As the Christmas season draws near, there seems to be a lot of chatter about the holy city, Bethlehem. However, not many people realize that Bethlehem is in the middle of the West Bank, one of American media's favorite taboo places. I find it ironic that the place that is arguably most important to the Christian religion is in the middle of an intermittent war zone with a community being town between two nations and it's citizens held captive. Yet we sing "O Little Town of Bethlehem" every Sunday and the words never resonate. To many of us Bethlehem is just some far off ancient land that is nothing more than a city in a song.
The West does not look favorably toward Palestine. On the U.S. Government travel website it says something along the lines of, "we highly discourage travel into Palestine, however, if you do decide to go against our recommendations and something bad happens to you in Gaza, we're not coming to the rescue." The message for the West Bank is a little more favorable (they might come rescue depending on the day) but nowhere near optimistic.
Everyone I talked to about Israel said I had to visit the West Bank. I did not make the decision lightly, but with Christmas coming I figured it would be interesting to visit Bethlehem which is also one of the only Christian cities in Israel. Plus, my new knowledge of the occupation had me itching to see the situation for myself and meet some Palestinians.
When I stepped foot into the West Bank I was terrified. As much as I wanted to venture into the area without any preconceptions, the media clips I had seen over the past few years kept replaying in my mind.
I grabbed a pita sandwich and found a quiet staircase to sit and eat while I gathered my senses and gave myself a Palestinian pep talk. I was soon approached by a middle aged Palestinian man who said something that I didn't understand. Reverting to "I'm in an Arab land where they're aggressive and always trying to sell you something" mode I sternly said "no" and shook my head. The man repeated his statement, "bon appetite." Not all Arabs play by the same rules. We started talking and he told me that he was a tour guide in Bethlehem. He was giving a tour of the Nativity Church (the place where Jesus was born) in French, but invited me to join the tour group and translated everything into English for me.
I finally got over my "I'm in the West Bank-I'm going to die" attitude and had the opportunity to wander the streets and poke into some shops. At the first store I went to I met a boy about my age named Saliba. He asked where I was from and invited me into his shop for some tea. Once again, I knew what "come to my shop for tea" meant and decided that since I wanted to meet a Palestinian so badly it would be worth it to sip tea and buy a small something later.
Saliba and I had a nice conversation. I learned that as a Palestinian, he is not allowed to enter into Israel unless he gets special paperwork and permission. Also, there are checkpoints every few miles or so, so in order to travel anywhere in Palestine it can take hours (that is if they allow you to pass through the checkpoints). I didn't ask about his sentiments toward the Israelis, but despite having a relatively suppressed life controlled by another government and a fraction of the economic resources any Israeli would have, he seemed to be pretty cheery!
After our tea session, I browsed around Saliba's shop. I admired some Christmas ornaments and when I was about to leave, purchase-less, Saliba offered me the ornament as a gift. I was overcome with surprise at the extreme generosity of him. I got my ornament (and purchased a few more) and we said our goodbyes. I walked through Bethlehem with my spirits and head held high in amazement at the kindness of the two people I had met.
As the sun sank lower and I began to meander my way through the maze of streets toward the bus stop I passed through a street market. Everyone noticed me and greeted me with a bold "you are welcome" as I passed by. A few people asked where I was from and one man even offered me a tangerine as a welcome gift. I seemed to be the chatter of the market.
I took my final steps away from Bethlehem and toward Israel completely at peace and proud of myself for conquering my fear and opening my mind to a new culture.
The Palestinian flag waving high off a mosque tower in Bethlehem
Standing in the spot where Jesus was allegedly born
“If you’re not Jewish, why on Earth would you travel to Israel?” seemed to be the question I received most frequently during my week-long visit to the Holy Land. I couldn’t tell anyone the real answer, “well, I used to watch this TV show called House Hunters International, and from the way Tel Aviv was portrayed on television, it looked like a wicked cool city to check out.” No, I would sound like the classic uneducated television-crazed American that everyone wants to ignore. Other than the fact that I was terrified yet secretly obsessed with the Middle East, and, Israel was probably the only country I could visit without getting my head chopped off, I came up with an alibi, “I’m really interested in the Israeli/Palestinian situation and want to learn more about Middle East politics.”
