About Me

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Born in the US, raised on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus, lived in Italy, the US, and Canada. Lover of language, travel, colour, and the natural world.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

The universe is abundant: part I

It is the last day of July. It is evening – the last golden light is distributing itself in geometric patterns across the marble floor of the entrance to my parent’s home that will soon be inhabited by a stranger. Outside the sound of birdcall is constant, and I wonder at the diversity of birdlife in suburban California. A cool breeze is blowing through the kitchen window, rustling the pages of my current novel, The Lost Girls: Three Friends. Four Continents. One Unconventional Detour Around the World.(which I loved and highly recommend, however consider yourself forewarned: if you have even a tinge of the adventure addict in you it will very likely—as the back cover suggests—induce an unshakable bout of chronic wanderlust).

When it was suggested to me that I start a blog I thought: yes, of course. I will write about my travels to exotic locations around the world. No problem. What had not occurred to me was that I am currently unemployed and that my last round the world trip ended almost three months ago and I have none planned in the foreseeable future. My days are currently saturated with surfing the Internet looking for job postings and companies that I can write to inquiring about possible job openings. Having had some awesome jobs and worked all over the world I know that I will eventually find my way, but at the moment to say I am feeling discouraged would be the understatement of the year. Last night a friend came by and asked how the job search was going and I erupted into a description worthy of a Shakespearean tragedy. My friend looked at me knowingly and said: “The universe is abundant. Keep telling yourself that. The bounties are unlimited.” Ok. So it doesn’t change my immediate employment status, but I do have awesome friends who are willing to put up with my seemingly endless string of complaints and amazingly stick around long enough to continuously shower me with a non-stop flow of inspiring and uplifting reflections. Thank you universe.

Although I have no immediate plans for future travel, I cannot really complain that I lack for international explorations. I was in Cyprus, Israel and London, England for a month in April and May. I made the trip for my pilgrimage to the Baha’i Holy Land, which is located in Israel. Baha’is are encouraged to go at least once during our lifetime, and more than once if we are able. I had gone with my parents when I was 19 and was right in the middle of my dyed jet-black hair and designer Italian shoes phase. My I am not sure what I believe phase. Not exactly the best time to be visiting what Baha’is consider to be the holiest spot on earth. I guess you are never really ready to be in the holiest spot on earth, but this spring I felt as though I was as ready as I ever expect to be. I had spent the last six years living on Prince Edward Island surrounded by people who had taught me humility, offered me deep meaningful friendships, and demonstrated to me the real meaning of service and sacrifice; had spent time serving my community and learning that this faith I had embraced was precious to me; and had begun to catch glimpses of what loving God meant in practical ways in my life.

Pilgrimage is usually a nine-day affair. Because there are so many people from all over the world wanting to make a pilgrimage to the Baha’i holy places, there is a formal application process, and a waiting list. I had applied just after moving to Canada five years earlier at the urging of some of my close friends despite my protests (“I am not ready.” “I will never be ready.” “What if my name comes to the top of the waiting list in the middle of my Master’s program?”) Of course five years later when the dates did arrive I had not only graduated with my Master’s degree, but had worked for almost two years and was ready to make some rather major life changes. So when I brought in the stack of mail and saw the invitation to go on pilgrimage sticking out of the pile I felt as though the gift of pilgrimage was coming at precisely the right moment.

I had planned on arriving in Israel a few days before my pilgrimage began so that I could make a long-awaited visit to Jerusalem, but plumes of ash from Iceland’s volcanic eruption necessitated a change of plan, so I arrived in Tel Aviv the night before I had to be in Haifa. After collecting my bag and changing some money I made my way to the exit, and spent twenty minutes in a heated argument with a fire-spitting taxi driver over the rate he was demanding to drive me to my hotel in downtown Tel Aviv. After a long drawn out battle that accomplished nothing because he was speaking Hebrew and I was speaking English, I finally gave in. He was charging too much, but it was after midnight and I was exhausted and ready for bed. As we sped down the chaotic highway and into the city I rolled down my window to inhale the cool, salty spring air. Tel Aviv was dead. Shop grates were pulled down; falafel joints were dark; a few late night partiers stumbled down the otherwise empty pavements. Miniature Israeli flags fluttered from all the buildings and crisscrossed in chains over the road, winding around streetlamps. It looked like I was arriving at the end of a national holiday. Neon lights in Hebrew glowed and flashed as we sped past, and I wished yet again that I had had the foresight to study Hebrew earlier on in life. Pulling up outside my hotel I quickly realized that the photos on the website must have been taken years earlier. The lobby reminded me of a post-communist era government building – shabby and forlorn. The elevator was questionable, but much to my relief after shuddering slightly it proceeded to deliver me safely to my destination on the third floor. My room was a shoebox. The bathroom had not been cleaned. The bed was hard. But at that point I would have slept on the stained carpet. I pushed open the tiny window to let in the breeze, lay down fully dressed, and immediately fell asleep.

