The Second Most Humiliating Experience of My Life
This was exactly what I'd expected
Supposedly, the tour kept us so busy and sleep-deprived that we would become brainwashed Zionists (that is, not necessarily but optimally religious Jews, and political supporters of
Now it was time for another "adventure," when I would have been ready to trade my soul for a nap and some bottled water. I had to refill my bottle with tap water. There were things floating in it. Too big for an amoeba, I would assure myself every time I took a swig. Probably harmless sediment.
I was in
There were twice as many Jewish tourist kids as there were camels. So half of us followed the camel riders down a trail; they explained that we'd get to ride back to camp as the others walked. Right when we arrived at the camel-switching point, I was seized with a "bathroom emergency." Considering the foreign country and upset bacterial balance, yadda yadda, this attack of diarrhea was neither unexpected nor unique to this trip. However, this was the only time I suffered this indignity without access to a toilet, or even toilet paper. There wasn't so much as a tree to hide behind! Instead, the tour guide, rolling her eyes, so tired of putting up with me, just like my parents, just like my boyfriend, told me to content myself with climbing down a hill a little ways away from the rest of the group. And...not being able to wipe. At all. There were no leaves - just rocks!
So...time to return to the camels! I protested, weakly, that I wasn't in the mood for a camel ride. Having been something of a poor sport the entire trip, everyone basically insisted that I participate. I hopped up on the camel, hoping no one could see the brown spot that I was sure was spreading over the seat of the pants, and proceeded to bounce and squish back down the trail, in what felt like an interminable journey back to camp.
I feel bad for the camel, first and foremost. There was no saddle, and I imagine any shit transferred might have been difficult to detect, and remove. I also feel embarrassed about the possibility that anyone else in the group might have seen the recent pile of diarrhea, lurking not too far down a hill that everyone walked past. But man, the shower afterwards? The cleanest I had ever felt.
They continued the routine with some "Bedouin hospitality," which consisted of sitting awkwardly on mealy cushions while drinking too-sweet tea and listening to boring stories. At first, I'd found this terribly tortuous, but after about an hour, it became soothing; it was almost ritualistic. It was like being read a cultural bedtime story. We were empty, naive American vessels to be filled with messages of cultural tolerance, but especially tolerance for our culture.
During this trip, we spent time with the friendly Arabs, the Bedouins here, and later the Druze, but never met a Palestinian. Most of what I knew about Arabs, I’d learned from my boyfriend, whose father was from
We went to the Wailing Wall; there were no atheists or agnostics on this tour; I was, but I had started to wonder if maybe I had been worshipping the wrong things instead. We went to the Holocaust museum, Yad Vashem, and I was the only one who cried. The empty naive vessels were numb and glassy-eyed from hard drinking that, as 18-year-olds, they seemed less used to than I was. I was feeling positively clear-headed from drinking without smoking pot. Everything smelled so clean, even the disgusting tap water, even the camels. Everything smelled new.
After a long, taxing day, you'd think that at least I got a good night's sleep in our faux Bedouin tent. Nope. A scorpion stung one of the boys. Things got ugly. The kid threatened to "sue you Birthright motherfuckers." He cried. He railed. He was afraid he was going to die. He wanted to go to the hospital; they insisted that their medic was up to the challenge. I was too tired to care. If it was a Guantanamo-esque, dehumanizing experience, perhaps that explains why all I could think was, they're going to wake us up at three, jerk!
They woke us up at three in the morning because we were supposed to watch the sunrise from atop
The ride to
There's a contraption that takes tourists up and down
Yet the time that I actually spent on
That evening, we went on a cruise. There was some dancing; I did not dance; the water made me feel sick and heavy. One Puerto Rican couple danced so glamorously they reminded me of Gomez and Morticia Addams. I wanted to be that in love with someone some day. I sat off to the side and gossiped with Micha, a teacher from
Another personal victory, especially after confronting my fear of heights, was climbing a thousand-foot waterfall. I'd never been okay with climbing so much as a ladder. Yet somehow, I managed to clamber over slippery rocks in my ill-chosen sandals, and still smile when I see a picture a friend took of my Mohawked, NIN-shirted self trudging up like I was leaving Hell.