The more I recited my “gold star” answer the more I began to believe it and lose interest in Tel Aviv’s poppin’ night life. I came into the country really knowing nothing about the occupation situation. Like most Americans I knew that the West Bank and Gaza were war zones and off limits and that there has been a huge push among American teens and twentysomethings to “free Palestine” and continually criticize the United States’ alliance with Israel.
Once I got a taste and brief history of the actual situation through a Middle Eastern lens, rather than an American one, I was obsessed with learning more. I found myself constantly questioning every Israeli I met. When I should have been asking questions like, “what do you do for a living?” or "what kind of things do you recommend to see in Israel?” I found myself inquiring about the daily bombings in Gaza and the mandatory army service imposed among all young people.
I spent hours upon hours discussing these issues with Israelis, Palestinians, Jews, Atheists and Americans, and found everyone to be extremely open and willing to deliberate on such a sensitive topic. My trip to the Holy Land was different than any other part of my travels. I couldn’t quite pinpoint it, but I felt exhilarated, engaged and like I was getting to know the place on a much deeper level than any tourist ever would. My friend Alon finally put it into words; it is nice being in a place where you don’t have to make up problems.
Traveling a country that has been at war with itself for years, is hated by virtually every country surrounding it (not to mention many more throughout the world), has a pressing water shortage and yet contains some of the most sacred and controversial lands in the world, is sure to guarantee a good dose of conflict. Each morning greets you with the threat of Iran nuking you off the map and the possibility of a suicide bomber getting a little too close; now that’s a real problem. Figuring out how you will pay off the loan on your coveted PT Cruiser and worrying about the security of Facebook’s updated privacy features are not real problems. Our housing crisis, tanking economy and gasoline shortages are nothing compared to what is happening half way around the world, yet day after day our egocentric headlines are all local chatter of domestic hardship rather than bombs dropping, oppressed cultures and wars for freedom. Dear Western World, quit making up problems.
As you all are preparing for the Christmas season, I am embarking on a new part of my journey...returning home for Christmastime in the Rockies! Being away from my family for Christmas didn't seem right, so I made the decision to take a small break in my travels and experience that faraway land called "home" once again (such a strange concept for me after three months). If all goes well, I will be catching a flight tonight and arriving in the United States on the 21st.
Not to worry, the travels are not over! I just need a week or two to regroup, visit with family and friends and process the past three months. After that, I'm off to Asia! Stay tuned for many more adventures...
In the meantime, I just spent two amazing weeks in Israel, Palestine and Jordan. I met inspirational people, had great adventures and spent hours discussing Middle Eastern politics with numerous locals. I am leaving much more knowledgeable but also more frustrated and with a million new questions regarding the Israeli Palestinian situation. It has been a revelational experience and I have gained a new respect for all three cultures I have encountered.
Right now I have many mixed thoughts and feelings and am still in the midst of deciding what it all means and how it relates to my life as an American. Give me a few days to process everything, and I will give you a good summary of my stories, experiences and maybe even throw in a few photos :)
Until then, I hope you are enjoying the Christmas season (I know I will be in just a few short hours) and drink an eggnog latte for me!
Established in the early 1900s, Tel Aviv is anything but antique. This city boasts streets cluttered with swanky clubs and student filled coffee houses and is well known for its perpetual nightlife and fine dining. Through my bout of disorientation I am still thoroughly enjoying the scenery and making a mental list of cute cafes and hummus stands to return to during my stay in the city.
I finally make it to my host, Itay's apartment. Although we have never met, Itay welcomes me with open arms and gives me just enough time to dismantle my backpack before we're off to meet his friends for hummus. Eating hummus, falafel, and, well any kind of Middle Eastern food in the Middle East with locals is a real treat.
Three months ago I didn’t think lunch outings with ten strangers from a foreign country would be anywhere remotely close to my comfort zone. Not that I'm antisocial or anything, I just don’t like the pressure of being the only foreigner amongst a mirage of locals. If anything is fact, traveling changes a person a whole lot and hanging out with unknowns is my new hobby, not to mention the norm in Israel.
The Israelis greet me as if we've known each other for years; a kiss on the cheek and ten questions about my adventures. They are eager to tell me the best food to order and give me a brief lesson in the history of falafel and hummus eating 101.
