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Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Update 3, Jan 17th, '15; Milk and Honey Hostel

It's been a while since my last update, and unfortunately I did not make detailed notes to use for the blog like I did for my last posts, so this will be more... general.

Let's see...  There's sooo much to talk about since my last update. Sorry it's been so long!

Typing with my thumbs as my head rests on my pillow makes me pump out these blogs sooner yet with the literaracy of a lysdexic ephelant, so bear with me.

I arrived at the Milk and Honey Hostel on Shalma 4 in Jaffa, Israel on Friday morning, December 5th. It was just some place I found at the last minute to work in exchange for food and shelter but by the end of my stay it became a home.

Between seven and nine other coworkers, we each worked around 21 hours per week, cleaning the four full bathrooms, making beds, sitting at the computer as a receptionist, buying groceries at the local supermarket, and making a breakfast of Israeli salad (chopped cucumbers and tomatoes), bread, hummus, tahina, and labina (a spreadable cheese without the distinct flavor cream cheese has). If I worked more than 21 hours, which was often up to 30 hours, I got 25 shekels per hour or 200 shekels per week ($50) to spend on my lunch and dinner. Total occupancy is at around 40 beds, which only happened around Christmas and New Years, though these guests supplied the staff with a steady stream of alcohol. I'm thankful for the many Russians that visit here.

The people I met here have been a blessing to my burgeoning travels, from my coworkers I grew friendships with to the myriad and diverse travelers who rested here for one night.

My manager, Kenya (like the country, yes that's her name), is a Yemeni Jew who co-owns the hostel with two other people, although I've never met them since they don't work nearly as much as she does. Her husband often works here too in addition to playing bass for the Israeli singer Ester Rada. They sometimes bring their adorable toddler with them as well as wine or pastries for special occasions (like my going away!). They are a very chill family, super friendly and welcoming, who invited me back to stay whenever I want.

Except for the two Israelis, Ori, a Tel Aviv University political philosophy student who gave me fantastic feedback on my Birthright essay, and Atar, an art student with an amazing tahina cookie recipe, staff here are also travelers, coming and going to make a steady stream of new faces to meet. When I first got here my coworkers were Selena, Cormoron, and Daniel, an American from Virginia who funds her travels by teaching yoga and giving massages around the world, an Israeli who changed his name to the bird of the same name because why not, and an eighteen-year-old American who paid over ten thousand dollars to work at this hostel and learn about Israel in a separate program. Then came Ilhan, a crazy French guy with one enormous dread-lock who incessantly asked people how they were doing over, and over again even if we told him we were fine just minutes before. Eventually, we couldn't take it anymore and my manager asked him to leave. There's Elmar, the Dutch artist born one day after me, carrying a book of the hand-prints of every person he meets on his travels. I just met Rabea before I left, a German girl who's spent four years on the road. Finally there's Valentina from Italy, who's looking over my shoulder as I type this -- wait, she just went away so I can talk about how evil she is. Probably my best friend after Christmas eve mass together at a nearby Arabic Church. We go from deep, meaningful conversations to spontaneous bursts of laughter, late night talks to walks in the local market. Thank you for everything, I will miss you! Come visit me in Ramallah!

There were even some hostel guests who have stayed here so long we became friends, like Jeffrey the Dutch philosophy student who spent his vacation here during Christmas and invited me to his home in the Netherlands this Summer. There's Michael, an American immigrating to Israel who is temporarily living at the hostel until he finds an apartment. And Harvey, a French guy traveling around the world who rambles incoherently and left his tent here for me to take (I think?). I met Ryan from the Virginia side of DC on his way out of Saudi Arabia where he taught English for six years. After growing sick of the fundamentalist country where his kids praised Hitler for killing Jews, he drove away in his expensive sports car, which he takes all over the world, getting it ferried across oceans and seas. Attempting to ship it to Cyprus, it got a flat tire on his way to the port in Haifa in Northwestern Israel; hopefully he can find the rare tires it needs in Turkey. He takes pictures of famous places with his sports-car in the foreground -- that's his shtick, a lot cooler than a garden gnome, right? While in Saudi he converted to Islam just for the fun of it despite secretly being atheist, and he became a minor celebrity in the country for a few weeks since it's very rare for a white American to do that. News networks tried interviewing him but he declined, saying that in his culture religion is more personal so it's not polite to sensationalize.

