© 2019 Drew T. Noll

Monday, November 11, 2019

Live Spelled Backwards

The Gathering - D.Noll, July 2013 © 

I watched my father slip away over the course of a year. He had a tumor in his brain sucking at his life daily, growing like a molding sponge that didn’t know it was doomed to crumble once its host detached from the world they shared. There are moments when I can identify with that tumor, just wanting to exist, wanting to mean something to an ever increasingly indifferent reality. “Why even try” became the ranting question bearing down upon an as-of-yet non existent future. I’ve toyed with suicidal tendencies, the band and the psychology, and I’ve experimented with alterations to my mind, in lesser or greater degrees during past lives, but none of it has ever prepared me for the chaos that I perceive tormenting life now. There is living galore, with all of the trimmings, spewing forth ever-more layers of growth-cycles-in-decay, depending upon perspectives. They often become pits to sink into to swim and drown, or clouds with which to soar and to fall. The array is vast and becoming more so each day. The young ones are birthed into it, flailing about, with not a pad to perch upon, without even a piece of ground. Yes, I grew up this way too, but in hindsight I didn’t know. I thought all along that it was to be determined, to be sanctioned by another higher than I. I grew up wanting and knowing; I grew up with everything, but with nothing to stand upon. My dad hadn’t known, but when he passed on, a gift was bestowed, a knowing I knew from that point on. My eyes awoke when his became closed. He dwelt upon reality while I delved into self. The world was not seen, as he had taught me from before, but was known from in-built mechanisms needed to explore. My dad died the next day, at least that is what they said.

I listened to my mother as she spoke on the phone. My dad had died years before this, and I tried to be him for her from afar. She wanted it, or so my instinct had said. She lived many lives, in personalities galore. Diagnosed with illness, mental or not, she raised them all up to be upstanding in each’s time-slot. I never knew who would be there, on the other end of the phone, the line stretching across oceans all around the globe. Dreading to answer, I picked up anyways, knowing that I would be in for a long haul. Was I speaking to Ann, Margaret, or Tim? It was difficult to say, for each separate person sounded mostly the same. Maybe eighteen in all, but not truly known, her personalities would venture out and only then would maybe tell. She said my dad loved me, which I already knew, and she said he was proud of me, which I didn’t know at all. How could he be? was all I could think, having diverted my life-force to another place, another parcel to stand upon, and in the process deserting my dad. I moved away from them as soon as I could, the people that spawned me, and I lived in the city with a big-screen flashing my future, like manifest-destiny in full color toting forward everything and all. At least that is what I thought at the time; I would be bringing them with me, my spawn-source, I would take them along…

My dad called me too, which was rare and sincere, to tell me about falling only to find out after. He told me of an awakening, with the happiest place on earth laughing all about, with paramedics circled around and a blurry memory of something happening before. Somewhere on Main Street it happened, the eminent decline of my dad into the next world. I recently thought of this moment at a shiva-call, a mourning for the recently dead. A shoe painted and placed upon a white pedestal, laughing and crying while singing of a lost soul staring out at me. He was an artist also, but ended his life. I knew him so briefly, and feel so bad … really bad, with nothing to say, nothing to feel, just nothing. I met his father there, at the shiva-call, and being a man of similar age, we locked eyes in a strange way. I just didn’t know what to say. He smiled a lot, it seemed to me at the time, as he recounted, in inspired by the moment bursts, the life of his son. I have to go back there, I have to talk to him more. My dad had told me over the phone that a tumor had grown inside his head. It was the cause of his fall, not him, not his footing, not him. I remember my dad laughing as he told me, like the father of the son gone, reassuring me all along. He would be fine and had the best doctors that private insurance could buy. A year later he died.

Sometime a bit later, my mom lived on a farm of her own design, with a petting zoo and a pond to paddle-boat in. Her carpet-bagger husband lent his kids to gather me from the airport when I arrived. She was ill, her womb having been collecting cancer from the stars. The boys she tried to grow up must have been confused, having their wombs causing it all, but the others must always have known. Her freeload family gathered at her demise, all bunching around, wavering about with questions clouding above. I was one of them, along with the carpenter who drank, the plumber that didn’t, the agent of real-estate, and the carpet-bag threads on the take. We tattered about, me praying with tefillin, a life to live, and them saying nothing at all. My mom spent her time pod-casting in thought, on the couch with her pets. The last time I saw her was in a hospital bed, trying hard to hold reigns she had invented to coral them all, unraveling then knitting again. Bouncing from personality to places between, I listened to her stories Ahasuerus-like unfold. Circus animals and stages, nights with crowds cheering, sneering with kavod, all of her stories unfolded each to its own. I tried to stay and to listen, to honor my spawn-source, but the echoes that evolved, to this day, still bounce off the surface of my heart and grow death. This seems a path we all ride, from beginning to end, the bumps along the way only served up to the path as it bends.

I now live far from home. I can still feel the place from before, but it’s elusive and more; much more. I ask myself and study. I look for light and live. With one venture to the next, my living is challenged and my source-force is revealed. Gathering together causes disruption and rapture, not in that order, so as sparks can coalesce our worlds will inevitably one-day collide. Why shouldn’t it be that an inspirational youth could experiment, could ascend? The moon is white as it reflects us all. It rises up and descends, reflecting the sunlight and mirroring it all. We see ourselves there, each and every night, but by day the light extinguishes itself. She’s alive, of course, and we listen for word of rising—each and every day. But I retract. What can I say? What can be believed? What will I kill, only wanting to live? Gathering together builds worlds, but can also destroy. Splitting cells into others can be splitting atoms that extinguish then explode! The signpost beckons to turn, but if we do will we burn? How do we know when enough has been said, enough has become? How do we know when we can be One?

