During much of my stay in Israel, my mind pondered and worried and wandered into the future.
You see, I wanted to have my next three-month stay be a stay in Iran. And there weren't any direct flights there from Jerusalem.
Of course, I wanted to continue my travels in a way that agreed with "Modern Oddyseus' Travel Ethics", a set of rules that makes no sense to anyone but the Modern Oddyseus, and basically just brings a whole bunch of misery upon the traveler who follows them. RULE # 1 - Only rarely, and specifically when there's no overland route nor accessible boats available, should you travel by plane. RULE # 2 - Don't use any money from home except for the couple hundred bucks you start with. RULE # 3 - Avoid paying for visas. ... "Everywhere is your country. Don't let them stop you from going there." - J.Breen philosophy
It was a challenge that sharply poked my wits.
I plotted to photocopy documents, to doctor visa's, to forge letters from the Iranian government commenting on my impending wedding with a Persian. I experimentally tried to superimpose entry stamps on hard-boiled eggs, in order to reproduce them (the stamps, not the eggs). But, I found it worked better to trace the stamps in ink on another piece of paper, then copy them onto rubber erasers - wherefrom they could be remade - and simply eat the eggs.
However, I couldn't count my inky, squeezed-flat eggs before they hatched. (And they probably weren't going to hatch.) I had to get to Iran first.
I devised a stategy where I'd go illegally to Israel's friendliest neighbor, Jordan; turn left and go to Syria; pass some small hills between Syria and Turkey; if possible, get back to legal status in Turkey, using an eraser, and pass freely to Georgia; tred illegally through the Caucasus Mountains to Azerbaijan somehow; and go next to Iran. It seemed barely do-able, but do-able, and, while the date of departure was still months away, potentially enjoyable.
"The world will accept me." - J.Breen philosophy
First, I had to escape Israel - a country obsessed with security, both personal and national.
I thought about going through the southern desert. A long road traced the border with Jordan, rarely veering more than five kilometers from the Muslim neighbor. A peaceful border crossing here would entail a walk upon a brown, hard valley, amidst occasional dry trees. The dark-rock underfoot would mirror the pitch-black, silent night sky.
But, an Israeli guy told me there were two fences at the border, and lots of barbed-wire, and the electric fences quickly alerted nearby border patrol whenever they're touched.
So, then I thought I'd swim across the Dead Sea. At least I couldn't drown. Daniel, the capricious, French-Canadian violinist, said, "You could pull a little boat behind you, and put some sandwiches and your bags in."
But, the Dead Sea was highly-patrolled, too.
Then, one day, I realized I shouldn't be putting all my mutilated, poisonously-stained eggs in one basket. Looking at a topographical globe, I noticed both Turkey and Iran were covered in high plateaux. They must be terribly cold in the winter that was now approaching. It'd be exhausting to travel there. I decided it'd be a better time to go to Africa instead. I'd have to devise a new strategy, though ...
And this was where I stood, when I left beautiful Maya's place in Beer Sheva in the Negev Region, on December 9th. I said good-bye and began hitchhiking south.
Gray-bearded Yitzy, who farmed in the dry Arava Valley mere kilometers from Jordan, gave me a ride. I timidly asked about the border. He said, "Yeah, there's a fence there. But, someone could get over it." ... Hmmmm?
I began to rethink rethinking my trip to Iran. It was as if the borders of Israel were the walls of a pinball machine, and I was a moldy, hard-boiled egg being pinballed around them. Maybe I should still try to go to Iran? After all, "doubt is one of the five Hindrances to the clear understanding of Truth and to ... progress" - the Buddha. And I'd been telling people I was going to go to Iran for months now. I reshifted my focus back to Iran, wintry plateau or no wintry plateau. I felt excited and empowered. But, maybe, that first doubt had already tainted and contaminated my well-lade plan?
I got to Eilat on the Red Sea, and began preparing. I sold the last of the last stories I had to sell, to friendly, young Israelis. I traded my used Hebrew-English-Hebrew dictionary to an American girl. She, in turn, let me copy the page of her passport with her Jordanian entry stamp on it, which I did nervously in a library.
Afterwards, the American girl's friend and I started talking, and she gave me some new information.
She was staying in a hostel. The hostel's owner was writing a book about the Sudanese refugees who regularly came to Israel. First, they went to Egypt, where they were looked down upon and spit on. So, then, they paid money so they could be carried in jeeps to the Israeli border. The Egyptian military shot at them. They went over or tunneled under barbed-wire, acquiring scars as they went. The Israeli military picked them up. Now, they were in Israel, but mayors of cities such as Eilat have legally banned them.
Why was the world so mean!? I wondered. How could anyone be so terrible as to shoot at poor people just out for a walk? I felt terrified. But, I also felt like I should cross all the borders there were, out of solidarity for the refugees.
The girl with whom I was speaking, a Swedish-Finnish Christian, brought me back to the ugly, bright Eilat night. She said, "I understand why you want to do it. But, I'd only do it if I had nothing to lose."
Hmmm. I did have some things to lose:
The approaching winter in the Czech Republic, my second home, promised to be a merry-go-round of amusement. Christmas with friends. Snow on the ground. Elegantly dressed people at balls. The town basketball league. A respite from traveling. Ice skating. The girl I was in love with.
Also, I had a great family in Michigan I wasn't ready to part with.
Hmmm. It would've been dreamy to cross Israel's dark, scary, mysterious Arava Desert. It would've been nice to see the cliffside tombs of Petra, and to perhaps teach a week in a Jordanian school, where the students could show me their culture.
But, I didn't have energy for that now. "Courage is a beautiful thing, but everything must be done within reason." - Zdenek Jirotka, Czech writer
A few days later, I broke RULE # 1 and bought a plane ticket from Israel to Rome, Italy. From there, I could hitchhike to the Czech Republic, in time for Christmas. I was completely satisfied and abuzz with my decision. Also, the flight had cost only $125, half the price of my earlier boat trip from Cyprus to Israel, and so I still didn't have to break RULE # 2 yet.
On my last night in Israel, some friends and I gathered on a cold, apartment-building roof in Tel Aviv. Ran Dor, the slightly-older, spiritual guy, came. He played a patient and complex guitar melody, incorporating creative, rough sounds that had to come from somewhere deep.
A serious guy, he helped put my completed trip in perspective.
He, a critical guy, commented that my stories on Israel had been better (deeper?) than the other stories of mine he'd read.
He also said my lifestyle was inspiring. "You teach people they can get by with less, because ... you get by with nothing."
He also observed that my traveling ways didn't represent a real answer to the question of what people want or need in life. My long trips were nothing more than a swimmer's deep dives; visits home were my breaths of air. Until I could live without the breaths of air, I wasn't in possession of a truly peaceful, satisfied life.
I hope I'll understand Ran a little better after some time in the Czech Republic.
Generally speaking, the Czechs have better beer than spirituality. But, there will be some quiet places to meditate where I'm going, and a perfect setting for romance, so hopefully the Czechs and I will all grow a bit together, in the right way.
Thanks for reading about my trip to Israel.
Have a great 2009!
Thanks to Schlomo; Yitzy; Simon; Teddy; Schlomo & some lady; Nagai & Ravid; a guy who drove me 500 ft.; Rod & Noam; and Oron for rides!
Much thanks to Steve; Maya, again; and Talia, again, for places to sleep!