 29 Arabs and wounding over one hundred. The tomb is now separated by bullet-proof glass and the extensive security is understandable, to a point.

My entry to the mosque and tomb is denied due to my cameras, so I wait for my friends just outside the guard stand. Every five minutes or so, some young boy with a large AK-47 asks why I am standing there and I point to the other soldiers and say ask him. My patience for these soldiers is at a low-point and having a cocky 21 year-old soldier harass me about my cameras and flirt with me as he denies my entry into a tomb is just beyond my threshold of tolerance. As I wait, I notice the fumes of marijuana coming from nearby, a point my friend made repeatedly every time we passed this spot. Confirmation that these soldiers were getting stoned came a few minutes later as my friend talked with one of the soldiers and he could tell the soldier was wasted. (College students have an astute ability to make such assertions).

Our guide takes us around the city pointing out the locations where Arab families recently left and Jewish settlers moved into empty homes.

The streets are empty except for the IDF trucks and police cars, stores are locked and kids wave at us from barred windows over the empty stores. Our guide takes us close to a major Jewish settlement but states he can go no further. He warns of guards and electric fences that can kill you when touched. We thank him and tell him we hope to see him soon.

You Want a Rose from Me?

As we are walking up the street towards the settlement, a man working outside his home asks if we would like to join him for coffee. Another man walks up at the same time, and invites himself in as well. We tell them we are journalism students and want to ask some questions about living in Hebron as a Palestinian.

Our host’s home is beautiful, large spacious rooms filled with marble and ornate furniture and the rooms echo with the sounds of kids running throughout the halls. We enter a living room and our host’s son serves the best Arabic coffee I have tasted on this journey. One of the men is eager to practice his English and answers our questions with passion and emotion.

(His story deserves its own entry, so I will elaborate soon about this conversation, but some of his words are relevant to the present topic of discussion.)

“I have many Jewish friends, is good people, when alone. But when dressed as Army, is not person, is without feeling, is without respect,” our visitor emphasizes his words by pressing his finger on the table and lighting his cigarette. He chain smokes as his emotions intensify. “IDF closed the road and take which places they wanted, said [Arabs] killed 4-5 people. Said to the press, they killed our children. Both Arab and Jewish people have children, why destroy the world when one person dies. When Arabs die, they are dogs, is no problem. Why I give you respect? They close everything, say Arabs are terrorists. They kill my wife, kill my father, take my land- and you want rose from me?”

Our friend goes on to explain that only IDF vehicles are allowed on the streets, Arabs have to use donkeys if they want to haul goods.

His eyes begin to water and his voice waivers as he speaks of his wife and two children- ages 5 and 7. They live in Haifa, an hour and a half away, and the three of them have Israeli papers, meaning they can travel freely throughout Israel. Our visitor does not have such papers. He is confined to the borders of Hebron and claims the IDF has turned Hebron into a prison. He has not seen his family in three months and each time he goes to the IDF to get permission to visit Haifa, they deny him the proper paperwork. I feel a pang of guilt when I realize that Haifa is one of the locations I hoped to visit before leaving Israel and I am free to visit when I please.

We eventually make our way to the bus station, which is located inside a large and beautiful Jewish settlement. The guard asks us our religion and looks at our passports and asks if we know any Arabic. He then pulls aside my colleague; she was born in Pakistan but has an American passport. After five minutes of notifying everyone within range of his radio that a Muslim was stepping through the gates, he allowed us to enter. A car filled with soldiers slowly followed us to the bus stop, making several loops around the block to see that we were not straying from our declared path of travel.

Adopt a Soldier

Later that evening, our fellow travelers that separated for lunch show us some literature they gathered at the pizza shop in the Jewish section of Hebron. An “adopt-a-soldier” placemat asks patrons to offer their support of the soldiers who keep them safe by donating $15 to buy them lunch. I can not help but think that a stoned soldier came up with a method to cure his case of the munchies and asked the store owner to create the program. Several fliers state the justification to the property rights of Hebron for the Jewish stem from the fact that Abraham purchased this land over 3400 years ago at “fair market value.” What exactly is the fair market value during that time period; two chickens, a goat and several camels?

The flier also complains that the separation of the tomb after 1994 is unfair because it gives the Arab side more space and better scenery, yet fails to mention the reason for the division in the first place. A multitude of mis-staments and falsities were stated throughout the fliers and I can not help but think of all the people who have read this literature and believed it. For if words are printed and if the paper has the guise of professionalism, people tend to believe the words are true.

A Distant Hope

I can only hope that people actually seek to verify what they read. I can only hope that visitors to Hebron and Israel can see the disparity between the two populations living here and the strain that living with such a separation causes for both populations. I can only hope that the mass media will stop playing with peoples lives and manipulating reality to create a perception of terrorists lurking in the shadows waiting to kill you while you are safe within the walls of your home. I can only hope that the media will begin to tell all sides of a story, to tell the side that people don’t want to hear, and stop using these people to promote the political agendas of our leaders.

When I see the human cost of our political agendas in the face of a man separated from his family or in the hunched shoulders of a young man who can not cross the road because he is Arab or I see the look of quiet anger on the face of young Jewish boy who is formulating an ingrained perception of his neighbor; I harbor little hope for the current paths of society.

A young boy plays in some discarded furniture on the streets of Hebron.

I do hold hope that one day, the powers that control the media and our leadership will be discarded by people who will demand better for their world. People who will demand that citizens of countries in distant lands will cease to be used as pawns for someone else’s agenda; people who will demand that their tax dollars be used to fund American inner city schools and health care for every US citizen and not have their money fund the oppression and destruction of citizens in other countries. People who will demand that their leadership use their power to benefit the greater good, not the minority of corporate leadership using politics to reap society of its natural resources and strip people of their dignity and identity. I harbor a hope that one day people will seek to control their destiny once again, as the founders of America once did, but the more I witness throughout the world, the more distant that hope becomes.