We exchange dialogue for hours. They are well traveled, humorous, up to par on world current events and already making plans to introduce me to their friend who lives in Haifa or scribble a list of the best shwarma stands in Jaffa. Lucky for me, their openness is perfect for my undercover mission in Israel: to glean information about Palestine and Middle Eastern politics.
By the end of our lunch date I feel so informed about Israeli news, I could write a small novel or argumentative essay. I also have a drink date with Yoav and friends in Jerusalem, a place to stay if I ever pass through Beersheba and a prospective travel buddy for Nepal. I love the locals.
I walk down the street with my 20 pound backpack strapped to my shoulders, obediently following the map in my hands, but it keeps leading me astray. Apparently, street names don't translate properly from Hebrew to English and this is not the first time I have been left direction-less in Tel Aviv. Despite my minor detour and slight irritation with the failure of my normal GPS engrained brain, this isn't the worst place to be lost.
After what seemed like a month in morocco, I was welcomed back into the western world by my dear friend Ruud! Warm showers, English speakers, fair prices, wine and even a few Christmas trees...all my favorite things! Not to mention a reunion with one of my newly met travel buddies. Ruud somehow keeps popping up throughout my adventures; the beginning in Croatia, a few weeks later in Amsterdam and the conclusion of my Europe travels in Spain.
It was good to see a familiar face and even better to return to a culture I loved and understood. Ruud and I spent a day in Malaga around the beach and observing Christmas festivities then headed to Granada for some tapas testing.
Granada seems to be famous in the Spanish world for it's quaint college town and free tapas. That's right, each time you order a drink the waiter throws in a complimentary plate of tapas! Being into food and free things, this was the perfect place for me. Each night we would meander into town around ten P.M. in search of the busiest bars to see what kind of tapas we could score. Between each tapas course and drink I would exclaim, "I love Spain!" I'm sure I sounded like a broken record to Ruud, but I was just so happy to be back with two old friends-Ruud and the Western World! Here are some pictures from the weekend:
A reflection pool in the Alhambra-a palace and fortress built in the 14th century by the Moors
Enjoying my tapas and wine. I think Ruud got tired of me saying, "I LOVE Spain" each time we got a new tapa!
Me and Ruud in front of Alhambra
A view of Alhambra and Granada
After a week and a half of touring almost all of central Morocco, Sam and I were ready for a break. We wanted a calm place where we could spend a few days relaxing and soaking in the culture so we decided on Jimmy Hendrix's favorite African seaside town, Essaouira. From the Cascades d'Ouzoud, we wanted to try hitchhiking part of the way there. Just a few yards after leaving our hotel we got picked up by a van full of Moroccans heading to their work at a construction site. We rode bouncing around in the back of the van for about an hour as the Arabs in the front seat had a lively discussion playfully yelling at and teasing each other.
After parting ways, or roads, we were left alongside a street lined with a dozen or so Moroccan teenagers anxiously awaiting a ride in the same direction. The competition was fierce, they spoke Arabic and were willing to pay for a ride; two traits we were lacking. I guess somehow we were able to play the "legitimate looking westerner card" because we quickly got picked up by a businessman in a VW Jetta. We got in the car and were amazed at how luxurious and comfortable it was. I guess when traveling in the back of vans and on local buses you lose sight of how nice western cars are!
The man spoke no English and we spoke no French, so for the hour car ride we communicated through hand gestures and charades. We actually learned a lot from him, like the Berber people are the calm nice Moroccans and the Arabs are the ones who always try to rip you off. Also, it is apparently easy to bribe the police if you get pulled over.
Once we arrived back in Marrakech the man asked something about money. As we were trying to piece together what he was saying he reached behind his seat, pulled out a stack of 100 durham bills and offered us some! We politely declined, we were happy enough to just have a ride. We caught the bus from Marrakech and arrived in Essaouira just as the sun was setting. Essaouira sunsets fall into the same category as Key West and Santorini...a red firey ball burning up the horizon, breathtakingly stunning! The setting of the sun also happens to be perfectly timed to when the local fishermen arrive back at the port, so there are thousands of birds flying into the sunset trying to get the fish.
During our three days in Essaouira we enjoyed doing absolutely nothing! Our daily routine consisted of eating delicious pancakes drizzled in honey and banana at the local bakery, walking to the beach or around town and spending the afternoon lounging on a terrace drinking coffee, reading and watching the waves crash against the city walls. Not too bad of a life, if you ask me. A perfect way to end two adventurous weeks in Morocco.
