Journey to the Holy Land – Day 28, Part 2

November 20, 2010 (Installment #2)

I have arrived in Newark and am glad to be back in the U.S.  I have two hours to kill before boarding the airplane for the final leg of my trip to Hartford.  What better way to pass the time than to write a blog entry.  Actually, if I could find a couch…..

First of all, I left something very important off my what I missed from home while I was here list from the November 20 installment #1.  I really missed Dunkin Donuts coffee terribly.  Actually, any good old brewed coffee was greatly missed.  Bob brought me a huge cup when he came home from church this morning.  Bless his little heart.  Nirvana!

I must make a correction on the November 19 posting on the subject of water.  I’m not much good at measurement in the metric system—milliliters and liters and cubic meters and such.  Give me an inch any day and I’ll take a mile!

At any rate, I typed cubic centimeter instead of cubic meter.  What’s a cubit???  Now you can reread November 19 and insert the correct term of measurement.

Moving right along, last night I set two alarms (one on my cell phone and one on my clock) for 5 a.m. and they went off on time in sync with each other.  My packing was complete except for a few last minute items.

I got dressed and headed down to the office to post my blog for November 20 which I finished writing the night before.  I had left the computer on and open to the internet page to facilitate the process but the computer has a mind of its own and had to remind me of that fact one last time.

I went through all the usual steps to post on the blog—select all, copy, open the blog, choose new post, type the title and click paste.  The usual text box opened asking me if “HAL” could have access to my clipboard.  Why not?  Go for it and presto!  My posting appeared in the window.  OK—click ‘save draft’ and WAIT for the magic ‘preview post’ link to appear.

Everything was going along smoothly until I began to doubt which day of the journey it was—27 or 28.  I started counting on my fingers and kept coming up with 28.  I walked over to the Arabic ‘right to left’ wall calendar and tried to count the days.  Still 28.  Still not trusting those two sources, I went to Google and pulled up a 2010 calendar and counted.  Still 28.  And yet I was sure that my November 19 post was day 26—well, almost sure.  So I opened a new browser window and typed in the blog address www.franciscanaction.org/blog.  Walla!  Up pops a totally different page in Arabic.  I tried again with the same result.  At this point I decided to return to the blog posting page and edit the title from Day 27 to Day 28.  But HAL’s warped sense of humor kicked in and all of a sudden I saw a message that said ‘post published.’

Now I know I did not click publish because once I click that button another window always opens up that says “The editor has suggestions for revision.  Click cancel to view suggestions or OK to ignore.”  I always click OK because I KNOW how to write and edit and I don’t need HAL telling me what to do!  Good ol’ HAL finally got his way by not allowing me to click OK and ignore him once again.  Instead the link popped up that said ‘post published—click here to preview.  “A little late, HAL”!  What’s done is done.

Now that I am back in the U.S. of A. I tried the blog website and it came up just fine.  Scrolling through I found that on November 16 and 17 I listed both days as Day 24.  So today is actually Day 28 and since I am posting two entries today, I will get things back on track—if HAL doesn’t intervene again!

In the midst of all these shenanigans with the computer, I kept roaming out on the balcony to get a series of photos as the sun rose for the last time for me over Beit Sahour.

It was 6 a.m. and my co-worker was coming at 6:15 to help bring my luggage down as the taxi was scheduled to arrive at 6:30.  I still had time to post pictures on Facebook but this did not go smoothly either.  I located the butterfly picture but the darn album would not open.  Finally, HAL took pity on me and allowed me to paste the picture.   I didn’t dare take time to add the other picture from last night’s going away gathering so just captioned the photo and shut down.

It was now almost 6:15 so I gathered my stuff and headed back to my room to brush my teeth and close my suitcases.  No time for breakfast.  As I headed up the stairs, I heard the main door unlock.  My co-worker was right on time.  He came to my room and said “The taxi is here.”  True to form, the Palestinian driver was early.  I quickly closed one suitcase for him to carry down the four flights of stairs and figured this would give me enough time to brush my teeth.  He was very fast and back in a flash so my teeth got a quick brushing—not the electronic-controlled required 2 minute cleansing.  I threw the toiletries in the suitcase, closed and locked it (TSA approved lock, of course), and he was off again.  I tossed my camera and flash drives into my carry-on bag, secured the inside straps, zipped it and the last bag was on its way.  I grabbed my purse, stopped at the fridge to throw out the last of the soy milk I had saved for this morning’s raisin bran breakfast of champions which I didn’t get to eat, and flew down the stairs.

