Tel Aviv Diary Part 1: The British Girl and the Rockets (PHOTOS)
by Kara Bieber
Day 1: No rocket in my salad days please
I do not wish to write anything political, you know I prefer other types of parties!
But I wish to describe a little, the situation here.
I have awoken, in mid November, to yet another day, which could be mistaken for the midst of summer. For the sun is shining, it’s warmth embracing and the light dancing from the bluest plains above our heads, down to the tops of breezy palm trees and darting from one wall of whiteness to another. This city, forever a glow, a buzz, alive – with living.
Despite last night’s attack and fears of further frights, windows are open wide and routines are recommencing. Just with the addition of a full briefing from a friend of mine. If I happen to be in my fourth floor apartment and the siren sounds (warning of an incoming rocket), I must go to the stairwell and in the seconds we have to reach safety, I must go to the third floor and stay away from any windows, and wait ten minutes.
It was only yesterday evening I had just left a dynamic event of entrepreneurs. Stimulated and charmed by their initiatives, I walked up the cities main and most beautiful boulevard, pondering whether to enjoy a carrot juice from one of the many juice bars or cafés, or the café with the juice bar. I chose the latter, and realizing I didn’t have long until my next meeting with a fashion magazine visiting from London, then soon after, a sweet friends party celebrating his MBA graduation. I continued on my way. Until the sound of siren.
I’ve been told it’s twenty-one years since Tel Aviv has heard that sound. I felt the whole city was in disbelief; there was a moment of total pause and then urgency to reach a nearby place of safety. I had been waiting for the sherute (a shared taxi minibus ~ more on that another time, simply wonderful!) and followed the group of people in my surroundings into a newsagent. I received a text from my friend telling me to take cover immediately and to stay there for ten minutes.
My group and I stood waiting, I did not know for what. Until, a large explosion was heard. I think I might have sworn and my eyes wanted to cry. But there was a strength in the air. There was no panic, no hysteria, it was clear that my neighbors were experienced in situations such as this. This is what saddens me the most. I wish to say that they are regular people, such as you and me. But in fact, they’re not. For when the rocket landed, I did not feel a sudden sense of bonding over a shared atrocity. We were already bonded. From my very landing in this country I have felt so completely at home, comfortable, cosy even. For people interact with each other, on an hourly basis, they are curious, interested, interesting and caring. Each day I could write a list of encounters, anecdotes, minutes of magic, friendly, romantic even. Although I have only been here for forty-nine days, I am now a part of it. I am aware that when applying exfoliator to my face before showering at night, that should there be a siren, I would need to go to the stairwell in this way. I am refraining from playing my usually loud music so as not to miss any warning and I’ve put my earplugs away for the foreseeable future.
Nonetheless we did all turn up to celebrate my friend and his graduation. It was quite the loveliest party I’ve been to yet; we very almost forgot what could be happening outside.
Day 2: Last night and I can only hope we have a tonight
I am writing from the fourth floor, where I have lit a candle. A blissful Santa Maria Novella; a treasured gift from my brother Leo for my birthday. As Bear Grylls always advises, ‘light a fire to boost morale’. So that is exactly what I’ve done. Normally I would be listening to music too, but I’m fearful I could risk not hearing a potential siren.
My request was not fulfilled and rocket was on today’s menu. Peppery and bitter – a strong after taste for those, like me, who have no experience in such a field. I had felt calm and cool that I knew the drill and felt the support from everyone around me, but as soon as I heard the siren, for the second time (in my life), my legs let me down. I did take on the stairs in my slippers, but it was purely from hearing the sound of danger that I don’t presume I, or my legs, will ever get used to. Not to mention, the wait to hear the rocket land. Who knows where, but it seems to be getting closer and closer.
