Thursday, November 30, 2017

A Trusted Traveler

Today, after a rather unsettling interview, I became a trusted traveler.

I don't know whether any of you have had any reason to be interrogated by a bureaucrat? Whether it be a customs official, or whether you have had to apply for citizenship, or any such thing in your own country, or in a foreign country?
As you know I am from South Africa. I grew up in a time when one did not question authority. Luckily I was not really put in such a position as I was classified as a first class citizen who had no brush ins with the law.
When I first left to go to England I applied for and received a work permit. Upon my arrival at Heathrow my passport was scrutinized. The oficial looked at me, at my passport photo, and at the work permit. After long silent minutes had passed he stamped my passport and told me to register at the Aliens Office the next day. The next day I sat on the wooden benches of the office together with other aliens. We were people from all over the commonwealth waiting for the official stamp of approval. Not too bad, just my first experience of dealing with the workings of bureaucracy.
My friend and I left the office and were walking to the tube station when a man walked toward us and spat in our direction! Luckily the spit landed on the pavement. He also said "go home filthy bloody foreigners." This was our official welcome!
This was followed by dealing with all the various ministries in Israel at a time when there were no numbers to be taken so that one could be seen in order. There were also no queues, nor even any vague idea that they may be useful in containing the pushing, surging crowd. I will not bore you with the ensuing chaotic details.
Then I came to America and applied for citizenship. This entails the filling in of endless forms, mailing them in with money, of course. An exam which required the purchase of a book, the study of the declaration of Independence, of the amendments, the system of democracy in the United States, and all its institutions. Once again, I will not go into this at length, but it was harrowing, and I can read, understand, and write english.
When I first left Israel I had a most upsetting run in with the Canadian officials. I had a multiple entry visa into Canada but the official in Quebec questioned my visa and actually called me at an Ashram in the Laurentian Mountains the next day to check whether I really was going to where I said I was going. He also added that I cannot go in and out of his country as I please!
One doesn't argue or try to reason with these petty bureaucrats.
Early this year I decided to apply for the Global Entry Program. It took me about three hours to complete the online application. I also had to send in $100.00. The money was immediately processed and I later received a notification that my application had been approved, and that I needed to apply in person for an interview. The first available time was the 30th November at 11.45a.m. I would have to go to San Francisco Airport. This was in March of this year. I put in my application for that time and then received a notification that I needed to bring my passport,, my driver's licence, and if that did not show my current address, a document proving residency, e.g.a bill from a utility company.
As I said, I received this advice in March. I made a note of the interview time in my calendar. During that time I traveled to England and Japan. My passport expired and I received a new one. The Global Entry Program received another designation - The Trusted Traveler Program.
Today I took BART to San Francisco Airport. I gave myself well over an hour. At 12th Street Station in Oakland the BART train stopped and the driver announced that there was police action at the West Oakland Station and no trains could go through. She would keep us updated. After 15 minutes the train resumed and I made it to the airport in time.
The doors to the Trusted Traveler Program are of course locked. After some time a uniformed man came out, shut the door behind him and asked for the names of the people waiting and the times of their interviews. He checked these on a clipboard. I was called in and went to booth No. 1 as directed. The same uniformed man asked for my passport and my drivers license. My drivers license still has my previous address, although of course this was officially changed over a year ago, when I moved. It will be on my new driver's license which is not yet due for a couple of years. My passport has a different number than the one which had expired. He gazed at me with his blue cheerless penetrating eyes and said I should have brought proof of my new address. "Did you not read the letter?" he asked.
"Yes," I replied, "in March, I just forgot."
He looked to a woman sitting behind him who was apparently training him and said I should be sent home and would need to reapply. Thank goodness she intervened, addressing him without either of them looking at me, that if I have a smart phone then I should show proof of address with something else. Amazon to the rescue - I showed them my address on their account.
He then asked me many questions and said "if you lie about anything you will not be granted permission." In the past five years where have you been other than Israel and India.
Oh my god, I simply could not recall having gone anywhere. Eventually I said, England. He then asked about Canada and Mexico - oh yes I said, Canada, I forgot it was a foreign country. I was in Mexico also, but maybe it was longer than five years ago. I totally forgot to tell him Japan, but after a lot of questions and much scrutiny of my application, and my new passport, and my fingerprints, I was told that I have been granted permission to become a trusted traveler. He gave me a booklet and told me to read it word by word, but not in his presence while he was talking to me! (I had dared open the book) - quickly I closed it and dutifully listened to whatever else he had to say.
Let my travels begin!

Thursday, November 23, 2017


These are the things I am grateful for, today and everyday.

For waking up
For restored health
For family
For friends
For a roof over my head
For food in my stomach
For the kindness of strangers
For the sunsets
For the beauty of autumn
For a wonderful new job
For the smile of babies
For music
For books
For art
For the ability to recognise these things and to be grateful for them

Friday, October 13, 2017


This was the view yesterday from my house and one from Solano Avenue. The sun is actually blood red - the camera doesn't quite capture it.

These fires are just awful, I am not sure what other words to use.

Just last week I was in Mendocino. Driving up 101 north and west on 128 I was struck firstly, by the beauty of Northern California, especially in this season as the grape leaves in the vineyards are beginning to turn, and shades of russett appear as if a painter had just added them into his painting of the tawny, golden hills. Bucolic and peaceful looking, far from the woes of the world. However, I was also struck by how tinder dry everything appears, despite the fact that we did have rains this winter. I mentioned this to my friends and she told me how difficult it is for them to get fire insurance. At this point I will quickly add that they are, so far, fine.

I have never watched disaster movies, but right now I feel that we are unwilling spectators in an endless movie.

Hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, the volcano threatening to erupt in Bali -the world is really out of balance, and I am not even mentioning HWSNBN.

