The minutes ticked by slowly as I sat wedged between two pungent Russian men in an airport jail, sleep deprived and messy-haired. I was one of two blondes in the room, and the only one wearing a pink polka-dot backpack. I remember hearing Rami yelling outside the room frantically in Hebrew at the all-but-comatose personnel and thinking, “This cannot be happening.”
Only moments before, as our plane was touching the ground of the Holy Land, I had looked at Rami with a romantic excitement in my voice and said, “This is it. We’re doing this.” His eyes welled with the hope of a long-awaited dream being realized.
After landing, we could hardly wait to deboard the plane. We held hands as we walked through the terminal, the wheels of our carry-ons clicking behind us, the tile floors sun-drenched with morning light.
We walked dreamily all the way to airport security..
Then we woke the heck up.
At the security kiosk, we explained that we were finally moving to Israel and proceeded to retrieve our piles of papers, thorough and perfect in every way.. or so we thought. The face of the man looking at our passports slowly shifted from generally apathetic to extremely concerned. He picked up the phone next to him, said a few words in Hebrew, and Rami’s face dropped. I had no idea what was going on but it was clearly not good.
Rami hurriedly explained to me that the stack of official documentation we’d been collecting for months fell just short of sufficient for the standard-issue three month temporary visa we were hoping for. As the words rushed out of his mouth, the man in the kiosk emerged and escorted us to a small side room. Once there, we were informed that I was committing a crime (surprise!), and I was asked to sign forms acknowledging my “illegal” attempt at immigration. I was told quite abruptly that I’d be put on the next plane back to America.
We were kind of beside ourselves.
After signing the papers, Rami and our new security friend walked me to a heavily guarded room full of people denied entry to the country. It took me a few minutes to realize the magnitude of the situation, that I was actually detained.
Upon dropping me off at jail, Rami, hero that he is, started yelling at anyone who would listen until he was allowed to speak with a supervisor.He argued and pleaded with the supervisor (linebacker) for my entry to the country; and ultimately I was granted a conditional one month visa.
I was freed from airport jail and after the whole screaming-crying-jail-time ordeal, we finally made it to the airport’s welcome atrium- shell-shocked and in disbelief.
It was truly the perfect Israeli welcome.
Or at least the most true to form.
That day I was exasperated at the lack of efficiency, the surplus of bureaucracy, and frankly lots of unnecessary sass. But now I can genuinely look back and laugh hysterically at the whole thing. That is your choice when assimilating to Israeli culture- laugh at the madness or let it eat you alive. Be the person who screams silently inside as one more idiot runs into you with their shopping cart at the grocery store or flow with the crazy- honking your horn, yelling “Yalla” out your car window and singing along to mizrachi music.
Here’s a recent hit that will really up your car-dancing game:
So that’s what we’re doing here.
For the past year, Rami’s been enjoying a return to his true culture and I’ve been vacillating between melding with the Israel current and thrashing against it like a lunatic.
This is our story of embracing Mediterranean beauty, partaking of the rich, flavorful cuisine, enjoying all the time spent with people we love, exploring this land we are living in and learning how to persevere in the face of laughably unfavorable odds.
For those that don’t know, native Israelis are often called “sabras”- a thorny species of cactus with a tough exterior that contains a sweet, soft inside. In my year’s experience here, I find this to be a pretty perfect metaphor for the Israeli people I’ve encountered.
To date, I’ve rarely met an Israeli who didn’t scare me a little at first, or at least say something shockingly honest in our very first conversation. However, at the same time, most everyone I’ve gotten to know here has surprised me with their unfailing hospitality, good nature, and warmth. As I endeavor to value honesty and truth more than niceties and politeness, I am able to cherish people here more; and really value all the pieces of them that I never learned to be.
In our past year here, I’ve learned a lot about this beautiful culture, and really, about myself. But as we continue to grow and discover who we are here, there is still so much left to explore.
As I chronicle our journey, I hope to portray, honestly and vulnerably, our rich, crazy, messy life and not spare any opportunity to bring you into the full experience of living in cactus culture.