When I told my parents that I would be traveling to Israel for work, they both expressed the concern that any parent would express when they think their child is headed into an unsafe environment.
"It's OK. I'll be working with my colleagues there and we'll be in the northern part of Israel...away from the terrorist areas. That, and the Egypt stuff is pretty much limited to Egypt right now."
I was pretty cautious about going to Israel, though. I mean, when you see news about Israel, it's not typically good news.
When people at work asked if I was going to have time to see the area, though, I said that I really had no need to look around. Even though Israel is full of very old historical sights, I'm not religious and had absolutely no desire to see anything.
"You'll be fine, Kara."
"It's OK. I'd rather not."
A lot of my coworkers couldn't understand why I wouldn't want to get out and see the sights, and it's not really something I can chat with them about, because besides not being religious, I was simply worried about my safety.
I'm a transsexual.
Not everyone is fond of transsexuals.
On my first full day in Israel, we had a group meeting to go over previous details and evaluate some of the progress they had made there. We were introduced to a new member of the team who had written some simulation software for the program. Once our formal meeting was over, we were all introduced to him. He wore older Jewish attire and had his hair and facial hair long. He looked like a combination of a priest and an Amish man. Like the men in our group, I stuck my hand out to shake hands with him, but he simply kept his hand by his side and shook his head.
"It's not you, Kara, he just can't touch a woman other than his wife...it's part of his religion."
I really don't understand religion...nor the amazing things people do for it. I marvel at how advanced our society has become, but shake my head sometimes with how archaic we can still be. Fortunately, I was there in Israel for science, not religion. I spent the week working with colleagues on our new technology. It went well, but they still did not understand why I didn't want to get out.
They thought I was afraid. I was...they just didn't understand why.
I flew in on Saturday and rode the train with a coworker to where we needed to be. We were able to get out at night during the week and grab a bite to eat at a number of interesting restaurants, including one which had a view of the coast up to Lebanon (which was indicated by "where the lights went out"). On my last day there, one of my local colleagues brought back falafel for lunch, which I actually enjoyed the most out of all the meals I had there. So, chalk at least one win up for the culinary delights.
After wrapping business up for the week, I caught a taxi to the train station in order to get back to the airport and fly home, to catch BART, to catch a taxi to my apartment. Planes, trains, and automobiles.
The same coworkers that said I would be safe in Israel and should get out to see the sights also warned me that I might see people walking around with machine guns. I figured if I saw any people with machine guns they would be at strategic entrances to certain buildings or something.
I did not expect them to be riding across the aisle from me on the train, nor did I expect them to be so young.
When I got to the airport Thursday evening, I went through Israeli security. Surprisingly, they do not require you to take off your shoes, but they do require about everything else...and I mean everything.
When I went to check in my bag, the security personnel there interviewed the crap out of me. They also wanted the special letter by any Israeli people that I had been working with. Once through that, the bag I was checking in was scanned. They didn't like a number of things in it, so I was pulled to the side while they went through the contents. Now, I took along my dilator because I thought I might have to go to China directly from Israel, and worried about my time without dilation. And, of course, they found the dilator tucked away in my bag, along with a tube of Surgilube. I just had to smile...because, really, it was kinda amusing to me.
They also found a can of Coke that I had stashed away in my bag. Israeli Coke is made from real sugar, and I figured I'd bring back a few as souvenirs. The inspector didn't like the one can of Coke she found in the main part of my bag, though. The woman in charge sent one of her assistants off to wrap the can of Coke in bubble wrap and put it in its own cardboard box. I told the inspector that there were two more cans of Coke in my bag. I even pointed to them. She wasn't concerned with the other two cans, though, but simply with the one can that she pulled out. And, thus, it was packaged in it's own box and sent through with the other checked baggage.
I'll probably never understand why that one can of Coke had to be packaged by itself, nor will my coworkers likely understand why I had no desire to see any of the sights there, but we each have our reasons to secure the important things in our lives.