Sunday, December 28, 2014

to pastures new........

We walked in and Bella introduced me to Uri, her neighbour and my guide. The tv was on and he was gesticulating wildly at the television and decrying all the bad news, but he is addicted to it. Uri had been injured in one of the wars and is now confined to a wheelchair and drives a specially adapted Jeep. He was charming and told me that he was looking forward to taking me around and being my guide, and we would start the next morning.

Now I mentioned earlier that Bella has lived on this kibbutz for nearly 40 years. I also gave you a little information about the kibbutz life when I was at Gan Schmuel with Ita. I told you that in years gone by, everyone worked and was assigned a job, and that money was shared amongst the members.
Well, I learnt a lot more from Bella.

Nowadays, the kibbutz has changed, and you now keep what you earn, and I know there were discussions as to the ownership of homes while I was staying with Bella so the kibbutz is a very different place today. Kfar Gil'adi has a quarry which is used for road building, Uri used to be the manager of it I believe.

 Bella moved to Kfar Gil'adi when she married, it was a strange life and took a little adapting to. She lived in Peta Tiqwah which is not too far from Tel Aviv, and then moved here, Yatzke had been born on the kibbutz, so I'm sure it didn't feel different or strange, he had never known anything else, so when she arrived she was assigned a job, and was covering for someone on maternity leave so worked in the office, for which she was very grateful. Every new couple was given a mentor couple who would help them and make sure the transition was smooth, remember you are living in a community where everyone knows every one and probably their business too. I know that there was a central nursery, and once you had your baby, after a short time, the baby would be taken to the nursery where it would be looked after by other members of the kibbutz, the babies would eat and sleep there and you would see your child for a short period each day. Imagine how hard that must have been,

 I know in the 70's a lot of people I knew went to Israel to work on a kibbutz, it was the thing to do  for my generation, and I don't think I have given a good description of the lifestyle, but I have done my best, but it was different.

This photo was taken on a walk the following morning around the kibbutz. It shows one of the original buildings and looking up the hill/mountain you will see houses. Those houses are actually in Lebanon and are owned by Arabs who live in Dubai or Qatar, I got a little closer to them one day and they are huge, so they come for two weeks just to say they have seen Israel.

The kibbutz also has a hotel, and it is not unusual for tour buses to stay. Bella took me inside and it was lovely with a gym, swimming pool etc,.and they are available for all the kibbutz members to use.

Looking out towards Mount Hermon and a close up (below). The weather was beautiful

One of the original buildings, the Founders house.

There was also a small street with shops, and I was looking forward to seeing those later, but now it was time to get back and start our travels for the day. We found Uri ready to go and telling us to hurry up! He was already in the Jeep and once we were settled off we went. 

What can I tell you about Uri? Well, I adore him, he was funny, full of stories - some of which had Bella and I laughing so hard we had tears rolling down our faces, and I won't repeat them - and just lovely. When I came home, I wrote him a note of thanks to which he replied, "you walked into my house, and boom! I fell in love.........." so a sweet talker too, but I do have a very soft spot for him. But anyway, we started out on our day. We were heading for Capernaum which is where Jesus did most of his preaching around the Sea of Galilee.

This was the view of it as we got closer. It is the only body of water in Israel, and supplies the drinking water for the country. We got closer and turned the corner and then came to the Mount of the Beatitudes.

This sign was at the entrance, note that it says no guns allowed

It was a very peaceful place and it was quiet inside which was lovely, it gave one time for a little contemplation

Bella waited outside for me, and then went back to join Uri. I did go in the gift shop but the queues were so long I gave up. They were happy for me to take as long as I wanted to take it all in. To be honest, it was difficult with so many tourists there to even think that Jesus and his disciples had walked around, had it been quieter I think one might have had a better sense of it.

I loved this pebble mosaic of the loaves and fishes. I was following a nun who was busy taking photos with her camera, and smiling peacefully. She gave me a sense of peace too, and this did make me think about how Jesus fed all those people with just this and on this spot.

I turned and this was the view, absolutely stunning it really was a beautiful day. You may have noticed that I don't feature in the photos the reason being that I felt the photos should reflect my trip, I was its messenger not the main attraction so I didn't want to be in them.