The walls of the Essaouira medina, separating the city from the ocean
Essaouira-view from our favorite terrace to lounge around in the afternoon
Another amazing sunset from Essaouira
City of birds...need I say more?
After the Todra Gorge and the Sahara trek, Sam and I were really into the Morocco nature scene. We loved getting off the main tourist paths and exploring local villages and parks, especially in such a diverse country. The Cascades d'Ouzoud seemed like the perfect place to visit. They are the second highest waterfall in Africa measuring 110 meters (360 feet), and were also listed as a "must see" in numerous travel guides.
Thinking it would be fun to get a taste of true Moroccan culture and meet some locals, we decided to take the local bus to the falls. Big mistake. When we purchased the tickets (which we had to bargain for...this should have been red flag number one) the attendant told us the bus would leave around noon, despite the listed 11:30 A.M. departure on the ticket. The bus didn't actually leave until 1 P.M. and then it took 45 minutes to get out of the station because it kept stopping every 30 feet or so for some random person along the street flagging it down.
After four hours of this nonsense and a very grumpy Ember later, we finally covered the 90 mile journey to the falls. We found a cute riad to stay at and spent two days wandering around the village, hiking through the canyons along the river and scrambling up rock cliffs. Here are some pictures of our adventure:
The eternal rainbow from the mist of the falls
Sam and me waving hello from the top of a cliff
Boat ride under the falls
Full view of the falls
From 40 cent bowls of lentil soup to fresh bread filled with smoking meat, Morocco had some of the best cusine I have experienced during my travels. Actually, the Moroccan food scene isn't that diverse. I think the main attraction is that everything is cooked fresh and deliciously cheap! Sam and I have invented a daily routine scheduled around meals. Finding the greatest local dive cafe in each city we visit has become our hobby.
I have arrived at the conclusion that there are only six foods in Morocco:
1. Soup-either lentil or pea
3. Tagine (a mix of vegetables and meat cooked in a cone shaped pot on the stove)
6. Mint tea with heaps of sugar
We eat a crepe drenched in honey nearly every morning followed by a mid morning cookie, then find a suitable hole-in-the-wall soup kitchen or tagine shop for lunch and maybe couscous for dinner, while always drinking mint tea throughout the day. Life isn't half bad considering our daily food budget runs about $4 USD with all this scrumptious food, it's easy to go a little crazy!
One night we set out on a food safari. We decided to walk along the street and sample new foods that we hadn't yet tried, or that seemed really strange! Each sample cost about $1 USD so Sam, Andrew and me took turns buying the food for the three of us to share. We tried everything from cactus fruit to fried anchovies, snail soup and an assortment of Moroccan cookies. Here are some of the food highlights from our trip:
Bread filled with chicken, mystery meat, noodles and tomato sauce!
Experiments in tagine cooking
Yummy yummy snail soup
When planning our Morocco trip, Sam and I were feeling a bit lazy, so we opened a Lonely Planet book, turned to the "top ten natural wonders of Morocco" page and picked out wonders number one and two to visit. We figured that Lonely Planet never disappoints, and getting out of the big cities and traveling through small towns would surely guarantee interesting adventures and good stories. Luckily wonder number two, the Todra Gorge was halfway between Merzouga and Marrakech, allowing us to conveniently break up a twelve hour bus journey.
When the bus pulled into Tingier (the town near the gorge) we new we had made the right decision. The town lay in a palm tree oasis lined valley just below an expanse of red desert with snow capped peaks as a backdrop. I never thought it was possible for one landscape to have all three palm trees, desert and snowy mountains. Incredible!
Upon arrival, we were instantly greeted by Abdul who offered his tour guide services. We chatted for a bit and he eventually led us to a local market where we got a delicious lamb and vegetable lunch for $3 USD total. When we broke the news to him that we weren't in the market for a guide, he suddenly abandoned our friendship. At least we got a delicious local meal out of it.
A few minutes later, Mohammed befriended us. We insisted on "no help" but he persistently followed us meandering through the city streets saying he didn't want money, he just wanted to be our friend. Finally accepting that we were fighting a losing battle, we gave in and figured we might as well take advantage of the situation. He took us to a vegetable market and a bread shop so we could get groceries, then waited with us for the taxi to the gorge.
