Abroad at home
When we were little, our dream was to drive to Eilat. Now we were on the way there once again, despite the griping.
“Did you bring the coupons you got as a holiday present from work?” my wife remembered to ask as we were approaching Jericho.
“I forgot them,” I replied sorrowfully. “Oh well.”
“But I told you a million times to bring them,” she said angrily.
She was right to be angry with me. Not because of the coupons but because of the annual drive to Eilat during Passover. But what could I do? I wish, I really wish, that I could get rid of all my anxieties and dare to put my children − our little baby, even, God help us − on a plane and go on a trip abroad. “Even just to Antalya,” the kids pleaded when we had our annual discussion about what to do this year on the Passover vacation. But I just cannot conceive of my family all getting on a plane. I just can’t.
“So how about we go to Sinai this time?” ventured my wife. “No flying involved.”
“Sinai?!” I shot right back. “Are you out of your mind? Sinai? With the situation the way it is there?”
“As if in other situations you’d say yes,” she had retorted.
Okay, she’s right about that, too. I’ve never been to Sinai, alone or with the family. Sinai scares me. All those stories about arrests because of counterfeit dollars and border officials who need to be bribed in order to speed up the entry process. It’s just not for me.
“Or Jordan?” My daughter tried her luck with the only foreign country one can still travel to without the use of any aircraft or marine vessel.
“Absolutely not Jordan,” I’d argued. “As long as there’s no democracy there, we are not going.”
“Look at that!” I exclaimed when the Dead Sea came into view now, trying to boost the kids’ spirits and convince them that this was really the coolest trip in the world.
“Do me a favor,” whispered my wife, who was sitting in the back seat with the baby, “and don’t wake them up. Not after they finally fell asleep.”
“I wanted them to see the Dead Sea,” I whispered back.
“They’ve seen it a million times,” she said. “Calm down. And I can’t believe you forgot to bring the holiday coupons.”
“Sorry,” I said, silencing myself just in the nick of time, before being tempted to get into the whole thing with her again.
What kind of spoiled family is this? For God’s sake − I mean, what did we do on vacations when we were little? They should be thanking me for taking them to Eilat. We never went there when we were little, because my father’s car could never have made the trip. Our dream was to get to Eilat. Just look at them now, my kids sleeping in the back seat, in an air-conditioned car, on the way to a hotel where a three-night stay costs a little more than NIS 5,000. And they still have complaints!
Not that we didn’t take family trips when I was a kid. In fact, those trips are among the fondest memories I can think of. I remember being squished in the back seat, the heat, the fights about who got to sit by the window and who had to sit in the middle. I also remember my dad’s testiness and his threats: “I’m turning around and driving back home if you don’t shut up!” And, “You just wait. Just wait until we get there and you’ll see what I’ll do to you.”
But I know that those were happy moments − in the tent that blew away in the wind on the shore of the Dead Sea, and with mattresses tied to the roof of the car that we hoped would still be there by the time we got to Lake Kinneret. And there were expeditions to the mountains to collect za’atar among the rocks, made all the more exciting by the fear of someone called “bakachim” (park rangers), who Dad said were out to prevent Arabs from getting to their lands.
I tried to recall the first time I ever slept in a hotel and couldn’t come up with anything before the hotel in Netanya where we stayed after our wedding.
“Remember our honeymoon?” I blurted out without thinking, and was relieved that my wife chose to pretend to be asleep and not to answer. I fiddled with the radio dial to keep alert while everybody else was sleeping, or pretending to sleep, and managed to hit on a station on which two Jordanian women were chatting about food and marriage, and giggling nonstop for no discernible reason.
How could I have forgotten the holiday coupons? They’d always made me happy. When I was a child, their appearance was always an important event, though I didn’t always quite understand what the whole thing was about. Tlushat − that was what we called the coupons (which are called tlushim in Hebrew) when I was a boy. Of course, I didn’t know that my father received them because of the Jewish holidays. The tlushat were the only reason we went shopping in a big supermarket where Jews lived, a supermarket with shopping carts like you sometimes saw in the movies, and big shelves filled with endless rows of products that we only saw thanks to the tlushat from Dad’s work.
I wonder how my kids will remember this trip, if they remember it at all. I wonder if one day they will miss these trips with their parents, and want to recreate the experience with their children, perhaps in a somewhat different form, but still ... Will they one day be driving along while the rest of their family is sleeping in the car, their thoughts bringing them back to to these days? Will they smile the way I’m doing now, with this grin I can’t wipe off my face?
Focus on driving, I remind myself, taking another sip from the water bottle which has begun to turn warm. I won’t stop at Ein Gedi, I decide. I’ll let them sleep and then when they wake up I’ll pull over someplace for a pit stop: a hot cup of coffee, maybe a cold popsicle − and, mainly, a cigarette.
The radio reception kept changing without my touching the dial. Now the subject was Libya. Libyan listeners were calling in to the BBC Arabic station and talking about battles, armed fighters and weapons that can be found in every household today. Then came a station broadcasting verses from the Koran, and one airing a lengthy homage to King Abdullah.
“I remember,” my wife startled me from the back seat.
“Our honeymoon,” she replied. “How could I forget?”
“Yes, it was only Netanya, but it was still the first time I ever stayed in a hotel.”