Love and healing goes out to our white moon rising and its reflection upon us all. The gathering is eminent and becoming. The world soon shall anchor, and with all of this upon us, we shall find the art of our own faith and in it shall dwell.

Monday, August 26, 2019

Righteous among the Nations and the Five Ignorances

What a rush; I spent the school year in school learning to be a teacher. I didn’t even have a real summer, as you’d expect a student to have, since it was almost entirely consumed with final exams and papers. Normally I try to travel in the summer, maybe to someplace deep and foreign, but this time I only had one week to travel and one day to plan it, so we found some cheap, last minute tickets to Zakynthos, Greece from Tel Aviv, Israel. So, knowing nothing about Greece other than what we read in the news, we launched into the skies and flew west across the Mediterranean Sea inside a plane full of teenagers heading out to party for a last minute getaway before their army service begins in the fall. What better way to finish learning how to be a good teacher, right? There were only some minor disturbances on the flight and the dread that was expressed by a few of the flight attendants before the plane took off was mostly unjustified, even though a second before we landed a universal squeal echoed around the cabin from the giddy kids anticipating the wheels hitting the tarmac. My wife and I had seatbelts to hold us down to our chairs, thankfully, so when all the teens screamed before the wheels touched down we couldn’t jump that far out of our seats from the surprise.

I’ve always been interested in a wide variety of subjects, which is probably a good reason to be a teacher, so I was amiss that I hadn’t heard of the island of Zakynthos before. I mean, the island was mentioned by Homer in the Iliad and the Odyssey, after all. Evidently, the island’s first inhabitants were Arcadians led by the son of King Dardanos whose name was Zakynthos, and named his island thus. The island is close to another larger island called Kefalonia, which, being originally from California, we kept calling it that, much to the locals’ endless consternation. The island’s history includes a significant number of the nobles among the suitors of Penelope trying to shack up with her while King Odysseus was away, as well as participation in the Trojan War, and even some scant dealings with Spartans. Suffice it to say that the Greek island has had some press over the years.


All I hear about Greece these days is the debt crisis, which I’ll reconstruct here briefly to satisfy my own curiosity on the subject. It started in 2008 during the global recession. Greece had borrowed more money than it could make by taxing its citizens, or at least be successful collecting. In 2010 Greece was barred from bond markets for having a deficit in the stratosphere, and bailouts began via emergency loans sporting austerity measures to curtail government spending. Today most Greeks believe that the loans harmed the country, with unemployment skyrocketing, obnoxiously high taxes, existing salaries and pensions getting gouged and slashed, and the current overall economy being 25% smaller than when the debt crisis began back in 2008. But, there is hope. Even though in May of 2017 the unemployment rate for youth reached 46 percent, the economy is supposedly stable now and growing slowly. During our trip, when asking Greeks about the problem, many just said that they were lazy. At one store we wondered into the guy helping us get a sim-card for a phone to use told us that he had been a computer science major in Athens, but suffered financial distress and had to come to the island to work at the phone store. His opinion on the subject was that, “Greeks work really hard trying to find ways not to work hard.”

So, after we landed in Zakynthos, luckily found a car to rent, and drove off into the night with some poor directions that I printed from Google Maps the day before in order to find our hotel, we got totally lost. We drove in circles, passing the same places multiple times, but we finally got some directions from a local pub owner that included using Google Maps without internet (welcome to the Millennial Generation). My wife thanked her travel angels anyways as we pulled into the hotel’s dirt parking lot. Then the hotel owner greeted us congenially and proceeded to tell us his life’s (sob) story. It was filled with a lost business in Athens, a huge mortgage on the hotel, a wife to steer clear of during our stay due to mental illness, and a retirement age up into the ripe 80s or 90s. I liked the guy, though, and if you’re okay with strange behaviors and the unknown, I’d recommend the place. He even showed us a secret, local well to refill our water-bottles, since there’s no way to get rid of garbage on the island; and it’s a sanctuary for sea-turtles who suffer regularly from illegal dumping and littering, a problem that I’ve witnessed in multiple places firsthand (including Israel), a problem that negatively affects the entire globe.

Zakynthos is a beautiful place with blue caves and grottos big enough to drive a boat into, which they did at every opportunity. In Israel we have a very similar place in the north that can be visited called Rosh Hanikra. It has the same calcite-white rock faces jutting into crystal blue waters with sunlight reflecting off it all. In Zakynthos, however, there are hundreds of people motoring about trying to catch the light with their cameras and phones to show-off back home. We did do some of the regular tourist things on the island, and enjoyed a few private beaches as well, but the day we stumbled into a tourist shop to get out of the heat for a spell was the biggest find of all.

The owner of the shop was sweating profusely behind the counter. It was a typical tourist trinket shop, and I found a new hat there that I’m very fond of. But, the real story happened when the shop owner asked where we were from, assuming I’m sure, that we would be from America. When we said Israel instead, his eyes lit up and he told us an amazing story about the island’s Jews and the Nazis, who had been unsuccessful in shipping the Jews back to death-camps for extermination on the mainland. He told us that the German commander demanded that the mayor of the town, Loukas Karrer, give him a list of all the Jews on the island, including addresses, professions, and economic status, and if he failed to do so by the next day he would be killed.

