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Friday, December 5, 2014

Back to Tel Aviv from Jerusalem, entry two.

I left you last time at Avrum's pseudo-hostel, a place where he's trying to make his own hostel from scratch. The bedrooms, though cramped and crowded, are in the warm house while the drafty kitchen and living room are just outside in a big open space with a roof and walls made of tarps.

Although I felt very welcome the first time I stayed, for the three days before Thanksgiving weekend at my third cousins, this time was the opposite.

As I said in my last post, there was a miscommunication between me and the head of the place, Avrum. Though we quickly settled the issue though with my apology I think he stuck in his head that I was a moron for not interpreting his email correctly. He was very curt the rest of my time there and gave me tasks to do through a middle man, one of the other guests, like clean up the yard. The next morning, Tuesday December 2nd, I woke up to the sound of arguing, so I stayed in bed to avoid that conflict.

To make a long story short, Avrum got overwhelmed and released his anger at me, asking me to leave. He made some rude remarks to me too, saying I couldn't follow instructions. Beo, the Norwegian journeyman, gave me 200 shekels ($50) as I left as a little help to find my footing to which I am very grateful for. Thank you, Beo!

I went to the first place I could find wifi, a museum, and spent the next seven hours there trying to find a CouchSurfing host for the night, as well as doing various other emails and facebooking. Just as things were looking dim someone responded to me and I went straight to her place in Pisgat Zeev, a suburb north of Jerusalem, via the train. Thanks to the musuem guard who gave me ten shekels for the train and an IDF soldier who stayed with me during the ride helping me out since she was headed my way anyway, I got to Miri's place just after 9. Though we couldn't talk long and she had to leave early the next morning she gave me hot soup, a hot shower, a comfy bed, and the key to have her place to myself the next day.

After eating a lot and reading my nook, I took off on the train back south to Jerusalem where I hung out at the Abraham Hostel for a few hours to use their wifi. It eventually became time to move on to my next CouchSurfing host, Elyakim, who lives in Nachalat, a neighborhood near downtown Jerusalem. He had to leave for an hour soon after I arrived during which I used the time to do some emails and FaceTime with my Dad thanks to the wifi. When he got back we talked for hours about our travels, Israeli culture, and the similarities and differences in our lives. With the same amenities Miri gave me I took off the next morning.

Though it was only my second time hitchhiking ever, I pulled it off remarkably well with a straight shot from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv. The guy spent most of his time talking on the phone in Hebrew but I gathered from our brief conversations that he's going through a divorce and trying to get a lot of money from his wife's rich parents, he hates cats, and he's "right wing" in that he wants Palestinians and arabs out the country since they are so violent towards Israelis. I wasn't about to take on that subject with my only ride to Tel Aviv but I nodded and smiled. He dropped me off as close as he could and I walked two hours straight for the beach.

It was on my way to there, walking through Tel Aviv, when all of a sudden, "SHOW ME WHAT DEMOCRACY LOOKS LIKE!" came blasting out the radio of a falafel shop. Confused, I asked the owner what he was listening to. He couldn't speak English but a customer translated it was an Israeli news station broadcasting the protests of the police killings in America. I told him I have friends there protesting. Great work guys, your voices are heard all over the world. Solidarity from Israel and occupied Palestine.

At the beach I read Chomsky's Gaza in Crisis on my nook and carved designs into an avocado pit (see pic) to sell and fund my travels. The first one easily sold for five shekels ($1.25) though I think the old, white lady bought it out of sympathy. Next I'll paint it and up the price to twenty-five shekels.

At 8 that night I went to a meeting for All That's Left, an activist group of diaspora Jews opposed to the Israeli occupation of Palestine. I spent most of the discussion listening, chiming in only to let them know about my essay critiquing Birthright propaganda, but it no doubt felt great to stay in touch with the Left during my travels, continuing my streak of activism that I developed over the past two years at home. At the end of the meeting we took a group photo to show solidarity with the protests against police killings at home, (see the facebook pic here).

The meeting slowly dispersed though I stuck around since the hosts let me crash there for the night. A few of us went out to dance clubs after pregaming with vodka. In the morning I hung out with the two of the ATL members who lived there, learning some Arabic from one and getting served breakfast. Thank you so much for hosting me!

The next morning I walked to the Milk and Honey hostel in Jaffa where I secured a job working in return for shelter for the next month. Breakfast will come with it but I'll have to buy the rest of my meals on my own, so maybe I'll sell art to fund that. Any other ideas?

