Wednesday, July 12, 2006

...and here's Lebanon

While Hezbollah was getting ready to kidnap two soldiers, we were at the Dead Sea:

We had to get up at 6 in the morning to leave to meet my building where I work (there are at least 3 Poalim buildings within a 4 block vicinity of one another. This bank owns a LOT of real estate. ) However, the night before that, Jon was complaining of stomach aches/pains and took a LOT of Batami's medicine (she has everything, from Ben Gay, to Pepto Bismol, to Advil.) Right before we went to bed, he came and said he might go to the hospital. We said, don't go alone. If you need to go, we'll go with you. Just wake us up and let us know. And he's like, "No, no, I'll go." So at three in the morning, he woke us up and said, "I'm going to the hospital." We said, "Don't go alone, we'll come" but he left. Obviously he was not there for the trip in the morning. Usually, people from different departments come with us on trips. This time, a lot of people from marketing, some from financial advising, and some from HR came, including Revital, who is just awesome. I would like to start a Revital personality cult.

Anyway, so we all piled into the van that would take us for our adventures (there were maybe 15 people in our group) and Mark, the security guy, told us that Jon's mom had already called him three times. Danny joked, "What, she isn't on the plane yet?" If I ever go to the hospital, please don't freak out.

We left, and I was sitting next to Irit, who works as a financial adviser in Tel Aviv. It was really awkward because I am really bad at holding conversations with people I don't know, especially if I feel like I should be talking to them in Hebrew and they are trying to talk to me in English. The whole way was really awkward for me. Anyway, so I found out her parents immigrated from Romania in the 1960s and she still speaks Romanian, even though she was born in Israel. She lives in Rishon L'Zion and has two children, whose pictures she showed me on her cell phone. They are boys, and she told me about how the smaller one eats dirt and she can't stop him. I told her to teach her sons to be clean, because boys are really messy. And then I told her about how my boyfriend is the messiest person I know. ;) She said she would try, but it was hard when the little one ate dirt from the garden all the time.

Theoretically, the drive from Tel Aviv to Masada is 2 hours, but it felt like a lot more. In order to get to Masada, you have to go through Jerusalem. There are several roads to get to Jerusalem: one that goes through the west bank, and one that doesn't.

We passed Ramalla. Obviously, as you can see by this map, we were in the West Bank

It was fine, though, because where we were, the sepratation barrier was in place. It was maybe a 7' tall wall. Obviously I couldn't find any pictures of it because when I did a google search for sepration barrier all that came up were pro-Palestinian sites. So we passed through Arab towns and military check points, and then we were around Jerusalem. None of this is a big deal, I should tell you, and everything you have ever read on the news blows it out of proportion. The blatant anti-Israel propoganda and biased reporting makes me wonder how much more of the world I am misperceiving.

So when we got around Jerusalem, we started driving south...into the Desert! I had never been in the desert, so it was a lot of fun for me. If you've never been in the middle eastern desert, I suggest you go. It is very mystical and romantic and also VERY HOT. VERY VERY VERY HOT. Maybe it was 38 Celcius. Yeah. On the sides of the road, we started passing more sand, and Bedouin houses. I seriously don't know how they live. They have tents that look like they could blow away in the wind, and a rickety fence around the tents. The men and the women live in separate tents, and there are a few camels and donkeys around the tents. And they've continued to live like this, despite Arab wars, despite everything, despite the State of Israel, they just live like they did for hundreds of years. It seriously amazes me.

Then, we stopped at a gas station for cold drinks and to stretch. There were sand dunes and rocky outcrops and very small amounts of brush. It is fun to be in the desert. Except it was scorching hot. There was also a camel tied up at the gas station and I wanted to pet him, except the Arab that owned the camel said it cost 10 shekels, and that made me sad
Pictures cost more, so I didn't take any, but actually, this is probaby the exact gas station and the exact camel:
Although, why are there Asians there? And I think I don't fit in!

Sooo, we all got back in and continued going south. The first place we came to was Ein Gedi, which is WAYYYY in the desert. This place is mentioned in the Bible, and is known for a lot of the water present here, which allowed for farming and agriculture. There is also a synagogue that dates back reeeeeeallllly far and we saw the excavation of it-it was really neat. But it was really hot, so I have no clue how anyone lived there. There was also a kibbutz founded in 1956 that was here. It really makes you appreciate what people went through to found this country-fending off hostile Arab tribes, the heat, the lack of falafel in the 1950s, etc. Yay Zionists!

We left after 15 minutes (we had a tour guide with us who explained everything and she explained about how they found the synagogue, how they excavated it, and how in this synagogue, the women and the men sat together. I am under the impression that people were a lot more lax about everything back in the day. Kashrut? Dude, I'm lucky I FOUND some wild pigs to eat today. Feast time!

After we left Ein Gedi, we drove up to Masada. I've heard the stories and seen movies about it so many times before that all that was left for me to do was to check it off and actually visit it. There was a really nice museum and we went up by cable car instead of climbing either the Roman installation or the snake path (saving time and heat stroke.) We went up with a group of British tourists who made me want to kill them with their obnoxiousness, but other than that, it was good.

