Monday, February 11, 2013

Two weeks down; two months to go

And so, a report on these past 17 days, in which I'm not in Israel for the first time but I am in Israel in a new way, in a living here kind of way and not just a visiting kind of way:

Today was a good day.

And how is that a report on 17 days?  The answer is that every day is different, and that even though I'm not really living here, I'm getting to experience many of the highs and lows of that experience, like trying to get normal easy things done in a place that is not, for me, normal or easy and in a language that is not, for me, normal or easy.

The first two weeks were quite vacationy, in a way:  a wonderful friend lives in a suburb of Tel Aviv, Ra'anana, in a big lovely airy apartment with all the modern conveniences, American style, and a big new car.  And said friend happened to be in the States for 13 of those first 14 days and was kind enough to lend me said apartment and said car.  I wasn't working, I had other friends in town from the States, and I basically went dancing every single night.  No hotel breakfast buffet, but otherwise not so different from past holiday trips here.  But occasionally, I had to do some small life thing, like FILL UP THE CAR WITH GAS.  Or BUY APPLES AT THE GROCERY STORE.  Or even, TAKE OUT THE TRASH.

At home, these are teeny tiny things.  In a new country, they're not, simply because things can be different in unexpected ways.  You put your credit card into the pump at home and they may ask for your zip code, which you enter without thinking.  Here, they ask for your State ID number.  Um, I don't have one of those.  You walk into the produce section of the grocery store and take one of those thin plastic bags for loose items that cost per their weight, and then you realize that the apples are loose but in small boxes... does this mean you have to buy the box and can't choose whichever and however many apples you want?

Now, these are really small things and easily learned, especially if you follow the advice of an Israeli friend of mine who told me this Golden Rule about what to do when I'm not sure I can do what I want to do:
It's Israel, so you do it.  If you get in trouble, you don't do it again.
(Except for parking, he added.  Don't fuck with that.)

Now, I know I'm already better off than another foreigner might be, being already used to things like the currency, the different electrical plug, the traffic lights turning yellow to indicate that green is next, NOT that red is next (oy).  But still, the little pitfalls can really get you.  It takes me an hour to buy things at the grocery store because I want to know how many calories in a thing:  here it doesn't say "per serving" and then right above that say how many servings are in the thing.  Here it says how many calories are in 100 of some unit, like grams maybe, and then you have to search all over to find out how many grams are in the thing - could be more than 100, could be fewer - and then do the math.

And really, I don't speak the language.  I read slowly, I speak slowly, and I understand slowly, when I understand at all.  And this is incredibly frustrating.

And the friend from Ra'anana is home so I've moved to what I thought was a studio apartment in Neve Tzedek but is actually a lot more like a small room in Neve Tzedek, and I don't have a car, and I'm working now, and things are suddenly a lot less honeymoony than they were a few days ago.

But then one day, maybe it's today, I take the bus to work and it's the right bus and I get there on time, and then I take students to an activity in another part of the city and that's also the right bus, and then I walk home from the activity without checking Google maps incessantly, and then I put together my new shelving unit from Ikea (ee-kay-ah) which allows me to finally unpack, and then I spend the evening with a new friend whose birthday it is at midnight.

Today was a good day.

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