Okay of course I have to start with a tie on this one. I know, lame. But 2009 proved to be an amazing traveling year for me. Two trips stand out as the “best” of 2009 and they were side by side (3 weeks apart!).
1. Panama: 2009 marked the year that I turned 30 alongside many lifelong friends. In the New Year, my friends Emily and Corinne contacted me about going to Panama to celebrate our 30th birthdays. I jumped at this chance. Not only would I be going to Panama!! (yes I listened to the Van Halen song numerous times before going), but I was going to spend the week with my lifelong friends: Corinne, Emily, Michelle, and Stina. We dubbed ourselves the Panamaniacs and had the best time- full of laughter, FISH, Borus, beach, sand, water, swimming, happy hour beers with gasoline (!), beautiful huts over the water, laughter (did I mention that?), and the beauty of being with friends that I have known since I was 5 years old. Together, we celebrated our 30th year and each night we played games, laughed, and enjoy eachother’s company over wine- catching up and reliving many hilarious moments of the past 30 years.
2. Israel: I went to Israel to visit with two of my closest friends, Tia and Dana. Tia, as many of you know is Canadian- Israeli and recently moved to Jerusalem, not only to continue her career in Journalism but to fulfill her dream of settling in Israel. Tia’s parents lived there and her grandparents and sister live there as well… basically Tia’s Israel is my PEI in a familial sort of way. Dana, was my flatmate in Kenya and is one of my closest friends. She is living in Kenya and when both Tia and I moved from Kenya the three of us came together with this idea that we would all meet in Israel in 2009, preferably for Easter, for a reunion of sorts. So, Dana and I booked our tickets and we made our way to the Holy Land!
To be honest, I really never had Israel on my “must see places in the world” map- it just was not on my radar. But, I do love to travel and I love to travel to places where I have friend’s or family living in the locations so I can really get a feel for the culture and the day to day life. In the end I really booked my ticket to Israel solely to see my friends Tia and Dana. We could have met anywhere in the world, as long as we were reuniting.
What I discovered about Israel is that it is an absolutely FASCINATING country. I fell in love with both Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. I loved the ocean in Tel Aviv, the boardwalk that took you from the bustling city of downtown Tel Aviv to the old city of Jaffa. I loved having my first Israeli breakfast during Shabbat on Shenkin Road and napping along a hill in Jaffa, attempting to get over my jetlag. I love that Israeli people say what they are thinking, are confident, and strong willed.
I spent most of my time in Jerusalem, where Tia lives, and I, also loved Jerusalem. What was incredible about Jerusalem is that everywhere you go there is an historical significance to where you are, whether it be from 2000 years ago, or to Jan 2009 when war broke out again… something about Jerusalem gives the feeling of constant struggle and yet a strange sense of peace as you tour the various religious sites that are so prominent in the life of Jews, Christians, Muslims. I had always heard about places such as the Mountain of Olives, Via Delarosa, the Western Wall, the Dome of the Rock, the Church of the Nativity, the Dead Sea, and the Sea of Gaililee- BUT to hear of them is different from actually seeing their existence- it is incredible. At times it seemed so surreal, as you walk Via Delarosa (the path in which Jesus carried the Cross), there are souvenir shops lining the cobbled pathway- merchants yelling “looking is free!”, “you want obama kippa? jesus necklace?”
The Old City is divided into four quarters, (Jewish, Arab, Armenian, and Christian). One story I will not forget is when we were walking through the Jewish quarter trying to make our way to the Dome of the Rock and got lost through the maze of cobbled paths. I decided to stop two young Jewish girls to ask them for directions. They eagerly helped us out and explained “Well, it will take about 30 minutes to walk if you go the long way through the Jewish Quarter and back out the exit, or you can go the Arab quarter route and that is 10 minutes- but we haven’t done that route before… my mom would kill me if I went that way.” Funny how parents create rules for kids and yet this one seemed mixed with religious and political tension, whereas my mother’s rule was “don’t take the beltway”. Or for example when Dana and I went to the Arab quarter and wanted to buy falafel and as we sat down I asked “Do you have any Israeli beer I could try?” The store owner said “Yes, but try Palestinan beer, you want Palestinan beer.” So, rather than argue I went with his “suggestion”- I mean honestly, all lagers generally taste the same.
What I came away with from the Old City is that for so many religions the Old City is such a powerful and respected place and yet in so many ways it is divided. But what continually resonated with me is that the majority of persons visiting Jersualem were there because of its history AND because each of them have a faith that, although different, is a part of their identity and a faith that believes in something greater than themselves.
This is really just a snapshot of what I experienced. If any of you have not been to Israel I strongly encourage you to check it out for yourself!!