Mayor Karrer then discussed the matter with the local Greek Orthodox Bishop, Dimitrios Chrysostomos, and they decided to burn all the records of the Jews that they had and sent the island’s Jews into hiding into the mountains with locals. Bishop Chrysostomos, who was fluent in German, told the Nazi commander that all the Jews had already left the island because of the war and bombings. But still, the list was requested over and over. After repeated refusals to hand over a list, Chrysostomos finally gave over a list with only two members of the community on it, himself and Mayor Karrer. They saved all 275 Jewish souls, and in 1978 both men were recognized by Yad Vashem as Righteous among the Nations, an honor given to non-Jews who, at great personal peril, saved Jews during the Holocaust. After the war, in 1953, an earthquake destroyed one of the town’s historic synagogues and the entire Jewish quarter, prompting the remaining Jews of Zakynthos to either move to Athens or to immigrate to Israel.


Abandoned |Jewish Cemetery on Zakynthos Island

On the flight home all the kids finishing off their party-time on the island were quite obnoxious, yelling back and forth, kicking the backs of seats, and not afraid to challenge anyone that questioned it. It reminded me of a couple of times practice teaching last year, when I just completely lost control of the class I was trying to teach. Starting next week I’ll be teaching English as a foreign language to 9th and 10th graders at a local middle and high school, hopefully in order to inspire the generation of tomorrow to continue building our world with even greater deeds. I guess that, in order to be a good teacher, I need to delude myself to some extent just to find meaning in the world – I know it sounds inside-out, but as far as I can tell, this is the only possible reason we’re even here in the first place, to temper our egos with belief, or to forget what we think we know just so we can learn it again. And with that, I’ll leave you with this:

If ignorance + freedom = chaos, ignorance + power = tyranny, ignorance + poverty = crime, ignorance + religion = terrorism, and ignorance + money = corruption, then ignorance must be the root of all evil, so that means that education must be the key to an enlightened future!

Wish me success, and shavua tov, everyone!!



Monday, July 15, 2019

Causeway


Written for English Day at Gordon Academic College, this poem is composed in a series of styles, the content of which relates to our class experience learning over the past year to be teachers of English as an additional language at the college. My classmates, all from wide ethnic and cultural backgrounds, helped read the poem segments on stage in front of more than 100 audience members from the English Department. 




















Causeway

by DD Noll

Limerick:
Stuffed into spaces economical
The causeways still are habitual
Passing in the halls far too often
The connections fleetingly soften
And the friendships made are astronomical  

Free Verse:
Brittle, caged laughing filling the vertical spaces of wall
Spreading upwards into a slam-dunk delivery
Melding into the ether with barely a whelp
Singing down praise from above, and immersed in 

Haiku:
Straight and bent streets to walk
Curved into naught with no stop
Pathways converging 

Beat:
The road bent on built-ins, tearing down before
Slamming sliders slapping slowly, so damn slow
Walls bleak and frothing with lore moshing 
Endgame nil, disk-spin and down the hall 

Acrostic:
Calamity befallen for light to restore
All paths converging to the great sound of lore
Under the roof of the sun to sit and walk
Silently coming together to avoid shock 
Everyone still swaying to the beat of our feet
With electric divining via air from each seat
After hesitation becomes bore, we all grab hands
Yearly success is in store and it demands

Sonnet:
OF My first Entrance, and the vapid
Of which Unknown, whose know was t’test
Bringing Chaos into Mine Self, and all woe,
Hereto loss Eden, till moment so Great
Climb up, and sit still Among seats
Say what you will, Musings from the Secret
He Hey Pha, or Eden, no Spare
Flock of All said, once taught to Choose
In the Beginning what was wrong
Unity from Chaos: Above th’ grassy knoll
Wonder’n light more, and the Waters below
Feast or fast magic; I receive 
Belief in thyself with fire and Verve
With no middle to soar high over shore

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Old Woman, Young Woman

A written response to the reading of The Story of an Hour by Kate Chopin

We are ever entwined within the building of our own, widespread realities, if only to communicate our inner worlds outwardly with the distant reality we face-across from daily. I become; confused, every day, by the attempt to communicate, and to which ques received to decide upon towards action and reverie. Our story opens with the wraith of a beauty hidden and desirably unknown. She is cloistered but relenting, as news unfolds of the most catastrophic epiphany granting both freedom from life and in it, from which we are in unawares, gray, still, from ignorance-stillborn and unfolding. We feel for the young woman, the wraith, but can’t feel her sorrow from the words we read. Each word escapes into clarity, read with interest, but never known till sound escapes and is gotten, meantime her cries. Sobbing in joy, like an infant in sleep, we feel for her laughter so dare stop … think. Each word that she utters is coated and hollow, each utterance waivers and lands silence-screaming, the air unable to release, the thoughts contained fermenting into vaporous confusion between two worlds written.

On the second reading of The Story of an Hour, Mrs. Mallard’s joy throughout is witnessed by the play we endure. We are grown plummeting into darkness by it. The first reading was sane, by the same antonym-standards, allowing us to adhere to the cultural norms, to our standard response of witnessing our everyday. We allow for ourselves to be connected and communicating, as if we were all the same and that it was all part of the plan built for us to build again. We are falling down together, watching the sides of it as we descend. It all seems normal, as if grief was a gift, but the present is illusive and we fall more, fly lower, to seek what we find. And, by the third paragraph we are introduced to the old woman, the hag:

"She did not hear the story as many women have heard the same, with paralysed inability to accept its significance. She wept at once, with sudden wild abandonment, in her sister's arms. When the storm of grief had spent itself, she went away to her room alone."

