Palestine Authority

I Cannot Take You Into Palestine

After visiting Jerusalem and Bethlehem, we wanted to visit the ancient religious city of Jericho, one of the longest occupied cities in the world. “I cannot take you in there,” our Israeli guide told us.
With this comment, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict came into clear focus as we learned the 9,000 BC Jericho was in Palestine. “But, I can arrange for a Palestinian taxi driver to take you on a tour of Jericho,” Uri, our private guide, said. So we headed to Jericho and waited at the police border for our guide. After one hour, he did not show up, so we left and returned with our Israeli guide to Jerusalem.

Mochen waiting in the street so we could find her.
Mochen waiting in the street so we could find her.

“Would you like to meet a Palestinian friend of mine that I helped get an Israeli citizenship?” he asked. Israel 10-2010 2029So after ten tries to find her new apartment in Jerusalem, we finally saw Mochen standing in the street close to her apartment so we could see where she lived.

Immediately, she explained the problem between the Israelis and the Palestinians and even invited several Palestinians friends to meet us. “Palestinians used to own the land that is now the West Bank”, she explained. “During the Arab-Israeli War, the Israeli army came after the Palestinians in their land”.Israel 10-2010 2033
“The Palestinians had no army to defend themselves,” she told us with great emotion. “So our people ran and left everything behind to keep from being killed. People who owned businesses left their businesses, mothers grabbed their children and ran, and everyone ran from their land to keep from being killed. Then the Israeli army took over our land and called it Israel from then on.”Israel 10-2010 2031
It was at this meeting that we met 2 of Mochen’s friends. One was a lady with a 6-year-old child who said she was denied an Israeli citizenship and had to continue to work as a janitor in a Palestinian hospital to provide for her and her child. She did not say where she would have worked as an Israeli citizen.Israel 10-2010 2034
The other friend was Abdullah, a Palestinian taxi driver, and together, all of them explained what was happening in the conflict. Suddenly, Abdullah asked, “Would you like for me to take you into Palestine and to Ramallah, the capital?”
“YES,” we replied and explained we were there to learn about and listen to the problem from their point of view. And Mochen immediately asked if she could go with us.
At 9 a.m. the next day we all left for Ramallah, first going through the Israeli border at Qalandia, the checkpoint for Palestinians going into Israel. “The Israeli check Palestinians every day, and some are strip-searched when they go to and from work,” Mochen said. “Palestinians work in Israel every day.”Israel 10-2010 2164 Israel 10-2010 2057
On the way to Ramallah, we toured the al Am’ary Refugee Camp, in the al Birah Governorate, where more than 10,000 Palestinians live. The camp began in 1949 on 20 acres and by1957; the tents had been replaced with concrete block shelters and 2 schools. There, we saw the people, their living conditions, businesses, and apartments. The camp buildings, made of concrete blocks, were in unkempt condition and looked of shoddy construction with graffiti on many of the walls.Israel 10-2010 2061Israel 10-2010 2063
As we drove around the streets seeing businesses in action, Mochen spotted an older lady wearing a long, embroidered dress identifying her as a resident of the camp and asked if she could take her photo, and the lady agreed.Israel 10-2010 2050Israel 10-2010 2071
Then, in the al Birah Governorate, Abdullah took us to see former Palestinian President Yasser Arafat’s tomb and memorial. Israel 10-2010 2089Two guards were standing at attention by the elevated marble tomb with engraving on the top. The glass and marble memorial building was modern and open to the public. Israel 10-2010 2091Adjacent to it was a building that world dignitaries come to meet with the Palestinian Authority officials, Abdullah said.Israel 10-2010 2134.2
The main shopping street of Ramallah was next and the market was in full action as Palestinians bought and sold everything needed to live.Israel 10-2010 2120 Israel 10-2010 2149Israel 10-2010 2126Israel 10-2010 2154Charlotte’s watch stopped working so Mochen helped find a watch shop and negotiated a good deal for her and then helped us purchase scarves for our souvenirs.
When asked why Ramallah was selected as the capital of the West Bank, Abdullah replied, “It was the closest we could get to Jerusalem. Ramallah is just our temporary capital until we get Jerusalem back.”
Returning to Jerusalem, Abdullah took us through the Israeli Hizma Checkpoint.Israel 10-2010 2044 There, we saw the 25-foot concrete wall separating Israel and the West Bank that is twice the height of the Berlin Wall. Hizma is easier to go through, Abdullah said, “Because this checkpoint is for everyone else and Qalandia Checkpoint is for Palestinians only. It isn’t right that a person can’t move freely within a city,” he declared as our Palestinian tour ended.
Meeting our Israeli guide in Jerusalem again on our Abercrombie and Kent tour, Uri declared, “I just can’t see why different peoples just can’t get along together.”

