The Power of my Pilgrimage to Uman

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It doesn’t matter how I got to Kiev and it doesn’t matter what I did there. What does matter is that I was on my way to Uman. Uman? Why would anyone travel 3 1/2 hours from Kiev through the agricultural countryside of the Ukraine, hour after hour in 99 degrees with 99% humidity in a car that sputtered, spouted and stalled every 40 to 45 minutes? I didn’t know why I was on this road, but I was. I had no real idea what to expect, except for the fact that I was on my way to Uman.

One night about a year ago I happened upon a website that told of a gravesite in Uman, Ukraine of Rabbi Nachman of Bratzlav (April 4, 1772 – October 16, 1810), the great-grandson of the founder of Hasidism. I learned of the wisdom and the teaching of this Rebbe and how his teachings have carried on for two hundred years after his death.   Rebbe Nachman of Breslov promises that whoever comes to his gravesite and recites the Ten Psalms of the Tikkun K”lali and gives as little as one cent to charity, will be cleansed and protected.

I became convinced that I had a calling to go to this Rebbe’s grave to ask forgiveness for the remembrances of the prejudices towards me so many times in my life for being Jewish and be absolved from my unforgiving attitude towards temple life stemming from the fact that the Rabbi would not let me participate in the confirmation of all of the girls in my class. We had communal confirmations in those days at that temple, not the modern day Bat Mitzvahs. I was called to the Rabbi’s office, fearing the worst and knowing this was something out of the normal; I crept inside his office with great trepidations. I was well behaved and was a good tutor for the rest of the girls when they needed a push along the path to our confirmation. Bar Mitzvah was for the boys and we, all of the girls, twelve of us were dedicatedly happy to be the first confirmation class in our temple. All of us were just turning thirteen.

We studied in an upstairs room of the temple and became best friends. Every Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday, we would bounce up the stairs, anxious to hear from all of our friends. We were in a time of our lives of pure trust, pure love and innocence. We had little social acceptance in our outside lives, but inside those hallowed walls we were one with ourselves.

Our temple was not an orthodox temple but held to many of their rigid rules. Women and children were delegated to the upstairs, and they did not even think of wandering the ground level. We did have to enter the temple on the lower floor and descend to use the restrooms, we helped in the kitchen, but we never enjoyed the full breadth of the lower levels.

I dawdled getting to the Rabbi’s office. He was busy with someone else, so I waited. I began to feel very nervous and knew something was going to happen. I picked at my nails and scratched at my elbows; the tic in my face went on a rampage. He finally turned his attention to me and paused for what seemed like hours. I could tell he was composing his thoughts, organizing what and how he was going to say what he said. His brows closed together, he started a low groan, and I began to sweat. My mouth went dry, my glasses fogged and my heart began to beat rapidly in anticipation. The Rabbi looked at me with such distance, such conviction. He said in his very thick accent, “Well, Sheila, you will not be confirmed with the rest of the girls.”

“ What? Why not; what happened?”

“ It is my decision that the cut-off date for confirmation girls is August 31st, and your birthday is September 19th. That means you are not eligible.”

“ But Rabbi, I can speak and write Hebrew better than all of them. I help them. You can’t leave me out of the group.”

“ I can, I just did and you will have to come back for another year. You will be confirmed next year.”

It felt like bomb exploded inside of me. All of the venom I had felt brewing, boiling, fermenting, in me spewed out in a blast. I yelled my childish frustration, “I hate you. I hate this temple.”

I ran from that temple and ran all the way home with tears running and heart breaking. On the way home, I was talking with God, asking questions I wanted answered, answering them myself, screaming out obscenities, not really meaning any of it, but feeling quite powerful by the time I reached home. My parents were pillars in the temple, and I knew I had some pretty big explaining to do. I knew the Rabbi would spill all that I had said and give my parents an earful of their obscene daughter’s mouth and her unladylike manners. I didn’t care by then, because I was never going back into that temple, but I also knew that I would be the best Jewish person I could be on my own without a temple. I knew that I was not giving up being Jewish or Judaism, just the ways of this temple and the decision of this Rabbi.