But this is only wordplay, as what is revealed recedes into query, and back to the unknown. We feel for the woman, we feel for the hag, and she flips back once again to the wraith, the beauty, and inevitably invokes an apparition of the oppressed. Almost every line fine from here to there; the end, it invokes an expression of joy, and of relief. We see the hag, but feel for the wraith. We have become; we accept our fates and attempt to quantify it, to justify it, and then we lust after it. We want the reality we perceive, the place we see, to be real, to light up our way, and to become our beckoning self. It’s an act; the ambiguity is real, like the image of a young beauty with a hag hanging from her lapel. Near the end, when the image flips back, once again, she is caught in a quiver, the place between when the hag hovers, and the wraith repels. Inside the seam of this transformation, a scream is once again smoke. The message is, almost; but, the lines clear and are spoken well:

"She knew that she would weep again when she saw the kind, tender hands folded in death; the face that had never looked save with love upon her, fixed and gray and dead."

Is the face of the man dead, or was it the known face of love-dead?! Left to wonder, we descend even further, and the story ends with the real-world doctors claiming in bliss, ignorance of wishing, only: “the joy that kills.”

Saturday, February 9, 2019

A Day in My Life


On Shabbat I went to shul. It had been a long time since I had gotten up the nerve to enter, since I hadn’t been there in a long, long time. My friends were all there, as I remembered from before. I pretended to pray, whatever that means, partook in kiddush... Then I spied an old friend sitting alone on a bench across the bima from where I had gathered next to the whiskey. He was smiling, as was proper for such a lustrous character. He walks with a walker, now, but doesn’t do it the way you’d expect. He pushes it out in front of him as he goes, then shuffles to catch up. He likes the handles high, like a drag-bike, and enjoys just watching it roll, as did I witnessing him with it. I sat next to him on the uncomfortably sublime bench in shul, and we talked of our lives. I saw his Brooklyn soul shining through tearing eyes as he spoke. Kiddush is like that, telling tales of old and of new, shiny stories and dull history colliding to recollect truth from each and every moment.

Many years before, sitting at my own father’s bedside, I beckoned to my dad to come back from the semi-comatose existence he had been dwelling within, just for a moment. The time before that was many years before that, visiting my grandmother in the hospital. We spoke of vacuum cleaner tubes, toy trains, and learning to skateboard with metal wheels on the sidewalks of Leisure World, where she had lived as I grew up. The elderly impart tremendous wisdom, especially as they traverse the borders surrounding the next world. I’m thinking about this now because many of my friend’s parents have begun to take that journey. I had two shiva calls last week, one of which I knew the deceased, zikhron lebrakha, and had interacted with him on occasion. The last time I saw him I was too busy teaching his granddaughter to interact much, which probably helped me to approach my old friend in shul the way I did. My emotional foster-parent passed suddenly as well, zikhron lebrakha, well over a year ago. I spoke with him right before his last surgery, his last day, and I fully expected him to smile up at me, after, but it wasn’t so. My actual parents have both left the here and now, but I know that they’re all still hovering around here in some way. There are many ways to tell, but the most prominent of these ways to know informs me daily of such, having sat upon my dad’s bedside that day, right before he went away.

My father was a strong, tall man that had shriveled to skin and bones curled fetally upon his bed. It took a year to finally end in the man seen before me, having traveled from afar time after time. He had a hospice-helper, my mother, and my brother from the next town over, helping to move his substantial form hither and thither, from bed to shower to chair. Strokes persisted to infect my dad’s smile, the right side bright while the left drooped into the soil; the very soil he adored during life, being a landscape architect and gardener galore. On another visit from afar my dad told me about the shadows that played across his window seen from his bed. An ancient eucalyptus tree waved to and fro in the winds, planted on the corner of his home’s lot, next to the street I grew up on. He told me how he would wake at night and stare at the movement, the light behind the shadows from a streetlight, the moon, or possibly just shadows bursting forth from themselves. That was a different sort of visit, and towards the end; he was dwelling in another world and unable to brag about his son, even then. My father’s mother-in-law, my grandmother, in her hospital bed, always pulled me close when I visited, waving to those nearby and calling out to them with pride. My father was just so busy, as I still remember him growing up, with another world altogether.

I didn’t get a chance to talk with him, the grandfather of my student, the last time I spoke with him. He smiled at me and laughed, seemingly knowing deeply who I was inside and out. It was a month before he passed, zihron lebrakha, and he had a look in his eyes; and in that tiny moment we both seemed to sense something about the line surrounding us all, and how it’s only really perception in the end. The other side is open and known. The other side is home away from home, and is far closer to spaces of love than to those of decay. My grandmother died of emphysema, zikhron lebrakha, but not before I had a chance to crack perception’s door a bit. I spent an hour a day, every-other day, talking with her at her bedside. Her eyes lit up when she saw me enter the hospital room, and then the bragging would begin. She was my mother’s mother, so flippant was a regular on the menu. My mother was diagnosed with DID as a younger woman; hence, personality was only the nearest thing to now that could be seen. The story of my mother's demise is long and sad, and I’m distraught daily not having had the chance to be with her in the end, other than a phone call in a shell. Long story short, her world grew large unnaturally, desire begging creation, and all the while a dark bubble in her uterus grew. She passed her wisdom from afar, zikhron lebrakha, not knowing her spawn, not seeing the future ... and I’m only left with a sad and sorry epilogue and few words of growth on it to spin.

