I was accommodated in a simple, but comfortable, low-rise apartment building on the hospital grounds. I was allocated the single room in our apartment, and the double room next door was occupied by two young women volunteers. Summer, from the USA, had just finished an undergraduate Science degree and was applying to medical schools. Her volunteer shifts were in A&E on some days and NICU on others. Her roommate, Naoemi from Switzerland, moved on about a week after I arrived.
By now Israel had closed its borders to non-Israelis and imposed a 14-day self-isolation on returning citizens. The overseas registrants for the Nazareth Challenge would not be able to arrive and participate. It was postponed to November. RATS!!!
With no new tour groups able to arrive, and those in the country scuttling to leave while there were still airplanes flying to take them home (No incoming flights means no planes to turn around to take away travellers who want to leave…) there were no groups making bookings for the Village.
We were advised to make arrangements to fly to our countries of origin ASAP – while we could still get flights, in competition with the departing tourists… Meanwhile, we should socialise only amongst ourselves in case we had something to spread. I could not see myself being in any position to return in November for the postponed Challenge walk, but I had raised sponsorship for the hospital in the expectation that I would walk the Walk!
After discussions with SERVE, I resolved to try and complete individual days of the 5-day route, probably out of chronological order, with whichever volunteers were willing to walk with me on a particular day. We would take public transport to the beginnings and ends of the route sections, returning to Nazareth each night.
Our close-knit community of SERVE volunteers was starting to scatter. SERVE is used to its volunteers coming and going. They are welcomed with joy as they dribble in, and farewelled with hopes of future reunion as they leave in their ones and twos. This was different. It was as if we were a ripe white dandelion ball – one minute we were there, exquisitely together, and then, “puff!”, we were irrevocably gone.
The Pastoral Care Conference was cancelled. We were not permitted to go into the hospital to say goodbye to our workmates there, for fear of taking contagion. The Village had been locked and the local workers sent home for the duration – it was not possible to say farewells there either. News of available flights to the different needed home country destinations would come at short notice, and sometimes be cancelled and changed at short notice too. There was no possibility of a group gathering, as by now no more than five people were permitted to meet at the same time, preferably no more than two. We quietly visited each other’s apartments in ones and twos, saying our “Goodbyes” as we could.
Large military field hospital-style tents had been erected in the staff car park across the driveway from our apartment.
I have been thinking… what have I learned, what am I still learning, as a result of my time in Galilee? There’s a lot more processing on that still to come – maybe feedback and questions from some of you will be a formative part of that…