Sunday, May 27, 2007

Shalom Y'all!

Shalom! Yep, I am greeting you from the Middle Eastern paradise of Israel. I made it here in one piece, and Mike and I are enjoying ourselves as we tour around this amazing country.

Okay, first, I know you are dying to hear about the success/failure of my Starbucks mission. My plane landed in Paris 30 minutes early (6:00)…so I thought I was golden. I disembark and easily make my way to the metro station to go to downtown Paris. I met several nice people—I know, I was surprised to find nice French people too—who helped me navigate to the central train station. I was told to hop on this other subway and take it all the way to the end. I would be able to find my elusive Starbuck’s. Everything was going exactly according plan…as I passed the stops for the Louvre and the Arc de Triomph I couldn’t help but smile to myself. That’s right…I was doing it…I was in Paris. In your face all you naysayers!! It took a bit longer than I thought, but I finally made it to my station and realized that I was in a shopping mall…and there was a Starbucks. I got a little nervous when I saw that all the shops were closed…but there was no way that a Starbuck’s was closed. It’s a coffee shop, they open up early right? I make it up the stairs and my mecca comes in to view. My face drops as I see that the metal doors are closed…and locked! CLOSED? CLOSED! How could that be? It isn’t possible. I felt like Clark Griswold from Family Vacation. I should have broken in and make my own damn Caramel Macchiatto. At this point, the time at this point was 8:00 and the Starbucks didn’t open until 8:30. My flight left at 10:30 (boarding at 9:40)…did I have time to wait? I tried fruitlessly to find another neighboring—and open—Starbucks, but to no avail. Do I (A) wait until 8:30 for the Starbuck’s to open and get my macchiato and risk missing my flight, or (B) get back on the train…I am crazy, but nevertheless reason won out and I boarded the subway to go back to the airport. I felt so dejected as I rode the subway…to make matters worse some old lady boarded the train at the Louvre stop sipping on a steaming Starbucks beverage. I have never stolen anything, or ever felt tempted to hit an old lady…but I came pretty close here. I felt like she was taunting me with that thing. Anyhoo, I get back to the main station and switch over to the train that is going to take me to Charles de Gaulle. There is a HUGE crowd of people, and there is a lot of talking going on over the loudspeaker. The first train is being held up, and according to the monitor all the trains for CDG are “Delayed Departure”…commence heart attack please. At this point it is 9:15 . I have 25 minutes to make my boarding, and 1 hour 15 minutes until my flight takes off. Mike has already arrived at the airport and he has NO way of contacting me…so I am sure he is seething in the airport—especially since he called me about 5 times before I left Burkina to persuade me not to go on my insane mission. I board the next train which says that it is going to CDG, but as soon as the door closes the person standing next to me says…”Pardon me, this train isn’t going to Charles de Gaulle”…commence 2nd heart attack. He tells me I have to get off at the next stop, and pick up a different train. 9:25…clock is ticking away. I get out at the next stop, and once again the loudspeaker is going full blast, and I can see countless travelers throwing down their tickets, cursing, and running for the exits. OH SHIT! What? Then I listen very hard to the loudspeaker…what is this that I hear…”All trains departing for Charles de Gaulle are cancelled. Service has been interrupted.” At this point I about passed out…it was 9:30. I run out of the station and decide I am going to have to flag down a taxi. It is about 25-30 minutes to the airport from where we are, but all I have is 20 Euros…so I need to get some cab sharing partners. I spot an American couple from across the station and I dart over. Luckily, they are VERY nice…and we quickly decide to share a taxi. The only problem is that it is us, and every other person that wanted to go to the airport that is trying to hail a cab. We try for a while to get a cab, but none will stop. I am whispering expletives under my breath, and I continue to repeat, “This is my nightmare. Oh my gosh, Mike is going to kill me.” I see a man departing a taxi 20 yards ahead and I run and flag down the taxi man…because of some weird taxi laws he can’t pick us up there, but he will pull around. I was relieved to see that he actually did like he said. In the end, I made it to my gate at 10:10…with a very unhappy Mike glaring at me from across the terminal. All that craziness, about 30 Euros ($40 or so), and what did I have to show for it? Definitely no Starbucks…but I can laugh about it only because I made it to my flight…and I can’t ask for much better than that. Plus, little did I realize that Israel has the Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf…and I like that A LOT better than Starbucks!