I began to think in earnest about my journey to Rabbi Nachman’s grave and wondered would I ask the Rebbe, if my parents knew when they moved to that little town that I would be the only Jewish girl anyone had ever seen? Did they know when they put me into school that I would be target practice for future anti-Semites? They had many clubs when I got to high school. They had band, orchestra leadership, the chess club, the radio club, varsity baseball, varsity swimming, gymnastics, tennis, cross country, varsity football, the letterman, future engineers of America, future teachers of America, future medics, future hostesses of America, but the club with the most members was the future anti-Semites of America. No one from this club had their pictures taken for preservation in the annual book of memories and no one from this club even knew they were members. Did I have any good memories as I grew up Jewish, oh yes, but I more strongly remember the ones that hurt.

Last year I visited Auschwitz-Berkinau, this year, after going to Babi Yar in Kiev and standing on the rim of a ravine where tens of thousand of Jews had been shot and allowed to fall into a common grave, I began to feel foolish for my angst over the prejudices I felt growing up in my small California town. Our temple consisted of families from eight neighboring cities. I loved my temple because it was the only place in the outside world where I felt accepted, loved, respected and understood. The Rabbi’s decision not to allow me to be confirmed with my friends temporarily tangled my Jewish mind. I was the only Jewish girl in my elementary school; my brother was to enter three years later along with the Rosen boys. I feel guilty that I needed absolution from a Rebbe that has been dead for over 200 years for harboring the resentment towards the prejudiced treatment and inability to cleanse it from my being. I reached a decision that, I could give myself absolution and I did, but the experience planning for and traveling to Uman to visit Rebbe Nachman was a turning point and a stronghold for my Judaism.

I signed up with Youth Hostelling International for the tour to Uman. I explained that I am a senior citizen, not a youth and they said they were available to all travelers. Remember them when you need help traveling. They handled some the difficulties traveling to Uman with ease, grace and with great expertise. I was picked up at 7:30 a.m. The car would not start. After repeated tries, the engine turned over and we pulled out of an alleyway in downtown Kiev heading for the highway leading to Uman. Luckily the driver spoke English, but unluckily he did not know anything much about Uman except that we were to meet a guide in front of the gates to Sofia’s Park. After a lovely, long ride through agricultural lands we turned into a parking lot, which faced the gates leading to a fairyland park with cascades of lakes, sky-blue ponds, fountains, grottoes, antique sculptures, waterfalls and six miles of intense walking ahead of me. The guide approached by saying, “Welcome to the park voted the most beautiful in the universe.” I was anxious to get to Rabbi Nachman’s gravesite and asked why we were here in Sophia’s Park. The guide stated that this was included in the tour I had ordered. I learned something in the Ukraine and that is when you ask for something and when you get it, it is yours. You go with the program designed for you and usually there are no deviations. The walk in the park lasted six hours. The heat was oppressive and there was not another tourist in sight. When the tour ended I realized that the guide was right, Sophia Park is the most beautiful park in the universe, and although I was spent physically, and was astounded by the beauty, I was especially pleased to learn that Rabbi Nachman used to walk in this park when he lived in Uman.

After a brief rest, we began our short journey to the gravesite. When our car arrived, immediately we heard Breslov songs blasting from speakers giving the center of this little town a festival feeling. The car was parked and within a short walking distance, I spot gates and armed guards. Is this Rebbe Nachman’s grave? Why such security? I feel safe. I didn’t know then about this village being the site of awful massacres of tens of thousands of Jews. In the late 1800’s, the Cossacks swept through Jewish settlements in the Pale, killing Jews, looting and destroying villages. I need not wonder anymore why there are armed guards. I was not allowed to enter the Synagogue that holds the grave of Rabbi Nacnman. I could not understand the full extent of what was happening, so I just held on to one of the bars of the gate guarding the gravesite and began to sob uncontrollably. I was sobbing for all of my petty dreams of being cleansed of my chains, sobbing because I had been denied my dream. I had traveled so far now to be denied, I am not used to being denied. A little old man began to speak to me in a friendly kind voice in a language I did not understand. He began ushering me softly to the side of the building. Nothing. “Nothing is here. Why are you doing this?” I asked. He just kept nodding and ushering me gently now towards the back of the building where more armed guards stood. He gave me a small coin and patted it into my hand. He opened my hand pointing to the coin several times. It was important to him that I realize he had put the coin in my hand. His warm hand was constantly moving me and guiding me on to his destination. He put something on my head and gained entrance for me to continue up the stairs on my own.

