Thursday, March 26, 2009

i have typhoid in my stomach!

it's swimming around with my oatmeal. I think it's giving me a headache too.

Monday, March 23, 2009

all I know in arabic

shukran - thank you
la - no
ihh ter ah mik naf sik - behave yourself

I made Lisa teach me that last one on the plane when she was saying that sometimes Egyptian men come up to you and say "F--k me!" and things like that because you're a western lady, and I decided I wanted something sassy to say back instead of just blushing and being speechless. I haven't had to use it yet. I will post if I do. I hope I can pull it off.

first impressions of cairo.

after that mega picture post I want to go to bed. but, we're leaving cairo tomorrow morning to aswan, which will be the start of our cruise up (down? the nile is a confusing river... it runs north!) the Nile, and I think internet will be spotty from here on out. so...

Cairo is a smelly (burning oil from the old cars), dirty (really really dusty... it's a desert! but also excrement and cigarette smoke), crowded (I think like 11 million people live in Cairo proper, which is really nuts, I think more people live here then in all the rest of Egypt combined, but Lisa will have to confirm) town. I have to say I was COMPLETELY overwhelmed just driving from the airport to the hotel. While Lisa went for a walk, I bunkered down in the hotel, took a shower and watched American TV to comfort myself. We went to dinner and were approached by a zillion people wanting to show us how to get where (for a fee of course, running theme in Egypt). Additionally I wore a skirt (to the knees!) and felt totally uncomfortable... it was really too much for me. Sensory overload.

But after spending today out and about, while I think my first impressions are totally valid, I also think it's been an important lesson in not judging a country solely by the first few hours you're there. As it turns out, Cairo is also a beautiful, ancient, lively city full of people who will go out of their way to help you if you look lost and really want you to enjoy your time here (sure it may be because then they'll have people to pay their taxi fees, and buy their scarves... but I don't think that makes it any less pleasant).

So, while my eyes are still stinging from being outside today, and I'm totally put off and intimidated by the aggressive nature that pervades the big markets and major tourist spots... I also saw one of the most beautiful mosques of all time, and was led on a completely free tour of a coptic christian church by a woman who was just hanging out there waiting for someone to share her knowledge with. I guess maybe that's how it goes in any country in the world... some good stuff... some bad stuff... some good people ... some bad people... It's the same everywhere. Kinda comforting. For me anyway.

hazy, dirty town.

this isn't even the crowded part of the market. this is just where they ease you in to being in a crowded space and then after walking for 5 minutes you're completley penned in. this guy tried to pickpocket me but little did he know I don't keep anything in my pockets but dirty tissues. BURNED.

doors of coptic christian church

the most beautiful mosque. Lisa will post the name later, I'm not so good at those kinds of things. (EDIT: Al-Azhar... way to go Mama Rodriguez)

you have to take your shoes off to go into a mosque. kind of grody at first, but it's not like you eat with your feet. and cold marble feels gooood to a naked foot.

inside the mosque. each of those little rectangles is where they (the men, the woman part was tiny and not this luxurious) kneel, there are 12,000 "spaces" in this mosque. I wish I could remember the name, but it's one of the most important of all time and it is the highest center for the learning of islam in the world. my dad says it's "very highly regarded" but neither of us can remember the name (we're infidels), and we're both too lazy to look it up in the book. I swear, Lisa will eventually fill in the blanks.

on the top of the mosque. so many minarets!

look at those two policemen holding hands! it's not weird here in Cairo for guys to do that. however, a lady's naked head? SCANDAL.

Israel picture post!

me & nate at Ceasoria... me after 30 hours of transit and being awake. LOVELY!

lisa & mom at the bahai gardens in Haifa. so pretty! I heard there was a car bomb there yesterday or something. I hope it didn't hurt this garden (or people! duh!)

the old folks tricycles mentioned in kfar blum.

our walking tour of kfar blum, a barn.

cool/delicious restaurant in upper galilee. there was a peacock there!

my bros on an israeli humvee. they're so wacky! miss you guys!

syrian bunker overlooking some kibbutzim, captured during the 6 day war. SNEAKY.

my bros in the golan heights.

I think this would characterize a lot of our trip. I'm really cultivating a love of crossword puzzles. I might even see if Paul will bring me a new book in his baggage.

women working at sindayanna soap warehouse.

st. patrick's day in jeruselum with new friends. by far the best picture of lisa ever taken.

my dad (at the wailing wall... seriously, there were actually people there WEEPING!) in the most RIDICULOUS yamacle (sp?) ever. it was a disposable one he picked up earlier in the day and kept in his pocket for when it was needed (which is A LOT in the most holy city of all time). what a nut! he looked like a short order cook.

mom at the ayalone institute (see Lisa's post)

WOW. That took forever. Hope you enjoy.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Lisa's version of Israel...

Erin will tell you that I am an obsessive journaler when traveling, so apologies in advance for a very long post!

