Picking Up Israelis, Sderot, and a Night in a Bedouin Tent

January 12th, 2012

On the night of the 11th, we did an evening activity to get ourselves ready to invite our Israeli friends into our community.  We made a circles and then broke into groups where we drew pictures of our stereotypes of Israeli soldiers and what we thought their stereotypes of us were.  We essentially had a room filled with Israeli looking GI Joes and crude drawings of Snooki everywhere.  The message in the room was pretty clear that most of us really didn’t know what to expect.

My group had David, the Security guard in it while we did this activity and we decided to just draw him as one of the Israelis we drew.  It turned out to look like some kind of strange combination of Justin Beiber and Dave Grohl, but looked a lot like him.  I was very thankful not to have to draw, because…well, I draw a very mediocre stick figure if that is any hint.  The night ended and most of us went to sleep fairly early.

As we had been told the night before, our morning began early.  We all had a quick breakfast at the hotel we had been staying in before packing our things up for the day ahead.  I’m a picky eater, so that meant a bowl of some Israeli version of coco puffs with milk and a couple of pieces of bread.  With bags in hand, we all headed to the bus where the “bus loading committee” was getting everything on the bus.

We starting riding in the general direction of our first adventure of the day, Sderot, although we had something else we needed to get done first.  We stopped at a large bus stop to pick up our new Israeli friends.  There were soldiers all over the place as the bus stopped for a minute before Sean motioned for me and Michael Tal (there were two Michaels and one Mike on our trip) to come help load the luggage of the Israelis.  The two of us stood there for a minute looking around before the Israelis finally came and we started to introduce ourselves.  They were excited to see us, and frankly, I was really excited to see them.

After loading their luggage on to the bus (they honestly did most of this work), we all got onto the bus.  Tal and Zohar, two of the Israelis, were sitting around me so I was excited to get to know both of them.  Tal told me she was an air traffic controller in the army.  I definitely thought that was one of the coolest things.

Shortly after the Israelis got onto the bus, we found a nearby park to get to know each other.  Nadav needed to talk to the Israelis about something, so the Tal, Zohar, Daniel, Matan, Liron, Ofri, Leo, and Sagie left over with him while the rest of the group sat around and talked.  I was fortunate enough during this time to see some of Sas’s best dance moves (your welcome for mentioning this).

Before long, Nadav was done talking to the Israelis and we formed a giant circle.  Sean and Sas had small oranges that he handed out to a couple people so we could play a name game to get to know each other better.  Let me just say that there are few things that are as amusing as throwing an orange at someone as the skin starts to soften.  The orange definitely sprayed a couple of us, but I’m sure the citrus did nothing to hurt us.

After this game was over we played a game that is apparently the basis for speed dating.  We were put into two different circles that faced each other and after two minutes we would shift.  Sean and Sas would give us a topic to talk about like cereal, or a favorite movie or something and for two minutes we’d talk about it.  Definitely helped me to get to know the people in our group better.

Once we were done speed dating, we were put into smaller groups where we had to come up with cheers.  Led by Daniel the Israeli, we decided that we were the best team and our cheer was just to huddle and say this.  Some of the other teams cheers were far more amusing, but not necessarily safe to mention on this blog for those involved.  I assure you that they were amusing; I just don’t really feel like sharing them.  This is when we learned out larger group cheer (can I get a hoorah?).

Following all of this fun on a random field, it was time to hit the road.  Before we left we all went to use the bathroom, but there was some confusion over which bathroom was which, leading to a female invasion of both bathrooms.  Apparently the urinals didn’t give away which one was which, but then again, I didn’t enter either bathroom so who knows?

From there, we were on the bus for a while.  I zoned out listening to my iPod for a while until we finally reached our first major destination of the day Sderot.  The name Sderot may not ring a bell to you, as I don’t honestly remember often seeing its name highlighted in the news.  Sderot is a city that borders the West Bank and Gaza.

The first thing I noticed upon exiting the bus was a sign that said, “Danger of Death”.

I thought the sign was referring to the area.  It wasn’t until later that I was told it was to make sure children didn’t try to climb the pole and get electrocuted.

Nadav informed the group that no matter where you were in most of Sderot, you were with in 10-15 seconds of a bomb shelter.  If you were to hear the alarm saying a rocket was being dropped, it was time to run and find one of these, because the alarm only gives you fifteen seconds.

The strange thing about Sderot as a city was its beauty.  It reminded me of standing on Omaha Beach in France.  Sderot is a beautiful city, but war makes it a scary one for some to be in.

After a couple minutes, we piled back into the bus and drove near an area where we could see the Gaza Strip.

We stood on a giant pile of dirt where it was fairly easy to see Gaza as well as in the far distance Egypt.  Nadav told us the story of an attempt by terrorists to destroy a power plant near the Gaza Strip, which ironically enough would have taken out power in Gaza.  It was crazy, but so much of what goes on in the Middle East is.

Nadav did his best to explain the relations between Palestinians and Israelis and all of the conflict related in a short period of time.  A crash course of sorts on the subject explaining the elections that brought Hamas to power.  He also explained the fact that it seems almost more likely that there will be a three state solution than a two state one.

This made me think about conversations I’ve had in the past couple years about terrorism.  There is a great episode of the West Wing that talks about this and the ongoing debate about what makes a terrorist.  A terrorist is only a terrorist to one side typically and a patriot to another.  I personally have trouble understanding anything patriotic or brave about shooting rockets from hospitals to avoid face retaliatory fire.

After standing on the hill of dirt for a while, we all started to walk down because it was time to go to talk to some of the local people of Sderot.  Before doing this, we stopped at a local makeshift museum rockets shot from Gaza were being kept.  They were sorted and spray painted with the dates they were shot.

