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Apartment-dweller abroad

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07/06/2010

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Esther, world traveler, at age six.

I am a homebody who loves to travel. By the time you read this, I will have switched modes from nester to nomad, hopping a plane with a dear childhood friend and spending a significant portion of July in Spain, Italy and Israel. The closest I've ever been to Spain was Toulouse, France, when I was 4; in college I was the only one in my Italian classes who had never been all'Italia; and the last time I was in Israel, the Gulf War had just ended, so it's been a while.

People want to hear about what I'm doing this summer, and the range of reactions has been all over the place, particularly the moment I say I'm going to Israel. Some are thrilled that I'm about to experience it essentially for the first time, and talk about how much they love it and where I absolutely have to go. Others get nervous: their smiles turn to grimaces, and they tell me to be careful, or they make anxious jokes about my timing or the Israeli government. Some people I just don't tell.

The last thing I want is for this trip to be political. I was talking to my cousin on Skype about it, and he said, "People get so caught up in the symbolism of Israel they forget it's a real place where real people live." This is the Israel I'm most excited about seeing. I remember bits and pieces of it from before: the okapi at the Biblical Zoo, the playground near my aunt and uncle's apartment, the bus ride through the desert, and perhaps most aggravating for a six-year-old, being told I couldn't come on an afternoon trip because it was too hot out and I would get dehydrated. Now that I'm older, it'll be a different experience.

I'm less wary than I was a month ago, though I'm not completely at ease either. A month ago the world (and Helen Thomas) was raging about the flotilla, and in many of the spaces where I go to unwind or socialize, it was hard not to feel awfully alone. I'm worried about reports that more flotillas will set sail as soon as the World Cup ends (just about when I'm arriving). I'm unsettled that my aunt keeps reminding me to stay in touch before we come, since things can change so quickly. But then I remind myself how worried some friends and family were when I moved to Chicago. Seven years later, I'm still fine. If I keep waiting for the perfect opportunity to visit, I'll never get anywhere.

As I write this, I'm fretting about other things. Will I be able to clean my apartment before I leave, which I've been putting off? Will I make it out of Target with most of my travel budget still intact? Will I make my 6:25 a.m. flight at O'Hare? Will I forget that one vital thing that will make or break one leg of the trip? Will the hostels forget our reservations?

It wouldn't be an adventure if I could plan everything, though. My friend and I are going to have an absolute blast. And I'm very much looking forward to seeing my family again. One thing that's its own attraction, though, is the ability to come back and talk about Israel myself. Though I anticipate a lot of shopping and other fabulous experiences, that one may turn out to be my favorite souvenir. Catch you on the flip side, Oy!sters: for now, I have to check my packing list again.

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