We moved on to Capernaum which is where Jesus lived for a while, and where he gathered his disciples from the area, telling them he would make them fishers of men. Uri parked the car and told us to take as long as we wanted, so Bella and I went in and wandered the ruins, after a while she said she would go back to Uri, and left me to wander. It was again, very busy, lots of tour groups, but I managed to miss them in my photos. I was fascinated by the archaeology. I saw columns that had stood at the time that Jesus would have been there, and had been excavated and were now lined up for visitors to look at. It really was very interesting. 

The site is dominated by this church which is built over the top of the house of Simon Peter, and this is where Jesus is thought to have stayed. The church itself is beautiful and is hexagonal, windows all around and approached by a flight of steps going up. There was a service going on when we arrived, it is now Sunday, so it was the Christians who were worshipping.

A view of the church

The statue of St Peter. He was also in Jaffa, you might remember the photo very early on of the house of Simon the Tanner, it was there that Peter had a vision while sleeping on the roof that told him that the foods that had been forbidden were no longer forbidden, and it was there that he told Tabitha to rise from the dead, which she did.

This was the synagogue, and I had the entire place to myself for quite some time, it was lovely, very quiet and peaceful.

We left here, and drove almost around the corner and through the gates to the Greek orthodox church. Uri parked the car, and Bella unloaded his wheelchair and we then went into the church. While waiting, I took this photo of the priest who is at the church, and another who brought his tour group. I have to tell you it is the most beautiful church and jaw droppingly decorated. 

I rather loved this ficus tree, I found the trunk rather eerie... I'm not sure if you can see what I do in it but........

The interior of the church. I did take lots of photos, but thought I shouldn't bore you with them all, but I think this overall view shows how beautiful it is and the chandelier was stunning.

We left after a little while, and I walked down to the end of the walkway and took this shot. A boat filled with tourists on the Kinneret, you can see how low the water level is, I think they have had a little rain since, but not sure it is enough to fill it. 

(Reading my notes, I see I have things slightly backwards.  The Mount of the Beatitudes is next to the Greek Orthodox Church, and we drove from there to it, we visited Capernaum first, apologies for getting things muddled.)

Uri then decided that that was enough churches for today, so we drove up onto the Golan Heights. But first there was something he really wanted me to see and we drove a little way along the road before driving up on to the Golan.

It's a river, I hear you say. Yes it is but this is a very important one as it is the River Jordan. Oh, is that it? Yes, I always thought it was wide, but I could imagine Moses being found in his basket of rushes, but I think I was expecting more than this! Anyway, at least I've seen it. 

Uri proceeded to tell me all about the wars and how they retook the Golan, I couldn't quite believe I was on it driving around as I can remember some of the wars that have happened over the years, and some of the names were very familiar. We drove to Qasrin and had a spot of lunch and then Uri met someone he knew, the man owned  the tourist information place on the Golan, so Bella and I had a private screening of the film about the area, it really is very beautiful, and there are a lot of wineries there, but thats for another trip. While we were watching the movie and then seeing a model which explained all the wars and what happened, Uri went off to get his chair fixed, he had a puncture, by the time we came out, it had all been done, someone came and collected his chair took it away and fixed it and brought it back to him at no charge.

We then headed further into the Golan, and came to an area which was high and was a viewpoint looking across to Syria. There were a couple of tour buses there, and some Druze vendors. 

Now I mentioned earlier that I went to a Druze restaurant. The religion is apparently almost secretive and is based on the belief of there being one God so it's monotheistic, rooted in Ismailism a branch of Shia Islam. I believe they are also very loyal to the country they live in, and you will find Druze teens doing their national service in Israel. They are certainly lovely people. I had to be a bit sneaky as you are not really allowed to photograph the women so I snuck a quick photo through the window, and then Bella and I had a coffee with one of the vendors. They were selling bottled fruit and other items.

The Druze are always noticeable by the way they dress, the men wear a white cap and blue pants, this is one of of the rare photos with me in it!

Now I have to say that I found this quite a chilling place to be, and I think it is just because of all the stuff that is going on in Syria right now, it is not a pleasant place to be, and I know that these borders are being watched. Make no mistake that what might look to be a peaceful scene is being monitored heavily by the Israeli Army. I have to tell you that I felt very safe during my entire trip as I knew that if anything happened, the reaction would be quick, I never once felt threatened or scared, but this did give me chills.

