Tag Archives: Israel

Work Life Sameness

I wrote a post with this same title three years ago, when I went to Jordan, Israel, and the Palestinian Territories for work.  My Palestinian colleague and I met with dozens of activists who told us about the terrible prison conditions, torture taking place therein, and the oppressive regimes (both Israeli and Palestinian) under which they live.

Meanwhile, back in Minnesota, my son was in Moose Lake Prison, from which I had just been ejected because I was wearing a “low-cut blouse.”  This was the worst day of my life in the last three years.

All Omar knew about me was that I was a white, Jewish, middle-aged woman from Minnesota.

“My son is in prison,” I informed him at what seemed like an appropriate time.  I told him about being thrown out.  “I don’t think they know who they’re up against,” I said. “They’re not gonna know what hit them once I get back.”

It turned out to be the other way around. A letter from the Department of Corrections—basically a six-month restraining order—was waiting for me when I returned.  I tried to fight it but the DOC has complete discretion and hides behind the term “Security Issue.”

Yep, I was a big threat.

I think Omar realized I wasn’t some dilettante coming to “save” the Palestinians—what we refer to in the NGO world as just White Women With Scarves.

Part of touring Colombia with a company called Responsible Travel is that you get guides with deep knowledge of socioeconomic and political issues.

So on our first day, in Bogota, Lynn and I got an earful from our guide, Michael Steven Sánchez Navas.  Often I will use pseudonyms for people to protect their privacy, but in Michael’s case I am intentionally using his real name in hopes that transparency with protect him.  Lynn and I have both friended him on Facebook, and it appears he does the same with every tourist he encounters.  Maybe many global sets of eyes on him will put a check on anyone who doesn’t like what he has to say.

More about this later, but for now I’ll just say that this vacation seems like it happened a year ago because I came back to work to find we’ve got three proposals for Iraq due within a month.  Another organization is the lead on all of them, which is great, but it’ll still be a ton of work.  It’s good thing.  But it’s all Iraq, all the time, and all I read and hear about is prisons, torture, rape, and war.

But first, let me back up to something less depressing, the Casa Deco hotel.  As the name implies, it’s a deco-era hotel located in the Candelaria neighborhood of Bogota.  It’s got a lovely lobby with no elevator, but a helpful employee hiked our cases up to the second floor.  It was Lynn’s turn to do a small double take—since in her hemisphere the second floor is the first floor.

I have most of these plants at home, but they are at most 12 inches, not 12 feet, tall.

“The owner is Italian,” said the guy lugging our luggage.  This was by way of explaining why the hotel was full of reproductions of work by Gustav Klimt.  Klimt was Austrian, so this wasn’t really an explanation, but we were tired so we didn’t press.

There was one bed.  The hotel guy quickly folded down and made up the couch, which turned out to be a hide-a-“bed.”  I claimed it, seizing my chance to make up for the times Lynn has sacrificed by taking the bad bed.

I had double checked with our tour agent that there would be two beds.

“Lynn and I are good friends,” I had written, “but not that good.”

Besides, the thrashing around I do to relieve my restless legs would drive Lynn (or anyone) crazy.

And it was bad.  Hard as concrete on one side, lumpy with a big dip on the other.

But so what?  You can get by with little sleep for a couple nights.

The art above the bed was more likely to give me nightmares, if I looked too closely.


I was breathless as I tried to keep up with my guide, Tesfaye, as he hopped from boulder to boulder up a steep “path” to Lalibela, where we would go back in time 800 years.

I realize I haven’t actually said yet exactly what Lalibela is.  It’s a complex of Ethiopian Orthodox churches that were carved out of stone during the 12th and 13th centuries at the behest of the Emperor Lalibela.  It would be the latest in my world tour of ancient sites I had unintentionally visited over the last two years.  Others included Petra, in Jordan; the Tarxian temples in Malta, Tikal, in Guatemala; and Stonehenge, which I’ll get around to writing about eventually.  During my Latin American phase 10 years ago, I went to Machu Picchu and loads of pyramids and temples in Mexico and El Salvador whose names I can’t recall.  Prior to that I had been to Israel, where you practically trip over an ancient site every time you turn around.

I don’t believe in god and I struggle with the concept of a higher power.  I am constantly thinking about death and seeking some kind of meaning or purpose to living.  I’ve written before about how I find life worth living when I interact with children, am out in nature, or am appreciating the beauty of art, architecture, a garden, classical music, etc.

I have also experienced meaning at ancient sites.  Not all, but some.  I spent two full days in Petra, hiking in its silent, barren wilderness.  And I felt profoundly moved.  This will probably sound really “woo woo,” as my Native American relatives would say, but I felt a connection to the people who had lived there.  Not like I sensed their ghosts, exactly.  But I felt awe that they had built this place and it was still intact, and people like me were still here wondering about them.

I had my most moving experience at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, which like Petra is around 2,000 years old. There a multitude of faiths represented, people in costumes that looked like they were straight out of Hollywood central casting—Jews, Muslims, Druse, Christians of every denomination—nuns, monks, imams, Hasidim, people wearing turbans, yarmulkes, tall conical hats, and fezzes.  I was on a tour with 175 other Jews from Minnesota.  We were herded to the wall and I tucked a prayer for my son, Vince, inside one of the cracks.  I believed in God back then.  Vince was on the lam with drug and legal problems, and I was desperate for anyone or anything to help him.  I closed my eyes and leaned in to pray, and I felt a tremendous physical sensation like a “whoosh”—as if a vortex of everyone who had prayed there over the millennia were carrying my request upward.

Then I heard someone calling my name: “Anne, Anne, we’ve got to go.”

It was our tour guide, Moshe.  “Can’t I have a few more minutes?”

“It’s been 20 minutes!” he replied.

Twenty minutes!  It had felt like five.

Other places have been “meh” experiences or just interesting for their historical significance.  I think it must have more to do with my own state of mind than anything else.

My colleague who had urged me to visit Lalibela had said she found it deeply moving, much more so than Petra.  So I wondered how it would be for me.

After about 15 bureaucratic steps involving buying a ticket then having it inspected and stamped by three people, Tesfaye and I were in.  And it was amazing.

Tesfaye told me that the churches were built in the 3rd to 5th Centuries, which conflicted by about a thousand years with what I see on Wikipedia.  He also told me that most Ethiopians were Jewish back then, which doesn’t square with the Emperor, a Christian, building all these Christian churches.  Then there was the part about the Portuguese visiting Ethiopia in the 17th Century to try to convert them, and that 800,000 people visit Petra each year while only 25,000 visit Lalibela.  Not sure about any of that.

In fact, he talked so much that there was no space to feel moved.