We just finished the first leg of our journey in Israel. We have spent the past week touring the country with the whole Yokel family (Erin's parents - Kathy & Uri, Grandma - Oma, and Brothers - Nate & Zack).
Our arrival into the country after 30 hours of travel was suitably adventurous and started with me being interrogated by an intimidating Israeli security guard because they saw the Lebanese stamp on my passport, luckily I seem to have answered their questions satisfactorily and was able to get through. Then we hopped into the wrong taxi at the Tel Aviv airport and ended up in Jerusalem instead of downtown Tel Aviv, where we were supposed to meet our traveling compadres. Luckily after a 2 hour detour we managed to meet the rest of the group and were immediately whisked away by our tour guide Kobie for a whirlwind up the coastal cities. First stop was Caesoria (Roman ruins), followed by Haifa (with a quick stop at the gorgeous B'hai gardens), Acca (where we ate our best meal in Israel at a small seafood restaurant called Uri Buri) and a final stop in Tivon (where we visited a cousin of Opa's) and ending our first day in Israel at Kfar Blum, the kibbutz that Erin's grandparents helped to found and where Uri lived until he was five.
It was really special to tour Kfar Blum with Oma because a few of her old friends met up with her during the tour and it was really amazing to think how much history they lived through and the heroic efforts that they made in escaping war torn Europe and establishing the state of Israel. When we passed a gravestone commemorating the first casualty from the kibbutz during the 1948 war Oma told us that he had died at the medical infirmiry where she worked. I must say that kibbutz life is very idyllic (lush greenery, a perfectly planned community with lots of children running around along the Jordan river and old people scooting around on motorized tricycles) but also bizaar and completely insular to the "real world". It was interesting to talk to some of the older generations at Kfar Blum -- the people like Oma who came from Europe and founded the whole idea and the next generation of first-generation Israelis who grew up and stayed on the kibbutzes -- and to sense the nostalgia that they have for the early days of kibbutz life and see some of their disappointment as the idea is being met with a new reality of a younger generation that is increasingly moving to larger cities. Kfar Blum is now staffed by many non-members and has built a lovely spa to attract Israeli and foreign tourists as an alternate source of income. Their main sources of income, creating innovative irrigation technologies and electronics, are now even outsourced to manufacturing plants in China -- welcome to globalization!
After two days at Kfar Blum we headed south to Jerusalem. On our way down, Erin and I spent an afternoon in a small town near Nazareth at Sindyanna of Galilee, an organization that Ten Thousand Villages buys olive oil soap from. The organization's primary purpose is to provide employment to Arab women. We spent the afternoon visiting with 5 women who were packaging an order of Ten Thousand Villages soaps and also talking to Hadas, the founder of the organization. It was fun for me to use some of my (very) rusty arabic skills talking to the women. Hadas is also a very interesting person -- she is a Jewish Israeli woman who grew up on a kibbutz and had a transformative experience during her college years that led her to decide to devote her life to workers rights and improving the status of Arab women in Israel by creating job opportunities. I enjoyed getting a different perspective on current events in Israel from her.
We spent the next day in Jerusalem. On my first trip to Jerusalem and also on this more recent visit I have found the city to be both incredibly beautiful but also painful to visit. We spent an entire morning touring Yed Vashem, the Holocaust museum. It is an excellent museum and memorial to the people who died or lost loved ones in the Holocaust. One of the most moving exhibits was a large stone monument that was built to reflect the map of Europe and has stone carvings for each of the Jewish communities that was impacted by the Holocaust. It is almost too much to take in the massive scope of it at once. We were able to find the cities in Czech Republic and Austria where Erin's grandparents lived prior to the war and where they lost many of their relatives during the war. Later, inside of the museum, Kathy was able to locate the record for Uri's grandfather, Karl Jokl, among the records of the Holocaust victims -- he died in 1944 at Auschwitz.
In the afternoon we toured the old city and many of the religious historical sites. There is a lot of palpable tension in the country between the Jewish Israelis and Arab Israelis and Palestinians. Jerusalem seems to encapsulate these tensions more than any other place, partly because of the geography of the old city. It is amazing to think about all of the history that has taken place -- to go from the Church of the Holy Sepulchar to the Wailing Wall, with a view of the Dome of the Rock and see how significant this place is to Christianity, Judaism and Islam. It is sad that such a holy and spiritual place is also the source of some of the world's most painful and violent conflicts.
After leaving Jerusalem we had a nice respite from our fast-paced agenda with visits to Mossada and the Dead Sea. We went to the Mossada in the morning. It is a large mountain near the West Bank where the oldest synagogue in Israel, built by King Herrod, sits on top of a mountain. It is the site where the Jewish army took a heroic last stand before being defeated by the Romans. The hike up the mountain was pretty steep, but the views from the top were spectacular overlooking the dead sea. We spent the afternoon relaxing at a spa near the Dead Sea where we took a dip in the mud pit and floated in the sea, ending up in the hot springs with a glass of wine:)
The next day we toured Jaffa and Tel Aviv and went to a fairly small museum called the Ayalone Institute, which was the site of a secret bullet factory that operated from 1945-48. The factory was built underneath a kibbutz and operated under cover until the founding of Israel. The people who worked there had to keep it a secret from their families and other members of the Kibbutz. It is a relatively small historical site, but it had a huge significance in the 1948 war. Its amazing to think that the people who risked their lives to work there were 6 years younger than me when it started.

