May We Live in Uninteresting Times

2012 Travel Writing Competition Entry 

May We Live in Uninteresting Times
by Laura Chiesa, Israel

There is an old Chinese curse which says: “May you live in interesting times“. The curse - which is sometimes mistaken as a blessing - is puzzling. Why would anyone believe that interesting times are bad times? Uninteresting times is hardly something we may wish for ourselves or for anyone, let alone a whole country. Now, having lived in Israel for the past 4 years, I begin to grasp the value of this old Chinese wisdom. For Israel is not a place which provides much of those peaceful uninteresting times that Chinese value so much.

Why is this country so complicated? Is all this amount of “interesting” good for you? Is that good for health, blood pressure? Does it make you a more fulfilled human being? If you take it from the old proverb, quite the opposite is true. A safe, uneventful, borderline boring place would allow the necessary piece of mind to tend to other important aspects of life: child education, quality time with friends, fraternity, mindfulness. Yet, there seem to be a curse over this part of the world, where such legitimate aspirations are hardly matched, to different degrees, on either sides of the Wall.

Israelis are great consumers of news, but at the same time, will typically avoid to discuss the situation (as they normally refer to the Occupation). Many travel to far away destinations, escaping the intensity of their homeland through meditation practice, or through the obliviousness provided by drugs, parties, communities where individual responsibility is greatly diluted. The first time I met an Israeli face to face, it was back in 2005, during a Buddhist retreat in South France. It was the time of the Second Lebanon War. I was talking to a nice Israeli girl, whose boyfriend had just been drafted to the Israeli Army, something I thought of as both heroic and terrifying. It seemed to me so anachronistic that in the Third Millennium someone, anyone, would be called to fight in a war. How could she be sitting repeating mantra in South France, while so much was going on in her homeland, even at such a personal level? Besides, we had just finished discussing Buddhist precepts of not killing animals, and here she was, a person struggling with the inconceivable eventuality of her boyfriend having to kill another human being or even be killed. She heard my curiosity, but gently shook her head. “You can not understand, you were not born there”. She was right.

Years have passed since that encounter. In the meantime, I moved to Israel, where I was able to witness things from a different, closer perspective. While applying for Israeli residence, I have also traveled to Bethlehem, to Hebron, to villages and outposts in the Territories. I have picked olives with the farmers, drank tea, played with children. I have stood against olive trees being uprooted. I have gone to peace demonstration on both sides of the Wall. I have heard stories of bereaved families, as well as casual conversations in both Israel and Palestine. Sometimes I travelled alone, but mostly I travelled with the help of mediators, people and activists who facilitate the crossing of the physical and psychological borders which separate the two sides. As I write, Jewish Rabbies are fighting for the right of Palestinians to farm their land. Israeli women put themselves at risk in order to take other women from their village in Palestine to the malls and beaches of Israel. International facilitators take Israelis, who have never even seen a Palestinian, to eat and sleep in the house of a Palestinian family. Ex-soldiers of the IDF guide groups to the hills of Hebron, to show what happens when the only law applying is the law of the occupier.

Despite all this ferment and good will, distances are still great to bridge. Peaceful, “uninteresting times” seem to be a distant possibility for this region. It is of capital importance that we keep traveling, talking, shaking hands. That we make space for each other, that we laugh, that we share a meal. That we recognize the universality of our common aspirations.

Of course, crossing the border can also be a risky business: for me, it brought about a greater degree of confusion. But I welcomed this confusion. After all, confusion is the outcome of the complexity of what is real. It is much closer to reality than any opinion I had before.
So happy traveling everyone! 

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    Visit the Samaritans and their holy temple on Mount Grizim. Hold a discussion with the Director of a youth organization in Balata Refugee camp. Explore the sights and sounds of the Old City of Nablus
  • Masada, Dead Sea & Southern West Bank
    An overview of the southern West Bank, the ancient Roman complex at Masada, a drive along the entire length of the Dead Sea, and an opportunity to dip in the healing sea waters.
  • Taybeh Village
    Come and explore Christian Palestine through the beautiful village of Taybeh located between Jerusalem, Ramallah and Jericho.
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