I wish I could say that my blunders stop there…but of course I had to make an idiot out of myself at least one more time. Mike and I spent our first few days touring around the magical and ancient city of Jerusalem. From there we had booked a tour to Masada—this mountaintop Jewish fortress built by King Herod, and the site where over 900 Jews committed suicide rather than fall into the hands of the Romans—and the Dead Sea. We arrived at the hotel where we were waiting for the tour bus to arrive and pick us up. With all the hounding I get as a white person in Burkina I have become quite good at ignoring people that are trying to sell me things or bother me. Anyhoo, Mike walks away for a second to get us coffee and this man approaches me. “Taxi, Taxi?” is what I thought I heard him say. I quickly reply, “no, no…no thank you” and go back to ignoring all of those around me. Mike comes back from coffee, and we continue to wait. 20 minutes rolls by, and the tour company is late. About 10 more minutes later the tour company calls Mike on his cell phone. “We are here, where are you?” Of course Mike tells them we are waiting out front. They tell him they are going to come around again. So, another 5 mintues later the same taxi man that approached me before, approached again. At this point I’m like, “yo dude, I said no taxi…damn.” He keeps repeating himself, and Mike starts going over there. I kept telling Mike to ignore him, he is just a taxi guy. Well, as it turns out the man was not saying, “Taxi” but “Dead Sea”…as in our tour group. For 30 minutes about 8 people were waiting in a van, staring at us, and all because I thought this guy was trying to offer me a taxi ride. I even tried to pull Mike back when he went to talk to the guy. You would think he could have made an actual sentence like, “Tour to the Dead Sea” or “Are you going to the Dead Sea.” Oh well, they didn’t leave without us. I have just gotten so good at shutting out unwanted attention…

Anyhoo, besides a few minor blunders on my part, the trip has gone amazingly well. I have been very pleasantly surprised of the beauty of this country, and in our 10 days here Mike and I have managed to dot our way to several places. We went to Jerusalem for 2 days, spent 1 day touring Masada (a fortress built by King Herod on top of this plateau where all 900+ inhabitants committed suicide when the Romans defeated them) and the Dead Sea—you REALLY float…it is amazing. I had a few rashes and cuts left over from Burkina, and when I stepped in that water my whole body was on fire! Salt may be good for the wounds, but it definitely limited how long I could stay in the water. After that we returned to his Aunt’s house where we took a drive to a little mountaintop village. After that we headed up north to the Sea of Galilee (not really a sea, a lake…and the place that Jesus walked on water, and fed 5000 people with 2 fish and 5 loaves of bread). This I have to say was my favorite place. I love lakes muich more than oceans, and we had access to natural hot springs. We laid out on the “beach” and swam in the lake. We also took a drive up to the Golan Heights (not as dangerous as it was before). This area is AMAZING! We went to a nature reserve, checked out some waterfalls, ate at this really cute kibbutz, and just drove around admiring the scenery. After that we headed back and stopped off in Haifa—the 3rd largest city in Israel—a city that is built right into a mountainside. There we toured the Ba’Hai Gardens. This is a garden/shrine dedicated to the Ba’Hai faith. This garden was unbelievable, and built all the way up the mountain. The gardens were impeccable…I will try and post some pictures because there is no way I could do it justice with words. It houses a shrine to their founder—they believe that all religions are equal and at their core the same. They believe that men and women are equal, and await a day when there is one world government and one world language. I don’t know what I think about that…but I like the whole everyone is equal, we are all the same part. After that we headed once again back to Mike’s Aunt’s house where we relaxed, saw Pirates of the Carribbean: At World’s End—which I thought was quite good except for several plot holes/undeveloped characters, but on the whole a fun time.

I know some of you feared for my safety while I was in Israel…but worry not. As wars rage less than 50 kilometers away in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, the rest of Israel goes about their daily lives…they live and exist, in spite of all the violence and danger, normally and happily. Yes, every place you go you have to walk through metal detectors and have your bags searched, but it is a small price to pay, and it is a way of life for them now. Imagine if whole sections of your state…were completely off limits to go…an invisible line that you absolutely don’t cross! I was talking to Mike’s Aunt about the suicide bombings, and how she lives with it…I could never imagine that in America. I can’t imagine living every day thinking that a bomb could go off in a shopping mall or a movie theater. In such a calm and sure way she said, “Oh, it will come to America. It’s only a matter of time.” It was a shocking statement at first…but sadly a statement that is all too true. How long until the conflict and the fight comes knocking on our own doors? Before metal detectors and security guards start popping up at coffee shops, malls, and outdoor parks? All for what? For a religious ideal…it seems so absurd to me…but I guess you can’t make sense when you are talking about people that don’t have any…well…sense.

We are now preparing to go our separate ways—I to Africa, and Mike back to New York. I think it will be harder this time, not only to leave one another, but also to go back to my life. It is so difficult to wrap my head around the idea that a world like this—modernistic and capitalistic—exists outside of Burkina. How one place can have SO much, and another place have virtually nothing at all. It doesn’t seem fair, but at the same time that’s life…it isn’t exactly always fair or just. Plus, do I really want to see a place like Burkina become “Amercan-ized” with shopping malls and McDonald’s dotting the landscape? I put my third-world life on hold to join the first-world…and now I must go back. At least I have the option to switch around…

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