The Festival

Dressed up for the Holy Day commemoration

Dressed up for the Holy Day commemoration

Today is the last day of the Festival of Ridván, a twelve-day celebration commemorating the Declaration of Bahá’u’lláh in 1863. Ridván has given us the gift of some free time with two days off, and we’ve used that time to get re-acquainted with nature.

At Bahjí, we’ve been observing the peculiar behavior of some spur-winged lapwings. These birds are usually goofy and noisy with their long-legged prancing and squeaky squawks, but lately we noticed them acting more settled, sitting still beneath olive trees. We learned that they nest on the ground, so this was their location of choice for raising their new families. The female birds tranquilly incubated while the males squeaked threateningly at other birds that wandered too close, like the oblivious cattle egret whose itinerant grazing aroused the wrath of one ferocious daddy bird. The poor egret clearly just wanted to eat in peace, not to bother anyone’s chicks. After a few weeks, we saw that the baby birds had hatched. While we didn’t get too close so as not to disturb the brood or provoke the father’s sharp-spurred ire, we enjoyed watching the little dots of fuzz bob around their mother on their stilt-like legs and then scoot beneath her. (I don’t have any presentable photos, but I suggest searching “spur-winged lapwing chick” if you want your heart to melt!)

On the first day of Ridván, we headed up the mountain to hike around Carmel Forest. It was my first time visiting on a weekday, and it was beautifully unpeopled. We were practically the only visitors besides a man in an ice cream truck who seemed to have pulled into the park just to take a nap, since the first sign of him that we saw was his bare feet against the windshield.

The wildflowers were in bloom, from the red poppies to white Queen Anne’s Lace to a host of purple, yellow, and pink flowers I can’t name. We spent a pleasant hour hiking the paths of Little Switzerland.

Vibrant wild poppies in Carmel Forest

Vibrant wild poppies in Carmel Forest

Then, last weekend, we went on a stroll to Stella Maris, a promontory with a monastic history overlooking the sea, and discovered that the cable car from there down to the beach was working—a surprise since it was Shabbat. So, in a moment of spontaneity, we bought tickets and hopped aboard an orange bubble that wafted down the steep slope. After a walk along the windy seashore that compelled me to deploy my hood to avoid my hair blowing away, we located the Cave of Elijah (closed due to Shabbat).

We returned up the mountain in the funicular and decided to do a bit more exploring. A few hours earlier, we had seen an acquaintance walk down a path behind a parking lot, so we wanted to see what his destination was. The path led to a picturesque meadow with wild grasses and windblown trees, and further along, a small round white chapel that used to be a windmill.

The picturesque windmill-cum-chapel

The picturesque Holy Family Chapel

What a surprise to discover a wild place in the middle of the city, just a short walk down from the bustle of Stella Maris’s restaurant scene. Standing on the edge of Carmel on a small platform housing a single bench, we stretched out our arms in the strong wind and felt ready to take off.

The halfway point

The first Holy Day I attended here was the Martyrdom of the Báb, which in 2013 happened in early July.  Currently, it shifts each year according to the lunar calendar, so this year, it happened yesterday.  It seemed to mark my first year here coming full circle as I reach the halfway point in my service.

I recall my earlier wonderment at the crowd of commemorators filling the garden in front of the Haifa Pilgrim House, my surprise at the parasols–coming from the States, I thought people used them only decoratively and to preserve particularly porcelain complexions.  And the heat.  My seat last year, while initially in the shade, was soon overtaken by the noonday sun, making me itch for the circumambulation when I could finally move out of its harsh gaze.

The heat was just as oppressive this year, hitting a high of 95 degrees.  By now, though, I was used to the seating arrangement of rows on rows of pilgrims, visitors, and staff, and knew the wisdom of the parasols and the folding fans.  And we were careful to pick a spot completely in the shade of the pillar-like palm in front of us.  In this place, bits of pollen confetti sprinkled down on us from the trees overhead, burrowing into our hair.

My first year is drawing to its conclusion, and this is the season of farewells, as many of my friends are leaving.  My friend Tahirih de la Republica Dominicana flew home a few days ago.  Shania, who was a senior at Mount Holyoke when I was a meek firstie, is going home.  And half of my orientation group–eighteen staff–depart in the coming days and weeks, including my friends Diana and Todd.  They are all off to new journeys.

Due to all the departures, this has been a week of farewells.  One was quiet and devotional, another was energetic and noisy, but my favorite was last night’s.  It was initially supposed to be a reunion of those in my orientation group who had lived in the faraway land of Leon Blum when we first arrived, but it ended up as a game night between Sergey, Diana, Todd, and me.

First came Scrabble, where I proved the usefulness of that English major.  My winning at Scrabble is how the universe achieves balance with my athletic ineptitude.

Then came Risk–and not just any Risk, but Star Wars Risk. Now, I confess I had never actually played the game before.  I thought I had, but that turned out to be my vague memory of playing Axis and Allies in tenth grade history class.

We cued the dramatic Star Wars soundtrack and then proceeded into a 3.5-hour long battle to conquer the galaxy.  The game works by trying to take over as many planets as possible, and Todd acted like an extraterrestrial real estate agent, describing the notable features of each planet (“Tatooine is kind of like Akka…sandy.”)  I assumed I’d lose since I didn’t have any concept of strategy, but the dice was kind to Sergey and me, and our Rebel Alliance ended up ruling the universe.  Ok, just the galaxy, but still.

I guess I assume I’m going to see all these friends again.  If life here has taught me one thing, it’s that the Bahá’í World is very small–for instance, two youth I knew from Louhelen, where my family lived fourteen years ago by my count, are coming to serve here.  The last time I saw them they were yea tall, and now they’re full-fledged young adults.

In such an oddly tight-knit community, I think it’s inevitable that our paths will cross again.