Thursday, October 29, 2009

Journal of a Living Lady #358

Nancy White Kelly

This concludes the travel log of the fantastic trip Charlie and I received as a result of my winning an essay contest sponsored by British Airways. After a greatly anticipated journey from Atlanta to New York to London, we were finally in historic Jerusalem.

The first day was a bust. The narrow streets that were originally intended for donkey travel have not improved much in 2000 years. After returning the rental car to the airport terminal in Tel Aviv, we walked or took taxis driven mostly by Middle Eastern mad men. Communication with drivers was in Southern Anguish. Jerusalem is not laid out in orderly fashion. We paid mucho shekels for each ride and no doubt were exploited for our directional ignorance.

One exception was a Messianic Jewish man named Adam. He observed red-faced Charlie huffing while climbing the Mount of Olives. He offered our out-of-shape son a free ride to the top which he readily accepted. If either of us had known how much walking this tour of Israel would require, we would have prepared by running the Boston Marathon.

Adam was quite knowledgeable of biblical geography and rattled off fascinating facts. Charlie jotted notes. An hour later he rushed into our motel room demanding that I come immediately. Even though I had taken the day off to recoup, I was reasonably dressed. As we hustled down the forty-four stairs, Charlie explained that Adam was going to take us on a personal tour of Bethlehem and connect us with two of his friends. I quietly sat in the back seat trying to decipher Charlie’s earlier cryptic notes. Even though I am a retired educator, it was difficult deciding if his writing was ancient Arabic or the scribbling of a dyslexic second-grader. As we traveled to Bethlehem, the two young men talked enthusiastically and non-stop about the geography, people and events described in the Bible.

A heavily armed guard at the entrance to Bethlehem recognized Adam and waved him through security. Because of the known political and religious unrest in this region, this casualness briefly raised my antennae, but I remained quiet. As the taxi maneuvered narrow streets, the poverty in this quaint historical town was noticeable. Beggars sat on street corners and scraggly children explored the trash piles.

Adam stopped the cab in front of a tiny storefront that looked more like a cave. He honked his horn and out came the proprietor, a small Jewish man who welcomed us like old friends. His aunt offered us cold drinks. I admired the jewelry and the knick-knacks made of intricately carved olive wood. Several times I asked prices, but the aunt was evasive. Instead she offered an obviously well-practiced spiel regarding the artistic skill required to make the souvenirs. This was frustrating because I had no idea of a price range. Was the silver necklace with purple stones five dollars or five thousand?

Adam waved the man and his aunt away and said we would shop later. He wanted to take us to meet other friends. One was the over-seer of the stable site where Jesus Christ was believed to have been born. Many years of renovation had turned the building into an ornate, church-like sanctuary. Long lines of people awaited an opportunity to see the spot where the manger once was. To our surprise, Adam spoke to another friend who shooed all the other visitors back. He motioned for Charlie and me to touch the large, ruby-colored star that marked the historical spot of Christ’s birth. The aggressive manager then grabbed our cameras and photographed each of us. I was puzzled and embarrassed by the preferential treatment. There were many old and lame who obviously had stood in the line for hours for their turn to view the stable site.

Adam must have much influence in Bethlehem. My guess is that he routinely brings in supposedly rich customers from America. Unfortunately, this time he picked a young school teacher and his retired mother who couldn’t give the $3000 requested later that day for “the cause.” When Charlie finally convinced Adam, the stable manager, and the shop owner that we brought little money with us, they offered to take a credit card.

While the needs of the poor in Bethlehem are legitimate, Charlie and I felt like gullible puppets who just had our strings rudely jerked. We rode back to our hotel in Jerusalem in noticeable silence. Charlie paid Adam and we never saw him again.
By the week’s end, we were able to visit most of the sites that are significant to Christians. The one site that impressed us both was the burial tomb of Christ which was provided by Joseph of Arimathea at the time of his death.
During a small span of time between tour groups, Charlie slipped into the stone tomb alone. He remained in solemn solitude for several minutes reflecting on the awesomeness of the moment.

