Monday, February 09, 2009

Turkish Ice Cream is Soooo Good!

Reflections at En Avdet,, Negev Desert, Israel

Reciting Evening Prayers in Sde Boker, Israel

Member of African American Community in Dimona, Israel

This Was A First For Us

Wild Cyclamen, Israel

Sunset on Buyuk Ada, Istanbul

Playing Tavli (Backgammon) in Istanbul

Hinda's Shoe Shine Man in Istanbul

Blog 2 Turkey, Blog 3 Israel

Blog 2 Turkey, Blog 3 Israel
February 9, 2009
Jerusalem, Israel
Dear Friends and Family,
Excuse us if we are writing too often, but we want to share our travels, experiences, and thoughts with you.
We just returned from a great week in Istanbul were we stayed with our old friends that we first met in 1960. By the way, their flat is on the 7th floor and it is 105 steps up – we only did it once a day. There are chairs to sit on and rest on each landing – thankfully, and Hinda needed to use them.
Istanbul is one of our favorite cities, and we have concluded that we could easily live there. It is a city of neighborhoods, and in each neighborhood there are all kinds of shops and restaurants. It is a city of 12 million people, and the traffic is horrendous, but there is a large bus system as well as a very nice subway and an above ground tramway. And many people walk.
A day or two before we left the weather turned very nice and warm and made the remainder of our stay quite pleasant. We took a ferry with our friend to the largest of the Princess Islands – Buyuk Ada (Large Island), and the return trip to Istanbul at night with the city all lit up was truly beautiful.
Because of the speech in Davos by the Turkish President, Israeli travel to Turkey from Israel has dried up. Usually there are lots of Israeli's going there because it is close and cheap. On the day we went, on a Boeing 737-400, there were only 40 passengers. We actually were told not to tell anyone we were Jewish or that we came from Israel. So, despite President Erdogan's tough talk, the Turkish travel industry is offering trips to Turkey for 4 days including air, hotels, and all meals for less than $200, but it doesn't seem that many Israeli's are taking up the offer. Hopefully things will calm down soon. In fact, Turkey is trying to get an Israeli prisoner who has been held by Hamas for a couple of years released. Politics is interesting isn't it? We should also remind you that Erdogan is running for re-election, and on Turkish TV we saw his party giving away large major appliances, (they said it was for poor people – but who do you think those poor people are going to vote for?
We left Turkey with a bit sad because we will miss it and we will miss our dear friends, as well as the best food and desserts in the world as far as we are concerned. To be sure, we will be back for we will need to return to where our married lives began more than 48 years ago.
Here in Israel, we have been bouncing around between one or another of our family, all of who are anxious to have us stay with them and all of them are very gracious hosts. It is very nice of them and we are very thankful.
We spent a couple of days in the north, in the Galilee, and just this afternoon returned to Jerusalem where we spent the last day and a half in the Negev. This is a small, but very beautiful and diverse country – deserts; oceans, including the Dead Sea which is 400 feet below sea level and is the lowest place on earth; forests; rivers; fertile agricultural sections; and of course everywhere you step, you go back into history millennia.
One of the highlights of being an AJWS volunteer is meeting people from all over the world. One of these people we met in Uganda in 2004 and she was also volunteering there. We met up with her here, and tomorrow she is talking us to the tunnel under the Western Wall and to the City of David located just outside the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem.
On this visit to the Negev we had a very interesting experience. In our guide book there was a description of an African Israeli community, and so since we were passing through Dimona where this community is located we tried to find them and find them we did. Guess what? This is a group of some 3,000 African Americans who started coming to Israel in the 60's. They do not consider themselves Jewish, but nor are they Christians or Muslims. In the 60's, they went to Liberia for 2 years to learn how to live in a place that was not like America, and many of them returned to the USA. The rest came here. It was fun talking and listening to this group with their American slang and customs. It seemed to us that they spoke very little Hebrew. They told us that they just got licensed to begin a kibbutz after 40 years of trying. In fact only one of their group has become a citizen and the rest are permanent residents. We remember a lot of the controversy surrounding this group over the years. Should they be allowed to become citizens? Who knows – it is not our decision. They are loyal to Israel, and even though their children at the age of 18 are not drafted into the army, most of them volunteer because they want to be like most other Israeli's. Anyway, it was an interesting experience talking and eating with them.
Well, tomorrow is a big day in Israel – Election Day. Nearly everyone tells us when asked that "Bibi" Netanhayu will be elected although none of them want him, but want Tsipi Livni instead. So if he is going to be elected and no one we have spoken to will vote for him, obviously some one will. We'll see what happens tomorrow. If he does win, it may be a challenge for the Obama administration, since he is a pretty conservative politician and the leader of a fairly conservative party.
So, Shalom for now. We leave for the USA on Saturday – Valentine Day. We had a great trip both here and in Turkey. After we get back, we will start thinking about our next big jaunt – volunteering in Kenya for 3 1/2 months beginning in mid June.
Peter and Hinda