However gruesome, my father’s death defined the majesty of beauty and of grace, mapping out throughout my life the steps needed to see the whole, the chase into space from a cocoon in transition. I sat on the edge of his bed, his blue eyes rolled back to be replaced by the whites, and I spoke of our children, large and small. He was incapable of response, so monologue became communication in a world with only ears to hear. A question was incapable, so I asked. My father stirred, the sheet covering his limp form fluttering slightly. His open jaw grumbled shut as he slid his elbows to sit. It had been a month since I’d seen him, so I stayed put on the edge of his bed as tremors erupted from another world. I had asked my father if he would be there for me when I crossed over. And, with one foot in this world and one in the next, my father summoned his being to answer me. He scooted his elbows under him and sat up, his eyes slowly dropping down from the dimension he had been staring into, then focusing on me piercingly, and with quivering lips said, “Absolutely.” Then my father eased back down into his own past … and into the future so near. It was the last word that my father ever said to me. He died soon thereafter, zikhron lebrakha, after I had flown home away from home. The boundaries of my world view had shifted to encompass the next. My father had shared with me knowledge unknown. Through the revelation it took many years for me to feel the obvious, the loss, even though I truly felt it daily. I’m not really sure why; maybe absence grows over time; yes, could be. Walking home from shul with my old friend shuffling to catch up to his walker rolling down the street in front of him, the last thing I said to him was, “See you next week.”

Shavua tov!



Friday, January 4, 2019

Flying into the Sunrise (Part 1)


Traveling across the planet through the atmosphere above is only a recent phenomenon, like toothpaste tubes and hotdog factories, yet we’ve built our presence overhead like the progeny of our own creation, making us all proud, and, to ourselves, forever increasing our own importance and potential. In our Jetstream wake we inevitably leave behind for future generations to ponder — not only our collective lacking, but our piles of refuse — we create, once again, our world, but this time in our own image. Indonesia does that to you, looking back now, it beats raw the edges of living, of understanding our place in life, only to birth a mad questioning that spawns forth from a place deep inside. After over a month of a new pillow on a new bed in new lodgings arrived at in the dark, I find myself trying to write something coherent about the perfect chaos I perceived during my travels there. I’ve just begun to grapple with a land and sea filled tight, right up next to the world’s lid, with myriad creatures, peoples and my inflections on their own perceived realities.

Sitting on a plane after leaving Jakarta, Doha, Amman, we flew west, towards Tel Aviv, towards home. I looked out the window regularly while the oceans and deserts passed below the clouds we were flying over. The sun began to set at some point on our journey, but it hung in the sky near the horizon for a long time, too long. It eventually dropped out of sight, sunlight glowing into the air like Sol couldn’t make up its mind whether to call it a day, or a night; exactly like that. We flew west, towards home, and somehow our plane kept track with the rotation of the earth on its access, and our orbit around the sun. The light hovered in place all around us, glowing with a promise and a memory, and inside that perpetual dusk, that new day’s eventual dawn, I imagined fierce battles, and I opened a window into my mind to wrestle with demons. As if from the heavens above, time stopped and cheered as I wove in and out of scuffle after skirmish. We were on our way home, out of a place of terrible beauty, where we traveled though foreign ideologies and forgotten lands, and we were heading home to a place of wonder, a place of family, and a place where water builds life from the desert of our world’s being.

Fast reversing from our flight into perpetual dusk, our trip began in a place we had been before, and loved, but no more. Unless I spend time exploring the highlands and mountain villages, away from the known crossroads as much as is possible, I plan to stay away from Bali. The Hindu people are magnificent, no doubt, but the world has infected the once terrible-paradise island with pure commercialization. It’s still a necessary flight hub, and therefore tempting to explore, I do understand, and you should if you’ve never been. If you visit, contact me here, I know a couple of good driver/guides. Other than that, and this post I made during the earthquakes I experienced there, we flew to Labuan Bajo on Flores Island, a ramshackle little port town with dive shops and tourist kiosks lining one street, the main street. Evidently, the entire reason for being in Labuan Bajo is to get out, somehow, to the Komodo Islands. In my mind, Labuan Bajo is a typical port town, full of stories and legends, full of dreams and experience, and with a very healthy sampling of some of the earth’s lost and found souls –

There was a young woman from Michigan that ran a restaurant with great tacos, and more-than loud muezzin speakers piping Islamic prayers directly at eco-tourist patrons as they took in, from a significant height, the ship-dotted port below. She sat with her laptop in a corner, strange tattoos staining tanned skin and want-to-be native origins, and when another earthquake shook the ground 3 stories below us, she calmly looked up the Richter scale and announced her findings to her patrons. The locals at her restaurant served the guests, and seemed nervous, even before the earthquake, but the fish tacos were really good, and the native servers’ smiles were intoxicating –

