Sunday, February 1, 2009

Visiting home

1:50PM Israel time (6:50AM EST), February 1st.

Friday was my last day at work. Friends took me to a farewell lunch in a Waterloo-local Dim Sum restaurant, then we went back to work for a two-hour information sharing session, so I can pass-on my knowledge to other team members before I depart. On 3:00pm sharp, Jonathan and I left the building; I drove my car to the airport, and Jonathan took it back home.

I don’t know if any of you ever experienced a good Dim Sum meal but man, this thing makes you tired. By the time I arrived at the airport, I was exhausted. I was going to fly from Toronto to Frankfurt – some 8 hours flight – then have a 2 hours stop in Frankfurt before departing to Tel-Aviv, another 4 hours flight. Knowing I have trouble getting sleep in an airplane, I wasn’t impressed at all.

I checked-in online, although still had to wait in the check-in line to drop-off the luggage. I was determined to beg to whoever it would be in the check-in counter, in order to get a seat in an empty row or something.

Therefore I approached the check-in counter with a huge smile and an extremely romantic expression of the great ice-breaker “Hello, Darling”. It was either that or my extremely sleepy look that took the woman in the check-in counter off her feet as she started laughing. She gave me an aisle seat in the middle column (which seats 4), telling me that the seat next to me is broken so nobody’s going to sit there. For the Frankfurt-Tel-Aviv flight, she assigned me to a bulkhead seat so I can stretch my legs to oblivion. I was thrilled and told her that I love her.

A quick security check and I was already at the gate, half an hour before boarding.

It turns out that it was only myself and another guy in that 4-seat row, with two empty seats between us.

I am usually a rather shy person and I refrain from asking people for favours. The guy at the other end of the row was talking Spanish to some of his friends. I have no clue what they were talking about as Spanish is complete Gibberish to me, so I used the time to overcome all mental blocks so I can ask the guy for this huge favour. I thought and I thought, worked myself to once and for all just speak up. Worst case he’ll say “no”.

A few times I opened my mouth to start speaking, then changed my mind and entered yet another mental battle.

At the end, I did it. I turned to him.

“Excuse me, Sir…”

He looks at me.

“Hi. If nobody is seated next to you, would it be OK if I take a nap on the three seats because I’m really tired?”

“Oh, no, no, no speak English, no English”


I then decided to awaken the roots of Israelism in my blood. If nobody tells you what your limits are, why not find out for yourself? I then began stretching my legs, first over the seat next to me and then to the third seat. He seemed to not mind at all as he was concentrated in the movie on the screen in front of him (which I believe was in English, but never mind that).

So there I am, stretching over three seats, earplugs and eye-cover, and I still can’t get any sleep except for one short, 25 minutes nap.

I simply can’t sleep in airplanes.

I decided to take a look at what’s in there to watch. Nothing interesting except for one thing – the 1992 Freddie Mercury tribute concert. Oh, nostalgia! Way back then, I watched this event live on TV, recorded it and watched it many times. What a great concert. What a great music era, the 90’s.

Flight made it on time to Frankfurt. 2 hours break and I decided to find the gate for the connecting flight before I search the area for food. Took about 20 minutes fast walking to reach that gate. It turns out that flights from Frankfurt to Tel-Aviv go through one designated gate only – this one - pretty much at the very end of the terminal. The special thing about this gate is that you have to basically check into it and once you’re in – you can’t get out.

I asked one of the workers there about food options. He told me that I can either go all the way back, go through passport control, eat and come back (within one hour), or I can check into some nearby gate which has a snack bar behind it. I started to walk back to where I came, only to realize that I’m too tired for this walking. I walked back to the gate, checked into the gate with the snack-bar, had a pretzel (2 EUR) and then checked into the designated Tel Aviv gate.

As you check into this gate, they re-scan your hand-luggage and some “don’t mess around with me” German does a body-search on you in ways that make you feel extremely unsexy. The reason they put extra security on flights to Tel-Aviv is, obviously, the constant threats of terrorism.

After the German guy took his hands off me, I went on to sit at the gate waiting for the flight. We departed and arrived on time.

The view of the Ben Gurion airport in Tel-Aviv gives me the good “welcome home” feeling. What a stunning terminal. Up to 2004, the Ben Gurion airport was a really run-down airport with boring terminals. In 2004 – four years behind the plan – the new terminal was opened and man, is this a beautiful terminal! Very well decorated, so spacious, with Israel’s history embedded in each and every spot you lay your eyes on.

A few minutes walk and I’m in the self-serve passport control (they installed a new system based on fingerprints, available only for Israeli passport holders). No waiting in line at all. The suitcase took about 10 minutes to appear, and there I started marching towards the exit.

As I entered the welcoming hall, I looked around searching for my dad. Within a second I found him waving at me. It’s been a year since I seen him, and it was very exciting to hug him and kiss him again. I never realize how I miss my family until I actually see them.

My dad warned me that it’s cold outside. I laughed at him and reminded him where I come from. What he called “cold” outside was actually really good weather – it was sunny, just a bit of clouds with some cool breeze.