I climb the few stairs and enter a new dimension. Women. Everyone in this partitioned area is a woman. They hurried up to me, dried my tears and began to ask questions. When I answered in English, they called on one of the younger women to translate. They found out that I had traveled from California to be with them. They asked why I was wearing pants. I told them that I did not know and did not understand where I was going when I began this journey. Yes, I had completely forgotten about the orthodox rule of women being separated from the men during worship. They smiled and I was thunder struck by their beauty. Each smile sparkled like an orthodontic specialist had expertly crafted it. Each face was deeply chiseled with an artisan’s skill and the skin covering their chiseled bones was a deep rich color of the earth. They embraced me and held up the bank where I was to drop my charity. The guide and driver had locked my purse and camera in the trunk of the car and I was without money, or was I? I instantly remember the little old man giving me a coin. I fished it out of my pocket and it flickered and flashed as I put it into the box amid nods and sighs. Then, there was the reciting of the Ten Psalms of the Tikkun K”lali. I sat for long moments looking at the women lying across the shelf of the grave. As I know it now, there are two shelves coming together in a triangular manner, the Rebbe is buried beneath the triangular arch. One side services the men and the other side services the women.

Facing the shelf on the woman’s side and starting left to right, one woman had a folded wedding gown on the shelf under her hand and she was wailing and talking with the Rebbe. I could not begin to understand her words but her motions and her wailing led me to believe that something had gone terribly wrong with her wedding. The next woman had pictures of children, which she kept moving in a circular motion clockwise. She said something over each child and then moved the photo on as she spoke again about the picture placed at noon. Another woman was just standing there with her elbows on the shelf and her head in her hands. Several women were sitting towards the front actually eating what I would call chips. It looked like chips and dip to me, but I know it was just food I do not have words to describe. The pews were dotted with women of various ages and the children that were there never uttered a peep. When I stood to replace my book on the shelves, I heard loud speaking of words I did not understand until I heard California, loudly and clearly. All of the women moved aside from the shelf and my body was splayed out onto the Rebbe’s grave. I once again felt guilty for my petty problems with prejudice and was able to summon up the courage to apologize to those who have suffered the terrors and murders of their people, and I felt guilt for bemoaning the fact that I had been made to sit in the back of the classrooms and having been denied the wearing formal gowns of the Rainbow Girls and the robes of the Jobs Daughters. The girls who were members would come to school with photos of themselves in their magnificent gowns taken during ceremonies. I did so want to wear one of those gowns and be a part of those ceremonies even though I did not know what they preordained. Carol’s gown was aqua net and Winnie was so gifted that she made her own. They wore those gowns every week and seeing them hang in their closets, I would just melt with envy. The group leaders told me that I was not able to join Jobs daughters even though I had a proper Masonic relationship because they had no place for Jewish attendants. I do not believe that Rainbow Girls has a creed to ban Jewish members, but they did specify that you had to have faith in a Supreme Being. Although Rainbow is not a religious organization, in my hometown their Supreme Being was not one in the same with mine.

Dear God, I am sorry for not having stood up for myself and for not praying much earlier for all of those atrocities that others have suffered on this very spot. The women of Uman and the visitation at the place of Rabbi Nachman’s burial have given me answers to who I am, an inspiration and guidance to live and learn wisdom, plus gain a spiritual light to continue my search for a meaningful Jewish life and to preserve it for those who are yet to come.

 

Part 2: A 4-DAY CALIFORNIA COASTAL CRUISE ON THE SAPPHIRE PRINCESS

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As we sailed away towards our next stop, Ensenada, Mexico, my memories of early teen years consisting of family vacations on Catalina Island begin to fade. Before they fade into the next event, I do want to tell you that the memories are positive and a pre-amble to many future events in my life.  I have a soft spot for you Avalon Bay; you look beautiful and although I probably will not physically return, I will mentally fly over from time to time and bid you my best.