Sam and I had not planned ahead for any part of this trip, so when the taxi dropped us off alongside a river at the beginning of the gorge with no hotels in sight, we were a little apprehensive. There was no one insight minus a few people trying to sell teapots and cookies on the side of the road. If we were in any other country, it would be unfortunate, but what is my motto about Morocco? There is always someone to help!
One of the men selling snacks immediately approached us to ask what we were doing. We told him of our dilemma, he said a few words in Arabic to the taxi driver and instructed us to get the in the car and the driver would drop us at his friends hotel. Perfection! And such effortless service right at our fingertips, every time! We ended up at a newly finished riad with quaint rooms and bright Moroccan decorations everywhere! And the rooms were only $12 USD a night...that is with a little bartering!
I think a "westerner alert" must have gone out to all the people in that town because by the end of the night the hotel was full of Moroccans wanting to befriend us. Sam and I were actually interested in this prospect as we had spent many evenings discussing the Moroccan culture and trying to pinpoint exactly what Moroccans do. We knew 90% of the population was a tour guide, but apart from that everything seemed a bit blurry.
I would have normally dismissed this sudden influx of Moroccans as coincidence, but we were the only people staying at the hotel and it was evident there was an underlying motive. The cookie seller was there, the taxi driver, some random guy we met in the oasis drinking beer, the owner of the hotel next door and Mohammed a local who invited us to his carpet shop. He was so insistent and we figured there was nothing to lose so we agreed.
Mohammed made us thyme tea as he displayed his carpets and told us of the local nomads and Berber people. The nomads live in caves in the mountains and make carpets and other goods to trade with the Arabics for food and clothing. When the cold comes they gather their children, animals and possessions and move to Western Sahara until summer returns to the mountains. Even if we weren't in the market for a carpet, we got some nice tea (thyme in tea is surprisingly delicious!) and an education in Berber and nomad lifestyles.
The next day Sam and I took a hike through the gorge. We heard there was a loop that took you through the gorge and to the top then down the backside of the mountain returning into town. Well, that´s what Sam heard...I knew nothing of this supposed loop, I was just counting on a day hiking to the top of the gorge and back down.
The weather that day was overcast and sprinkling on and off, so we threw our raincoats and a few sandwiches in the backpack and were off. By the time we made it to the top of the gorge the wind was blowing cold rain and there was no path to be seen. I asked Sam how sure he was about the loop and he replied with, "one percent."
I´m sure we could have made our own loop back into town, but I was reluctant to risk our chances in the mountains with the weather situation and not enough water or food for a bush waking adventure sure to lead past dusk. Before descending, Sam decided to hike to the highest rim of the gorge to take a look.
Sure enough, there was a small path leading around the mountain and through a valley back into town. It appeared to be shorter than the trek we had taken, so we gave it a try. Half a mile behind the mountain we came upon a small settlement of caves. There were about three caves in all with several stone built corrals and goats and chickens running wild. While quietly sneaking through the village and trying to discreetly take pictures, I noticed a family huddled around a fire in their cave. I pointed this out to Sam just as the family turned to notice us. They waved and motioned for us to come into their cave. I would have normally said no, but I was so curious to see the cave that I couldn't pass up the opportunity.
The cave was about ten feet deep with a seven foot ceiling. The back was piled with blankets and clothes and the entrance contained a small fire where they prepared meals. The walls of the cave were caked in dark soot from the fire inside. The husband spread a blanket at the end of the cave for us to sit on. Through a charades act and the two words we knew in Berber, “saha”-thank you and “besaha”-cheers, we introduced ourselves and thanked the family for inviting us in.
They poured us two glasses of thyme tea and handed us bread heaping with roasted vegetables. We ate our food wide eyed while watching the family chat and the children playing on the dirt floor. We were amazed with our luck and the opportunity to experience life with the nomads. We eventually thanked the family and continued on our way. The wife was even kind enough to walk us to the top of the hill near the caves and point us in the right direction. The rest of the hike was comparatively uneventful. The weather was decent and the scenery stunning.