There was a young man, a native that had a smile and a laugh that made the world giggle. He jumped into every selfie we tried to take, smiling with delight. He took selfies with his friends, barefoot, with a tiny smartphone, as they guided us to a sacred waterfall deep in the jungle, far from cell service and civilization, along a path that was being built with an infusion of cash from the government to build tourism in the region. Giggling and laughing, even singing karaoke in the backseat of the car, our teen guide was excited by and proud of the smallest details during our adventure. Next to every brand new wooden trail sign we came across: BEWARE SLIPPERY, or PICK UP TRASH, he posed with his buddies, laughing … as if that was the entire world, his laugh, the look he got, the endorphins he produced and consumed –

There was a woman in a hijab dancing next to the fish barbecue, and a man next to her that was not happy about my photograph. I wondered if it was religious in nature, his displeasure with her, or if his displeasure was with me for taking a picture that included her dancing, enjoying the live music coming from the other side of the night market. There was another woman in a hijab serving fresh barbecued fish, but wouldn’t talk to her neighbor in order to sell us tourists Bintang, a really nice Indonesian Pilsner beer. I wondered if it was personal between them, or if it was principle, with religious origins. Each fish market stall set up a deal with its neighbors to supply customers, but at this one stall there was a resolute, “No.” No matter, we ate dinner at the fish market every night we dined in Labuan Bajo, four nights in all, four stalls in all, ensuring plenty of Bintang –

And, then there was the little Muslim boy in a Balinese priest outfit sporting wraparound sunglasses, dressed up for Indonesian Independence Day, and cheered on by his hijab-wearing mom from the sidelines to ham it up for the western tourists. He wouldn’t smile, no matter how hard we tried to tickle his fancy. He posed with a straight face for our pictures, as serious as I remember my own son being while posing for Halloween trick-or-treat pics back living in the USA, our very own old country.

Labuan Bajo is one tiny town on the western edge of the island of Flores, mostly Catholic/Animist fusion, in the archipelago nation of Indonesia, which currently boasts the largest population of Muslims on the planet. The archipelago of Indonesia is a vast sea peppered with dark, lush islands, 17,508 of them. We visited seven, altogether, if you count a pink sand bar in Komodo that emerges during low tide, where we vacationed for a few hours with other eco-tourists from other western countries. The country of Israel, my very own ancestral homeland, is a tiny, tumultuous  sea, less than half the size of the fifth largest island in the Indonesian archipelago, and is totally surrounded by a vast desert filled to the lid with complex/hostile ideologies, very few friends, and a plethora of ulterior motives to govern the world with, like anywhere. Because it’s confusing for the best of us, I’ll explain it like this: Indonesia isn’t what you’ve read or seen in the Media, like any other geopolitical hotspot on the planet, and its complexity is not something that I feel particularly comfortable describing; it is vast, and, to me, almost entirely unknown. This is my attempt to describe what I experienced during our month of travels in this dark and luminous land, and how, after which, I feel, just, changed.

We left Labuan Bajo on the island of Flores in a flurry as soon as our driver/guide arrived. Having met over email, we quickly put name to face and jumped into his car. We collected water in bottles to drink and brush teeth with, stopped at a cash machine that perched on the side of the road, and then drove up the winding jungle hill past the hospital where my beloved had a near death experience … just the day before. It’s not my place to say, but, in an effort to illuminate, the event was all smoke and mirrors caused by my motion sickness medicine and a somewhat hasty departure from Labuan Bajo on our first day to kill, almost a week prior. While sitting in the front seat (because of my severe motion-sickness), my beloved slapped a new patch on my neck from the backseat. So, with karaoke filling the car and smiling teen guides piled-in tight to lead the way to the (prior mentioned) sacred waterfall, we were on our way. Scopolamine is expensive and hard to come by these days, but trying to ration it with multiple reapplications is a bad idea, and it doesn’t work. Maybe … it’s because the dosage gets messed up, causing nausea and more, at one point even providing minor hallucinations to keep my mind busy and off the rest of the toxic symptoms.The last I will say of the ‘almost’ horrific experience: is that leaving residue on fingers and thumbs, unwashed, ultimately led to my beloved’s really bad day in a foreign hospital. We had thought that our trip to Indonesia, mostly our trip to Komodo (and later Sumatra) would be ruined, along with the rest of our short lives; but, as we joked with the doctors and nurses at the reception desk, on our way out of the hospital to find a taxi-ride home to our temporary bed, elation took over and the world became, once again, our eco-tourist playground.

Before our Flores overland trip began we boated around the islands of Komodo, my beloved diving into the deep sea after, in Bali, achieving her advanced diving degree, and me, because of a claustrophobia-informed fear of diving, snorkeling across the seas' surface. We slept and ate at Pirate Camp, but spent our days out on the waters. We’ve heard stories of a world gone by, times that don’t necessarily exist with our modern understandings, but a world does actually exist beneath our – whirling madly to stay afloat – feet. While briefly swimming the line between the waters above and below, I saw a visual-smorgasbord of wild and winsome beasties living in their natural habitat: a handful of dragons on the land, thousands of flying foxes in the sky above, and an implausible diversity of tropical fish under the sea's surface. We saw dozens of giant sea turtles, one of which I had the privilege of following as it surfaced for air right in front of me. I followed it up, removed my mask to peer into the air above, and watched its head extend over the waves, much farther than I imagined realistic. Quickly, I then replaced my mask in time to submerge and watch the turtle, a guest into our air above, descend beneath the waves into a universe untouched. I watched multiple giant manta-rays glide in procession, like parade floats, straight into the current with ease, wings with a span of 14 feet flipping with the flowing waters around them, all beneath my flailing form sprawled and twitching upon the sea's surface above. And, at a tiny island reef, surrounded by vast tumultuous ocean currents that pulled at my fins when I got too close, I came face to face with an obscenely fat six foot grey reef shark before it stopped its trajectory towards me from the murk of the current behind, only to turn, showing off its length and girth, then slowly disappearing back into the current’s vibrating gloom. I understood by the end of our adventures in Komodo that ‘we’ were the only pirates populating the land and sea. And I also understood that the vast universe I floated above was in eminent danger, even from the plastic bottles that I drank water from, and used to brush my teeth.

