Let's face it we humans don't deal well with change. Once we have developed some sort of consistency or routine in our life it takes more than a crowbar to pry us out of said routine.
Still drunk, still high, and maybe, just maybe an hour of sleep this morning. Waking up was the W of the new year and now I was off to the airport. Checked in, aisle seat secured and trying to force myself to vomit. Alas, I had no luck what so ever. The aisle seat was tremendous and I crashed all the way to Cancun. So far so good right? HONKKKKKKKKK! A 2-hour line at the rental car. I bided my time by eating almonds and trying to figure out how to turn my phone on.
I began writing about my trip and was documenting the day to day and what I thought about each location but to be honest it was so boring and miserable. Not just miserable for me but for you the reader. I decided to just to cover a few stories that I think would much rather intrigue you the readers. Because don’t we all just want to form opinions rather than here someone else’s.
I was beyond excited to finally be in Jerusalem! This is it! The place humans have fought and died for five millennium and I was in the heart of it! I was able to sneak away from the tour group on a Shabbat and do a bit of exploring on my own. I was limited on time and was blindly going after as many Muslim and Christian sites I could possibly see. I started off in the Church of The Holy Sepulcher and was shocked to see how many pilgrims were there. I wasn’t shocked however to find out how many people believed the world was going to end; quoting word for word not just from the Book of Revelations and from the Book of Daniel as well. This one pastor from Kentucky would not stop trying to convince me about at this passage in the Book of Daniel explaining how a people from the North will come down and destroy Israel. Apparently when Daniel spoke of the people from the north he meant Russia having a strong military presence in Syria and he forgot that the year would be 5776. Yes, not 2016! The Jews have their own calendar. This is the last place I wanted to show any disrespect especially in the presence of such devout believers. I could have been thrown on a cross and ran down the Via Delarosa for all I knew.
After spending way too much time and realizing I really only had time for one more stop I decided to head to the Dome of the Rock, also known as the Temple Mount. Jerusalem is split up into four quarters and as you guessed the Church was in the Christian quarter. As I was headed toward the Arab quarter, a gentleman came up to me and began dressing my head in a keffiyeh. I knew the gentleman had intentions to sell me this garment but it was a pretty well put together garment. I was able to haggle it away from him for $10 US dollars. I thought, “Dammit Brandon you are heading to one of the holiest sites in Islam and now you have dressed the part. They are going to gladly let you up there with open arms.”
I continued on into the Arab quarter with my keffiyeh and I made it to one of the entrances to the Temple Mount. The IDF soldiers there spoke to me in Arabic so I spoke back in Arabic. Now my Arabic is shit and I’m only good for about 3-5 exchanges. After those 3-5 I told the guard, “We can speak English now I don’t know any more Arabic.” They found it somewhat amusing and then proceeded to ask, “If I was a Muslim?” I replied not today guys I’m on Team Human. Now they were getting annoyed and with an urgent tone that this is an entrance for Muslim’s only and you do not want to enter here and let them catch you. So once again I was diverted back from which I came.
Time was almost out and I had to get back to the hotel of course while rocking my keffiyeh. After I left the Old Jerusalem I was going to be entering all Jewish neighborhoods. It was Shabbat so many families were outside spending the day together. As I got more inside the Jewish neighborhoods the staring began to grow. I remember several individuals and entire families changing sides of the sidewalk on me, and at the time I really didn’t have a clue why. One gentleman even shielded his family behind him and threw up his two fingers in the international sign for peace. I wished him a nice Shabbat Shalom and remarked about how great of a Sabbath it was, but he hurried his family the opposite direction. I still couldn’t put my finger on what about I was scaring the daylights out of the people. I have been told before that I could be too friendly so I just assumed it was that. I didn’t receive any more stairs or scares the rest of the trip and brushed the incidents off like nothing ever happened.
