October 27, 2015

Middle East or Middle Ages?

Anyone have a snorkel mask? My street after the storm. 
It’s been one of those days when I am reminded that I live in the Middle East, or perhaps some third-world country. It all starts with wind and rain. In fact, it always starts with wind and rain.

Every winter, there is wind, rain, often followed by a fierce storm. Frozen golf balls drop from the sky, the wind whips off branches and the water level rises. What was minutes ago a soft sunny day soon looks like devastation. Sewers overflow. Streets are flooded. The power goes out. Trees fall onto cars and poles fall onto streets.

And then the chaos begins. Stores sit in darkness. People sit in traffic. Cars sit in the middle of intersections. Drivers sit on their horns.

So if this happens every time there is a fierce rainstorm, why does the power go out for hours and hours everywhere? Why does my cell phone network not work for an entire day? Why must I lose my lifeline to Waze, and be shoved into a traffic nightmare? (If Waze had worked, it may have warned me that it would take three hours to go five kilometers and I would have nestled up with my daughter and some cookie batter.) And, why are there never policemen to guide traffic through gnarled intersections?

So if this happens whenever there is a storm, why then did I get behind the wheel?  Did I really have to drive my daughter to school? She could have stayed home and baked cookies. Unlike thousands of Israelis sitting in the dark, we actually had electricity this time.

But I did get behind the wheel and was inspired when I saw one traffic light working. I carried on, edging on into what soon became an asphalt can of crushed sardines.

I inched my way as four lanes lanes merged into three and trucks merged into cars, and three lanes merged into two and sedans morphed into ATVs, trying to navigate side walks and building sites.

I could not see what was causing this traffic jam but it was too late to turn back. I put the car into park and sat. My philosophical daughter sat and read to me how Siddhartha, later known as the Buddha, found tranquility in chaos. I inched along, and as she read about Siddhartha sitting under the Bodhi tree, drivers sat on their horns.

“Why are they honking if no one can move? What will that solve?” I asked, interrupting her enlightenment.

“Because they cannot contain their frustration,” my daughter said wisely, reading about on about the path to tranquility.

We soon saw that all the traffic lights were out in this part of Kfar Saba, plunging frustrated horn honking Israelis into intersections that soon became parking lots.

I tried to relax, and as I turned off the main road and found myself in yet another p’kuk (traffic jam), I told my daughter that this was enough and we were abandoning ship. I parked the car at the side of the road and decided to walk the rest of the way to her school in the pouring rain. My daughter, now in a blissful state of serenity, happily followed as we tried to navigate past fallen trees that blocked the sidewalk.

Ynet news flashed across my phone: “No electricity since 9am. We have returned to the Dark Ages.”

When we finally arrived at her school, I put on her running shoes and decided to run home. Anything is better than driving, I reasoned. The car could wait for another day.

And so I ran through deep puddles and was sprayed by passing cars. As the rain pummeled my face and I scraped by fallen trees, I felt liberated as I was actually moving faster than everyone else.  I breathed deeply and enjoyed the process of eliminating my pent up frustration and finding my own path to tranquility.

When in the middle of the chaotic Middle East, one must find a their own way to a bodhi tree.

Postscript: I woke up at 5am the next day to retrieve my abandoned car. The streetlights were still out along the roads and the traffic lights stared blankly at me. At least there was no traffic, but soon enough, commuters would be honking and enraged.

Take me to my Bodhi tree...
There are still 50,000 homes and businesses without electricity. Half of our street has been without power for 36 hours so far. Apparently it is mostly due to a dispute between the government and the Israel Electrical Company. No doubts. This is the Middle East.

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