Then we landed late at night, once again, back in Labuan Bajo; and, the boat we’d ridden on through another universe cut through another boat’s shoreline, which had been strung hundreds of meters across the entire harbor, eliciting the docks to erupt into cursing and shouts. We motored away, our keel hung low in shame, in the dead of night, with our Spanish captain politely cursing his Indonesian wife’s country of origin. We disembarked at another dock and checked back into our hotel after a 10 minute joy ride around town on a black-light lit-up bus, actually more of a truck with a camper-shell on the back, which we all had to climb and squat into. It dropped us back where we started … because our hotel was only a block away from the dock … and then we ate fish at the night market across the street and crashed onto the same side of the same bed we slept in a few days prior. In the morning we had another day to kill. Indonesia’s like that (I know you’ve heard this before), there are days punctuated regularly with obtuse realizations and experiences, and then there are days that seem to stop completely, leaving questions looming into a kind of beautiful grotesquerie. I guess it was the price we had to pay for being tourists, eco-tourists, with limited time and maximum accumulated possibilities, maybe even supernatural in a world full from almost any inevitability. So … we snuck into a luxury hotel (with some western-world boat people’s assistance) and went swimming in their seaside pool for the day. It was grand.

Back in Bali we understood the problems that plagued our land, our earth. There were no landfills, but there were dumps. Trash piled up in back alleys, in corners of living. Construction debris filled empty lots, with bulldozers smoking to plow it all into glorious tourist high-rises with a view unto the sea. The Island of Flores was still pure, almost untouched. The locals waved when we drove past, and we waved back. The people were beautiful, as if straight out of some off-the-shelf historical-fiction novel … waving to you as you passed. And, their land, the only place left to live, was being consumed by a power seemingly beyond all of our control. When we left Labuan Bajo, our guide drove us up the jungle dotted hill past the hospital, past the sacred waterfall, and ended the day in his hometown, Ruteng … where we stayed, a last minute change, in a Catholic convent. The nuns there were strict, but nice. A school under our room woke us in the morning with looks and giggles. Then the chickens made themselves known, as is usual throughout Indonesia. We were picked up by our guide and driven for coffee, since the local nun food was cafeteria in nature. Our favorite place for Nasi Goren (Indonesian Fried Rice) was closed when we arrived for breakfast. The day before, with pictures of Christian holy sites plastering the walls, we tried to make quick friends with the establishment’s proprietors. They had made a pilgrimage to Israel and their wall-size selfies in front of Galilee Christian holy sites were a prominent feature of their tiny restaurant. While sitting in the restaurant, I sent our proprietor a friend request on Facebook, and then anxiously awaited a new participant from Flores Island on my feed.

We left town, but not after spending all morning high-fiving local children celebrating Indonesian Independence Day by dressing up in traditional costumes and parading down the main street in droves. Once getting our fill of the once-in-a-lifetime parade of people, and after a day of torturous turns, waving locals, and periodic road stops to ease my scopolamine madness, we arrived at Mbalata Beach, a private eco-tourist paradise with black sands, a large smoky-looking volcano silhouetted on the seaside horizon, and one guy to barbecue fresh fish that he had acquired that very afternoon, along with choice veggies and cold Bintang. We stayed in a traditional dwelling built for westerners, with full-scale facilities out the back door and down the stairs. The stairs were steep, at the front and at the back, and the walls of our dwelling only imitated their namesakes, leaving massive openings for myriad critters conceivably to enter. But, no matter, we had mosquito nets, one for him and one for her. This wasn’t a romantic getaway, as you may have guessed, but a getaway for the stretching of the soul-that-unites us sort of thing. My beloved was so tickled upon arriving that she slept like death that night. I, on the other hand, began to shiver under the sheet I used as a blanket. Sweating uncontrollably, shivering and shaking, I had contracted something along the way. Maybe it was after-effects of the scopolamine, maybe it was something transmitted high-fiving the wide variety of parade-kids on the way, or maybe it was just me … sociologically sponging and sucking up my environment until I puked (which I didn’t).

I woke in the morning feeling better, but kept my night tremors to myself during breakfast. My beloved was having just too great a time to spoil it for her. Not one soul meandered down the beach. The only sound was a rooster rooting around the kitchen’s yard, maybe the occasional rustle of mangrove forest leaves, and possibly a tiny background sound of the gentle wash of blue waves lapping over black sand. It was paradise. We left late that day on our overland Flores expedition, and I fell back into a deep sleep after breakfast, entangling myself once again under mosquito netting, dreaming my usual, oft-repeated childhood dreams of hammering nails and traveling through drainage pipes under the earth with neighborhood friends. After awakening, I quickly stuffed my pack, and then dragged it through black sands to the car. All I can remember now is arriving in the late afternoon in Bajawa, and our next bed to sleep in. I sat on a bench overlooking the city, animal stalls and slums first, gambling lean-tos second, church third, mosque fourth, and a giant volcano surrounded by moody clouds on the horizon, fifth. My chills returned as I sat there taking in the view. I shivered almost imperceptibly, looking imploringly at my beloved to wrap up the arrangements in full haste. Then … violently shaking, I showered and jumped under the single sheet of our bed, drying off as I sweated the illness I had acquired out.