 

We visited a local synagogue and talked to a woman who had moved from the US to Israel and lived in Sderot with her children because her family lived there.  She talked about how despite war, you had to go on with life.  She mentioned turning running to the bomb shelters into a game for her kids and that really made me feel awful.  I can’t imagine having to do something like that, but it was part of the expectation in this town.

After listening to the woman and asking her some questions, the Rabbi of the synagogue we were in showed us a film about the town.  It showed how beautiful the town could be, but how dangerous it was at times.  It was really powerful to watch.

What amazed me probably the most was that everything and everywhere had a bomb shelter.  Even the playground had a bomb shelter, which looked like a giant cement caterpillar.  

After fooling around for a couple minutes on the playground, it was time for lunch.  I could hear my stomach growling pretty loud, so I was happy to go.  We got back on the bus and drove to a small downtown type area in Sderot for lunch.

In the Sderot area it looked pretty busy in the first place we looked, so Emily, Hillary, and I looked for another place to go.  We found a place where the people didn’t speak English.  We couldn’t figure out what they were serving, so we asked some people sitting at a table outside while Emily went to the bathroom to change.

They asked where we were from and we were answered with the familiar “welcome home”.  We waited a couple minutes until we heard another woman come and say hi.  She wanted to know where we had been.  The guys at the table also wanted to know what we were doing in Sderot.  That one was certainly tough to explain.

Emily finally finished in the bathroom and went finally decided to go to the first really busy place that we had passed.  We stood in a fairly long line, but it moved pretty quickly.  After much debate, I decided to order schwarma for the first time and had it spicy.  It is quite possibly one of the most delicious things I’ve ever had and the nice cold coke I had with it certainly didn’t hurt.

 

Following lunch, we walked over to a nearby convenience store where we bought snacks for Masada since we would be waking up so early to climb the next morning.  I bought Cheetos as a joke since I thought it was the most American thing I could eat on Masada.  They turned out to be peanut butter ones, which was kind of interesting.

After I bought Cheetos and the girls bought some other things (I wasn’t paying attention) we spent half an hour looking for the bathroom and nearly were late for the bus looking for it.  The bathroom was certainly not one of the cleanest ones I’ve been in to say the least.  The girls decided to wait to use a different bathroom if that gives you any idea.

We loaded on to the bus to the where I found members of our group eating ice cream with the tiny spoons.  Only in Israel do they give you 6 tiny spoons instead of one normal sized one.  It was time for another long ride.  We loaded on and I was ready for a little nap.  I probably slept for five minutes.  I don’t sleep well on buses, unlike my bus buddy Megan who I’m pretty sure could sleep standing up in Macy’s next to a crying baby.

After going over the river and through the woods (okay, I mean around crazily curved mountains in the desert) we finally arrived at the Bedouin camp.  When we got there, we got off the bus for a second and stretched; only to go back on the bus and grab our stuff to put down in the tent we’d be spending the night in.  From there, we had a bathroom break (yeah, we have lots of bathroom breaks in Israel).  I was expecting a random really crappy bathroom, but it was just a regular bathroom with regular plumbing?

After messing around back in the tent for a little bit, it was finally to go ride the camels.  To go along with the camels were a bunch of Donkeys, which led to many jokes about dat ass.  Yeah, we are all over 18, but dat ass is still funny.  I rode a camel with Megan (she who sleeps a lot).

She chose the front of the camel and regretted that decision immediately.  She was pretty afraid while I stayed in the back, held on for dear life, and pretended not to be afraid at all and made fun of her.  I’m sure she appreciated it.

After we rode our camels, took amusing pictures, and a few of us fell off of donkeys, it was time to go learn about the Bedouins.  We went into a tent where they taught us about Bedouin hospitality.  They served us little cups of coffee and tea.  The coffee was really strong, but then again, I’m not a coffee drinker (hot chocolate all the way!).  I was amused by all the questions we asked of our Bedouin woman host.  She seemed to get a little defensive, but I figure I would have as well.

As in everywhere else in Israel, a cat walked into the tent and walked through us as we continued our questioning of the Bedouin woman.  She told us how Bedouins let guests know they aren’t welcome any more.  Just as a hint for the future, if I fill your cup too high, it either means get out or that I’ve had too much to drink.

After learning about Bedouin hospitality, we had a little bit of time before dinner started.  I stood with some of the rest of my group and watched a large group of kids from Argentina play soccer.  It made me miss my soccer playing days, well at least it did until a kid kicked another one in the face and a fight broke out.  These kids were pretty intense about their soccer.

It was finally time for dinner.  When I first sat down, I accidently plopped down on a damp cushion (fail), so I relocated to another one that was close by.  I ate with Greg and Carly.  Midway through the meal, we were joined by Nadav.  Dinner was basically making your own falafel, with community plates.  It was pretty tasty and before long I was full.  I also hate sitting with my legs crossed, so I was happy to stand up after the meal.

It wasn’t that late after dinner, but I was already pretty tired.  I left the tent after a little bit to go put on my pajamas (amazing CofC sweatpants duh!) and snuggled into my sleeping bag at around 8:30 and slept until around 10 or 10:45 when I woke up to someone else screaming in the tent in their sleep.  I let them know and decided it was time to just get up and go to the bathroom.

When I came back, a couple people were outside around the fire next to the tent.  I stood out there for a good couple hour as we talked about movies, television, life, and politics.  It was one of those nights where you remember it being amazing, but you can’t really adequately describe it to another person.

Finally sometime before 2 AM, I decided along with the others around the fire it was time to go to bed and I rolled up into my sleeping bag and attempted to get some sleep so I wouldn’t be entirely dead before climbing Masada.

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