Photo Copy ©  2015 


Eating With Elephants in Botswana

Driving into the bush in the middle of the Okavango Delta from Stanley’s Camp, we saw nothing. Lisa, a vet student studying in Botswana, came and took us for a walk in 2 ft. high grass until we came to 3 elephants just standing unleashed in the wild eating acacia tree leaves, grass and anything they could find. The elephants were Jabu, Marula, and Thembi, 1 male and 2 female. Jabu, the male, was at least 15 feet tall. The females were smaller and more “feminine”. All were orphans that were rescued from culling operations from their family herds. We stood as far away from them as we could and still be with our  Abercrombie & Kent group.

Doug Groves, the keeper of the elephants, introduced himself and the elephants as we stood in the grass spell bound and frightened. We were taking photos like mad and noticed our hands were shaking. Getting that close to wild, unleashed elephants just about freaked us out. Hyperventilating now, I was so scared but I didn’t want Jabu to figure it out. Elephants are very smart animals and can retaliate.

Doug started teaching us about elephants that can live for 70 years. While shooting an American film involving elephants in the area in 1988, he became interested in elephants. With his wife, Sandy, they adopted Jabu, a 2-year-old, and formed Grey Matters for visitors to interact with his elephants and to create harmony between elephants and people. They have devoted their lives to the elephants and can only be away for a day or two because they miss him so much.

The 3 elephants have already saved his life in the bush when a lion went after Doug. The 3 elephants placed themselves between Doug and the lion and put their heads down to the ground. The lion backed off. Jabu is now 25 years old and his name comes from jaublani, which is Zulu tribe word for happiness. Jabu loves people and new challenges.

Elephants do things with their sensitive trunk that is so exact it can pick up a pea, show alarm by blowing air through it, rumbling for communication, or for eating. Then, Doug showed us a gland on the side of Jabu’s head that was draining between the eye and the ear. This shows the elephant is in musk and ready to mate. When the ear flap edge becomes torn and notched, it shows an elephant is older.

Their teeth also help with guessing the age. An elephant has 5 sets of new teeth in their lifetime because they grind them down from chewing. “Teeth come in the mouth like a conveyor belt, one after the other.”And this continues until around 50 years old. After that, the elephant dies when the last set of teeth is gone because it cannot eat without teeth. “Elephants eat and poop their entire waking hours.”

One at a time, Doug invited us to greet Jabu and to touch his skin. He told us to only approach Jabu from the left side. I have touched an elephant and knew what it felt like, so I decided to touch Jabu.. He had about 4-5-inch long hairs on his trunk which was hard to see as they were scattered evenly over the trunk. They act as antennas to indicate how close the trunk is to something.  Shorter hairs are all over their body, but the hairs are every few inches apart. They are not like hair or fur, they are like wire.

How Doug talked to Jabu amazed me. He talked so softly to him because elephants don’t like loud noises. Doug told Jabu to “come over here”to be closer to us about 5 times before he acted. But, from then on, he minded Doug on every command and worked like a perfect team. He never hit or hurt them in any way. He told Jabu to open his mouth and he did and Doug showed us his teeth and tongue. Then Doug told him to show us how he trumpets when he is alarmed and Jabu blew his trumpet sound so loud it scared me even further. Next he told him to make a rumbling sound which is how they communicate with each other and us, and he rumbled.

Watching the 2 work together was just like a symphony and it helped me to warm up and be more comfortable around Jabu. Doug offered Jabu for photos holding onto his tusks and finally Tom agreed. The tusk is an extensionof the teeth-bone system. Next, Jabu showed us some of his hat snatching tricks. It was such a cute trick. So, everyone was offered the opportunity to do the trick with Jabu.

By now, I was beginning to believe I could trust Jabu as Doug had showed us how to interact with him. I offered so Jabu took off my safari hat with his trunk, put it on his head and then put it back on my head. His trunk was heavy as it bore down to put my hat back on my head!

Marula was next to show her stuff while Jabu ate in the bush. Marula and a male elephant were owned by a Botswana couple who got them from culling operations during the 1980s Zimbabwe drought. Meant to be pets to the couple, the male killed a man so he was sold to a park in South Africa. The Park owners decided the only solution was to destroy him after he killed 7 white rhino and flipped over a vehicle. Marula was not implicated in the rhinocide but she wasn’t happy and became antisocial. Doug took Marula in 1994, baggage, bad behaviors and all, and trained her and gave her a good life. She showed us some of her features like Jabu did. Doug said Marula is his Princess.

Marula was taken to a small tree to eat. Elephants can eat everything on a tree—the bark, the limbs, the leaves-all of it. We watched them chew up entire large limbs like they were candy, and eat huge sections of grass like it was nothing. They can each drink up to 200 liters of water per day.