Good Morning: Ensenada

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Our day in Ensenada began with a brilliant sunrise.  Ensenada is famous for its beautiful beaches, wineries, and The Bufadora, which is one of the worlds’ largest blowholes. The water can rise up to 100 feet and water blowing creates a resounding roar.  When visiting Ensenada, there is a wonderful opportunity to visit three wineries and taste wines of this region. When you have seen some of the sights, heard Bufadora’a roar, tasted your wines, an essence of colors pop out at you as you stroll the shopping streets of Ensenada. The colors run the spectrum and the variety of goods become immediately apparent. I felt caught up in the moment.  I heard the vendors talking, mumbling, grumbling and wondered were they talking to me or amongst them selves, I don’t know, but I did not like what they were saying.  “Here come the big spenders.”  Here we have the money people. “Come on buy, you have mucho money.” And it went along like that.  I did not need a thing, but I bought something. Okay, I was the big money spender for the moment.

Skip and I had a Coca Cola date in Ensenada. We were in this town so many years ago, and I remembered we sat in a restaurant and had two coca cola’s, each with a straw and enjoyed our date.  I wanted to re-create that moment. Well, you can’t, but you can come close to the same enjoyment. We had a number of coca cola dates on this trip and came home with a list of 17 things we need to attend to, and I would like you to know we ARE checking them off. We have fourteen yet to go.

Before we say goodbye to Ensenada and head to the ship, I have the remaining shopping story to tell you. It did unnerve me and still has me pondering the encounter.

We boarded the shuttle bus that would take us back to the ship. Following us on the bus was one snot nosed kid after another selling their wares. I took particular notice because they were so forceful. The mother sent the children one at a time. She has trained them well. They say things in English and then when you don’t pay attention to them or say no, their words become louder and harsher.  When the children didn’t make a sale, the mother came on board. I bargained for two necklaces and she could not accept my offer, but kept throwing hers back to me. I wanted to dismiss her and nothing I did or said fazed this professional. Finally, I blew her a kiss with my final offered price. She agreed, but did not follow through, ran off of the bus and became completely freaked out. She acted like she had lost her mind. She began to rub her lips over and over, like I had cursed her. She was totally thrown off balance. She was standing next to the bus rubbing and rubbing. The last I saw of her as we rode off into the sunset was her vehemently rubbing the suggestion of an air kiss off of her lips. I don’t know the meaning of it all and who won and who lost, or if anyone won or lost. I do know I will never stop wondering what really happened and why my gesture of a kiss was so abhorrent to this skilled street sales lady.

Lovely Ensenada street scenes:

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Los Angeles Welcomes You To the Santee Alley and So Do I!

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The Santee Alley experience involves you, surrounds you, and after your jaw dropping introduction, it pulls you into its allure.  You can say the above-mentioned allure about many places around the world, but this one is within driving distance, so it is special to me.

If you want to see and know what Los Angeles is about culturally, spend a morning or afternoon in the Santee Alley.

You will see and enjoy everyone and everything, just about.

For your information, Santee Alley is located between Santee Street, Maple Avenue, Olympic Boulevard and 12th Street in downtown Los Angeles. The Alley and surrounding streets become a major Bazaar. There are Bazaars around the world and this one measures up for me. When you step into the Alley, you step into another realm, another dimension.

The clothing runs the gamut from casual wear to business clothing. There are many other items besides clothing offered in the Alley. Feel free to bargain. Make sure to have some cash on hand because some of the vendors are not able to take credit cards. The quality of goods may or may not be in question according to your standards, but the atmosphere and the colorful surroundings are over the top and beyond the bell!

You will begin to melt into the sights and sounds. Your day in The Santee Alley will remain with you long after you have departed.

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Stay tuned in for the men’s section!

Naples and the Street of Spaccanapoli: #9

Notice the Norwegian  Epic holding 4,000+passengers and the buses waiting to take them somewhere!

Notice the Norwegian Epic holding 4,000+passengers and the buses waiting to take them somewhere!