I said my goodbye according to Palestinian cultural custom by kissing both cheeks and away we went.  My driver did not speak much English so it was a quiet ride to Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv.  At this early hour on Saturday there wasn’t much traffic in Bethlehem so no blaring car horns. We went through the main Bethlehem checkpoint at Rachel’s Tomb.  There was no line and we passed through quickly.  Unfortunately, The Wall is very prominent at this place so it is one of my last memories as I left Palestine.

We were able to travel on highways once we left the Jerusalem area so the trip only took 50 minutes, arriving at 7:10 a.m.  You must be at the airport three hours before your flight out of Israel.

There are multiple security checkpoints including one as we drove in.  Show passport, ask purpose of my trip including if I had been working, how many bags and make the driver open the van to check.

The next security check was before I was allowed to enter the building including everything from CP #1 as well as looking in carry-on bags and purse and going through a metal detector.  And for the first time since I arrived, I had to put on my fleece jacket as it was overcast and really quite chilly.

The airport was relatively deserted in stark contrast to last year when we were leaving for home after our pilgrimage.  The lines were very long because, little did we know at that time, our flight was delayed due to bad weather in the U.S. that delayed the arrival of the plane from the U.S. that was to fly us home.

I headed towards the checked baggage x –ray station but was told it wouldn’t open for 15 minutes so killed time by rearranging my carry-on suitcase.

All too soon, the time arrived to approach the 3rd (4th if you include the CP in Bethlehem) check of my passport with the same questions plus ‘was I REALLY traveling alone’!  But it’s a good idea to smile and play nice and don’t get your underwear in a knot.

On to the x-ray machine which brought back vivid memories of seeing the suitcases shoot out of it last year.

I was 2nd in line at the machine but there seemed to be a problem.  The first guy’s stuff went through; I left mine, moved to the other end of the chute and waited and waited and waited.  The screen watcher said “There seems to be a problem.”  Ya think?  Finally, out shoots my bags like machine gun bullets—seriously!  I’m glad all my breakables were in my carry on.

They let me by-pass the next station where they randomly choose people to have their carry-on bags physically searched.  Guess I wasn’t random enough.

I forgot to bring my luggage cart around to the other side of the chute so went back to retrieve it and off I went to the check-in counter/checked baggage depository which wasn’t open.  The line kept getting longer and, of course, there were no cattle stanchions to indicate there would be multiple open lanes.  The minute the check in ladies showed up and began their station set-up routine, people who had been playing nice in the one line bolted to get to the head of the new lines.

The guy who I had been journeying with through the maze just shook his head and we both agreed they were not acquainted with Big Bird’s philosophy of playing fair.

I had some nice conversation with this man who is retired military and now works as a government contractor.  There was another woman between my new friend and me who was VERY anxious to check her bags to the point that my friend told me later that he thought she was going to run me over with her cart if I left ANY space between me and the person in front of me.

“May I see your passport (#4/5) and boarding pass?” the counter attendant asked.  We quickly dispensed with our business and she told me I would have to claim my bags in Newark to go through customs and then take them to be rechecked to Hartford.  YEAH!

I headed into the next area where I saw COFFEE.  Well, the choices were still Arabic or cappuccino so I went for the latter, found a table, pulled out my protein bar and began to write my journal/blog entry.  Periodically I looked around to see if I could find my friend but he was nowhere to be found.

At about 9:45 I decided I should make a pit stop before getting on the plane.  It was then that I discovered I was NOT in the gate area.  I spied CP #5/6 and hurried over to it and off I went to find Gate C9.  After hoofing it about ¼ of a mile, I approached CP #6/7.  “May I see…”  Yeah, I get it and turned it over once again.  This is the station where they x-ray carry-on bags, and I think I went through another metal detector but can’t remember for sure.

