Lots and Lots and Lots

The title of this post says it all! These past 2 weeks have been a ton of everything! I’ve felt totally busy yet totally happy–it’s been a great few days!

For starters, about two weeks ago Elad told me that he was taking me to see “my family”. Um, excuse me? I believe we’re in the wrong country for that.

After driving for a few minutes we arrived in Ramat Gan at the National Park Safari/Zoo. Reeealll funny buddy, reeealll funny.

I’d never been to one of these car safaris before so there was a fair amount of high-pitched girly squealing involved.

Can I take one home?

We also went to the zoo portion, which was fun. Honestly, I’ve never seen such a large and beautiful zoo before. Even the Berlin zoo doesn’t compare!

It was a lot of fun!

The rest of the weekend went by with a mix of volunteering, Ulpan, and regular old balagan. Then the following weekend we went on our last group camping trip (and it was the best one yet!)

Instead of the usual 2 days, we took off for 3 days in the Golan. There were so many great components to this trip, I know it’s one that I’ll remember forever.

Day one began with a 7am wakeup call and a 3-hour bus ride up north. We started our journey with a trip to the Golan Heights Winery.

Our guide gave us a tour of the winery, which was slightly disappointing. It’s pretty modern-looking and not very “classic,” but let’s be real, Israel is not exactly known for its wine selection.

However, the best part of the whole thing? The finale! A tasting of 3 different wines!

So after we were all good and drunk before noon on a Friday (I kid, I kid!), we went to a look-out point and talked about Syrian-Israeli relations.

That village you see in the distance is a part of Syria.

The Golan Heights were originally Syrian territory, however this all changed after the 1967 Six-Day war. During the war Israel was consistently shelled and took control of the Golan Heights in order to end the attacks. After the war ended Israel did not cede the land back to Syria and cited protection as their reason for doing so. During the 1973 Yom Kippur War, Syria came back into the Golan before being pushed back once more by Israeli forces. In 1974, a ceasefire agreement was signed, which gave Israel the majority of the Golan. Since then discussions have occurred in terms of how to partition the land, but little progress has been made. Let’s just say that Israel and Syria are still not exactly the best of friends.

We sat out on this overlook with our guide Reut and discussed the problems plaguing the region. We had a great group conversation and I learned a lot about the dynamics between Israel and the rest of the Middle East.

I also happen to think it’s hilarious that this map is the size of Lisa (who is pretty darn short), but that’s neither here nor there.

Next up we drove to a Druze village where we enjoyed the most delicious meal of the trip! But first, a bit about the Druze. The Druze are a religious Arab community, who live primarily in Syria, Lebanon, Israel, and Jordan. The Druze do not see themselves as belonging to a particular country (ie, Israel, Syria, etc). Rather, they see themselves as belonging to the land. Whatever country controls the land (and that changes quite often in this crazy political environment), that is where their loyalties lie. So, for example, most Israeli Druze serve in the Israeli army and often choose to serve in the most intense of combat units.

We were invited into the home of a Druze woman who cooked us an amazingly delicious meal.

Homemade hummus, stuffed grape leaves, and white beans in tomato sauce? Yes please.

This lady was also beyond adorable and so so excited to have us all there.

She spoke with us about life in the Druze village and then we took off for our last stop of the day…the Kinneret!

My friends keep making fun of me because I say that every place we go reminds me of some location back home. So at the risk of being insulted by the nine people I live with, I’m going to say that the Kinneret totally reminded me of Cape Cod.

Truly beautiful.

We hung out in the water and took a stroll along the shore.

Then we set up camp! (And gave each other back massages?)

And by set up camp I mean we just laid out all our stuff and slept under the stars. Post-s’mores eating of course.

The next day started off with…*drum roll please*…CHOCOLATE!!

We hopped on the bus and took off for a Kibbutz where they specialize in chocolate-making. The man who lead our chocolate-making session actually sells his products all over Israel (so you know it’s gotta be good!).

We spent the next few hours dressed like fools.

Making chocolate shapes!

Making truffles.

Eating tons of chocolate.

And basically bathing it in.

Nothing wrong with having chocolate all over your face.

After this we went rafting down the Jordan river! I didn’t take my camera (for fear of water damage), but let’s just say that it was balagan. The river was not wild at all and yet I had about 16 bruises and was bleeding from the knee when it was all over. That may or may not have had something to do with a paddle stealing war.

