Sunday, July 27, 2014

Optimism, Determination, and a Five Year Bridge : Israel, Austria, Coppers, and Palestinians...Some Things Change, Some Things Don't : Part I

   The sun's uninhibited glare shines through a 4th floor flat's window overlooking Vienna. I sit in bureaucratically imposed traction wondering if the number plates, which now rest in the 13th district Polizei headquarters, will make a miraculous return to their rightful place upon my van's bumpers. I, of course, know better. It was Thursday afternoon when an Austrian copper spied the Polish tags on my legally parked van and decided it needed closer scrutiny. It turns out that I, a supposed Pole, was endangering the Austrian public with a shoddy tire. My tags were removed and I've remained here since.  During the past ten days I have watched the world stew within a cauldron fired by greed, fear, and hatred. The land of opportunity is chucking immigrants into cells at an alarming rate as its police continue to pillage the innocent. My hope for the future in Europe is crumbling under the weight of crushing austerity. As to whether fools in Ukraine intentionally blasted a MalaysianAir jet out of the sky is immaterial, roughly 300 innocent people are now dead. Finally, my namesake has been proving very efficient at exacting revenge for the deaths of their boys. Here, then, I sit, in the midst of it all. I have relevant stories regarding each of them. However, the most personal, I now present as honestly as I know how.
   I spent the summer of 2009 having a marvelous time baking away in the Middle East. The trip began under auspicious circumstances as former President Jimmy Carter was on board my friend Arie and I's flight from Atlanta to Tel Aviv. The last good man to the lead the United States snubbed, taxpayer funded, private charter to travel with the plebeians. He went to each and every passenger personally greeting them. The first words written in my beloved hand bound journal were, To Israel   J Carter. My life has never been typical, but from that moment forward it's not been the same. The journey, in its entirety, was a thing of beauty and I was on the cusp of international incidents twice. The first of these has already been captured by my pencil but the latter has been stewing within my head for five years now.
It would have been amiss of me to spend two months in the Middle East and not make my way to Egypt to gaze upon Giza. Though by this juncture I'd already done quite a lot of traveling, as well as drinking, and my pockets were virtually empty with two weeks remaining till Arie and I returned to the States.  Fortunately, my buddy offered to loan to me some money to make such a thing happen. Thanks again, Arie. His last words upon my departure were, "Be Careful".
  I caught a bus out of Jerusalem headed for Eilat and, as it so happened, there were other English speaking folks on board. As is typical of me, I left them alone. There were some wealthy Arab kids seated between myself and them. They proved to be a bit aggressive. They muscled their way around and over others on the bus to congregate in front of me, smoking cigarettes and talking shit. They did so at the expense of those a bit less willing to accept their abrogative behavior and quickly ganged up on their neighbor from the UK who dared to speak up against them. I was less than impressed and interceded on behalf of the girl whom was losing her seat to the smokers. The three Nike clad thugs were quick to direct, in unison, their attention in my direction. They felt that 3 on 1 were pretty good odds. So did I. I maintained my stance and after the lead punk pointed at me and uttered, "You're crazy man!" and the bus was stopped, the girl got her seat back. I abandoned my place to take up a spot on the floor, away from the kids (late teens/early twenties) I'd just schooled. Briefly I became the center of the passengers' attention and I exchanged glances with the group of folks I'd help to defend. One of them, Chris, approached me and thanked me for the help. He sat with me on the floor for the remainder of the trip, telling me of his time assisting in the development of schools for Bedouin children. I took an immediate liking to Chris and upon our arrival in Eilat we hovered around the fringes of the group he was with, musing of travels and sipping scotch. During the evening Chris concluded that he would join me on my trip to Egypt.
  The distance from Eilat to the 24 hour border crossing into Sinai is roughly 10 kilometers. Being that we were in good shape, and of thrifty minds, we opted to walk. The night's warm temps were aided by the Red Sea in producing a tacky atmosphere that clung to our clothes as we passed through on our way to the doorway out of the Promised Land. We arrived at the Taba border just before midnight on Eid to find it a cluttered mess. Empty buses and taxis were engulfed by a sea of Palestinians waiting to get through the border, presumably to feast with their families following Ramadan. I was quick to assess the situation and saw that the queue wasn't diminishing. After half an hour of watching I walked through one of the open border gates, used for passing vehicles, and inquired of one of the Israeli guards, "what's going on, why isn't anyone passing?". The young soldier replied "go stand back in the line, please". "Oh come on", I prodded. Reiterating my earlier question, I received the exact same answer. I walked away, catching the eye of another soldier that shot me a grin, and they closed the fence behind me. Chris and I chatted briefly about possible causes for this, but we arrived at similar conclusions. There was no reason to prevent this this Arab exodus from Southern Israel. It was a power play. Chris went about documenting the scene with his camera. Myself? Well, at this point I should have thought of my friend's parting advice back in Jerusalem, but instead I dug Glenlivet out of my backpack and thought about how much I dislike fences. The night was still young.

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