with Lorelle and Brent VanFossen

Packing Job from Hell – Heading to Israel

What was supposed to be about two leisurely weeks in Oklahoma ended up lasting only five days. I thought I had prepared most of our luggage for Israel, except for the computer and clothing, and that it was ready to put into suitcases and go. I also thought I had enough suitcases. After all, wasn’t it enough that we made it to Tulsa on three new tires and more headaches than should be legal. Couldn’t one thing go right and easy? Of course not. You are reading about the VanFossens, in particular the Lorelle and Brent VanFossens, where everyday is non-stop obnoxious adventure and agony.

Photo of our suitcase tags upon arrival in IsraelAfter several trips to buy more suitcases (finally finding a great deal on huge duffle bags for $20 each and buying four of them), and running last minute errands and must-haves (thank goodness WalMart is open 24 hours a day), let me sum up the packing job from hell like this: we left Brent’s parents with a humongous mess to clean up and put away for us. And I mean HUMONGOUS!

I hardly slept the first couple of days, and not at all the last two days. It definitely a great method for curing any jet lag ills in advance. We cleaned out the trailer and re-packed it for storage, finally getting it to the storage facility late the night before we got on the airplane. We also put the car in storage (his parents will probably sell it for us in a few months, once we get a handle on how long the job will last) and kept the truck out so they could drive us to the airport in it. We had THAT much luggage.

Dismantaling the computer desk for storage. Photo by Lorelle VanFossenAfter storing the trailer and car, we got back about 11PM and started the final packing. I really believed it would be all done in three hours and we could catch a little sleep before heading to the airport for out 8:30AM flight. Ha!

At first the packing went fantastically. I packed the bags and Brent weighed the first one. Limited to 70 pounds per bag, you can imagine our frustration when the first bag tipped the scale at 150 pounds. The second about the same. So stuff came out. A lot of stuff. We tried again. Not even close. Screaming into the late night with frustration, his parents long gone to bed, we finally dumped everything out of all the suitcases and started with the bare essentials. What was most important?

Brent’s books were a priority. They took up much of two suitcases, spreading their weight across. They were so heavy that only a few could meet the weight restrictions. These books are about six inches THICK. So we had huge suitcases with four books in each, or so it seemed.

Next priority was film and camera gear. Spread across the books, that filled up three suitcases, all right at the top of the weight limit. We were only allowed four suitcases between the two of us and had planned on six. We still had our clothing and toiletries to go. We ended up with eight, using an old battered suitcase of mine at the last minute out of pure desperateness.

Out came tons of things I bought in preparation for the trip: toothpaste, cotton balls, shampoo, lots of toiletries and household items. These are VERY expensive in Israel. Out came tons of my papers and files, much of my work, since Brent’s work had priority, and most of my work is on the computers, so I can do without some of it….okay, I will suffer. In the end, we left out things that we desperately needed, but will have to either replace or live without.

We packed the last bag up at 6:30AM. We took showers at the speed of light and skipped all thought of breakfast. Brent and his father hauled the suitcases out to the truck and Brent weight-lifted them into the back of the truck. Placed around the trailer hitch, the eight huge suitcases barely fit. Gathering his parents up into the truck, we apologized all the way to the airport. The mess we left behind is something no one should do to another human being, ever. Clearly Brent’s parents are no ordinary human beings. They took it totally in stride and reassured us over and over that it was okay, not to worry. Clearly they hadn’t looked into the living room before leaving the house. They are not only saints, they should be honored as martyrs. There was almost no inch in their home that wasn’t littered with our remains.

We paid $540 for the extra luggage (within budget for reimbursement, oh YEAH!) and got onto the plane without a problem. Once on the plane, both Brent and I fell apart. With over 28 hours without sleep, and realizing that we were not only leaving home behind, but family and friends for who knows how long, tears were long and hard on the flight to Houston. We just held each other and let the pain flood all over us. Pain we had held back and stuffed down over the past six weeks of insanity.

Only once in my life before, and never for Brent, has so much agony and pain filled our lives, way beyond just normal stress. Starting with Grandmother VanFossen earlier in the summer, and then continuing with a vengeance with the loss of my dear friend in Greensboro, Fred Warren, then Toshi’s horrible murder – Brent and I lost six incredibly important people in our lives in six weeks. We managed to fly home to Tulsa for a weekend after Grandmother Matthew’s stroke early in September. We got to say goodbye before losing her a week later. The pain of coming back to Tulsa without both grandmothers there was very difficult. Being totally adopted by both grandmothers was very special for me, having none of my own growing up. It was extremely tough for Brent. His family is closely knit, they all support and encourage each other so much, it is amazing and wonderful to be a small part of. Added to the agony was the loss of two of my own family relatives, an aunt and a dear family friend, more family than friend. All of this added up to more pain than we could deal with, so we stuffed it down during the mad rush of weeks before boarding the plane.

The agony of loss was like flood water behind a dam. There were already big cracks in the dam and once we got on the plane, the dam broke. I don’t think we shared a dry eye between us during the flight to Houston.

