"" Writer's Wanderings: Haifa, Israel--The Rest Of The Story

Sunday, October 08, 2023

Haifa, Israel--The Rest Of The Story


"I've never been in a war zone before." The man shook his head and gave a half smile as he talked with another at the lunch table next to us. Reactions yesterday were very mixed and everyone had a story to tell about where they were and how they heard and how they made it back to the ship. 

The poor crew were swamped at the lunch buffet and I think the kitchen was not prepared. They were looking forward to a lighter day since most passengers were scheduled to be off the ship. They did well to keep up as it seemed the first thing everyone wanted to do upon their return was to eat. It was comfort for a shocked group of people who were thrown into uncertainty. Not nearly as much as Israelis I'm sure.

The afternoon was quiet. We had missed the morning announcement from the captain and someone caught us up. Sometime around 10:30 or 11 he had announced that there would be no one permitted to leave the ship. By then most of the ship's excursions had been called back. The security check had taken so long in the morning that a lot of people never had a chance to go ashore other than to get their security card. 

The understanding was that we would probably leave port. Some talk went around that the Israeli government had asked us to leave and then I'm sure there were orders from Holland America Line headquarters that we should get out. The problem was that there were many passengers who had booked private tours or left on their own. Those would be a little more difficult to gather up.

I have not learned yet how many of those private tours learned of the call back to the ship but I'm guessing through the ship's Navigator app or through their email they could have been contacted or perhaps even a text message. There are some however who still do not have smart phones. I don't know how they function in this world that often demands it. 

Mid-afternoon we heard the captain announce that we were still waiting on two people to return and we would probably sail at four. Meanwhile, the ship was quiet. Everyone seemed in a pensive, thoughtful mood I'm sure fed by more and more reports of what had happened and what was happening to the south of us.

One report caught my attention and explained a slight traffic jam we'd experienced on the way back to the ship from Caesarea. The traffic had slowed and was moving to one lane. I thought it was for an accident but when we passed the place where one lane was blocked, there was a police or military officer with an AK checking traffic through. I thought it odd at the time. Then the reporter who was south of us near the Gaza talked of how hundreds of Hamas had crossed the border, some parasailing across, and that all roads leading north were being watched for any who had commandeered Israeli cars and were heading north. That explained the traffic check.

It also explained the extra check of our tour bus as it entered the port. (See yesterday's post.) It was quite extensive. So we waited and watched the news and walked around the Promenade Deck and looked at the city that should have been coming alive as the Sabbath ended but seemed way too quiet.

Four o'clock came and went and a while later we got another announcement. The captain said he had been in contact with headquarters to see how much longer we should wait for the missing passengers. It was decided that we would leave at 5:30.

At 5:30, we were sitting in the main dining room having dinner and watching out the window for some movement to indicate we were on our way. Around six we learned that there was now a medical emergency and we were waiting for an ambulance to transport the person. We prayed. Bad enough to have to go to the hospital but now one that was likely to be in a war zone. Time for departure was now set for seven.

By now it was getting dark and the city lights twinkled like jewels. We could make out the Bahai gardens, now lit with small white lights, that went up the side of Mount Carmel. They extended way beyond what we had been able to see from the bus. It seemed that they went all the way to the top of the mountain.

At seven, another announcement. There was only one pilot today for the whole harbor and since we missed our departure time earlier, he was now not available until eight. We stood on the Promenade Deck at eight after a round of playing cards and watched to see if this time we were really going to leave. Finally the ropes were let go and our ship pulled out and away.

It was a sad departure. We watched the city grow smaller as the ship moved past the long break wall and into the open sea. Would those in Haifa be safe? War had been declared. Anything could happen. Grateful for our safe exit but sad for those whose lives and homes were in turmoil. May peace come soon.

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