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Flowers in Macka Park

Prayer Beads in Rustem Pasha Mosque

İstanbul Street Merchant

Blog From Turkey

Blog 1 From Turkey
Feb 3, 2009-02-03
Merhaba (Hello) from İstanbul!
We are here in İstanbul visiting very old friends that we met here in 1960 - 1962 when we lived in Ankara. Some of you may know that the day after we were married we moved here where Peter was posted when he was in the Army. So Turkey has a special meanıng for us: this is where we bagan our life together as a couple. Also, when we lived here, we met a young couple from İsrael who became our closest friends and so this trıp to Turkey and İsrael has special connections for us.
For the past few days, the weather has been cold and rainy – similar to what we are used to back in Seattle, but se la vie. İstanbul is, in our opinion, a world class city – very large and cosmopolitan, and a mix of the old and the new. İt is full of beautiful mosques and historical buildings and has the best markets including the spice market where the smells are an unforgettable mix of cheeses, olıves, every conceivable kind of spice, etc. And so crowded it is nearly impossible to navigate the narrow alleys, though from time to time a delivery truck somehow works its way through the crowd without running anyone over.
İstanbul ıs a city of neighborhoods, and we are staying with our friends in their apartment in an interesting part of the city where many Jews, Armenians, and Christians live, as well as Turks of course. Our apartment is on the top floor of a 6 floor building – 105 steps and no elevator, so once we leave in the morning we don't return until the evening after we have walked for hours and kilometers – miles it seems.
İt has turned out to be a very interestıng trip for us at this time, to İsrael and Turkey. İn İsrael of course there is the Gaza war, and here in Turkey, there are very high anti İsrael feelings with large demonstrations and emotional speeches by the Turkısh president . We have decided not to tell anyone that we have been in Israel and that we are Jewish, since the atmosphere feels very volatile here. Each night on TV, the news replays the emotional speech by President Erdogan while sitting next to Shimon Peres of İsrael and there are many many news commentators talking about it throughout the day and evening on all of the Turkish news programs.
Never the less, we do feel comfortable and safe, and we love Turkey as much as we always have. İt continues to have a special place ın our heart. Turks are warm and hospitable people, and we continue to rate it as our favorite place. The food ıs superb, and we eat our way through the day, and then in the evenıng, our friend Taylan has cooked another delicious dinner just as we remember her mother doing more than 48 years ago when we lived ın Ankara. And the desserts – wow! This ıs not a weight loss trip for sure.
Yesterday we went to a hamam – Turkish bath. When you emerge an hour or so later you are clean – clean – clean, and a bit wıped out after having been scrubbed, massaged, and boiled lıke a lobster in the 115 – 120 degree heat of the hot room. The masseur really worked Peter over while Hinda's masseuse seemed a bit gentler. This hamam was built in 1714 and is very beautiful insıde – all marble. After her bath, Hinda received a gift of black panties, while Peter received nothing but feeling beaten up! İt was lots of fun, felt good and after a few hours of recuperation, we might be willıng to try it again.
We continue to do most of the usual tourist things like visiting Aya Sofia. The Blue Mosque, The İstanbul Modern Art Museum, Topkapi, and many other sights. We have been to some of these before but always find something new to discover.
Today it ıs raining and cold so we will stay inside drinking tea until the weather clears. Back to İsrael in a couple of days. We will write again from there.
Love, Hinda and Peter