Tel: Reflecting on Israel.

 Last week, Ishani and I visited Israel. The trip afforded us an interesting vantage point into Middle Eastern affairs– especially when it comes to the question of the Israeli & Palestinian peoples. This post is a first in a series we will be running through next week complete with fun posts from our trip, pictures, and deeper analysis of what exactly we learned there. I hope you can join us!

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When you think Jerusalem, you think Old City, Dome of the Rock, Western Wall. Conflict. Destruction. Religion. Upheaval. People fighting for a whole lot of different things.

And this is all very true.

But in our week visit to Israel what astonished me most was just how explicitly defined the very many layers of Jerusalem and the country actually are. I mean, these layers are literally written in stone.

The back story is a simple one. In places like the US, you have enough vegetation that you can build houses, office buildings, and just about any infrastructure you need out of wood. With time, wood can be destroyed, burned, demolished. But in a place as hot and as arid as Jerusalem can get, there aren’t very many trees. Instead, many generations have built their structures from stone.

But stone is not so easily knocked down.

IMG_0472So instead of conquering, destroying, and building anew from the ground up, the people who crossed through Israel just built on top of the stone structures that the inhabitants before them left behind. The result is layers upon layers of cities old and new. Where you stumble upon an excavation you can literally look below you through the ground and see below you layers of history. It all reminded me a little of a sedimentary rock (yay first grade science!)– “oh that layer is from the time of Herod and the Romans and oh that one is from the Assyrians and this one the Babylonians.” It’s astonishing. Every pebble, every stone, every step you take is on a piece of history that extends far below the very ground you touch.

Perhaps it is just me, but I find this simply fascinating. As someone who cannot claim much knowledge of the many intricacies of Middle Eastern affairs and culture, what I can say is that even this minuscule understanding gave me so much more in the way of perspective on why conflict in the Middle East is not just a matter of today but very much a matter of the many yesterdays that have come before us.

The timing of my trip– in concordance with President Obama’s (not that this why by any means intentional)– gave me a lot to think about. American presence in the region can be viewed as necessary and imperialistic, territorial, overbearing, and aloof— all at the same time. And I’ll be honest, we have done some pretty bad things in this part of the world. We have supported dictators in the name of containment, we have stirred the roots of the very crises we are trying to hose off today. Our unique imperialism has born great exchanges and gifts the world over but too incredible losses and challenges. I would like to say that for the sake of resolution, we could all just forget about this history. But when you walk the streets of Israel, when you look below you and see that history written in stone, it becomes a little clearer. History is not so easily listened to– for the very fear that in so doing we will discard it, forget it, render it obsolete. It’s a scary thing after all. Leaving behind history that is– even if it’s written in stone.

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Street Scenes from Roma

First, an apology is in order, because both Inesha and I have taken an unbelievably lengthy amount of time to sit down and pen a post for this eclectic online compilation which (at least somewhat) chronicles our lives. Part of that was due to midterm season. The rest mostly due to the fact that we were prepping and packing for Spring Break 2013: Rome + Israel.

Second, and before going any further, we also want to say that both of us feel unbelievably lucky to have had the opportunity to travel as much as we seem to have been doing lately. Sure, the college environment supports it more than any other academic institution I have been a part of, but mostly it is due to the support and help of our family far and wide. They may still fear that we’ll inadvertently step on the wrong flights, book our flights for the wrong day (yes, this happened), or unceremoniously ram into each other with trollies full of suitcases and no sense of direction (they think we tend to fight). Luckily, Inesha and I have become more travel-savvy over the last few months and years and certainly shed a lot of the fear we had about traveling to foreign locales on our own. As far as the battering rams analogy–that’s at least halfway legitimate–since Inesha and I still tend to have squabbles as if we were five, and the relationship we share will always be a very, very unique one. :)

Now, on to what we’ve been up to. Last Wednesday evening, Inesha and I packed our bags (amidst the pre-housing day excitement, no less), woke up on Thursday and attended the last of our classes, and then made that familiar trek with our unwieldy luggages to the Harvard T Station. We were off to Rome.

This was to be the shortest leg of our journey, and minimal planning done or not, Inesha and I were going to make those 24 hours count.

First, though, we had to figure out the Italian metro. After hopping on a quick bus ride to the city center, Inesha and I did our best to minimize the time that we spent pacing around the station, trying to decipher what little Italian we could based on the Spanish we know. Yes, I know, that sounds like a terrible plan, but long story short, we found a lovely English couple who were kind enough to lend us their map, we made it to the Colosseum where there was (surprisingly) almost no line, and quickly realized just how lovely walking on the streets of Rome is. Pictures below :)

The breathtaking Trevi Fountain
The breathtaking Fontana di Trevi

The joys of (facial) expressions

I write this post as part self-reflection, part sincere advice, and part personal investigation as I ponder the many years in which I have exercised this particular quirk of mine with absolutely no discretion.

The act of making faces.

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I probably first became aware of my incredibly expressive face when I was in kindergarten and my parents came home one evening from the standard parent-teacher conference. They walked through the door, turned away from my (unfortunately for me) impeccably well-behaved twin sister, and looked at me with puzzlement etched in their very posture. “Ishani, your teacher says you make faces in class…and she’s not sure if you’re angry while she’s teaching.” Now, not to worry, this statement seems no less bizarre 14 years later than it did at that moment. “But I’m not!” I insisted, angry that is. I was perfectly happy at school as far as I could recall from the three hours that had elapsed since I had gotten off the school bus that day. In fact, I distinctly remember loving school. That was the first time that I realized that I might not be completely aware of what exactly was playing across my face as I sat and happily gulped down the words my teachers were saying from the blackboard.

Now I’m a sophomore in college, and to be honest, not much has changed. Perhaps my friends just know, well, that’s the face Ishani makes at this and this moment or when she’s feeling sad/angry/happy/crazy. Luckily, they accept me the way I am. But now, shifting away from the self-reflection part, I’ve actually come to value my unbelievable (though admittedly, sometimes inconvenient) expressiveness. I think it’s healthy. We spend too much time worrying about looking one way or another–whether it is attentive after a particularly late night, or interested even though we have another thought bobbing enthusiastically in our mind’s eye, happy even though we’ve been feeling a bit down lately, or sad because we’ve been guilted into it. Happy is the one emotion that I think most people have little problem expressing, but once in a while, I can’t help but feel that we shouldn’t be afraid to let it all hang out there and express the other emotions that don’t get nearly as much airtime.

You see, the fact that my face is clearly indicative of how I’m feeling at any given moment has certainly made things awkward at times. But that doesn’t mean that I regret the fact that my face is completely honest even when I feel like I can’t be. In turn, my face works hard to keep me honest.

It also keeps no one guessing. As one of my blockmates would say, “Ishani, you have NO filter!” While I know she means this at least half-humorously, there is a portion of this statement that is undeniably true. My filter can be lacking when I speak, just as it is when you look at me and my expression relays absolutely everything I’m thinking. Maybe I regret not being so good at all those bluffing games growing up, or that my friends are just insanely good at catching me at my best (and worst), but hey–I hope you can take this as a constructive piece of advice, an experiment if you will. For one day, I challenge you to be unapologetically expressive, no matter how you’re feeling as you roll out of bed in the morning. I think you’ll find that in a world where we all seem to be increasingly busy (but hopefully happily so), it can be unbelievably refreshing to be and say and do what we feel. You’ll be surprised how many people you relate to that way.



hey girl

Some things never change.

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