On the way back, I lagged behind the group, next to the medic, who kept encouraging me to keep going. He barely spoke English, and barely spoke to anyone except the tour guide and bus driver even in Hebrew, so when he looked back at me and muttered something, my first reaction was to flinch: was he cursing at my slowness and fatness and general spoiled American indolence? I remembered a night a few weeks before, when I’d locked my keys in the car outside an Italian restaurant, where I’d enjoyed what was supposed to be a romantic date night with my boyfriend. “It’s no big deal,” I’d said. “I got a hide-a-key, see?” But the little faux-velvet box, the only box of that kind that I’d see during my time with my boyfriend, had swung open over some bump in the rode: empty. We waited about half an hour for my parents to rescue me with the spare key. My boyfriend excoriated me the whole time for my stupidity and thoughtlessness. My parents pretended not to see my tears, or my fresh-and-fading-alike bruises. It isn’t until I type this, now, that it occurs to me that perhaps what he was really angry about was wrecking his car and losing his license and having to ask me to drive him everywhere. I could have left him so easily, then.
In any case, when the shy tour guide repeated himself, I had been completely wrong. “Your hair,” he said. His fingers danced in a rebellious, somewhat mischievous spike, miming a Mohawk. “I wanted to tell you. Beautiful.”
The next day, we visited the
A few days later, I got my first and only tan. Here in
We were effectively under house arrest - already hamstrung by the lack of freedom on the state-sponsored tour (we couldn't wander off by ourselves, and were accompanied by armed soldiers for, ahem, our safety), we were informed that we couldn't leave the hotel for the duration of the Sabbath. They told us that the entire country effectively shuts down between sundown Friday and Saturday, although I suspect that if left to my own devices, I might have been able to locate a heathen dance club in Tel Aviv. We had a big Shabbat dinner, and then retired to our rooms to do what any group of teenagers staying at a resort for free do - drinking games! For some reason, the only beer we could ever find in
My fondest memory of the day was absorbing the sun's soothing warmth in a lounge chair while reading a mediocre horror novel. I hated wearing bathing suits; my family had always teased me for being fat, which, ironically, I had not been at all as a child or teenager: I was anorexic and didn’t weigh over 110 pounds until I moved in with my boyfriend. Even when I could get over feeling fat, though, I would still hate feeling naked and on display. Here, though, it didn’t matter. I was among strangers who found me interesting and cool and, apparently, “honest.” I enjoyed feeling physically present in my body. I enjoyed having nothing to cringe from.
As the sun went down and we had to gather for some educational candle-lighting boorishness, everyone commented on how much sun I got. I imagined the figure of speech literally: reaching out and greedily taking the sun, all for my own, rubbing it along my face and back and arms until I glowed with lasting warmth. I was optimistic, despite their warnings that I'd be burnt in the morning. (Since my sunburns are generally of the instant variety, I had a feeling something better would happen.) I was used to brushing off warnings at that point. I wasn’t used to my apathy coming true: I woke up the color of a sabra, the color of a warrior, the color of someone new.
When I returned from
I didn’t discover a “birthright” in the sense that I became a Zionist, or even more religious than I had been before. I didn’t even discover a backbone, in the sense that when my boyfriend picked me up at the airport, in my car which I’d let him borrow during my trip, he spent an hour yelling at me for my inconsiderateness in making him come get me in the middle of the night, after my flight was delayed, and I spent an hour apologizing. After sleeping for a few hours, I was dreaming of having sex with the boy from the trip; I woke up and heard myself moaning in a way that I never had before. I realized it was just my boyfriend, feeling me up. I cringed. Again. Maybe the
Within two months of this trip, though, I’d left my boyfriend and moved to