“Culture shock” is a phrase meaning that you’ve arrived in a new place so different from your reality that your entire body and mind are zapped, frozen, frightened, distressed because you are in a new culture. Well, I’m neither shocked or frozen or any of that. I prefer to think that I’m in “Culture Acuteness”. There are stark differences between Connecticut and Jerusalem. Lush and green not dry and brown. Thunder and lightning and not turquoise, sunny blue skies. Red brick and clapboard homes not Jerusalem stone apartments. Squirrels, not cats. And glorious lightening bugs. I’ve arrived home.
Totto, I knew that I wasn’t in Israel and the West Bank any longer when I was being driven by Connecticut Limo from JFK airport to Connecticut. There were three passengers including me. Tired and weary, all strangers we sat patiently as the driver readied himself to deliver us to our destinations. This was his maiden voyage. How do I know? First off he had directions hand written on notebook paper. Secondly, he smiled and asked if everyone was ok and ready to go. For a New Yorker that’s a little unusual. I wanted to yell, just get this blasted van moving I’ve been in transit almost 24 hours with the time change. But I didn’t. I wanted to make his first trip memorable.
I had glanced at his name tag as he turned around and smiled and his name was Nabil Akbar. To me he didn’t quite look Arab perhaps Indian. Shame. Who me? Racial profiling? Anyway, I knew that he was a Muslim because of the miniature Quran hanging from his rear view mirror like fuzzy dice. Our trip began. I was enjoying the beautiful green trees so full and abundant. I was thrilled to see the New York sky line from the Whitestone Bridge. I even enjoyed sitting in traffic because I could read the signs, they were in English! Then we approached the toll booth in Westchester.
We waited our turn in a lane and as we neared the booth, my stomach began to tighten. I thought, OMG, this guy is obviously going to delay my homecoming. We’re going to have to get out of the van, they’ll have to search the trunk, maybe even open our suitcases. He’ll have to show his ID card and we’ll have to pull out our passport. Really. I didn’t want to go through the humiliation for any of us in the van.
Nabil rolled the window down. He passed money to the toll taker. She took it without looking at him and we were on our way. WHAT????? She didn’t even look him directly in the eye. A soldier didn’t lean over with his rifle on his back and glare in at us. As we pulled away there were no soldiers standing there seeing us off. You see, we had simply passed through a toll booth and not a checkpoint. I was not suspect nor was the driver. I relaxed as did the muscles in my stomach, there’s no place like home.
I have moved back to the States now and will be searching for a Pastorate in the United Church of Christ. My sabbatical is nearly over but my thoughts and reflections are not. In fact, they will inform my life and ministry as long as my memory serves me. I still have stories to tell and photographs to post so I hope that you will continue to check in with me “From a Thin Place”. The next post in a day or two will be Nablus – Part 2, the Balata Refugee Camp.
God be with you till we meet again!