One of the things that was very noticeable is that I am looking down on a green and verdant valley with things growing. Just look across the border fence which is very easily seen in this shot and past the town of Kuneitra, and what do you see? Nothing but a barren land.

I zoomed in to take a shot of the UN camp which lies right on the border in Israel, again I am looking at Kuneitra across the border

The border is easily seen

The UN camp

These two shots give an explanation of what we were looking at, and yes, they have wind turbines in Israel, only six and not as big as the monsters that litter the countryside around here. We carried on and came across a memorial to one of the many battles that took place on the Golan.

Goats I think, I almost expected a shepherd to appear dressed as in biblical times, I doubt that the landscape has changed in all those years.

Uri took it upon himself to educate me about the various conflicts, I learn a lot.

I can't to my shame, remember where we were here, but this bunker would still be in use, Bella and I decided we didn't really need to see the inside of it, as you can see the entrance is very narrow.

Uri decided that we should start making our way back to Kfar Gil'adi but would I mind if we called in  at the town of Buq'ata to see if some friends of his were around? No I would be quite happy to meet them. Well, they are very funny he said, we laugh and laugh, which is how I found myself in the Druze village of Buq'ata. 

I was trying to look at everything but be discreet at the same time. We drove past this monument, did a three point turn in a street and then parked outside a small store, at which point Uri told Bella and I to get out and go in. We are good girls so off we went. Bella goes in first, and the man behind the counter looks up, "Shalom" he says and then breaks into a huge smile, "Bella!" Lots of laughter and then Bella shoos him outside telling him that Uri is in the car, all we can here are shouts of greeting and laughter. The Druze all speak Hebrew as well as Arabic.

I waited with Bella and took this photo as the last thing I expected to see was Santa Claus!!! Well, our host Salman, came rushing back in and asked Bella and I if we would like a coffee, and he went into the kitchen, which we could see clearly, in the back and made coffee, the smell was wonderful as it was turkish coffee with cardamom. There was a tray of cakes behind the counter, so Salman took one and cut it up for Bella and I. In the meantime, another man came in and again, there were shouts of greeting and laughter and he also rushed out to see Uri.

Uri, Hassan, Salman and Bella.

By this time we had all piled out onto the street again and joined the three of them as they laughed and joked. At that moment, Salman's wife came home. She was thrilled to see Bella and kept asking us all to go home with her so she could make us a meal, it would have been lovely but unfortunately we couldn't spare the time, but maybe next time we will arrange it. She, I never learnt her name, was dressed in typical Druze dress. Druze women wear a long blue coat over normal clothes. I know that as I saw the daughter of the family when we were in Usifya with her skinny jeans and top under her coat, they also wear white headscarves over their hair, they can be pinned under the chin, or the slightly more religious will also cover their mouths. 

(Now, it's a funny thing, but I didn't feel offended by their dress in any way. When I was in Birmingham in August this year, I saw a young girl in full Hijab with just her eyes showing and was greatly offended by this, maybe its because I think of myself as a Brit despite living here in Canada and also a citizen of this wonderful country, but I think that if they live in the UK they should show some respect for us, I found some of the billboards very disturbing, but that's another story.)

Anyway, we had a lovely chat and then it was time to go. Uri told me that both these men were extremely wealthy with beautiful homes and had other businesses, and that they all meet up in one of the orchards that belongs to one of them in the spring and have a picnic. I wish I could be there.  We reluctantly took our leave and then Uri drove on to the town of Majdal Shams.

It's built on  very steep hillside and I couldn't believe some of the steep streets, but he wanted to show me  something quite odd.

We ended up on this very steep street which just stopped and there below us was the Syrian border, it is also bizarre to see the houses built right up against it.

Uri explained that we were on Shouting Hill. During one of the many conflicts, the border was rebuilt so here it is and families were split one side or the other if they hadn't managed to get across in time. So, if you were on the Syrian side you would stand and shout across to your family standing on this hill about great aunty Ethel and her bad feet or whatever other news you had. I am assuming that the acoustics must be good but I didn't hear anyone shout so can't speak with any authority.

We drove back to the main town of Qiryat Shemona, and then home to Kfar Gil'adi. It had been a memorable day with lots of laughter and I had enjoyed it very much. Bella had arranged for some of her girlfriends to come in that evening and we had a lovely time, and I had the pleasure of meeting Roni, Esther and Katy who was originally from England.

Then it was time for bed before the start of a new day.........