Saturday, February 8, 2014

Morning Day 2 Random Thoughts on the day after Shabbat

Scenes from the Wailing Wall

Notes on the above photos: I seem to be fascinated by taking photos of Jewish people. I don't know why, maybe it's because it's a stereotype, maybe it's because I just find them fascinating.  The woman with the book to her face is not hiding, she's praying and kissing the book in prayer. The group photo is my tour group. People from India, Equador, Taiwan, Israel, Belgium, Phillipines and America traveling just  to understand the world. As one said, "and that's why we travel so we understand." Beautiful words.

After watching the opening ceremony for the Olympics (something I wouldn't have been able to do at home as we don't have cable), and channel flicking through Fox new (yes!), BBC (oh I've missed it) and a variety of other channels, I am constantly amazed by the "same/same" ness of the world.

Now before you think I'm about to launch into a great political/cultural commentary (which I'm really not capable of doing), let me say that living in Kuwait for the past five years really helps me understand Israel. It's like I needed the five years in the Middle East (ME) to really try and understand where I am at this point. First of all, the food is very similar (which took some getting used to in Q8). The full breakfasts with everything from smoked salmon (a favorite!) to fruit to chocolate cake (yes!) reminds me of my favorite breakfast haunts with my Breakfast Buddies. The very friendly public face in dealing with people that Arabs use is evident here in Jerusalem. It's a little hard to explain to North Americans but there's a different sense of customer service in this part of the world. I've missed it.

However, please don't misunderstand me… I am not about to say that the people of Kuwait have lived the same life as the people of Isreal. I'm just starting to peel away my understanding of what it must be like to live in an area that some parts of the world don't even recognize as existing. And to understand the intricacies of the decades of hate and mistrust and fear would take way more knowledge than this seasoned traveller can conjure. That's why I like to travel with David because he's my walking wiki-guide to world stife.

 Yesterday when we went to Bethlehem, our tour guide E (a fantastic Israeli-Argentian man) went with us to the border (yes there is a border within the borders here) and then we met up with another tour guide who took us across. E went with us, but he didn't speak while we were in Bethlehem except in whispers. Later he told me that it's because if he even opens his mouth, the people will immediately know he's from the other side (Jewish) and he could get killed. Wow! *Granted, he was a great story teller and that could have been for effect, but who makes up stuff like that?!

We were taken to a "Christian Cultural Center" and it was explained to us (in a really nice way) that by buying souvenirs from them, we are helping them survive. It's a nicer version of saying "and my cousin owns the shop and we all will benefit from your purchases". The young man, who must have seen my eyes pop when I viewed all the nativity scenes made of Olive Wood, was VERY attentive in helping me select purchases. Every time he would show me something "better" (i.e. more expensive) and then asked me why I didn't want to purchase something of more quality. I have a budget, I'd tell him. And then he would smile as if to say "but lady you've got enough money to travel here and that's more than I have so why won't you buy my wares". There's a similar aggressiveness here that exists throughout the ME, so I was used to this sales technique. Yes there is good customer service, but one has to wear a certain metal jacket on the pocketbook AND  the heart. Because they are "good" at making you feel guilty if you don't purchase more.

Right at the border there were two men who tried very hard to get me to purchase items. One was successful, the other was not. Both used charm, guilt, hard sell and desperation as a part of their scheme. I can't say why one was more successful than the other--maybe I was worn down, maybe I felt sorry, maybe because he put the item in my hard and then kept haranguing me to give him more money (after telling me I could give what I wanted!). As I go through these experiences I always think I would love to get these guys into a classroom and have them talk about the theory and logic behind Hard Sell. I used to want get a Kirby Vacumn Salesman, a Used Car Salesman and a traveling Mormon (7th Day Adventist, etc) in a classroom and quiz them on their techniques and hard skin.

WHOA--I just re-read what I wrote and yes I am all over the place. Sorry-blame it on jet lag, blame it on trying to sound smart while drinking my 3rd cup of coffee and eating my chocolate cake (Hey-I had to eat it, it's the day after Shabbat!) Please excuse my ramblings.

What I'm trying to say is that I am so glad I have an opportunity to experience this "forbidden" culture. I am enjoying myself, learning a lot and just beginning to process all of what I am seeing and feeling. Tomorrow I meet up with Anna, who has been living here since August. I can't wait to see her (for obvious reasons) but I also am curious to see what she thinks after living here.

And now, I'm off to the Dead Sea a place where I've been before, except on the other side of the "Lake". We'll see if it's Same-Same.

Oh, by the way… Shabbat is the holy day of Jews. I don't really understand it, but let me say this… I learned that the hotel has a special elevator for those celebrating Shabbat. I know I don't understand why, but "Scoop Brown" is definitely going to find out why.


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