I ran along the beach up to the US Embassy where I met my Dad's friend Melissa at 3 pm who returned the water bottle I left at her place and ran back stopping to do some pushups in the sand a few times.

This hostel place seems pretty chill so far, just a few workers, one level with maybe thirty beds at most, a few blocks from the beach.

After spending a few hours at the hostel I felt the sudden loss of the joy I felt the past 12 hours staying ATL. I was now back in the mainstream world, or at least the "not-left." I mean, there's definitely the traveler type of person that eschews the mainstream but they're much different than activist types. Contrast the hippies that obsess over astrology and energy crystals with the organizers that build social movements and change the course of history. Basically, the difference between the United States and Israel felt far less than the difference between the United States and the underground radical left activism within my homeland.

Let me back track a bit. Five years ago I got my first urges to go travel, wanting to break free from the mental blocks that obstructed my life at home, stress, anxiety, and depression. In my mind, years of therapy and pills weren't working, and only a radical lifestyle shift would work to rejuvinate my mind.

In the past three years however, I've increasingly been learning and getting involved with radical left wing activism. It did nothing short of upend my worldview and led me to discover a vibrant underground culture of activism within my home country. It was with these people and spaces that I started to feel, you know, that sense of meaning people say is required in life (I could write a lot about how I think it's absurd that life has any inherent meaning but there's at least a psychological well-being factor that makes people happy despite the absurdity). There's so much energy and passion within these circles with rediculously intelligent people. Living with people who want to change the world and are actually doing is completely invigorating, it's a sense of community unmatched before in my life.

The ten days of my Birthright trip for example was just another vacation, another tack on my board of world travel, and wasn't life changing at all despite what some people say about it. In fact my whole time here in Israel so far pales in comparison to my time at the Beehive Design Collective that climaxed at the People's Climate March and Flood Wall Street protests. It was in downtown Manhattan among thousands of other activists at which I truly felt like I was doing what I wanted and gettting a meaningful life out of it.

I began to wonder, during my dive into activism, if I really needed to travel abroad to seek the mental shift I desired. Maybe it was here at home the whole time, that cliche that what we are looking for in life was with us all along. That was the gist of Paulo Coelho's The Alchemist, right? Is it telling that I thought that book was cheesy when I read it six years ago?

So maybe it wasn't a radical lifestyle shift that would inevitably lead to a mental shift. Perhaps my intentional and passionate surge into activism was doing that already.

Indeed, during my research about world travel I've come across people who've become desensitized to the novelty of each new place and instead see how similar the world has become. I mean, cultures and subcultures will always exist but the effect of capitalism permeating everything it touches is undeniable. Personal accounts of the globalization, a euphemism for neoliberalism and American imperialism, and my readings about our culture infecting the whole world confirmed these thoughts I was having. But perhaps I was confirming my biases, blindly accepting ideas that aligned with my beliefs as true without critically thinking about them, and I should go travel anyway.

Anyway, I was having these thoughts long before I left the country to go travel the world. In the end, obviously, I decided to travel since I could stay with the Left during my travels, and it would be its own subculture within whatever country it is in, so even more of a culture change than simply traveling to typical places. It was a few months ago at the Northeast Climate Justice Gathering that an activist friend suggested that I stay with anarchists while traveling since they're friendly and open to hosting most people as long as you're not an oppressive asshole.

There's also the part that despite my surge into activism, I really wasn't getting better from depression. Despite my strong sense of connection to activists, my time in activism wasn't helping me gain back the life I once had. I still felt trapped, awkward, unreliable and inferior, not able to speak up or rebuild my confidence. So I left the country before it got worse. And so far I feel great, though definitely far from 100%, with the warm climate and new people to meet everywhere abating the stress. (Or am I just postponing truly working on my mental health? Well I've tried working on it for a long time, now I'm trying a new tactic. Any books to help with this on my travels?) My goal is to deconstruct and then reconstruct my identity, so that I can actually communicate effectively and work confidently with my activist community.

Also I've learned about free ways to travel (in addition to being white, male, and privileged) like CouchSurfing, WWOOF, and WorkAway that I can use after my free Birthright trip.

I'll travel while hopping from anarchists to anarchists, feeling home while traveling at the same time.

I found All That's Left. Where can I hop to next?


"Wherever you go, there you are."

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” - Marcel Proust, French novelist