I met a sweet neighbor from downstairs who had clearly not received the same briefing as me. She drifted towards the window, until I, who had only received tutoring the day before, insisted that she come and join me on the third floor. Her hand to her mouth, she gasped at how close the sound of the explosion was. We stood together, exchanged invitations for coffees and teas and then parted ways, to call our families to tell them we are fine. I’m not even sure this is necessary since these events barely seem to be featured in the news. But it is as much of a comfort to hear their voices as mine is to them.
I’d planned to go to the super market, the launderette but suddenly didn’t feel like it. Instead I replied to very kindest messages from old friends, new friends, inquiring about my safety, inviting me to their homes, to the north, everybody concerned and compassionate, refueling me for the next adventure. I’d been invited to a special service at the synagogue, and felt more than ever before, that now was the time to go, perhaps pray a little, but most of all be spiritual.
You might have seen profile pictures changed to red squares signifying ‘Code red’ sirens. Well my picture I have not changed, but I did put on a red dress, funnily enough one I have gone to every time I wish to dress up, but each time I’ve ended up dismissing it, until tonight.
I walked down one of my favorite boulevards, glancing into each wide and welcoming apartment as I passed. People playing with their dogs, others preparing feasts for their families, couples cosied up to one another. The air felt so soft and warmer than it’s been in recent days.
I met my friend on the corner by the synagogue, immediately enchanted by the sounds that wafted from ear to ear and then down the road and around the corner. I almost dreaded the service for I knew I was about to be moved. And moved I was. So many faces gathered together, some to read, some to sing, (others for the champagne reception that followed)! Whatever the reason, we were all together, our thoughts, all to the same place.
The service ended with the singing of the Hatikva, the National Anthem of Israel, a song of hope. Before the first word had even been sung in it’s entirety, everyone stood up, as if the Queen of England had just entered the room.
Day 3: Is this rocket science?
Ever since the first siren, two days ago, I’ve been too afraid to wash my hair. I just don’t think I will hear the warning. Not that my shower is all that and the water pressure is something to envy; simply, I don’t find the sirens to be so loud.
When the third siren sounded today, I scrambled to find my keys and unlock my door, all taking up precious seconds which I needed to make it down to the floor below. Almost comical, I slid down to the third landing, nearly colliding with Gidi and Nava who stood as representatives to number 6 and 7..all of us in some sort of pajama combo. It was Saturday after all. Albeit sometime late afternoon, but this is meant to be the day of rest (ha ha ha).
I feel you might know the drill as well as I do by now. We stand, we wait, we can’t help but gasp with horror and we wait some more. Even though this is now my third experience, I noticed how my arm had intuitively found the banister and clung to it, my limbs shaky. I joked to myself that this must be a grave situation if I was touching the banister!
After hearing the explosion my new friends were turning to reenter their apartments until I relayed the instructions I received; that we must wait ten minutes. This is to avoid any potential after effects (I don’t even wish to think what that might mean). It was not long until we heard a phone ring and Gidi was gone, his family, checking he was ok. On returning to my apartment I searched for updates on BBC news and nothing had been reported, still nothing, so I did not ring my family this time. I wish to avoid alarming them at all costs.
This is hours later and my heartburn has only just calmed down and that’s also after half an hour of giggles with an Australian in the launderette. Having been home all day I braved the outside, I thought unlike my hair, my clothes won’t wash themselves! Unfortunately immediately on exit, I encountered a monster cockroach; (they should have a siren for those things!), but on my way I recalled the conversation I’d had with my neighbor the day before the first rocket.
I pressured him to tell me where the nearest bomb shelter can be found. He thought my question terribly funny, and told me vague locations of one or two, but couldn’t express enough that there was no chance of Tel Aviv being hit. It’s not happened in decades he said. He then lowered his voice and said that if it did happen, because I’m not from here, I should ‘get the f**k out!!!’.
I’ve not mentioned this conversation until now. Perhaps because I couldn’t find the f word in my vocabulary but maybe also because this really has come as a shock to everyone.
The author is a photographer from London, her website is: www.karabieber.com.