Monday, August 27, 2007

So There I Was...

In Haifa.  On a kibbutz. At an outdoor, all-night discotec.  With a pool.  Dancing to really bad club music with oddly placed beats and overly aggressive rhythm. Above my head, the red strobe lights came as a reminder that I wasn't just at any old dance party on a kibbutz by the sea.  No.  It just happened that my hosts for the Shabbat holiday were no less than a well connected family in the Israeli Russian mafia. There was little doubt that I was the only American passport carrying member of this rather punk rock herd of young Russian royalty.  Of course, if this wasn't enough, allow me to add that I was also covered from head to toe in... wait for it...wait for it... pink foam. Yes. Pink. Foam.In my soaked jeans and less than couture white halter top, I had more clothes on than all of those around me.  In the heat and humidity of the night,sweaty bodies of young, drugged, gyrating Russian teenagers rubbed against me.  At one point, in my own state of stark sobriety, I couldn't help but say a silent thank you to whoever the white guy was that invented the Hepatitis vaccine...all of them...and the meningitis shot...and oh, yes, the mono vaccine that was injected into me before traveling too.  Party on, my friends, party on....

Hours before this, I was on a bus in the Golan Heights.  Because the bus was fully loaded with the best of Israel's child soldiers, I had no choice but to sit on the floor.  I was lucky to find a small place between several heavy, automatic weapons.   As the road sped a few feet beneath me, I kept looking at my watch, knowing that this small day trip to visit a friend of mine in the north was really more of a race than anything else.  It was a race against the day, against the dreaded and unnecessarily premature hour when all public transportation in Israel terminates and everyone is presumably home with their families, being pious, not working, and most of all, not mixing their meat with their milk.  Friday is the start of Shabbat.  And I was far from home.  The point is, even if I had wanted to come straight back to Jerusalem, it was a complete impossibility.  

Because I was sitting on the floor, I missed my stop in the small town of Karmiel.   Twenty minutes later, I realized that I was half way to Tiberias.  I turned to a kid next to me and attempted to have my first official conversation in Hebrew.  "Excuse me," I said in my affected accent.  "Is this the bus the Karmiel?" Once, again, the movie line, "Is this the bus to Cartegena?" thundered through my head.  I had flashes of how Bro and I always giggled at this part in the movie, how we imitated it in real life, how we never failed to find an opportunity to apply that line to overly-random situations.  But again, I digress.  Apparently, the kid next to me had no idea where Karmiel was, much less Cartegena, so I struggled to my feet and made my way towards the bus driver.  My second official conversation in Hebrew was telling the driver my dilemma.  Within about 30 seconds, the bus screeched to a stop, and I was let off on the side of the road to find my way back in the opposite direction. So there I was, standing on some random Israeli highway.  In the blazing heat of the day.  At the start of Shabbat.  I patted my side bag to reassure myself that I had water, and oh yes, that little 4-pack of  Oreo cookies I snagged before leaving the house that morning.

So, I set off walking back to the nearest bus stop. I called my friend to tell him what I was doing.  He advised that I wait for the next bus to come along.  If I waited more than 20 minutes, he would send someone for me.  10 minutes later, I found a little stop with shade.  I plopped down on the concrete bench, drank some water and waited.  Twenty minutes later, I was still waiting.  In my state of limbo, I decided to this was a prime opportunity to take some pictures.  I took a few shots of this and that.  Before I knew it, a police officer pulled over and demanded to know why I was taking pictures of...traffic?  On Shabbat?  At a roadside bus stop?  In the Golan Heights?  He demanded to see all of my photos, and seemed extremely unnerved by me.  God forbid a young woman travels by herself on Shabbat.  He flipped through the 5 pictures I took at the rest stop, in addition to about half of my trip to Jordan.  As he did this, it occurred to me that the border with Lebanon was just over the hillside.  Damascus was about 45 kilometers away.  Maybe that was the bus to Cartegena, I thought.  Wouldn't it be so nice find the bus that would just take me home?

In English, I assured the police officer that I wasn't an enemy of Israel, that I was simply a nice Jewish girl who was traveling from Jerusalem to have lunch with a Druze family in Karmiel.  When I told him the name of the family, he told me that to get in the car.  Apparently he was Druze, too.  Our relationship dramatically improved when I told him that I could speak a little bit of Arabic.  He even let me take a few more pictures.

Lunch with my friend was wonderful, but stressful.  I only had two hours until I had to be on the next bus to Haifa.  Like all Arab folks, my friend's family was warm and welcoming.  They fed me a terrific lunch.  We drank coffee.  My friend gave me a tour of his village.  It was a quiet and peaceful place.  It reminded me of Palestine.  I didn't want to leave, but my whirlwind bus tour was inevitable.  Before I knew it, I was heading south again, on the last bus of the day.  I called my friend in Haifa to let him know that I was on my way.  He was a kid from my Hebrew class who said that I would have a place to stay with him and his family friends on Friday night, after I headed north.  A part of me knows now that I should have known better, but really, what does an American girl really know about the Israeli Russian mafia?

I just got off at my stop at a place called Kiryat Hiyam when my phone rang.  It was my Russian friend.  "Listen carefully," he said in a hushed voice.  In the background I could hear a bunch of Russian conversation.  "I just want to warn you ahead of time that my friends are very powerful people.  Whatever you do, just don't ask any stupid questions, ok?"

"Ok," I said.  "But why didn't you tell me this before.  You know, like, before all of the fucking buses stopped running in Israel?"  I was angry.  Really angry.  I was angry because I felt trapped.  At that point, I had no way of getting home, and no money to pay for a hotel room in Haifa.

"Because I knew you wouldn't come if I told you," he said.  "Seriously, they're great people.  Just don't ask questions, ok?"

So, I sucked it up and took a taxi to a most magnificent beach home on the Mediterranean Sea.  I was warmly greeted by a handsome family of Russian people.  The patriarch of the family drilled me for 30 minutes about my research, my motivations for being in Israel and my so-called political aspirations.  The sign of my acceptance into the family was when we all drank a round of vodka together.  After this, my bags were taken to my room, and I was given a few hours to myself, to take a shower, rest, and prepare for an evening out with the younger generation.

So there I was.  In Haifa.  On a kibbutz.  At an outdoor, all-night discotec.  With a pool.  By the sea.  I drank only Red Bull and discreetly deposited all vodka in the sand.  I had fun.  It was Shabbat, and I danced with the teenagers under the pink foam and Satanic strobe lights, watching them work out their demons, admiring the senseless scramble of energy that human beings have at that age.  Of course, I danced with the same kind of energy, the kind that comes when you know that your travels on these sorts of roads are coming to an end.  For me, it was a last, long wind sprint towards the finish line of my 3rd decade that is only now just a few months away. The only difference between me and those around me is that I was 19 years old for the second time, if only for one night.   I laughed and played and allowed the cutie Russian boys to flirt with me with all of their bravado and machismo.  Of course, I drew the line with dancing naked in the pool as the sun came up.  That was kind of my limit.  But besides that, it was a blast...


AS said...

Zoinks! What a night! :o)

Anonymous said...

Must be something about those Russians! Cheers & Good Luck, 'VJ'

Anonymous said...

That reminds me of the time my wife went to Italy for the first time. She was about the age you are now. After boarding a train at the Roma Termini station, she found a seat in a compartment with another young Italian boy of about 18.

Without missing a beat, the young boy stretches out his tall frame across the seat, looks at her hungrily and says "Do you believe in love."

It was all she could do to hold it together. Poor kid. He's still the object of ridicule in our home.