On our last day it was just Erin and me, her family left the day before, and we decided to take a break from touring and enjoyed a deliciously lazy day lounging on the beach in Tel Aviv. Today we left Tel Aviv and landed in Cairo, but not before enduring another intense interrogation by Israeli security on the way out of the country...!

Saturday, March 21, 2009


Earlier this week Lisa & I made a stop on our way from the Northern Galilee to Jeruselum, in a little industrial town called Kufr Kana. There we met and talked with Hadas Lahav, a cofounder of a group that's working at empowering Arab women through craft work. The warehouse we visited was where the olive oil soap they make is packaged and shipped.

I found Hadas' efforts at enfranchising the Arab minority to be really inspiring. Lisa and I have had many conversations this week on the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as we get glimpses of what life is like here for both Israelis and Palestinians. It's a really sad state of affairs (duh), but I have to say visiting Israel has made me wonder even more if it is even possible for it to be resolved. Everyone is right and everyone is wrong and no one wants to admit any fault. Discussions immediately dissolve into percieved criticisms and defensive stances.

I think what Hadas is doing, through fair-trade, is a very insidious way of attacking a problem indirectly enough to avoid criticism. Go buy her soap! It smells really nice!

Friday, March 20, 2009

yullah, yullah, yullah

Descending into Tel Aviv in the wee hours of the morning was kind of magical. Through every break in the clouds I could see nothing but darkness, suddenly we descended below the cloud line and there were the thousand tiny lights making up Tel Aviv and it's suburbs.

I've always heard so much about Israel from my grandparents, who lived there after fleeing Europe on the eve of World War II. My grandma, Shoshanna, particularly always described it in such glowing terms. She told the story (over and over, in exactly the same way) of leaving Vienna at the age of 15, when it was dark and rainy, cold and unwelcoming and arriving in Haifa (a beautiful, San Francisco-esque port city) in what was then Palestine. There it was warm and sunny with palm trees everywhere and the scent of oranges in the air.

She really wasn't wrong in that description. (Unfortunately, you'll have to trust me because I can't access the USB hub on this computer, so no pictures for now!)

But first - Tel Aviv. We arrived at the airport very bleary after 30 hours in transit, and somehow managed to get ourselves on the wrong bus.. ending up on the road to Jeruselum. Luckily a very nice orthodox expat with morning sickness and a bad wig, let us use her cell phone to call my parents who were waiting for us at the hotel. After another bus ride back to Tel Aviv and a taxi to our hotel, we were reunited... only to hit the road again. We drove up the coast through Ceasarea (Roman ruins) and Haifa (B'hai Gardens) and Accre (really good seafood served at a really cool sea wall). After a quick visit with an old friend of my Grandma's, we pulled in to Kfar Blum, the kibbutz that my grandparents helped build and where my dad was born.

We were greeted by a barrage of old folks, and the Hebrew love-fest began. The next day we got a tour by a really lovely friend of my grandma's, Moishe, who is the son of one of my grandparents best friends when they lived in Kfar Blum. It was indescribably idyllic. I really never imagined Israel being so green and mountainous. But, in the north it is. The kibbutz layout really reminded me of the Dharma Iniative from LOST. They have the schools, mess hall, library, grocery store all on campus. And people ride around on the interconnecting sidewalks on bikes (or little bike scooters for the old folks).

The rest of our time in Israel consisted of being driven around by our slightly racist and extremely zionistic driver, Koby, who colored the entire trip with his slightly offensive asides... but... what are you gonna do? Lisa & I exchanged quite a few eye rolls.

We also did Jeruselum, Sfat, the Massadah (epic upward hike in the desert to some ruins) and a spa on the Dead Sea (lots of floating and mud). But I'm running out of time on this computer, so I'll haveto keep it brief. Jeruselum was really kind of odd and creepy, but the nightlife was suprisingly robust... We went through Sfat so quickly, I'm not sure what to say about it, the West Bank was way bigger than what I imagined, and was a total desert as far as I could tell...

Now we're back in Tel Aviv, and have a day to ourselves tomorrow.. we intend on sleeping in and hanging out... I would characterize this trip as packed full, and really hectic. We saw a lot, but we're both competely exhausted. We're hoping Egypt will be slower paced, and will include at least one afternoon by the pool. Hopefully I can figure out how to do a picture post soon!

And I think in the future I'll try to not cram so much in to each post. This was kind of stressful! Hope everyone is doing well at home! XOXO.