In describing that experience to me later, Charlie beamed as he reported, “Jesus was not there.”

Mother and son smiled in agreement.

“I know,” I responded with a nod. “He is risen.”

Being a newspaper column limits me from giving all the details about our trip. I could fill a book about our inspiring journey to the Holy Land. However, it is time to move on to other adventures of this Living Lady.

Shalom, ya’ll.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Journal of a Living Lady #357

Nancy White Kelly

After an adventuresome beginning in New York City and London, Charlie and I finally arrived in Tel Aviv at 5:00 in the morning. While the plane ticket was the prize of the essay contest, all other expenses in Israel were mine. Of top of that, the IRS gets to tax the total value of the prize package which is estimated at $5000.

Charlie seamlessly transitioned to the lead role on this trip. Now that he is grown, the dynamics of our relationship has changed. While still Mother-Son, we presently function on an adult-adult level. Knowing that Israel is a predominantly male-oriented culture, I gave him the credit card and cash to handle. Charlie didn’t take advantage of his parent’s money, but I did sense a bit of unfettered joy as he slid the card for one transaction after another

To rent a car or not rent a car…that was the question. The pro was that we could travel at our own pace when we wanted. The negative was that we weren’t sure of the geography. That turned out to be the least of our transportation problems.

We went with plan A which was to rent a car in Tel Aviv and return it in one week. My first inclination that this might be a mistake was when the car rental representative noted the many dings on the sedan that we were renting. This was to ensure that we would not be charged for previous damage when the car was returned. So many dings on a virtually new vehicle raised my internal antenna.

I signed the papers and handed Charlie the car key. Driving in modern Tel Aviv wasn’t bad, but when we arrived in Jerusalem, navigating the roads became a nightmare. Road signs were very poor and neither of us read Hebrew. Lanes were practically non-existent. Cars, only inches apart, moved ahead sporadically. Honking horns jangled my nerves. This was normal “get moving” communication for Israeli and Arabic drivers but still seemed rude to this southern lady. Motor scooters zigzagged through the tangled traffic.

After a few close encounters, Charlie made the decision to take the rental car back to the terminal and start over. I concurred. Afterwards, we rode a public bus thirty miles to Jerusalem. Charlie handed the bus driver a map. He motioned for us to exit the bus a few stops later. We had no clue which direction to walk. We stopped several pedestrians, but none spoke English well enough to understand our request for directions. In exasperation, Charlie hailed a taxi that cost us $20 for six blocks. We learned quickly that we would need shekels as the American dollar was not a popular item.

Score a minus for Day one in Jerusalem. All we accomplished was to find our modest bed and breakfast inn which was recommended by a friend. The cost was $130 a night in American dollars which is reasonable here in the states, but on the low end in Old Jerusalem. Our accommodation was a simple room with two single beds and a tiny bathroom. The surprise was that there was 44 steps to our second floor abode. We found that elevators were considered a silly, unnecessary luxury.

Walking and climbing stairs became our mandatory daily exercise. Pounding hearts and sweaty bodies hid behind two-day-old clothes. We had elected to travel light due to the $20 per bag surcharge by the airlines which adds up when you change planes eight times round-trip from Atlanta to New York to London to Tel Aviv.

Tourism is the main source of income in Old Jerusalem. Whether they like each other or not, the Arabs and Jews cooperate enough to keep the area calm enough that people continue to visit. We encountered busses full of tourists from many other countries including Australia.

We learned a lot from our taxi drivers. There are certain cities that most Jews will not go. For example, Bethlehem. There were also some sites that Jews were not permitted to visit like the contentious Temple Dome. Years ago Buddy and I were able to enter the sanctuary of the Dome of the Rock. Presently it is controlled by Muslims.

Charlie and I staked out our itinerary for the next day. It would start at the sacred sites in the Old City. Finding our way there was a challenge. What the colorful inn brochures described as a ten minute walk would actually be three miles.
The next morning I was awakened by the distant morning prayers of Muslims droning the chilly air. Breakfast at the inn was a bit unusual for us southerners. No eggs, bacon or biscuits. Certainly no grits. On the buffet were olives, onions, various non-descript greenery, a vinegary dressing, boiled eggs in the shell, and always bread. I was thankful for the toaster. I could at least have toast and jelly with my stout coffee.