In the morning I rose early and caught a taxi to the train station. My taxi driver was friendly and charged me fairly, and was full of stories about how his father and uncle were the only ones in a family of eight children who manage to survive World War II and settle in Israel. I reflected on how common this story must be in Israel while he went on to explain the intricacies of current Israeli politics and the widespread lack of belief in God. He was, he firmly assured me, still a believer. Something, he told me, had gotten his father as far as Israel, right? Still talking, he deposited me and my suitcase outside the train station and pointed me towards the busy front door.

After purchasing a ticket and dragging my bag down to platform 1, I sat and observed the ease with which young male and female soldiers holding machine guns (and still managing somehow to look hip) blended in with professionals on their way to work, students heading to university and devout Orthodox Jewish men huddle in small groups, their black hats and curls bobbing as they exchanged animated bursts of conversation. The train pulled into the station on time and a young man around my age helped me yank my embarrassingly heavy suitcase up the steps into the train before the doors slid closed. Not wanting to drag my suitcase the length of the train, I decided to occupy the closest seat to the door, which coincidentally was right next to my new suitcase-lifting friend. He turned and introduced himself with a smile, asking if I was in the rock importing business. We talked all the way to Haifa, watching the lush agricultural fields rush past us – fields of wheat, fruit orchards – all lined with the long rows of tall dark graceful Cypress trees that also lined many of the agricultural fields in Cyprus, and that I had been told as a child had been planted by the Jews as windbreaks and were so effective that they still serve that purpose today.

We arrived at our destination and my new friend found me a taxi and agreed upon a price with the driver before saying goodbye, heading off to work at Intel, which to my surprise had a large factory in Israel. The last Intel factory I had seen was in Costa Rica—a location chosen for the ready availability of cheap labour—so I had asked my friend why Intel would maintain such a large factory in Israel—a country known for its affluence and high cost of living. His response was fascinating to me: Apparently Israelis are highly skilled cartographers due to all of the land disputes they have been involved in. The skills necessary to create highly detailed topographic maps also make the Israelis excellent at manufacturing computer parts that require great attention to the finest microscopic details. The Israelis are so good at producing consistently high quality detailed products that Intel is willing to pay higher wages and operating costs in order to maintain a factory there.

Haifa is a port city built on the slope of Mount Carmel looking out over the blue Mediterranean Sea. The city is a chaotic mass of narrow winding streets that snake their way erratically up the steep face of the mountain, ancient mosques and Turkish baths and stone houses that are hundreds of years old mixed up with modern apartment blocks and restaurants, cafes, clubs and falafel stands that punctuate almost every block. Haphazardly constructed staircases sandwiched between high rises and lush, shady gardens climb the mountain, ending abruptly for no obvious reason and then rising up the mountain again further up or down the street. The call to prayer reverberates along the streets and walls five times a day, mixing with the never ending exchange of exasperated horn pumping, the screech of brakes, and the sound of birdcall that seems to float like a fine mist over the city. Without the Baha’i gardens—that rise from the foot of the mountain all the way to its top—the city might resemble an abstract grey painting of industrial clamour; of constant motion and noise. The gardens, which seem to be embroidered across the chest of the mountain, are a paradise of exuberant colour and fragrance, drawing tourists from all over the world to bask in the meditative beauty that seems to hang suspended like a surreal, splendid dream over the city. An intoxicating dream from which it is fortunate to never have to wake up.

At the top of the mountain I was deposited in the marble lobby of my hotel, and promptly escorted to my room on the seventh floor. After my experience the previous night in Tel Aviv, my expectations were rather low, but when the heavy door fell closed and I turned to take in my surroundings my jaw dropped. The whole front wall of my room was glass; I had a bird’s eye view of the entire city of Haifa, the gardens stretching out below me down to the Mediterranean like a mirage, and a spectacular view of the coast line as it curved around the bay all the way to the prison city of Akka. I melted into the large comfy chair facing my windows, a broad smile spreading across my face. The universe is abundant indeed!

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