Off again to the downhill race with moving walkway but that’s for sissies, and I needed my steps even though by pedometer crapped out about a week ago on me.

I finally arrived at C9 at about 10:15.  I hit the restroom and then found a seat so I could open my carry-on bag and take out the things I would use during the flight including my glasses (hold on to this point).

We began boarding a few minutes later.  Should be simple, right?  When I got to the head of the line, the attendant said (surprise, surprise) “Passport and Boarding Pass (not sure there was a please or a smile attached to the request).  As I handed her the required documents for the umpteenth time today, she just stared at my boarding pass for at least 30 seconds (seemed like an eternity as the sweat began to accumulate on my forehead and elsewhere) and then called another attendant.  They conversed, attendant #1 ripped up by boarding pass and handed me another boarding stub and whew—I was on the ramp to the plane!

You knew this wasn’t the end of the story, right?  As I’m trekking down the ramp, I looked at the boarding stub and the seat assignment was different than the one I had pre-selected (aisle seat, center section, near the restrooms).  At the entry to the plane, I explained my predicament to the flight attendant asking if I should go to the seat on the stub or to my original seat.  He said the new seat assignment was still an aisle seat so to go there “for now.”

I’m having a conversation with myself saying “Things usually happen for a reason.  Don’t push it and just accept what is.”  I stowed my carry-on bag and saw a young boy about 12 years old take the middle seat next to me.  Then, a woman who had come down the wrong aisle asked if I could move so she could pass through because her seat was on the other side.  No problem as she was very polite and just made a mistake.  She had the seat across the aisle from me and I quickly figured out that the young boy was her son.  Since I had already changed seats once, why not again?  I offered to switch seats with her so she could sit next to her son and she was most appreciative.

We had some nice conversation when she explained that she is a Russian Orthodox Christian and that she wanted to bring her youngest son to the Holy Land as she had her two older children.  They were traveling alone but at one point met up with a Russian Orthodox tour group that happened to have two open places so they joined that group for the rest of their visit.  She is from San Francisco so had a much longer journey home after we reached Newark than I did.

As 11:15 approached, our designated time of departure, there were none of the usual signs to indicate that it was going to happen.  “This is your captain speaking.  We have a delay as each plane must get in the queue for an actual departure time.  We will be taking off in about 40 minutes.”  OK—I can deal with that.  In order to keep us ‘entertained’ in the meantime, since the A/V system which controls our seat monitors was malfunctioning, the flight attendants started handing out the Customs Declaration forms for us to complete.  I reached into my carry-on bag to get my glasses (remember this point from earlier?) and they were not there!  I stood up and proceeded to take everything out of the bag but nada—no glasses.  Then I thought that maybe I only THOUGHT that I had transferred them from my carry-on suitcase so I opened the overhead bin and proceeded to search by to no avail.  This wouldn’t be so bad if they were the drug store variety but no—they were my only pair of prescription reading/computer bifocals!  I managed to squint enough to complete the customs form and then resigned myself to “no reading” for the rest of the trip.

I spoke with the flight attendant and she asked where I might have lost them and I told her I think they fell out of my bag somewhere in the Gate C9 area.  She said to write all the information down and she would give it to the flight manager who would follow up to see if they were turned in at Ben Gurion.  If so, they would mail them to me but she wasn’t hopeful.  I am thinking that they would be no help to anyone so perhaps some Good Samaritan turned them in.

My final concern for the flight was FOOD!  I had jumped through hoops (which included getting Bob to make a phone call to Continental) to make sure that I had vegetarian meals on the flight.  I know how this works.  The flight attendants get a list of names and assigned seat numbers.  Remember how they switched my seat and then I switched it again?  OMG!  I’m going to starve!  Another sheet got ripped out of my journal and I proceed to write EVERY detail about my new seat assignment and gave it to the flight attendant.  They are so efficient that my meals were promptly delivered to seat 38C.  HINT:  if you want to get your food first, be sure to order a ‘special meal’ but we special people get served first.  Kosher, gluten-free, Hindu vegetarian, vegetarian vegan?  Special meal choices to fit every preference.