After the rafting we had an optional hike to a natural spring. I was exhausted, but if you know me you know that I hate to miss out on anything. I went on the hike (which started off in a daze) but it was well worth it by the end.

When we first hit the trail head we were met by this sign.

Mines you say? Oh okay, guess I’ll stay on the trail.

We walked up a wet bouldery trail.

And wound up here!

We also sat in this pool while fish nibbled on our toes! Nature’s own pedicure.

Yofi 🙂 After this we headed back to the Kinneret, went swimming, and passed out almost immediately. Exhaustion was setting in!

The next day marked one of the best hikes I’ve ever been on in my life. Unfortunately I have no pictures because I didn’t bring my camera. This hike involved not only walking, but also swimming and I didn’t want my stuff to get wet. We hiked through the hills of the Golan and swam in a few natural pools along the way. At one point the trail abruptly ended and we had to climb down a ladder into a pool–from there we had to swim through the pool in order to get back on the trail. Pretty crazy! I found this picture of the ladder/pool online.

It was a little frightening, but exhilarating all at the same time!

The only part of the hike that I didn’t enjoy was that my 10 shekel crocs from the shuk were not cutting it as water shoes. Should I go on this hike again, I will definitely be smarter about it next time!

After the hike ended we all went home to Tel Aviv. We were dirty, we were tired, but we were happy.

The next day (Monday) we left off on a trip to Hebron (I wasn’t joking when I said that these past few weeks have been go, go, go!). Hebron is a city located in the West Bank so we had to take a few precautions in order to go there.

We drove in an armored bulletproof bus.

And had a guard the whole time. However, our guard was wearing an Oscar the Grouch t-shirt, which I found to be a questionable choice for someone who is supposed to appear intimidating.

There were also army checkpoints every 5 feet and soldiers running around all over the place.

See how discreet my picture-taking skills are?

We went to the Tomb of the Patriarchs, which is supposedly where Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, Rachel, Leah, and Rebecca are buried.

I wish I could say it had been a profound religious experience for me, but it was not. I didn’t feel much while I was there.

After this we got a tour of the neighborhood from an Israeli who currently lives there. Now, a word on the people who choose to live in the West Bank. They’re crazy. Okay, that might be a bit harsh. I guess we could also call it “intensely patriotic.” The people who live here generally consider themselves the protectors of the Israeli frontier. They choose to live on highly contested land where they are not necessarily welcome, but they do this in order to “maintain a Jewish presence in the West Bank”. The Israeli government actually pays people to live in the West Bank in order to increase settlement. Is this a good idea? Probably not. Should we give the West Bank back? I’m not sure. Perhaps some of it. Needless to say the man who spoke to us about his stance on the issue was a little outta his mind.

He was also packin’ heat as you can see from the left. It was interesting to hear his views, but most of them were a little wack-a-doo and intensely anti-Arab.

We also visited a Yeshiva as well as an archeological site called Sussiya. I may or may not have been slightly checked out at this point, but it was still interesting to see.

Interesting day to say the least.

In the week following all this I volunteered, learned Hebrew, went to my program classes, ran around like a chicken with my head cut off, and even babysat. I got a babysitting job in north Tel Aviv, which has been going well so far (with the slight exception that I might be babysitting for the devil herself). Tamar is a precocious 3-year-old who, despite her parents insistence, is in fact not potty-trained. This was proven a few days ago when I told her that she had to go to bed. In response to this news she peed, shit, and vomited all over the floor. I have never seen someone have that adverse of a reaction to sleep before.

This week was closing week for the program and I have been pretty emotional about it. This program was really life-changing for all of us and I’m going to miss everyone so much.

We had a closing meeting on Tuesday and then partied on the beach all night.

The next day we had a party at Shapira for all those who had volunteered throughout the semester. All of the volunteers lined up with Didy for an end-of-semester photo. So ladies and gentlemen, without further ado, this is the fabulous Didy I have been gushing about all semester.

She. Is. Amazing.

I’ll post in a few days with my plans for the next few weeks! I’m sad that the program is ending, but my life will go on in Tel Aviv. I love this place and I’m just not ready to leave yet!

Have a great week!

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