'Israel Is Not One of the Normal Countries. It’s Supernatural'

One women explains about living at sea with no real home; a family living next to Gaza takes their first vacation abroad

Christina Morente, 43, from Puebla, Mexico; arriving from Naples, Italy
Tomer Appelbaum

Christina Morente, 43, from Puebla, Mexico; arriving from Naples, Italy

Hello, can I ask what you’ll be doing in Israel?

I am a devout Christian, and for me you are the Chosen People, and every time I land here my heart pounds – everything is super-wonderful.

Thank you, but you’re exaggerating.

Look how you’ve survived over the years, Am Israel hai! [The Jewish people lives!] I’ve been to 65 countries in my life, and Norway is my favorite among the normal countries. But Israel is not one of the normal countries. It’s supernatural.

We can agree on “not normal.”

I’ve been here four to five times already, including twice by ship to Haifa and Ashdod, and today the lady in immigration asked me, “Why do you come here so often?” And I responded, “Why not?”

Because it’s too hot, for example. But why did you come by ship – and twice?

Because I’ve been working for a cruise company for the past eight years. Before that I was a nurse, but the health system in Mexico is very problematic. Everything is very accelerated, and it’s impossible to treat the sick. It was hard for me, so I said bye-bye.

Since then you’ve been on ships all the time?

No. Usually you get a contract for a year or for eight months. But in the past year I’ve only been doing emergencies, so I spend three months or less on each ship.

Is the company pleased with you?

Yes. In the last evaluation the boss told me he very much wants to work with me again. That’s something you don’t get in a hospital. Usually the hospital hates you.

What do you do on the ship?

My job is the daily program. I put out a kind of daily bulletin that has to be printed in the languages of all the people on the ship.

Isn’t that done beforehand?

Usually what’s happening is known in advance, but sometimes things change. For example, on a recent cruise it was cold, so there was less activity on the deck and we needed to provide entertainment, so we held a line-crossing party.

What’s that?

It’s a maritime tradition when you cross the equator. Neptune is there, and you have to get his permission to do the crossing. You have a big party and throw confetti and things like that.

Are there scary things at sea, Titanic-style?

Sometimes you can feel the ship listing, but then it rights itself. I’ve never felt unsafe. When there are storms or hurricanes, the company knows in advance and tries to avoid them.

Do you like your work?

It’s not always easy. The food is always the same, you share your cabin with someone and you work seven days a week with only a few hours of rest during the day. It’s complicated, because we are managing our social life and work in the same place. It’s exciting to be in a different port every day, but it also means you haven’t been home for months.

Where is home?

I don’t have a home. My home is a room in my mother’s place, where I have everything. Now I really am wondering where to go.

Where will you go?

I want to go back to Mexico. I want to have a home and be grounded. I’ve been living out of a suitcase for a long time.

Just one?

More precisely, two suitcases that weigh a total of 22 kilograms [nearly 50 pounds]. That’s what we’re allowed. If I buy something new, I have to throw out something old. And I always have four seasons in the suitcases, because sometimes you set out in August and go on to northern Europe and then to South Africa, so you need shorts and sea attire as well as a particularly warm coat.

What do you do for fun on a ship?

There’s a bar for the staff, and you can have two drinks after work. We also smoke there, because it’s not allowed in the cabins. We’re not allowed dates with passengers, but I’ve seen it happen.

Did you ever see “The Love Boat”?

Yes. I liked Captain Stubing best.

Is that a question you hear a lot?

Yes, but it’s not the worst question. The one I like best is, “Do you really live on a ship?” And a lot of times passengers ask me where the exit is. Here. Where the sea is.

Ofer Calderon, 47; Erez Calderon, 5; Sahar Calderon, 10; Giaia Calderon, 15; Hadas Calderon, 50; and Rotem Calderon, 13; from Kibbutz Nir Oz; flying to Crete

Ofer Calderon, 47; Erez Calderon, 5; Sahar Calderon, 10; Giaia Calderon, 15; Hadas Calderon, 50; and Rotem Calderon, 13; from Kibbutz Nir Oz; flying to Crete
Tomer Appelbaum

Hello, can I ask how many times you’ve all flown together?

Ofer: This is the first trip abroad for all of us together. And it’s to a hotel, too.

Hadas: We don’t usually like hotels, we’re more into nature.

Ofer: But this time we reserved a hotel so we’ll have a soft landing. Usually we go with tents and camp out. [Lake] Kinneret, B&Bs here and there.

How come this is your first trip abroad?

Ofer: We’ve been together 15 years. We had the children, so there was no time.

Hadas: Besides which, I’m afraid to fly.

Then why are you flying this time?

Hadas: I’m excited and getting over it, in stages.

Children, how are you feeling?

Sahar: Alright.

Gaia: (Nodding her head)

Ofer: Let’s go home. They’re not thrilled in the least.

Hadas: A vacation this won’t be. When you have four children you’re working all the time. Supervising the whole time.

How do you divide your attention?

Ofer: Whoever shouts louder.

Hadas: Someone always feels deprived.

Ofer: Our older ones are already pretty big, so we don’t feel them in Israel, but I don’t know what will happen in Crete. I have no idea.

What do you do when there are four bored children on a trip?

Hadas: Being bored is allowed. You’re also allowed to stop for a minute.

Ofer: On the kibbutz you live in nature, your friends are as close as the door.

Is that why you chose to live in a kibbutz?

Ofer: I’m from Haifa originally, but I lived in a kibbutz before I met Hadas. I was a farmer. I saw families raising children nearby, and that appealed to me. Also, the level of education is high compared to the city.

Definitely. But you live in Nir Oz, where it’s not always easy and quiet.

Ofer: We’re on the front line next to the Gaza Strip. There’s shooting now and then.

How often?

Ofer: Every day, but the ear gets used to it. We understand that it’s in our defense and they’re not serious incidents. When things get messy, we don’t always stay in the kibbutz. In the last war, for example [in the summer of 2014], we weren’t at the kibbutz for two months.

Where were you?

Ofer: We were on vacation in Eilat when the war broke out, so I told the children we would just keep vacationing. We moved north to the Arava, until the kibbutz let us come back. We were evacuated to Kibbutz Hazorea [northern Israel]. Six people in one room with shower, toilet and kitchenette. It was very tense. And again, we spent most of the day traveling around.

What happens with work under fire?

Ofer: Fifteen years ago, I requested a transfer to work that involves doing something with my hands. They said they needed someone to repair screens, cylinders, doors, and I just kept going from there and became a carpenter. During the war, I wanted to work in the carpentry workshop, but I couldn’t do it. There was the sound of war and alarms all the time. And I don’t have a security space.

And now you’re not worried about everyday life?

Ofer: There’s a war of a month or two, and two months later no one remembers. Real estate prices go up again, and Bibi [Netanyahu] tries to take away the breaks we’ve been given. I personally, thanks to the army service I went through and all kinds of incidents I saw, have perhaps become immune. There are bad experiences, though. The children got the frights. I think that in our area 90 percent of the children are in treatment. When the news reports that rockets fell and there were casualties, they mean there were also countless psychological casualties.

So why do you stay?

Ofer: We left Nir Oz in 2007 for two years, because there were no safe rooms in the houses. We moved to Gevulot, which is a kibbutz about a quarter of an hour to the east. We returned in 2009 because it’s our home, I have my work there and the children were born in Nir Oz. We have ties to the people and the place. The Negev is delightful. I love the quiet, the tranquility and the spaces. You look ahead toward the horizon and it doesn’t end.