When I visited Jerusalem for the 2nd time I got into a cab with a woman who was showing a buddy and me around Jerusalem. She chuckled at me and asked first, “If I knew what I was wearing?” She explained, “That I don’t care that you are wearing it I just hope that you know what it stood for.” Here it was! I was going to find out what was causing such a ruckus to all of these people. “Brandon there are many different colors to a keffiyeh”, I interrupted her and I told her yes yes I know people in different countries where different designs, now why is mine so different? Well, the one you are sporting is the keffiyeh that is worn by Hamas, the terrorist organization in the Gaza Strip. I wouldn’t say it was a feeling of, “oh my god my life could have been in angered this entire time” feeling that came over me but more of a feeling that I am RETARDED!
I have a bit more compassion for my parents now who think I am insane. Not just insane because I am willing to travel to hostile locations but compassion because I know how much they love me and that the nonsense I get into sometimes can worry them. It's really one of those I understand but I don't understand moments. Does this mean I am going to stop, though? Hell NO!
After just under 10 hours or as the flight attendant said in his broken English, “10 hours minus 10 minutes”, and I was back in Israel. Although I had been to Israel twice before I never felt that shock and awe when visiting a distant land. I always feel at home and as my family would like to describe it as way too comfortable. I got on the bus with the tour group and we headed up towards Afik in the Golan Heights where we would be staying in a Kibbutz.
My idea of a Kibbutz was a little more rugged compared to the place we actually stayed. The place we stayed, Kibbutz Afik, reminded me much more of a resort, with dining halls, a pool and a bar. Being a resort esque kibbutz the food was always solid which made eating clean here easy.
After a few getting to know you games and pleasantries we were excused for the evening. Being an adventurous night owl I wasn’t keen with sitting around the rooms watching other smoke cigarettes and chatting. I began exploring the premises and came across a group of guys having some drinks. They invited me over and shared some of their vodka with me. These guys called themselves Druze and I had never heard of anyone call themselves by this before. Apparently the Druze are an ethnoreligious, Arab speaking, group that have lived in the Levant for over a thousand years. We had some great times but after the foul breath, conversation that turned into shouting and language barrier I decided to retire back to my room.
First morning in Israel and low and behold I was up at 6 am putting together a meditation and a light workout. Not to blow smoke up my ass but I’ve never been a morning person and that fact that I was able to do this first day of travels was big for me. It really helped set the tone for the rest of my trip. I really felt that although this was a break from my normal routine, getting that hour of mindfulness and exercise really helped to shape my day. It does also help when you have MCT powder for you coffee every morning.
We took the bus out for a very scenic drive around the Golan Heights and the Sea of Galilee. We proceeded to hike in and around the Hazbani River. There were much more water hikes then I had planned for and my Chuck Taylor’s prevailed every single time. After the hike we came to a kayak center where we rented kayaks and headed down the Jordan River. They asked us to abide by one rule and that was to have at least one male participant in the canoe because the current was strong. I initially thought this is just a backwards saying for the region and they want to keep us in big groups. However once we took off and I saw how little of paddling was needed and the amount of Arab man there were I soon understood the concerns of the tour coordinators. It was the last day of Eid and many Arabs were out celebrating the end of the holidays. The river was very vibrant and swollen with people of all ages.
I was in a canoe with Jess, one of the coordinators, and Natalie a participant of the trip. I didn’t pick up on the real meaning of the rule until I jumped out of the canoe to swim for a while in the river. As soon as I got out of the raft, three guys tried to jump in the canoe with only two ladies inside. I jumped back in the raft and was able to keep two of the three guys from jumping into the raft. In by no means was this a negative confrontation. I simply explained with my very limited Arabic, “Khallas”, and our new friend, Ahmed, actually accompanied us for the rest of the ride down the river.
Now it was off to the DMZ between Israel and Syria. We went up to very high ridge with many surrounding military bases. Days before our arrival there were several mortars fired over from Syria, however these were not fired by the Syrian Government but rebels who had taken control of much of the borderland with Israel. We heard several loud explosions during our visit but I attributed that to IDF war games and not mortars or missiles.