After many attempts at rebooting the A/V system, it finally delivered our flight data and path, movies, music and short shows to entertain us (except for the lady in the seat next to me—hers never did get working.)  After lunch, I took my sleeping aid and went off to lala land for 4 hours.  The flight time was only 11 ½ hours instead of the 12 ½ predicted hours and we landed 30 minutes early into Newark.

The first stop after deplaning is passport check—good grief—I have lost count!  Even though the lines were long, the ‘sergeant-at-arms’ kept everyone moving through the stanchions stating “Visitors to the left, citizens to the right.  Have your passport, declarations statement and green card, if you have one, out and ready if you want to get through here sometime today.”  She meant it, too, because if you reached the head of the line without said documents visible in your hand, you got pulled to the side until you could produce said documents.  The Israelis could take a lesson from the U.S. system.  There were multiple stations open in sharp contrast to the three that were open when we arrived in Israel.

For those of you who are not familiar with the rest of the process when you fly to the U.S. from overseas, you must get your checked baggage, go through another customs check where they take your stamped declaration statement, and then take the bags to be checked again.  This process went quite smoothly as there were multiple handlers available.

Last, but not least, go through security check (yeah—passport screening) again.  It isn’t like when you have multiple flights within the U.S. and don’t have to go through security again at each airport.  At any rate, remember when I said I threw my last minute items in my suitcases back when I started my trip home?  Came back to bite me!  I had forgotten that my toothpaste went into my carry-on and they caught it when doing the x-ray.  The attendant had to open it and go through EVERYTHING, taking most of the stuff out and putting it on the counter.  Then I got the dressing down about taking ‘liquids’ out of the bag and put them through separately.  I apologized profusely as he took my bag to put it through x-ray AGAIN with an admonition not to touch anything that he left on the counter!  Gee—did he think the machine would see something that he hadn’t?    I passed the time by watching an elderly woman get a full body ‘pat down.’  She must have had some kind of metallic artificial body part.  Finally, he came back and left my bag on the counter and said he was finished.  As he started to walk away, he turned back and said “Do you want me to repack it” and I said, “No thank you.”  He had already mishandled my things enough.

Unfortunately, when I arrived home I found the damage that had been done.  One of the legs of an olive wood camel I had bought for Bob was dangling by a splinter having been almost severed at the joint!  Not a happy camper as this carving was a representation of the camel Sammie that Bob and I had a ride on when we were in Jericho last year.  Mr. Fix It Bob grabbed the glue and had it repaired in no time flat.  Still, I know it isn’t perfect but what’s done is done—nothing in life is perfect.

My journal now comes to a close and it has been a great experience writing the details of my adventure.  Thanks, Russ, for suggesting that I do this blog.

If you have any comments or questions, I would love to hear from you.  Feel free to e-mail me at Elaine.wiatr@yahoo.com.  Pictures of my journey are currently posted by day on Facebook.  If you want to see them and are not already “my friend on FB” search for me under the name Elaine Hearsch Wiatr.

Wishing God’s blessing to you all.

Peace and all good, Salaam and Shalom.

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Published in: on November 21, 2010 at 11:57 am  Comments (1)  

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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. what is our role as people whos spirituality is Christian and Franciscan I can recall my first visit. to the West bank. September 2007. during Ramadam.

    I went as a activist with the International solidarity movement. to see the reality of life of the Palestinians. living under occupation. the hospitality and welcome which I recieved from the Palestinians I will never forget.

    I had joined with Palestinians, Iraqis, in protests marches in Dublin Ireland. against the war in Iraq in 2003. I have been honoured to know the Palestinians since the late 1980s, early 1990s.

    we had protests against the use of Shannoin airport by American military refulling their war planes. attended in support of Catholic workers members, who were brought to court for peaceful protests against the war. which they were acquitted

    I will never forget visiting the apartheid wall.

    neither can I forget my visit to Hebron. which was under the control of Israeli occupying forces. the area I had the honour living was H2. which is Palestinian. scenes of people been stopped and searched, as they went to visit their families and loved onces, never left my memory. as I watched, eldery, people with disabilities, children been searched
    the povery I saw, I was shocked. the education of the Palestinian people left me with a high impression

    I will return to Palestine December 2010


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