Thembi was next and is the youngest of his 3 elephants. Orphaned in Krueger National Park in South Africa, Thembi is short for Thembigela, Zulu for “trust”. She is a sweetheart, and even though she is the smallest, she loves attention, loves to be with the other 2, and gets nervous when she is not. Thembi considers herself the protector of the herd. When he got her, she was lonely and not adjusted. She would tear up trees to take out her frustrations.  Now with Doug, she has self respect, feels she belongs and is very sensitive.

So Thembi had to show us how she sleeps each night and how she gets down and up. First it was the back legs that bent and it looked like she was sitting on her knees.  Then it was the front legs that bent and she was down on the ground. The head and truck followed and she was totally laid out on the ground. Elephants sleep about 5 hours each day and his 3 stay in an enclosure by his house there in Botswana.

With Thembi totally laid out on the ground, he showed us her feet. It was our first time to actually see the bottom of a wild elephant’s foot and their toenails. Doug invited us to touch and inspect her foot. It was not smooth and kind of looked like cracked and dried mud caked on some parts and nothing on other parts. I had purchased a footprint of the elephant I rode (Damiano) in Zimbabwe, so that was the only “footprint” I had seen. Seeing an elephant lying down instead of standing tall and dominating over us all was an eye opener.

After 2 hours, we left and the 3 elephants waved goodbye with their trunks. It was another priceless moment. And as we drove by them on the way to our bush lunch, Lisa was sitting on top of Jabu who had been taught to lift his right leg up so Lisa could get up and down.

To get to the bush lunch, we had to “go swimming” in our safari Land Rover in the Okavango Delta which was 4-6 ft. deep and still rising in June.  Stanley’s Camp provided us with a buffet lunch out in the wild bush underneath a mangosteen tree. While we were having pre-lunch cocktails, they joined us in our bush luncheon.

That’s right. Those 3 huge elephants came marching in right next to our table and ate lunch while we ate lunch!!!  Tears came into my eyes as I observed and participated
in this magnificent event. Never before had I ever had such a wonderful adventure with elephants, much less to have lunch with the elephants. It took a few moments to process what I had just seen and was experiencing. Workers brought in big blocks of hay and a plastic trash can with special pellets for each elephant. Their food was set in 3 separate piles just like our plates of food for each one of us. Doug stood by Jabu’s pellets for about 5 minutes while Marula and Thembi ate theirs because “if Jabu ate the pellets at the same time as the females, he would eat his fast and then go steal Marula’s and Thembi’s! And when all of us finished eating everything, the elephants just stood there perfectly while Doug answered our many questions.

We were sitting at the end of the table closest to the elephants 15 feet away and we ate with them behind us. I trusted the elephants by now and felt comfortable enough to turn my back on them. Then, Lisa told us to move about one more foot apart and we didn’t know why.

But soon we found out. All of a sudden, Jabu put his trunk between us. I just about lost my breath. Talking about a heart beating so fast, my blood pressure must have shot straight up!  I could only think of the things that could go wrong at that moment and I began to write my headline again “Tow killed by bull elephant in Botswana.” The entire photo session with Jabu only lasted about 2 minutes but it seemed like an eternity to me. I was so relieved when he backed away yet I was so honored that Jabu would pose in a photo with us at the table and that we could experience this gentle giant and his 2 female friends. All 3 truly gave us a priceless moment that can’t be duplicated. As we left our bush lunch, the 3 elephants were waving “Goodbye” to us with their trunks!

Photo Copy ©  2015 


Traveling With Ethiopian Lucy

The officer looked at me sitting by the door and said “Follow me.” And I did, not knowing where I or the other 18 members of our tour group was going.  We followed the officer right into the office of the President of Ethiopia in Addis Abba, Ethiopia, who was sitting at his desk.

During our visit of the Presidential Palace, we were totally surprised when we were invited to visit President Girma W. Giorgis. He greeted each one of us individually and a photographer snapped our photo. After the personal greeting, we then sat in chairs right in front of his desk and began our 25-minute chat with him.

President Giorgis started the visit by leaning forward on his desk toward all of us and said, “What’s up?”  We all roared at his comment. No one then spoke, so I told him we loved his country.” Then, he received a short call on his white phone, finished it and asked where we were from and the answer was, “USA” and one replied, “and one from Canada.” Our tour director then explained that we were an Abercrombie & Kent and Kibran tour and that we would “advertise to all that Ethiopia is a unique country from other African countries.”