I am also struck by how people are helping each other, This is one of the encouraging things that happen in disasters and wars. It is lovely to know that humanity can act in this manner. Perhaps we should try to always behave with consideration and compassion, all the time.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

God's Little Creatures

I have a confession to make. This is something that is really hard for me to admit, because I am, for the most part, rather a courageous woman, even if I say so myself.

On the surface of things I state and in fact, feel, that I believe in the right to life of all sentient beings, from the tiniest ant, to the largest elephant. I am a defender of sentient beings. I have attended meditation retreats where we vow to spend 10 days in silence, and to not harm any sentient being. How well I remember a retreat in the foggy dampness of a redwood forest in Northern California. We lined up for showers - coldwater showers, in silence. I remember when I stepped in the shower and there on the wall was this most unappealing slug looking thing. It was big, at least 3 " long - magnifying in my mind to at least 3 feet. It had these pine needle looking things sticking out of its head. I was new in America, and new in California. How could I know that this was the state mollusk. A banana slug - something I had never before seen or encountered. It was all I could do to stifle a wild piercing scream.

I shared a bedroom with my sister in South Africa. I seemed to be the only one in our house who stayed up late, lying in bed reading, or studying. Always poring over a book, the light of my bedside lamp to my left, close to my head.

All was quiet, and I savored this time, then the moths would come. I am completely petrified of moths. I remember screamiing in our room one night because there was a zebra moth (black and white stripes) who had flown into our room seeking the light. My father held the moth in his hand, trying to show me how beautiful it was and telling me that it wouldn't, couldn't, do anything to hurt me. All the while I trembled and shrieked and cowered down, hands over my head.

Once when I was living on kibbutz during a period of terror attacks I saw this thing crawl into my home - it was really ugly - I saw horns and fierce eyes, and an artillery shell on its back. I looked at it as it crept even closer and Iyelled. My neighbour came running into my home with his Uzi, prepared to defend me, to defend us. I stood there frozen to a spot pointing at this thing - "Ah Nesta," he said, lowering his Uzi "that is just an artzav." (whatever that is in English I don't know.) Some insect that eats the roots of trees."

I have never attempted to squash or kill these creatures that come in the night, or during the day, or whenever they please - instead I scream and cower and pray, and try to shoo them out.

These fear and horrors have not abated with age. One of the joys of living in Northern California is that it is for the most part, benign.

Today at work, the woman I work for (I am a 'sales associate') called me from outside the back door near the garbage.

"Be careful when you take out the garbage tonight," she said. She pointed to what looked like a stick under a handle of the lid of the garbage. However, the stick was clinging upside down it seemed, with four legs around the handle. We approached it carefully to observe this thing. It really looked like a small broken piece of branch, or wood, except for those legs. It was not moving, and we did not see wings or eyes or anything, but it did cling, unmoving. I picked up a little twig and she took it from me and held it out to the thing and feinted a poke - we both screamed. The stick remained still, sticklike. She poked again. Again we screamed, rather loudly. This occurred in a city, and it was near dusk. We do have neighbours. One would thingk that the screams of two women in a back yard might attract the attention of some neighbours, or anyone passing by. How easily we could have been stabbed or strangled - absolutely noone came to find out what the screams were about.

After she left for the day I took the garbage out to the kerb. This thing remained there throughout the bumpy ride. I photographed it and just then a neighbour did appear, not to save anyone, just to bring out his garbage.

"Look" I said to him.

"A walking stick", he said, calmly and knowingly. "It lives in the trees and eats leaves and insects".

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Rosh Hashana

In floods, fires, tremors

The past year shudders and fades

Yet hope still glimmers

Monday, September 4, 2017

The Worm

Plump pink worm squirms out

Gorging on my red apple

Yes its organic

Thursday, August 17, 2017


I am very pleased, thrilled in fact, to be able to report that at last I am feeling better.
Anything would be preferable to how I felt before. But as of this week, on Monday, I can say that I truly do feel better. I resumed work at Yaza (more of that later), I walk around my neighbourhood which is decidedly hilly. In fact, some streets are not just gentle inclines, they are quite steep. I go for long walks on the Bayshore trail and around the Berkeley Marina. I actually eat again, not much, but I do eat. I work in my garden and am knitting and reading. I can converse with people without being interrupted by bouts of coughing. I am exceedingly grateful.

The downside of feeling better is that I can listen to, and read, the news again. Need I say more ...

I look back at the entries I posted last year after the Iowa Caucuses, and pre and post election (this year.) Simply put, all the horror I foresaw is coming to pass. What shocks me is how so many people still seem surprised that there are people who support this man. I wish I could say I was surprised, but after working in Contra Costa County for so many years, this hatred and ignorance is sadly a representation of how many people feel. I would like to say how many people think, but thought does not come into it. Just knee jerk reactions.

In my book Tree Barking I wrote about the anti semitism I encountered. Of course not just anti semitism, racism and bigotry in all its forms. These superstitions and ignorance and deep seated beliefs exist everywhere. So, no, I am not surprised at all. I am deeply saddened.

What does surprise me is that some people still look to the so-called leaders in the hope of hearing some condemnation of the perpetrators of this hatred and violence. Some voice of calm and reason. They cannot look to those in power for any kind of reasonable, moral, articulate statements.

As a citizen of both Israel and the United States, I am further saddened by Netanyahu's lack of response to Trump's historical statements. The corruption and lack of humanity spreads across the globe. I am heartened somewhat by peoples' responses to what is going on. I am heartened that the CEO's resigned, and that citizens are making a stance, but those n power are very greedy and very short sighted, they don't, in fact, give a hoot about anyone except themselves and their pockets.

So ... I am feeling well enough to feel angry, saddened, and outraged. I am not sure whether this is good or bad.