Sunday, March 27, 2011

Migraine day

It began with an early morning feed which put the baby to sleep but left me exhausted and yet somehow unable to sleep.

So I got up, made myself a herbal tea, then went out onto the balcony to put some over ripe fruit out for the birds to eat. Noted that some fallen sunflower seeds from the feeder have started to sprout in the window box. 

Sleep remained elusive.

Checked the on-line papers right in time to see the flashing headlines of air raid sirens in Beer Sheva, followed soon by rocket hits Beer Sheva, after which I really really couldn't go back to sleep until baby woke up again for part two of the morning nursathon, which finally clocked me out again just as it was really time to wake up. Go figure.

Rising for the second time and this time for good, I again quickly perused the headlines, e-mails and messages. A bunch of friends down south woken early by the sirens. They are home, close to their shelters, kids are off school in the towns of Ashdod and Beer Sheva where rockets have hit.

Several feedings, diapers and ABC books later, plus a battle to convince the 5 y-o and the baby that yes they really can share the multitudinous Duplo blocks scattered everywhere, I check my messages again and see this from a friend in Beer Sheva:

Air raid at 5:30am, rocket lands a few blocks from my house. It's LOUD, we're in our bomb shelter in my house. Another siren 4 hours later, missile lands further away. Later I call my salon to get a haircut long overdue. The salon has a bomb shelter, so I have a nice haircut now. Drive home passed news crews and onlookers at the damaged house where the rocket hit. Going for a massage a bit later. Ain't life surreal?

It's around then that the familiar sinking feeling starts to push itself to the fore. The nagging Han Soloesque "I've got a bad feeling about this", the Hashem Yishmor, please, not again, but yes again because a rocket attack on Ashdod followed by two on Beer Sheva all close on the heels of this week's massive mortar barrage of Israeli border communities near Gaza just cannot be anything other than bad, bad, bad. 

Those sweet folks in Gaza have itchy trigger fingers again and it does seem to be escalating. 

There can be a myriad reasons why. Attacking Israel is always a good way for Palestinian and other Arab leaders to deflect their public away from internal Palestinian or Arab problems by refocusing public outrage on the evil Israelis. 

Part of me wonders at the timing in the Gaza escalation coinciding with increasing dissent in Syria, one of the few neighbourhood dictatorships which until recent weeks had appeared to be remaining steady amidst the wave of upheaval sweeping the region. Syria which coincidentally is one of Iran's few close buddies in the Arab world. Syria which is an import conduit for Iranian support for Hizballah, and hence Iranian influence in Lebanon, and also a player in backing Hamas.

Or it could just be coincidence. This is the Middle East and odds are even if we enjoy a few months or years of relative quiet, things tend to go boom sooner or later.

That "oh no not again" feeling though isn't about regional politics and players, it's about the more selfish personal hurt on behalf of my friends down south having to go through another round of this. Of them thinking up shelter games to calm panicked kids. Of them putting on brave faces for the benefit of people living beyond rocket range, because even though most people do get into a kind of "routine" in how they deal with regular daily rocket bombardment, it isn't "normal". It should never be normal.

The niggling in my head began to worsen, harbingers of a migraine.

The patter of raindrops outside was welcome, I opened some windows and let the rich scent of damp earth cleanse the stuffy apartment. I find the rain soothing. Soon the dry summer will be upon us and I'm determined to enjoy every bit of precipitation.

My migraine began to retreat.

Baby finally went down for his nap. Big kid decided to stage a toy animal play. 

I decided it was time to finish up my last bag of flour and make a batch of berry muffins to keep the kids happy in the run-up to Pesah. Sometimes the sweet smells of vanilla and berries help to stave off the worst of the migraine.

I don't like to have radio news stations on during the day, I don't want to impose that on my little kids, but I compromise on Reshet Gimmel, an all music station with occasional news and traffic updates. And in this country you can learn a lot just from what music is playing - the softer, quieter and more pleasant, the greater the odds something awful has happened. 

It's like a national code for the initiated telling you to make sure to catch the next news broadcast, making your ears prick up when the music fades straight into the pips announcing the news instead of breaking for jarringly loud adverts. 

I was just measuring out my muffin ingredients and defrosting the berries when the phone rang. A friend of a friend was visiting Israel for the first time, was just near the Jerusalem central bus station after a museum visit, thinking about hopping on an intercity bus and coming to see our town, would this afternoon be convenient?

I was about to say no when I heard the boom, shouting and panic and then the call was cut off.

An hour later I received a very shaky call back from the woman, now back at her hotel trying to digest the horror she had just witnessed, albeit from far enough away that she was physically unhurt and spared the close-up sights of the explosion, near enough that she had felt the blast and the ensuing sirens and terror.

That sinking feeling from the morning was starting to feel like a premonition. 

As we say here in Israel, we've been in this movie before. It isn't a sappy feelgood flick.

The music on the radio didn't change though. As far as I could tell the usual programming continued, including the jarringly loud adverts before the news. I don't know if this is because thank God we've gotten out of the routine of regular terror attacks, or that this one wasn't as terrible as it could have been (they were initially reporting no fatalities), or maybe that we've experienced so many that the powers that be thought it best for the station to continue business as usual. 

I didn't switch to a news station though because the 5 year-old was back to playing in the living room and baby was just waking up. Besides, sometimes you learn as much about events from the traffic reports as from the news itself. Main Jerusalem highway and the entrance to the city were closed. 

My migraine ratcheted up a few levels, not quite to the level of incapacitating though. The familiar aching sinking sensation was firmly entrenched by now. Not thoughts of politics and statements and will they or won't they, just the forboding of finding oneself once again in familiarly painful territory, a place you prayed never again to be revisiting but which deep down you always knew you'd probably have to see again. 

Anyone who was here in the early 2000s remembers it well, some more personally than others, but all of us deeply familiar with the feeling of taking a gamble every time we rode a bus or lingered in a public place. Israeli roulette a friend of mine called it then, black humour of a people living with the knowledge that each one of us, man, woman, child and baby, was walking around with a price on our heads and a target over our hearts simply because we were Israelis.

I hope and pray that this was a one off. Sometimes there are brief flare-ups of terrorism and then things quiet down again.

Adding up the recent pattern of attacks though, things are starting to feel eerily familiar, echoes of a decade ago. Hope that I'm wrong.

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