One of our tour ladies said she was in Ethiopia in 1967 and she was wondering about the roads and airlines. President Giorgis said there were highways everywhere now and airline services provided to all major cities. “Next we are concentrating on schools, he said “and currently we have 24 universities and we are planning for 31 as that is one way of preventing poverty, President Giorgis said.

A gentleman in our group asked the President what was his biggest challenge as President and he replied, “Meeting people like you.” Again, we all roared. Next, I asked if he had been to the USA.  “Yes to the USA,” he said but he didn’t remember how many times. And, I have been to Ft. Worth, Dallas, Austin and Houston-NASA Texas with Lucy.” He had to show his photo wearing a Texas Stetson hat, and his cowboy sculpture on his desk. President Giorgis was traveling with Lucy, the world’s oldest and first hominid (erect walking) skeleton that was found in 1974 about 60 miles from Addis Abba, Ethiopia.

Then his attendants and service ladies came in with Ethiopian coffee and cookies and each one of us was served following the President. As we enjoyed the fresh brewed Ethiopian coffee, we noticed the President had a replica of the Arc of the Covenant with 2 gold lions guarding it on the coffee table in front of us. It is Ethiopia that claims to have the Arc of the Covenant.

Finally, Mr. Giorgis was asked his age and how many grandchildren he had. He replied and that he is 89- years-old, has been married for 63 years and has 5 great-grandchildren. That information led one of our men to reply, “You have to be a very good diplomat to be married for 63 years.”


Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony

When we visited a private home in Ethiopia, we never expected a coffee ceremony in the country where coffee originated. The coffee ceremony always includes friends and neighbors and is held daily in Ethiopian homes to celebrate the glorious cup of coffee. Tradition says they must never drink coffee alone.

The ceremony was held in a eight-foot oval, green grass area containing a foot-tall chest-of-drawers for coffee cups, cream, sugar, spoons, napkins and all things needed to serve coffee. On top of the grass were flowers, a black coffee pot and a wok-like skillet, all on a charcoal fire. Nearby, an incense burner emitted smoke full-blast, a vital part of the ceremony.

The smell of coffee filled the air as the hostess roasted a cup of coffee beans in seed-oil on the fire. She tossed and stirred the Ethiopian coffee beans 10 to 15 minutes until they were ready for grinding.

But before the grinding occurred, the hostess allowed each guest to smell the roasted beans to make sure they were ready for coffee. All approved, so the bean grinding began.

During this process, we had to sample Araji, home-made vodka-like liquor from barley, Oteh, home-made honey liquor with orange juice, and Kita, a popcorn snack. Then, the hostess placed the beans in a mortar and mashed them with a pestle over and over until they were ground. Next, she placed the grounds in the thin, tall neck of a black coffee pot full of boiling hot water and pushed the grounds into the pot. Now, the coffee was ready to serve.

Then the hostess told us of an Ethiopian tradition that her husband must be pleased with her brew. If he is not, she must brew another pot from scratch. As we left, the tourists on our Abercrombie & Kent and Kibran tours had many thoughts on that tradition. But the coffee was delicious and she didn’t have to do it all over again. It had a hint of cinnamon in it and was perfect. We left wanting more than one cup it was so delicious.


Teff Bull Session in Ethiopia

Growing up on a dairy farm, I knew that if two or more bulls were together they were as dangerous as 2000-pound guard dogs, except with horns. Now as we rode a bus through rural Ethiopia, we noticed five Brahma bulls going around and around in a circle by the side of the road. They were walking on a 12-inch bed of sorghum stalks hand-cut from the nearby field. And these five bulls were not yoked! They were free, yet they walked together, side by side, shoulder to shoulder, their horns only inches apart.

Upon seeing this operation, we stopped our bus on our Abercrombie & Kent and Kibran Tours of Ethiopia tour and got out to watch and photograph it.

“They are trained from birth,” our guide told us, “to walk around in circles over and over with other calves. The people live with the animals 24 hours a day, so the bulls become pets and do whatever they are trained to do.”

We watched the bulls go in circles and the next thing we didn’t expect. The farmer let us try pitching the straw back into the pile with the pitchfork he was using. All was easy until the bulls made the round toward me. As they got about three feet from me, I dropped the pitchfork and took off. At this stage in my life, I didn’t want an encounter with five bulls! The bulls were making the grain separate from the stalk by smashing it.

As we proceeded down the road, we noticed two farmers on the ground scooping up grain by hand and by them were five more bulls resting beside the grain stalks they had just smashed. The farmers were sifting the seeds from the stalks and the stalks would be for the bulls and the grains for the humans. Two bulls just lay on the ground and 3 just stood while they all watched as the farmers worked.

When work was finished, they all walked together to their home and yard where they have lived since birth. And here they rest until the next day when they go around and around until all the grain is harvested.

Photo Copy ©  2016