Up here on the ridge the head tour guide Itia explained the history of the area and how it came into the hands of Israel. From the initial occupation by Israel in 1967 to 1973 when the Syrians took back a bit more land in the Yom Kippur War. After explaining the history, Itia asked us to notice the difference in vegetation lines. Israel’s side of the border was much greener and there were not just plenty of land being farmed but green houses as well. As you may have noticed Israel really prides itself on its drip irrigation system. I asked Itia, “’If maybe it had something to do with a Civil War going on the other side of the imaginary line or maybe that $3.8 billion dollars a year in defense funding , from the US, could play a role in a country having prosperous farm land or not? Because it had to divert fewer funds towards defense.” Itia went on about it the funding not being that much money but also how it is the responsibility of the leader of said country to make sure that to look after the best interest of its people.
The thing I did enjoy about this tour was the lectures and discussions. That night back on the Kibbutz the program brought in Israeli-British journalist to give us some insight on the geo-political situation in and around Israel today. There was heavy emphasis on the Israel and Palestine question. The lecture was great and I realized there was a lot I didn’t know and it seems that because this has been a process in the making for almost 50 years both sides are becoming very weary that an agreement will be reached.
The rest of the night consisted of some drinks at the bar drinks with the Druze and hanging out with other members of the tour. I really connected with a lot of the members of the tour that evening whether it was through pool or trolling.
5:55 a.m. and right back to the mat for some meditation however today I had a few others join me. It’s great seeing your positivity and good habits rub off on others. It’s even greater when people are commenting on your positive energy and smiles early in the morning. There was no coincidence then that we were headed to the holy mystical city of Tzfat where mysticism, Talmud, and kabbalah studies have taken place for over a millennium. Our first stop in the city was a sit down with Rabbi Amichai Cohen to get a deeper insight on Kabbalah. The Rabbi got deep and I was truly impressed with the layers of life, science, religion, and spirituality he covered in his talk. I was so impressed that I diverged from the group on several occasions while in Tzfat in order to have a more in depth conversation with the Rabbi.
The rest of the day was attributed to art scene in Tzfat. We visited the studio of artist David Friedman and got to view all of his psychedelic, sacred geometry pieces. I ended up even buying one for a friend back home. The reason I know its psychedelic is because I asked David, “Which kind of hallucinogenic he takes?” and just as I suspected it was LSD and psilocybin mushrooms.
Now the artwork that didn’t need any psychedelics to be ingested to make because the text says it’s all was the biblical candles. Some pretty accurate descriptions of different Old Testament story’s like Noah’s Ark, with Winnie the Pooh and the Madagascar Penguins on board, as mentioned in the Bible, Sampson killing several Philistines with his bare hands and David decapitating Goliath.
The rest of the day was to grab lunch and wander around the streets of Tzfat to grab lunch and to take in the amazing location and architecture of this holy city. We eventually headed out to Tel Aviv where we spent the night at residence in Jaffa.
No, no, no the evening didn’t end just like that. Not on the road with Brandon. We headed up to the rooftop after dinner and bought about I’d say 30 beers to split amongst the 8 to 10 of us who were still drinking. Everything was kosher, or halal, until one of my friends on the trip started having a seizure. Luckily my buddy Max was an EMT and he was able to be with our friend through the entire seizure. This wasn’t just a shock to us but to our friend as well. He is a very healthy individual and never had a history of seizures ever. He spent the night in the hospital, was released, and was still able to join the rest of the trip. He’s doing so well that I received a snapchat of him on the toilet this morning.
