I finally finished The Lemon Tree this week, and this pretty much sums up how I feel. Minus the part about not wanting to read any more, because I have a seemingly endless list of suggested books to read and movies to watch (to anyone with a pending book list, if you choose to put this on it, I would definitely recommend it going close to the top). Maybe one day I'll get to the rest of them. Wishful thinking...
Anyways, after two weeks of being here I'm realizing that I'm probably not going to have any better understanding of human nature or conflict or this conflict in particular and how to make peace, or whatever I thought I wanted to figure out before I got here. I'm studying all of these things in my classes (since we have to register this week, my final list: Hebrew, Islamic Fundamentalism in the Arab World, Arms Control in the Nuclear Realm, Arab-Israel Relations, and Psychology of Resistance), but these classes are designed to challenge us and make us think about all the sides and approaches involved, not to find answers. I don't think there are any answers, just diverse human experiences. In a conversation I had this week, someone said to me "there are two peoples here, and they are both right." They're just looking at different sides of the elephant, or even different animals entirely (See the variations of The Blind Men and an Elephant). So how, in any place in this world, can we bring people together to have a conversation, to listen to others, and to be willing to take a step back and realize that their story is not the only one? The world is bigger than each of us, or our own families, or communities, whatever they may be (let alone the universe, but that's another story...) Since we're on a Calvin and Hobbes theme, though:
But I think that looking under rocks in the creek is a valuable activity too- yes, the world is a huge place, but it's the little things that teach us about others, the moments of connection, learning, openness, and trust. It takes little steps towards a deeper understanding, and I think now, that is what I hope to do here, and when I leave.
In the past week, I've spent a good amount of time turning over rocks myself. Last Thursday night (February 20) we went on a bar crawl down Haifa's stair-trail in the city (talk about lots of little steps...) and explored the smaller pubs in the area. We tried Tubi, Haifa's locally produced alcohol, and Palestinian beer, called Taybeh. After a stop for falafel, we called it a night. On Friday morning, I had breakfast with a friend who had been a captain in the IDF. We talked a lot about identities and the differences between expressed religious identity here and in the US. We also talked about public and civic service and what it means to be a part of a community. Our conversation really got me thinking a lot about various parts of my own identity and the way I've been brought up. Afterwards, I met up with people at the shuk for groceries (Note to self: never go to the shuk on a Friday afternoon at 2 pm- everyone is there before it closes for Shabbat. Oy.) We went home, rested, and then ended up having a barbecue with some guys that live downstairs from my apartment.
On Saturday, we went to part of Carmel National Park to hike Nahal Kelah, which is a four hour-long hike along a dried up river/creek type thing, so lots of actual rocks (Calvin and Hobbes was just so fitting this week) but no water. It took us an extra hour to first find the trailhead, but once we did, it was an awesome hike- a little tough on our ankles, but so worth it. At the end, there's a spring with clean drinking water and a few caves you can go into (see Facebook for pictures). Small steps to get over my slight claustrophobia, too...but all in all, an awesome day that left me with a clear head and light heart. I can't wait for more hiking trips- next week we're going to Machtesh Ramon, the craters in the Negev.
Sunday was our school trip to Jerusalem (not required, but a free bus). Our guide was the Contemporary Israel professor who showed us around from the New City to the Old City (another 6 hours of walking)- we saw the King David and Three Arches Hotels, King David's tomb, the Room of the Last Supper, the Western Wall, stopped for shawarma in the Jewish quarter, went to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and then had a few minutes for snacks before getting back on the bus home. Jerusalem makes me think a lot- it's a beautiful city rich with history and stories and stones that are time portals to centuries ago, but the things I can see from the top of the hill make me wonder.
Monday we had class again (at this point you probably don't even think I go to school here) but this week was still our trial period to see what classes and professors worked well for our learning styles and interests. I went to Islamic Fundamentalism and met an incredible professor who does things that I would love to do at some point in my life. I'm really looking forward to these classes and learning with and from my professors and peers.
On Thursday, after Hebrew, I took a bus to Netanya to visit a William & Mary alum who I met through my time as a Diversity Peer Educator. She's been working as a teaching fellow here since September. We walked to see the beach and had delicious little mini ice creams and caught up about living here, home, and school. From Netanya, we took a sherout to Tel Aviv and then a bus to Ashkelon for an Israeli Lacrosse game that my friend's friend was playing in. After the game, I stayed with my family in Ashkelon for a wonderful weekend spent walking around to see the end of Darom Adom season (the "red south" flower in the Northern Negev) and the historical national park in Ashkelon. They taught me how to cook some Israeli and Russian dishes, too- nice to bring back to my tiny little kitchen here with only a toaster oven and hot plates for cooking. On Saturday night I took the train back up north to stay in Netanya for the night and then back to Haifa Sunday morning.
A busy, eventful week, but one that has let me think, and given me more to think about. It's been nice to travel alone and be in my own thoughts, too..."As we daringly pursue our road...we are but black specks. On we go."