Lucky us, we have been to Italy on a number of occasions and have stayed in cities that hung to the hillsides, visited the tourists sites and been happy there. I will never forget the lingering taste of pizza, my first gelato, the loud haggling in the streets, the cheese, olives, the beautiful women and the smell of their new clothes, shoes, handbags and then there was Nadia.  Nadia was our guide on our first Italian journey and she had a guy in every stop.  She was beautiful, talented and also gave us some life sustaining pointers.  As you know being away from home/hotel, bathrooms are the second most important commodity, the first being safety.  Nadia was aware of increasing tourism from certain unmentioned countries, which were bathroom rushers and hogs.  So she said when she used the word “Technology”, we were to perk up and know that a bathroom was at hand.  She said if she said the actual word bathroom, there wouldn’t be room for any of us.  She did seem to know every secret “Technology” station in Italy.

Our prospective docking in Naples brought back so many memories that grew and grew, as I knew we were coming back. We have been down the Amalfi coast, spent an evening in Sorrento, a day in Pompeii, enjoyed lunch on the charming Isle of Capri and had a drive through Naples with dinner included.  Dinner was held for our 35 people on a rooftop overlooking a garden, hiding the street of treasures below.  Dinner was slow in coming so I traveled down the stairs to peek into the street below which was teaming with people in a somewhat frenzy of shopping, talking, poking in and out of a plethora of places. I ran down two streets and back again. It was a traveler’s dream. I asked Nadia why we were not on that street and she said we were on a strict time schedule. I tucked this experience away and knew there would come another day we would return to Spaccanapoli Street in Naples and we did.

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We were not sure how to get to Spaccanapoli Street, so the plan was to hire a taxi for an hour or so to drive us around to get the lay of the land. We headed for the huge pool of taxis and made a deal with a young man.  Then the Italian hierarchy began.  There was a round of handshakes between our guy and the other cabbies. Lots of talking was soon terminated. Then, we were taken to a waiting point while our driver got his taxi out of the pool.  More handshaking denoting approval and off we went for our tour.  It was not long and we saw the new city center (I will return here to discuss the demonstration we found ourselves in the middle of). We drove to Spaccanapoli and there were strike guards not allowing our driver to get through because there were gearing up for a work strike demonstration later that day.

IMG_2387Our guy being a crafty taxi driver, helped us find ourselves at the Dumo of San Gennaro at the top of Spaccanapoli, the long, mysterious street that goes through the historic center of Naples and has such a compelling feel. It runs for a mile and a half and you pass through a Medieval section, opening up to everything you ever need to see on a street anywhere. Here I am, back on the street I discovered long ago. I am so happy I don’t know what to do first.  Well, yes, of course, The Duomo!

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“Technology” is important and I was in great need. I looked and found a small restaurant that was not busy. I pleaded with the man to allow me to use his bathroom.  He looked at me, I looked at him and he decided he would accommodate my request. He motioned me over to one side of the restaurant and slid his refrigerator aside, opened a plastic door and motioned me in.  All my extra blood ran to my head, I felt nervous, but in great need. I thanked him, went inside the plastic room, trying to finish as fast as possible because I had visions of him sliding that refrigerator back over the door and I would be gone forever and who knows where Skip was.  I finished, the door opened, I thanked the gentleman, shook and kissed his hand. We both giggled and both had tear of thanks in our eyes.  I think you have become a seasoned traveler when you can find “Technology” when you need it.  For those of you who would never pee behind a bush, I recommend you try it right now. Practice! It can serve you well.

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Now continuing down Spaccanapoli, Naples, I am entranced. Soon we happen upon an area that specifically made Nativity scenes and miniature holiday crafts. They are famous for these beautiful hand crafted items.  I asked to take a photo of a working craftsman and he agreed.

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I came across a sign that said “No Cina” on the table holding hand made miniatures. Do you think that meant not made in China?

Naples is a beautiful city with beautiful, well-kept buildings from throughout its history. It is chocked full of people and vehicles which go at top speed adhering to no rules, except for who goes first.  They go when and where they wish. It all seemed to work well.