Waking in the night, my beloved having vanished with our guide on a mission to scavenge the restaurant scene for food, I realized that I was in a very foreign and hostile land. I was a Jew, an Israeli, traveling with a US passport that wasn’t intellectually mine anymore. All it would take would be one person tipping the local Gestapo for money, or for recognition and favors.  A Chinese Catholic governor was jailed for five years for saying political rivals were deceiving people by using a verse in the Koran to say Muslims should not be led by a non-Muslim, followed by an incorrectly subtitled video of his comments going viral on social media, sparking massive demonstrations, and then resulting in his trial and ultimate incarceration. A Buddhist woman was sentenced to 18 months in prison for blasphemy; she complained that the mosque speakers were too loud, five times a day/night, something that, as a visiting western eco-tourist I concur with, having been woken about 4:00 am almost every night in Indonesia to a prayer starting with: Allah Akhbar… and finishing at least 20 to 40 minutes later with various Koranic sayings. Shivering in sweat under the sheet, the only light in the world coming from my glowing phone, I opened Facebook and deleted every reference I could find to Israel. It took me about 20 minutes. The friend request I’d sent to the Christian pilgrimage restaurant proprietor had gone unanswered. I realized that I had put him and his family in great danger by sending it in the first place. Of course he wouldn’t accept, what was I thinking…? I changed my profile pic to a typical eco-tourist image of me and my beloved in traditional Flores garb … and deleted the picture of me in front of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, a Jew from a rooftop in the Old City. I was legitimately freaked out that there would be a knocking at the door, and that I would be hauled off to a local police station, sweating and shivering in my underwear, to answer questions of ideology veiled loosely beneath waterboarding diplomacy. Then my beloved arrived, finally, with fresh soup and rice to wash down my night tremors, and in the morning all was well and right with the world. I had erased my baggage, eliminated my fears, and my fever had dropped back to normal again.

The last night I spent in Bajawa was in a different bed, as was usual for our Indonesian travels. We moved from the accepted eco-tourist lodging to the less-than-desired next-to-the-reception-and-garage accommodations. Just that day the overly friendly bellhop from the day before avoided me in the hallway. I knew that I had left the prior sheets yellow with fever, and even twisted off the mattress in places from tossing and turning throughout the night. The owner of the hotel was local, but had studied in Australia. He was very friendly and informative, and I wish I had had a chance to talk with him, but it was not to be; after being moved to the “garage” room, and investigating our new home for the night, I opened a tiny door that had a slide-lock on our side only. The plywood door creaked open and I peered into the darkness behind the reception area next to us. Someone was sleeping there on a mattress surrounded by a large room. Quickly I shut the door with some embarrassment, but only understood later that I had inadvertently woken the owner of our hotel from his afternoon nap. 

I had been feeling great, since we had done some amazing sightseeing that day, visiting a couple of traditional villages where Animist traditions had been fused with Catholicism. The villagers there seemed to reach out in a spiritual way, seemingly desiring a legitimate connection; then we finished the day by swimming in the healing waterfalls of one of Flores’s local hot springs. I, mistakenly, thought that I was healed from my affliction of sweats and shakes after our afternoon swim, but it was not to be…

Later that night I excused myself from our dinner early, trying to be alright with the world feeling off. I climbed into a new bed in our new room, and, listening to the hotel reception area and their family chatting behind the plywood door, began to dream. I noticed my beloved come in to the room at one point, but no matter. Late in the night, a small boy looked through a small pane of glass above our bed from the garage behind our room. He must have been standing on something, since it was a high window up tall on the wall. I watched and waved at him, then he at me, and I moved on to other matters that clouded my mind. 

Later, in the same night, the small boy came back. He creaked open the window, pushing it in on a pivot from above, and then slipped through the opening and down into the room. He crept about, around the bed, looking at our eco-travel things, all the while me attempting to tell him he shouldn’t be in our room, he should not be there, and the louder I yelled, the less my voice was able to vibrate out from my tongue and mouth. I realized that I was dreaming when I couldn't enunciate, and then my beloved beside me awoke and told me all would be okay, that the boy would go away. I didn’t believe her, or, I’m not sure, but maybe wanted to prove myself worthy; I began to yell, raising my voice even louder ... as far as I could. The boy shouldn’t be there, we both understood, and it was up to me to make it clear to the world. While yelling from the top of what my sleepy lungs could produce, the hotel’s owner, sleeping on the floor next-door, smashed through the tiny plywood hatch from before. He caught up to the small boy and chased him out through the front door, leaving it hinging wide open, then banging and bouncing about – and then my beloved shook me until I reemerged into the room next to the garage. I had been dreaming, and yelling out into the night.

The next day the bellhop avoided me completely in the halls, not just averting his eyes. The owner gave me a quick “how do you do” and vacated my presence in quick form. We left Bajawa with a sigh of relief and with a new scopolamine patch stuck to my neck for the torturous turns ahead. We were to visit volcano crater pools that changed colors with the day. Except for the obnoxious Chinese drone pilot, and the New York women's activist giving the drone double middle fingers for posterity, the crater pools were stunning. 

Click here for part 2

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