We transferred easily in Houston to fly to New York, our senses numbed by the lack of sleep and the crying jag. Brent slept a little, but I couldn’t. My eyes were glued open. My whole body and soul hurt. It was the kind of dried up, numb suffering I hope to never experience again. By the time we got to New York, I had a raging headache and the numbness was gone. It was replaced by pain. Everything hurt. We got on the 777 to fly non-stop to Tel Aviv and I immediately took a pain pill and totally crashed. Brent couldn’t wake me up for nothing and he was really worried. I woke up two hours later, headache free. I asked Brent where we were in the flight and he told me we were still in New York. The plane hadn’t left the ground yet due to delays in getting an open runway. Typical VanFossen adventure. We hadn’t left the United States and I was now semi-rested and totally awake.

The flight was long: eleven hours, and very turbulent. There were a few sick people, and I was almost one. The 777 is a slick plane with a flat screen monitor in the back of every seat with a variety of channels for movies, television shows, radio, and even computer games. Coolest was a map that showed where we were at all times. We saw ourselves flying up and over Greenland, then Ireland and England, and down through Europe, with a slight jog around Bosnia (got to respect that air space, you know), and then across the Mediterranean to Israel.

Landing in Israel I felt like I had stepped back in time, but to a funny time. Instead of being met by a long corridor swung out from the airport terminal, we had to descend the stairs out in the open air, which was hot and humid, even early in the morning. The humidity reminded me of Mexico, as did the dusty smell in the air combined with airline fuel and grease. Blue outfitted staff ushered us onto a bus, leading us to who-knows-where. We stood tightly against each other, camera and computer bags in our hands, as the bus wove around the airport to the main terminal. I was dazed by the number of people all reaching for their cell phones before they were even off the plane. I’ve never seen so many cell phones. In the states they are growing in popularity but they are still expensive. Here, it seemed like every third person in the tram had a phone to their ear.

We shuffled off the tram and followed the crowd up some stairs into a building labeled “Welcome to Israel” in English, Hebrew, and other languages. As my eyes grew accustomed to the dim light inside, they felt dry and pinched, and my throat started to feel scratchy and sore like I had been screaming. We stumbled around until we found a small glowing red-buttoned electronic sign overhead pointing us to the passport control booth for non-citizens. We were among maybe eight standing in line, so it moved quickly. As we passed down the line, I started feeling a little sick. I dismissed it as exhaustion, not having slept in over 36 hours save for the two unconscious hours on the tarmac in New York. The woman behind the counter and glass window gave us each two pieces of paper with instructions to keep the white one with our passports and to give the other one to security. Brent and I stumbled around the booth, not understanding her instructions but following the crowd. A woman and man dressed in light blue security outfits, guns around their waists, took one paper from each of us and passed us through. We weren’t sure what that was about, but we figured out that we had a lot to learn and this was just one more mystery for us to solve later. After we’d had some sleep.

I started feeling sicker, finding it more difficult to breath, but again dismissed it. The world started weaving and swirling around me and I fought to maintain control over my body. Sleep will come soon, I told myself. Soon.

Moving to pick up one of our suitcases, I manoeuver around a large woman who turns to confront me, cigarette hanging out of her face. I step backwards, shocked, waving my hands in front of my face to push the hideous smoke away. She gives me an ugly look and turns back towards the revolving luggage. Horrified, I can’t help but see the enormous sign hanging over the carousel in the clear international symbol of “no smoking”, and here she is smoking away. I realize through my blurry eyes that she is among the many who are smoking, also ignoring the sign that is almost the size of my Toyota. I cover my face with my shirt and dart back to Brent in a panic.

He points to the no smoking sign and shakes his head, not believing me. Then he sees the smokers all around him. We are so dazed we never even smelt it, but I don’t have to smell it to have an allergic reaction. We moved the carts to the side away from the crowd and he fetched the monster cases.

With two carts, we were able to load up our eight suitcases. Through the mask of my shirt covering my nose and mouth, I glanced around and found that we actually had one of the smaller loads heading out the door. We followed the crowd and passed through customs where three uniformed men sat on metal examination tables, also smoking cigarettes, and lightly scanning the exiting crowd. Obviously once you had passed through security to get to Israel, your suitcases weren’t worth inspecting. No problem here. We pushed through the doors, following the signs, and out into the corridor to look for our agent, soon to match a face with the voice on the phone.

The job contractor, Yigal, stood among the crowds, a sign saying “VANFOSSEN” in his hand. While we watched, two little Romanian men groaned and moaned as they piled up our luggage in the back of their small Toyota truck. Yigal directed us to his sedan. We pulled out onto the highway and I yanked Brent close and whispered, “Whatever you do, don’t look behind us.” Then we careened through highways and narrow roads, trying not to watch our luggage swaying in the truck behind USA, to our hotel one block from the sea.

We had made it. We were in Israel. We needed to sleep. Desperately. Beyond desperately. Our first six hours in Israel were spent sleeping in a very small room surrounded by eight huge suitcases with only a small path to the bathroom. But we’re here.

Tulsa, Oklahoma

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