The Taglit Birthright program provides you with airfare to and from NYC to Tel Aviv so it is on you to get yourself from your starting point to NYC and back. From my prior post you are aware that I was flying out on Sunday 9/11. I didn’t have any work set up for Friday or Saturday so I decided to head up to NYC early and enjoy the weekend. First off let me shout out all my family and friends in NYC. Every time I visit, I am treated like a king with amazing hospitality and appreciate all the love you always provide me. So much love in fact that it almost made me forget about my delta flight to NYC which had no A/C in my entire row. The plane was cool just not the row where I was seated. After I got situated at my buddy's apartment I grabbed some sushi ate some edibles with a friend of mine and we proceeded to wonder around the seated aimlessly, dropping by a house party and meeting friends in the east village for a round or two.
Because I consumed so many edibles I didn’t wake up until 2 pm the next day. I managed to still get to the gym in the apartment building I was staying at and I got a solid workout in. After that I met up with my friend Nolan, Monique and few other characters and we headed to Space NY to see Fehrplay spin. This was my first time at Space NY and I think I’ve been to every Space night club in the world besides Space Moscow. And no I am not proud of that at all. The crowd was perfect size for the rooftop area however Fehrplay started the party by himself too early and was passed out. He finally came on at 7 pm and played until 10.
After Space we headed back to Nolan’s place for a second pregame this time a pregame to go out for the evening. Monique and I decided to bail and eventually we split up. I met up with my buddy Marc and we grabbed a few slices of pizza. We caught up, talking extensively about my blog and about playing basketball the next morning.
At the basketball game the next day I’ll be honest I was a bit nervous. I hadn’t hooped for 3-4 months let alone really get some solid running in. Although I was very rusty I had a great time playing with Nolan and Marc.
I still had plenty of time in my flight so I proceeded to finish the prep for all the snacks I was looking to bring with me to Israel. This was the first time I had taken a serious account of bringing my own food for an extended trip. I stopped at a GNC to get a shaker and some quest bars. As well as Whole Foods for some cheese, sausage, nuts, and bone broth. Below is a picture of the things mentioned and other snacks I brought with me. You can buy all of these things in the product section of my blog. I also have a link provided below as well as a portal at the bottom of the page for Organifi Green Juice. Use promo code BUSDRIVER for a 15% discount off your order. A majority of these snacks are high fat and low carb. They came in handy whenever I was hungry or to provide a staple for my diet I may have not been able to acquire that day.
Being the 15th anniversary of 9/11 the city, or at least the part of Manhattan I was hanging out in didn't seem that tense or uptight. The people I ran into were out and about going about their usual Sunday. However there was a moment when I heard a more then one fire truck or ambulance I thought to myself, "Here we go again!"
I didn't really have much connection to the incident besides the attack being an attack on American and me being an American. Yet I still don't think I can recall the way things were before that day 15 years ago. I've lived in places like Kuwait and Israel where the threat of an incident is always prominent. It seems that the normal barriers, the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, can't keep us isolated from the violence and confrontation that normally only effect a certain part of our planet. Jet fly overs, hightened security, cameras on every street corner all in the pursuit to keep us safe. Safe from what though? I don't think that question is examined enough and until then we will continue to be disconnected from who the people we see and call our enemies.
Now I had not met anyone on the trip before I got to the airport. I had spoken with Yoav, one of the coordinators but nothing else. Because this was a, “group tour” there were many waivers signed even one about not consuming alcohol. I even got to make my own name tag. I connected with a few members of the group at a Buffalo Wild Wings at the airport before the flights and watch Sunday Night Football.
I found my seat on the plane was bottle necked in the middle seat between Zoey and Dave. You can imagine not one second of sleep occurred on this flight. Yet I was hopeful for my third visit to the land of Israel.
It’s over! I never thought I would be expressing these feelings with a bit of dismay, sadness, and nostalgia. Kuwait is a place I never imagined in my wildest dreams I would have ever ended up. Yet all it took was an email about basketball to get me there. The place grew on me though and its a place I know I can always call home. I made friendships and connections that I know won’t end with me leaving.