To Israel and back

September 12, 2008 at 6:16 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , )

My trip to Israel came at one of the most unexpected of times. Like someone once said, “Life is what happens to you when you are busy making other plans. ” I got excited , nevertheless.  The faint excitement of getting onto a flight after 20 odd years was something I really looked forward to .   I had a very different experience- some good, some bad, yet different and something worth reading.  There is one particular reason why I liked the trip. Simply put, it’s a country I would have never considered visting.

My experiences-  Here are a couple of things that I loved about my stay in Jerusalem:

1.   This was the first time I stayed away from home. It was almost therapeutic. Jerusalem is a quiet , conservative city. The sun would set at 8:30 pm in the evening. I would go on long walks by myself. The strangest part was carrying my passport everywhere I went. Being a muslim had its disadvantages. The first few walks seemed a little eerie but as I learnt my way around the city, it seemed better.

2.  A kind old man helped me with Hebrew and I picked up a smattering of it.  The phonetics were a little tougher with Hebrew being a Semitic language but now I’m managing just fine.  It’s really amusing to see the reaction on people’s faces when you speak to them in their native language comfortably. It’s a pleasure to see their face break into a smile. And when you do converse further than the cursory greeting, they are floored.  Additionally, if you happen to be an Indian, you just win all the brownie points possible!

3.  Everyone knows Bollywood. Atleast , everyone’s heard about it.  In a group of 10 people, chances are 7 people have heard about it. On one particular day, an Indian colleague and myself were standing in the hallway and  suddenly this gentleman calls us over to his room asking us whether we had heard a particular Hindi song.  Turned out to be a song from Munnabhai! He insisted on hearing the story of the movie.

4. Wearing a bright pink salwar kameez never fails to draw enough attention. An Israeli colleague coyly asked me whether this was the “saree”. I laughed and explained to him the difference.

5.  Everyone gets kids to work! From new borns to toddlers to teenagers. Just took me sometime to get adjusted to the whole setting.   A colleague saw my bewilderment at the whole thing and explained it to me that it’s common in all companies.

6. The part I enjoyed the most were my long, lonely walks. Sometimes in the morning, sometimes in the evening. I improved my Hebrew reading skills during these times trying to read the signposts. Coming from India, the roads looked terrific, flawless and smooth.  People biking on the pathways, green lawns next to the road, families and prams, the quietness , all mere accompaniments.

7. People are conservative in Jerusalem. It’s a mixed bag with some people orthodox, some a little less and some not at all.  Much of the culture stems from their religion and their beliefs in it, which is way too deep and too complex for me to write about and is inappropriate considering my superficial knowledge about it.

8.  Some people I met there knew more about lesser known places in India than I did. Like the Sanksrit school in Varanasi.

9. I don’t know how to swim and when I floated in the Dead Sea, it was an experience to remember.  Child like glee, excitement and a huge grin explains it all.

10.  Watching a bar mitzvah , followed by an astounding view of hundreds of men and women segregated , praying at the Western Wall just took my breath away. I remember watching it on BBC long time back , not knowing ever that I would see it live in my lifetime.  The most quixotic observation is that just across the Western Wall, lies the Dome of Rock,  a mosque for Muslims and it is this land that people have been fighting over for centuries.

 

For me , this trip was something that was least expected yet it opened my eyes to so many things. My experiences ranged from being identified by my surname on my passport, to being introduced to culture that was in so many ways similar to that in India, to a religion from which my faith is derived, to the warmth of the people when I appear as an Indian and the hostility when I appear as a Muslim.Yet, it’s strange that in the end it is all about people. You leave an impression far beyond your specifics .My best times were of my long walks, where I would see the latest cars whizz by, yet see people walk past in their traditional attire. A paradox. Israel is a nation of paradoxes. It’s a nation so deprived of natural resources, yet totally compensated by the talent and the attitude of its countrymen. So, steeped in its traditions, yet very advanced technology wise.  So much like India, yet so unlike it.  Would I remember this trip? Definitely. It was my first backpack trip across a nation different from mine. Well , atleast partially.

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Look ma! I visited “phoren” country

July 17, 2008 at 9:44 pm (Uncategorized) ()

After getting my passport stamped 3 times before and yet missing every opportunity to travel, I finally set foot outside the country a couple of days ago. The experience has been extremely exhilirating and yet quite humbling. Though I would have loved to visit one of the more oft visited countries that so many of my friends travel to, I was surprised to learn that the first country I would visit would be Israel.
My trip started off with my first stop over at Delhi. I must admit that I love the Jet Airways Service. The cleanliness of the flight, the promptness of the crew and the edible food clearly surpassed the food of the only international flight I have ever travelled in by a great degree.
Due to the non-availability of tickets on El Al, my second stop over turned out to be Vienna before my final destination -Tel Aviv. Vienna is breathtaking. Finally, I got to see some part of it and not hear from friends, read reviews and sigh. The people are extremely stylish and have an impeccable sense of dressing. I got a glimpse of European fashion and was floored. Well, I guess, travelling outside India opened up my eyes to a greater extent than I imagined. I look forward to visiting some more European nations sometime in the future. The flight from Vienna to Tel Aviv was uneventful . However, my security check at the Tel Aviv airport was interesting. There was a strict round of questioning. Although the security personnel were direct in questioning, there were polite. It was an interesting and a little scary 3 hour wait for my security clearance. Yet, I was absorbing all of it in. The sights, smells, the sounds of a new country. I was quite aware that I would face some problem at the airport or at some sensitive locations and now I had experienced it. Earlier on, I mentioned that the trip so far has been a humbling experience. I discovered and saw for once how people live in constant fear and the insecurity that they may lose a loved one anyday, anytime. My taxi driver, who picked me up from the airport was a nice old Israeli man who apologized profusely and was more saddened to know about my experience when I told him it was my first visit. He offered to show me around Jerusalem once we reached there and promised to drop me at the villa that I would be staying. It was a rather nice gesture and that , in fact, marked my first impression about Israel.
Although politically controversial, there is much to write about Jerusalem and Israel than mere newspaper headlines. The culture, the staunch sense of tradition has to be seen and experienced rather than read just as is the case for every other country. Indians are well liked and surprisingly, there isn’t a single Indian store out here where you can buy Indian products unlike other countries where you would generally find a sizeable Indian population.
There are more short stories from my experience so far. Some good, some enlightening. Pictures and experiences more in the next blog. As they say, shalom!

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