I was just in disbelief the whole time that someone (well, a crazy someone-Herod, and later, craaazy zealots) had managed to make a life here. They didn't have a cable car. Our tour guide told us about how Herod had caves dug out to collect rain, which fell three times a year, and that he made a swimming pool from the water, to show the other surrounding kings that he could have a swimming pool in the desert, an enormous symbol of power. He also had enough food (from Ein Gedi) for his people and also had a Roman system of heating/cooling the floors built (I got really excited because I am a Roman achitecture nerd and I remembered learning about the cauldarium and the frigidarium and the terpidarium!!!!!) Lucky for me, there is a lot of Roman architecture in Israel, seeing as to how the Romans basically subjugated the Jews and chilled in Jerusaelm for a while. Not that I'm bitter.

So, we went around the whole site and Shimoni, our tour guide, told the story about how they all drew straws to kill each other, and how symbolic it was. Told us that Herod killed his wife and his two sons. How nice. To clarify, there were two groups of people that lived on Masada. King Herod came here first from Jerusalem:

According to Flavius Josephus, a 1st-century Jewish historian, Herod the Great fortified Masada between 37 and 31 BCE as a refuge for himself in the event of a revolt. In 66 CE, at the beginning of the First Jewish-Roman War (also called the Great Jewish Revolt) against the Roman Empire, a group of Jewish rebels called the Zealots (kana'im, "zealous ones") who objected to Roman rule of Judea (as the Roman province of Iudaea, its Latin name).
And then the zealots followed. You could compare these zealots to the Taliban, except they were Jews. Also, they did not wear the turbans. Also, there was not a satirical movie made by Trey Parker and Matt Stone about them.

So, after we learned about Masada, we left. It was fun. The one thing I am truly surprised by is that Adi, a marketing department member, came with us on the trip. SHE IS 6 MONTHS PREGNANT. And she went on Masada. Is this ok? Again, emphasizing the fact that every Israeli woman is pregnant. This is not bad at all. Where is this Jewish population erosion myth? I really don't see how the Arabs can top that, except that if each Arab woman has three in one go. And that means they are on some wicked hormones.

So, after Mesada, we drove to the Dead Sea. We stopped at this Hotel for lunch:

and the eating was good. Let me tell you about it, because I always do. First, it was a buffet. That should tell you everything you need to know. But just in case you don't, here's what I ate: olives(I used to hate olives, now I eat them every day-you should be proud, mom), humus, Israeli salad, chopped vegetables (tomatoes and bean sprouts), rice with vegetables, fish fillet, black bread (that actually tasted like black bread), more Israeli salad, a brownie and a piece of halva. The eating was good.

After that, Talia, Batami and I went to change for our adventure in the Dead Sea. We went up to the Dead Sea. It is reallllly weird. Realllly weird.Because there are no waves and there is SALT on the shore. Literally salt and the shore for a couple inches is filmy white because of the salt. We went in. It wasn't that bad. I didn't have too many cuts and scrapes, so I felt like I was ok. The water literally tastes like table salt. And you float! It's a lot of fun. But kind of eerie too. After maybe 20 minutes, we were thoroughly salty and we got out. After you're in the Dead Sea and you rub your fingers together, they feel slimy because of the salt. It's interesting.

We washed off and went to the pool. But we were sad that there was no black mud-it's only in Ein Gedi. The hotel has a full range of Dead Sea services, including salt pools, sulfur baths, and mud massages. It must be really nice to come for a weekend to just relax, and that's what a lot of people in the bank actually do. Get away for a weekend in the winter.

After the pool, We towled off and left to go back. I slept the whole way back, except for when we stopped at a cafe and i got ice cream. Because it is HOT.

Now, about work. Work is good. I really do feel that I am being productive. Today, I finished a project proposal about Poalim's check-cashing project that could win a prize (if my writing is good enough-no pressure!) I also summarized a lot of marketing magazine articles into Powerpoint to present to Dafna. If there is one thing I have learned, it is that Microsoft Office is international, and that it is extremely important to learn it. Later on, I will probably be working on a Google-related project. I really don't want to say to much, because I don't know how many Leumi (competing bank) spies are reading my blog :)

And about the current situation: I am glad that the international community finally supports Israel (or it does, from my understanding), because what Israel is doing is totally correct. I mean, I was beginning to verge to the left a little bit-maybe Israel is not always right, maybe there is a reason terrorism exists, etc. But, we gave them the Gaza Strip, right? We started to give them autonomy, right? And what do they do? Kassams and kidnappings. Thanks, guys. Oh, and a big thank you to Hezbolla. You guys are going to pay for it. However, I can't really judge the Israeli reaction because my Hebrew is veeeery bad. I actually think it's regressed since I've gotten here. So I will just give you the straight-up Vicki scoop on stuff. I just realized after talking to Jeff yesterday online that there is a lot of stuff that I talk about that is very Israeli/Jewish, and the terminology may be foreign to some people, so if you don't understand something, please comment!

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