Gabrielle, a guest here, deserves a story on her own. She did Birthright in 2009 and stayed afterward with her boyfriend to participate in activist demonstrations against the occupation. At one of these, the IDF was shooting rubber bullets at the protesters and hit her boyfriend in the head, permanently paralyzing and leaving him brain dead. She's here to try to sue the IDF for what happened, courageously coming back to fight for justice. The court cases haven't been going well though, as the Israeli bureaucracy shuts down anyone attempting to resist.
Update: I found this article where it clarifies it was a high velocity tear gas canister, not a rubber bullet

There were unwelcome crazy guests too, like a creepy old Israeli man who verbally harassed women every chance he got and an annoying French lady who accumulated so much trash under her bed I needed a giant black trash bag and vacuum to clean everything. Send me a message if you want the details of her stay that are too gruesome for this blog.

In a weird connection to recent news, every French person I met here has been crazy and Islamophobic, from simply saying Israel should take over the West Bank as if its ours to a couple that thanked me for making breakfast as they don't eat anything made by Arabs -- the TV told them that Arabs poison Jew's food.

Countless guests here have been Birthright participants, as they find the closest hostel they can after ending at the nearby Ben Gurion airport. Most recently, two were on their way to visit their IDF friend who promised to take them flying in his Apache helicopter. I routinely see Birthright buses in the city, and talk with the participants about my time here, casually asking how the brainwashing is going. So many Israelis, most of them liberal, consider Birthright a propaganda exercise; it's such a common notion that it is joked about in the Israeli version of Saturday Night Live.

While most of the people I befriended were at my hostel I did meet Zoe, an American who did the same thing I did but a year ago: Birthright to escape America and travel around the world. Coincidentally, she knows a Landmark College friend of mine back home and is familiar with the Maine based Beehive Collective, that artist activist collective I volunteered with this past August through October, since she's from that state. She's been all over Europe since first coming to Israel but she came back here for the Winter. I had Christmas dinner with her and her friends and I'm about to go visit her in Jerusalem on my way to Ramallah.

There's only three of us Birthrighters left in Israel, Eitan, Andrew, and myself; the rest of us had left the country a long time ago. Last night I had a mini Birthright reunion with Eitan and Noga, an IDF soldier who was with us during the trip. Hopefully I'll see Andrew at the farm he's volunteering with soon.

Well, there you have it, what matters most in traveling is the people you meet rather than the places you see. The connections created are a metaphor for how we are all connected in the world by human emotions, not photoshopped geography. Now that I got that cliche out of the way I can avoid social interaction the rest of my time, right?

I leave Jaffa today and will start volunteering at the Hostel in Ramallah (that's the actual name of the hostel) on February 1st for two months. Between now and then I will CouchSurf in Jerusalem for the rest of this week and then spend a week CouchSurfing in Ramallah to get used to the city before working there.

One point about Tel Aviv before I go: it feels too American, a Western city in an Eastern land. Israelis even consider it practically a different country than the rest of Israel. While it certainly has its differences and I enjoyed running barefoot on the beach, I have been ready to leave for a while now; my heart aches for more to see.

OK, I need to start packing, this procrastination habit is hard to beat.

Shalom and Assalaam alaikum

Addendum: I just realized I did something a little stupid.

My tourist visa says I can stay until 10/2/2014, so I had originally interpreted this as October 2nd, 2014, without realizing it actually means February 10th, 2014. Which means I have a little more than twenty days left in Israel.

I want to stay longer however, as you know, so I have a couple options. One, I can make a trip within the next couple of days to Cyprus, Jordan, or Egypt to reset my visa. Or two I can try to extend my visa, which is a lot easier I think.

In order to extend my visa, I'm told that I need to list an Israeli address as my place of residence, so for the next few days I need to find someone who will let me use their address even if I don't stay there like my new friends or my distant family here.

Or I'm going to Jordan and back! Where should I go?

Also, I've actually been trying to leave Jaffa for the past few days now but my procrastination, planning, and packing habits reek of -- breaking fourth wall here, I just got distracted for five minutes after writing that -- ADHD distraction fest. It's a running joke here at my hostel that I'm never going to leave. By Tuesday at ten o'clock at night I finally finished packing to head to the bus station for the hour journey to Jerusalem. My friend Valentina however (thank you very much!) suggested I call Abraham hostel to try to reschedule my stay for Wednesday night, which fortunately worked out with no money lost only because I'm a hostel worker myself.