We returned to the hotel that night amazed at our adventurous day and with Abdul, Mohammed, Rashid and the whole gang ready to greet us. After telling them of our adventures with the nomads we decided to make some coffee to warm up. Mohammed took a sudden interest in Sam's tin of instant coffee. He asked to look at it, and after inspecting the label and contents inside he offered to trade Sam some jewelery in his shop for the can of coffee. He insisted that his wife (me) would appreciate a nice Berber bracelet. Unfortunately, Sam is apparently not very appreciative of his wife and no deal was made.
Just ten minutes later, Abdul approached me and asked to see my iPod. He asked how much I paid for it and offered to make a deal with me--the iPod for a carpet. In all of my wildest dreams I never expected to be involved in the business of expensive goods trading, let alone exchanging my iPod--the single most important item I currently possessed--for a carpet to put in my nonexistent home. I looked at the iPod and looked at Abdul and responded, "I can't get Wi-Fi on a carpet, so no thank you." That will be my last dabble in any form of goods trading.
The next morning Sam and I packed up the backpacks and were off on a Thanksgiving Day adventure hitchhiking to Marrakech! I'm sure you know the rest of the story from there. Here are some pictures from the Todra Gorge:
The small town where we stayed and the beginning of the gorge in the background
Me and Sam hiking through the Todra Gorge
View from the top of the Todra Gorge and a small town beyond
I made it!
The entrance to a nomad cave home
Tea and lunch from the inside of a nomad cave
Gorge, town, oasis
The past four weeks have been a crazy journey through Spain and Morocco. I have experienced some of the most intense and rewarding moments of my trip; hitchhiking in Morocco, Thanksgiving dinner, riding camels in the Sahara, nearly getting mugged by a monkey, and reuniting with good friends and making new ones. Overall, it has opened my eyes to cultures and lifestyles vastly different from my own, and made me ponder my own beliefs and culture.
After spending last weekend in Malaga with my Dutch friend Ruud, I had a flight booked to Barcelona then from Barcelona to Tel Aviv that same night. I had been planning on traveling through Israel for a while and had spent a lot of time researching the area and creating a rough itinerary of what I would see. Because of my mom's job with the airlines I was able to get a discounted standby ticket on Spanair. However, when I got to the ticket counter to check in Spanair informed me that they had terminated the contract with my mom's airline and I couldn't take the flight.
This news was shocking and caught me so offguard that I had no idea what to do. The only other flight to Tel Aviv that night was on AirEuropa. I went and talked to them and they couldn't put me on the Tel Aviv flight, so I asked, "where else do you have flights tonight, I'll go anywhere." I must have sounded crazy, but the idea of taking any flight and seeing where you end up seemed so freeing. The only flight was to the Canary Islands, which they offered to put me on.
Very tempting, but I also knew that Sam (my Morocco-Australian travel buddy) was coming to Barcelona soon. I could take the one-way to the Canary Islands or chill with Sam for a few days in Barcelona and re-think the situation. Althought the spontanaity of the first option was tempting, I chose the latter.
Initially a little bitter about the overall situation and being stuck in Barcelona, I ended up having a great time with Sam and loved the city! I decided that I would give Israel one last shot and showed up at 6 A.M. this morning at the El Al ticket counter. I was sure the attempt would be futile, but it was worth a try.
I explained the situation, they made a few phone calls and literally took everything and led me to a search room before I knew what was going on! Someone rushed off with my passport and asked if I wanted a window or isle, so I guess somehow the ticket worked.
After two hours of going through my person, dumping out my entire backpack, turning on all my electronics devices and intensley questioning me about them and looking between and under my toes, I was escourted through security. My security guard was to remain with me for the entire waiting period until I was in my seat on the plane.
Apparently El Al felt bad for basically traumatizing me, so the security guard offered to buy me coffee and a donut, which of course makes everything better. We sat drinking coffee and chatting until my flight was ready to board. Luckily, she was really cool, we had a great conversation and she even offered to ask her friend if I could stay with him in Tel Aviv.
Apparently taking a last minute flight to Israel raises a few red flags...or more like one giant red terrorist flag. Either way, it was an interesting experience and I am happy to be in Tel Aviv. As you can tell, I have been a bit distracted from blogging lately. I have not forgotten...I'm just a week or so behind. Stay posted for some more Morocco stories and pictures.
Ciao for now!
Hello Everyone, or shabat shallom from my end of the world! I finally made it to Tel Aviv after a plane ticket messup and a few stressful days stuck in Barcelona and am happy to be celebrating three months of traveling!