'I Love Israelis, and the Falafel Was Great. I Rode a Camel, but I Wouldn't Do That Again'

This week at the Tel Aviv airport: A young American on her first trip outside the U.S., and a German expat living on the fringes of capitalist society

Rachel Stewart.
Tomer Appelbaum

Rachel Stewart, 20, lives in Georgia, U.S.; flying to New York

Hello, was this your first time in Israel?

It’s my first time outside America.

Congratulations. How was the flight?

I nearly freaked out on the plane. Eleven hours. But it was a good experience, and now that I’ve opened that door I can do more things, travel the world.

You go, girl. Did you come alone?

I came with a lady named Jules, who organizes missionary trips, to different destinations. Besides sightseeing, we try to do something for the community, too, to work on faith, promote God and the sisterhood.

Who are the sisters?

We’re 20 women from ages 20 to 50. I didn’t know the others before. We were here a week, and I learned a lot.

What, for example?

To accept responsibility, to pay attention to the world. I loved the people here – I love people. People are different, but you can always connect. And the falafel was great. I’d like to come back one day, maybe when my financial situation is better.

Where did you go?

We were at Christian sites. And we were in Jerusalem with a guide who talked about the history of the city and the Jewish people. It was ... wow! And I rode a camel. I wouldn’t do that again.

Did you really do something for the community?

We met with an organization in south Tel Aviv that helps women who worked in the sex industry. They make bags from old kitesurfing kites, and we worked with them a little.

How religious are you?

I’m majoring in sociology and psychology at university, but I also work for a Christian organization on campus. It’s very important for me. I’m a spiritual person, and I believe in God and Jesus. I’m a Christian, but Christianity has many restrictions and rituals, and in my opinion that’s not what God intended. He’s a God of love! So someone should not be made to feel inferior, just because he believes in something else.

What do people do in a campus Christian organization?

You’re supposed to learn and teach people about God and Jesus. We are trying to reach people, but at school we’re limited in time, so we just try to make people feel special.

How?

You try to work with people who are less fortunate and to remind them that actually they are lucky. You say things like, “You have a chance, you don’t have to kill yourself, your life has meaning, you’re important to someone.” For people who grew up with a feeling of insecurity, that’s very important. I grew up like that, and it’s important for me to pay it forward.

Why were you insecure?

For years I had suicidal thoughts, I felt left out in school and everything was very dark. And even though I grew up in a Christian home, I didn’t understand how to get out of that place. I didn’t understand a lot of things about life, I wanted to look like someone else, I didn’t like myself. Now I say to girls, “You’re beautiful the way you are, you don’t need to change.” It’s important to hear that at an early age.

You underwent a big change of consciousness.

It all started when I tried to look for one small thing in myself that I liked. And I also started to write a lot in a diary. It may sound strange, but that’s how I started to communicate with myself, and instead of being with people all the time, I learned how to be alone and to enjoy being with myself. That’s how you develop self-love. And I also started to read the Bible and go to church. I got to God for myself, and I learned from him that I’m special and different, and that’s a good thing.

Do you still keep a diary?

I keep many of them; I like to write about what I feel and see. I appreciate what goes on inside me, compare things, write what it’s possible to do better. Hey, I’m not perfect, I’m young and I need to grow, change, understand where it’s possible to move and what the toxic things are that I want to get rid of. Every time I write, I take a glance at what I’ve written before. When you write you sometimes get inspiration from yourself. For example, I look at the day I started to write, and I see how the joy has grown.

Martin Schroeder.
Tomer Appelbaum

Martin Schroeder, 33, lives in Sarti, Greece; arriving from Budapest

Hello, is this your first time in Israel?

It’s my sixth time. I’m here for six days to visit a friend who moved here six years ago from Hungary.

We should play shesh besh [backgammon; “shesh” is Hebrew for “six”].

I hope you don’t play that game for money, because in all my travels in the world I’ve never encountered a more expensive place than Tel Aviv.

Do you travel a lot?

I’ve been traveling for nine years. From May to October I live and work in northern Greece as a tour guide and taxi driver. Then, from October to May, I travel. I always divide the winter in two: Up until Christmas I visit friends and family, and from January to May I choose a new place to live and learn something new.

Where have you lived and what have you done?

Salzburg, Thessaloniki, Bologna, Colombia, Mexico, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, India. In Guatemala I worked as a bartender in a hostel, and in Ecuador I was a diving instructor. As a European it’s easy for me to find jobs overseas, because people always want European tourists to come and for there to be someone who speaks their languages.

Now you’re in the friends’ period.

This part has become a bit demanding. Since October, I’ve been to Madrid, Milan, Belgrade, Budapest, Prague and Bratislava, and from here I’ll go to Vienna. I take it from day to day. My journey isn’t very organized, I make contact at the last minute and sleep on the sofa at friends’ places.

What do people do in your village?

Hang out. Sarti is right on the coast, and of all the countries I’ve seen, it has the most beautiful beach. But I have to admit that over time something strange has happened: I’m German by origin, and Greece used to be a place to escape to, but now it’s a bummer to go back there, because I have to work.

Someone has to bring home the souvlaki!

I don’t need much. I live on a budget, and I get along. I learned in university that capitalism has three pillars: money, connections and education. I decided to forgo the money and concentrate on the other two.

How does it work with a round-the-world ticket?

Well, I’m not so simple and pure. I use airplanes, cell phones, email. I need them and admit that they improve my life. And I’m a parasite when it comes to discarded “capitalist” things. I have an iPhone 4 that a friend left me – no one will steal it, you can’t find a charger for it. So I live within capitalism, but I refuse to feed it much.

Can you really escape the system?

I live on cash, without a bank account. I don’t sign contracts. I choose not to leave footprints behind. I’m not out to write a book, become famous or have children. I have no need for that. I already have a great deal of meaning in my life. I live in the present and that gives me strength and security. I hope this will help me avoid becoming sad, angry and scared when I get old.

Definitely something to aspire to.

I don’t like fear. Fear is the fuel on which German society travels – fear of being poor, for example. That’s the reason Germany is so rich. And it comes with negative baggage. I see it in Greece every day. They’re poorer but less depressed and battered; they don’t give a shit and it works.

“Yassou,” as Zorba said.

Life is happier in simpler countries. I’m from a small town in East Germany. The Berlin Wall fell when I was 4. I remember how before that my father would take me to a hill from where you could see the other side. We would look at the cars across the border, and he wanted one so badly. On our side everyone had the same communist cars, but he dreamed of an Opel or Volkswagen. Now he has a car like that, and I don’t think it’s done him any good.

And do you have it better than he does?

There are disadvantages. It’s hard for me to hang on to a relationship because I’m on the move, but mostly – I don’t know if it’s something within me, or a product of society, the fact is that I want a dog really badly. One day I’ll have to change my life, but I’ll have a dog.