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We walked down to the new center of town and enjoyed a coffee and all heck broke loose. The demonstration had reached its destination right in front of us. There was a gentle stampede and a rising sound in protest. Skip loved it, but I was scared. I remembered being told of a little wooden pathway, behind the castle that would take us to the port and the safety of our ship.  On our way away, I heard an explosion or two, thinking perhaps a round of thunder, but how naive. From my expectations of being in an uprising, this was calm, but real. We were soon back on the Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth our temporary world, leaving Naples that evening for Rome and an early morning rise for the trip to the airport and home.

Let me take this opportunity to thank Cunard Cruise Lines for giving me shipboard credit to purchase Wi-Fi to post these blogs from their ship. I would like to thank Glenda Burnett at Frosch Classic Cruise and Travel and Mary Bai at CTC Turkey for helping to plan this wonderful travel itinerary.

HERAKLION: The capitol of CRETE: #5

I am not complaining, I never do, but now is the time.  The ship cancelled our tour of Crete, last minute because of lack of participation. They should have worked us in somehow on another venue.  I asked that they book a smaller tour, but it seems they do not care much. They are sweet, friendly double-talkers. After all, you are their captives.

Left to wonder and wander how to get into this rather large and daunting city, we took a hop-on-hop-off tour. We hopped on, but we never hopped off until we got back to within walking distance of the ship. The city is large; it is inhabited by people getting by and living life, as they know it on this island. I could not even scratch terra firma in this place. I wish all of the people living here and visiting here, God’s speed and good health, but as soon as this ship pulls up anchor, I hope the grog of the day and the haze I feel lifts.

My dearly departed friend, H used to call people who had annoying behavior and people who did what they wanted to do whether it suited anyone else or not, Cretan Creeps.  I did notice people on our hop-on-hop-off drive around the city who were double parked when it suited them or even parked on the sidewalks, walked in the street whenever it pleased them even though designated places to cross were in evidence, and there was construction and restorations going on it many locations, but the workers were ALL sitting around with blank stares and all their equipment lie inactive. It was not time for lunch. C C’s. maybe? I am not being fair, I think perhaps an hour drive in a city is not enough time to judge, or perhaps one comes with pre-judgments.

I did learn a game played by three women traveling together from Phoenix.  I kept hearing them say things like, “ My rose bud was this and that, and my thorn will surely be this bus ride. “ My curiosity ran wild. I had to ask what they meant by Rose, Rose Bud and Thorn.  One of the ladies told me it is a game she has played in her family for years. You ask a person at the end of the day, what was your rose? Another words, what was the shining full beautiful moments of your day.  Then, you ask, what was your thorn? You are asking for the worst moment or moments. Then you ask what was your bud?  Asking what is your hope for tomorrow.  The game is called “Rose Bud.” I like it.

P.S. Again I wish to apologize that I am not able to attach larger photos to the blogs using shipboard Wi-Fi, but I do plan a favorite photo blog as a culmination to this wonderful travel opportunity when we return home.

Good Bye Turkey; we will Miss YOU!

Colors of Turkey:

Beautiful Bread

Beautiful Bread

Cabbage bigger than a basket ball

Cabbage bigger than a basket ball

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KAYAKOY (Greek: Levissi) #9

After one of my fun, funky enjoyable twist and turn drives we arrived at the top of the mountain a village where Anatolian Greeks lived until 1923. This ghost town is preserved as a museum village, with hundreds of rundown, but mostly intact Greek-style houses. There are several churches to visit, but I have to admit when you hit the wall, and mine happened to be the wall of the first church, you stop.  The ground was soaked from a rain the night before and the stones were not for my dainty shoes and wobbly ankles and knees.  I opted out for the climb, but it was just as fulfilling to stand at full attention and imagine life in this town. I could imagine, hear and smell activities of the 2,000 people going about their daily chores, children running and squealing in delight, women mending, tending animals, carrying for gardens, and men carrying on the needs of the family and village. This was a happy place for the most part and still it remains to tempt your visit.

There is a small active village below and I have included their camels and pomegranate trees for Barbara,

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The inside of the old church is still beautiful.

The inside of the old church is still beautiful.

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Loaded pomegranate tree for Barbara.

Loaded pomegranate tree for Barbara.

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