I announced my visit in Facebook and instructed whoever is in touch with my family to not say anything about the visit. My dad was the only one who knew, and he decided to torture my mom as a surprise for her birthday (her 52 birthday was the same day I arrived). So the first stop was at my sister’s house, who, of course, didn’t know a thing about the visit. My dad entered first, talked to her a few seconds, then I entered her house. She flipped completely, losing control and started crying uncontrollably. A hug and a kiss, and then I noticed my three nephews sitting nearby, in total shock as well. How I missed them… hugs, kisses to no end.

My sister was going to smack my dad for his vicious surprise plan, until she heard that my mother is still up for the surprise of the year. She asked us to video-tape the moment as she was sure it’s going to be a rather funny event.

We drove to my grandmother’s house, where my two grandmothers plus my mother were sitting outside. My dad entered first, talked a few sentences and then I appeared out of nowhere, greeting my mother with a happy birthday wish. Oh, the yelling. All accused my dad in trying to kill my mother with a heart-attack, which was really funny. It was great to see my mother – 52 years old and looking in her mid-30’s.

Almost my entire wide family lives within 2km distance from one another, in a developing (formerly a total slum) neighbourhood of Ramat-Gan, a suburb of Tel-Aviv. The unity and closeness in this family is truly astonishing. Conflicts arise here and there of course, but overall, people care for and help one another. Great family, I love them.

A short walk and I’m at home, in exactly the same room I was growing up in. And the living room. Nothing’s changed, which makes the entire experience even better.

I am home.

My sister arrived shortly after, with her husband and three kids. In an instant, the quiet house became extremely noisy – a good noise of kids fooling around and Israeli adults who are complete strangers to the art of quiet communications. Israelis – well, most of them – speak with passion in their voices. Spending years in Canada, where people are generally much more restrained and calm, makes this sudden noise truly overwhelming.

It turned out that, by complete coincidence, a cousin of mine who immigrated to Australia is visiting home as well, with his wife and baby. He left to Australia 6 years ago, one week after I left to Canada. I haven’t seen him since. He soon came to our house with his wife, kid and parents. It was great seeing him and his wife after so long, and what a cute baby! The only baby so far who didn’t run away with hysteria upon me calling its name.

What a joyful house. The amount of noise is overwhelming! but it was fun.

I then came to realize yet another bonus of visiting home: my sister’s cooking. My grandmother is a wonderful cook; she inherited her talent to her daughter – my mother – who is such a great cook that it’s amazing. My sister took over the talent as well, and man, can she cook! My God! She baked a cake for my mother’s birthday. I don’t remember how many slices I took (despite the fact that I had dinner shortly before) – I think it was 3 or 4 – couldn’t stop. My brother in law is a lucky, lucky man.

Another cousin of mine came over shortly after, was great seeing him as well. After a while everybody left, and that’s when my brother in law and myself decided to eat a Lafa.

Whoever has made it to this point is probably inquiring “what the hell is a Lafa?”.

I won’t get into the entire history of Israeli cuisine; although, it’s important to know that there are generally four types of cuisines in Israel:

  • Eastern-European cuisine, brought over by the Jewish people who came to Israel from Eastern Europe;
  • The so-called “Eastern Cuisine”;
  • Arab cuisine;
  • Everything else (American food, Italian food and so forth, which arrived to Israel in later years; the first McDonald’s was opened in Israel in the early 90’s).

As my grandmothers and grandfathers – all Jewish - were born in Iraq, the cuisines normally consumed by my wide family are the second and third ones in the list. They both are characterized by being relatively spicy, sometimes hot and – allow me – always delicious. You can either love this food or hate it.

Whoever made the mistake and spent two hours watching the movie “You Don’t Mess with the Zohan”, can find plenty of references to Hummus. The Hummus really isn’t an Israeli invention – it is in fact a Syrian invention – however it is regarded as one of the cornerstones of Israeli cuisine. It goes with everything. Israelis consume Hummus as much as Americans and Canadians consume vinegar; a condiment for everything.

A “Lafa” is called “Taboon Bread” in English (see in Wikipedia here: It is some sort of a wrap, only much thicker and much bigger in size, and tastes infinitely better. The great thing about it is that it can wrap anything. So you normally take a few skewers of any type of meat, put it in, add some condiments (don’t forget the Hummus), wrap it all up and you get one of the most loved, widely consumed food in Israel, shortly referred to as “Lafa”.

This thing is big. A typical Lafa bread is slightly over one foot in diameter, and it is thick. Though i am aware of a few people who can eat two, you have to be quite the eater to eat one full Lafa and still be hungry. But to remind you, this is my first visit in Israel after a year, and I have missed this food so dearly. Despite the dinner I had before, and the cake I consumed like no tomorrow, there was still room for the Lafa. I consumed it with much passion and was very happy.

Later on, a couple, friends of my parents, have arrived for a visit. We talked for about an hour until the food and being 30 hours without sleep started to make me very irritable and so I decided to go to sleep.

I fell asleep within a few minutes, woke up at 5:00am. My dad just woke up for another day at work, so we sat down in the living room and chatted for a while. I went back to bed shortly after he left, and woke up at 12:00pm.

It’s been raining lightly today, however the rest of the week is supposed to be nice (see this and weep…

Sun is shining now so I’ll go out for a short walk.




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