One morning the toaster was noticeable absent. When I inquired about it, the Jewish owner shook his head vehemently saying, “Shabbat! Shabbat!” Apparently no electrical appliances are allowed on the Jewish Sabbath. Charlie and I had much more to learn.

Shalom, Ya'll - Part III (to be continued.)

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Journal of a Living Lady #356
Nancy White Kelly

Shalom, ya’ll – Part I

The Living Lady is back in America! In spite of internal squabbles, the USA is still the best country in the world. Kiss the ground and thank a soldier.

Charlie and I flew over 13,000 miles, changed planes 8 times, and walked at least 25 miles. That would be quite a feat even if my medical records didn’t include metastatic cancer, kidney failure, two heart attacks and a pair of artificial knees.

Let me briefly up-date you on the reason for this adventure. As a Bible teacher for some fifty-plus years, I have become somewhat familiar with the geography of the ancient Middle East. Twice Buddy and I have made the journey to the Holy Land, first in 1972 and then again in 2003. It is impossible for a tourist to absorb such rich history in two visits. I have longed to return one more time.

There is a spiritual connection to this cradle of civilization that is difficult to explain. The Holy Land is both a physical and vicarious crossroad of the heart and mind that bridges humanity’s past and future.

Through a casual entry in a business-related essay contest provided by British Airways, I won the Grand prize trip to London as well as a ticket to the destination of my choice. That other location was an easy decision– Israel.

In addition, I could take a traveling companion. That choice was easy too. Buddy and I agreed that this should be our older son, Charlie, who has often expressed a desire to visit those biblical sites that he also has taught about.

The awarded trip started in New York City, so Charlie and I had to get there on our own time and dime. Wouldn’t you know that the first flight we were planning to take out of Atlanta was over-booked? The one other plane leaving at night was a hopper through Indianapolis and would land at an alternate New York airport. It was a no-brainer. If we were to make the gifted trip that started at 7:00 a.m. the next morning, we had would fly to LaGuardia and then take a taxi to J.F.K. We arrived with no sleep and yet six hours to kill.

Charlie and I wearily walked around the JFK airport, baggage in hand, looking for a quiet place to park our bodies. We came upon an empty, ecumenical chapel and made ourselves comfortable on the floor. I am sure God didn’t mind that we caught a few winks in that dark and quiet refuge. It has been my observation that people sleep in church quite often.

We arrived in London on the chartered flight and were chauffeured to a five-star hotel. Business and political dignitaries addressed the group of winners. They enthusiastically encouraged us to consider expanding our businesses to London and other world cities. This courting was amusing to Charlie and me as the Ye Old Coin Shop isn’t exactly a Fortune 500 business. Far from it. Buddy and I operate a small coin shop located in a tiny mountain town of north Georgia. On a really good day we may have five customers.

By noon Charlie and I completed our contest obligations and were free to tour London before our late evening flight to Tel Aviv. We navigated the bus system through odd-sounding streets such as Castle & Elephant.

Charlie has long been an admirer of Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the great London preacher of the 1800’s who is still known as the “Prince of Preachers.” It is estimated that Spurgeon preached to around 10,000,000 people in his lifetime, often up to 10 times a week. Charlie wanted to see the Metropolitan Tabernacle that Spurgeon pastored for 38 years as well as his grave site. Mission accomplished.
With that site crossed off our short London list, it was my turn to pick. I chose Buckingham Palace. The queen was not available for tea, but we did enjoy observing the red-coated guards as we ambled the 350 acres of Hyde Park.

Charlie and I both desired to see Big Ben, but there was no time to spare. We hurried to the hotel, gathered our luggage and headed to Heathrow Airport for the last portion of our trek. We arrived in Tel Aviv, Israel, at 5:00 a.m.

Next destination: Jerusalem.

To be continued…