Monday, September 19, 2005
Israel calling
The most amazing thing happened here in Tzfat yesterday morning…. it rained. This is a first for me, since I have never been witness to rain in Israel before so it was a pretty special start to the day. Many celebrated by slipping on the smooth stone roads and stairs in this crazy ancient city.

I know I haven’t written much lately and that’s largely do to the fact that I have had little to say as I have not been attending much of the activities going on here. I sleep, cough, choke, spit and sleep some more. I attempt to join a class or outing here and there, but overall I’m still not feeling too well so I have been keeping it low key. And of course I am still privately mourning the loss of my cat Abby, which some have been very understanding about while others don’t understand what the big deal is. Hey, it’s a big deal that I’ll never get to hear her purr or snuggle in her soft fur ever again, ok? She’s been my companion for over half my lifetime… that’s a long time.

Anyway, I’ll start here by inserting the original birthday post I wrote last Tuesday, shortly before my world crumbled, and then I will bring you up to speed on where I’ve been since (aside from bed and the doctor, which was an amusing outing in of itself).

Tuesday September 13, 2005

Well, I am happy to report that I had a very wonderful birthday here in the Holy Land. The morning started off a little rough as I was incredibly stiff and sore from the huge hike yesterday, but my birthday improved as the day went on.

After breakfast I was to join the group and participate in the community service (in this case, helping to renovate the Livnot’s Tzfat campus) but I felt I was just not up to the work that needed to be done in the tunnels below. Lifting rocks and getting filthy in a dark tunnel was not how I wanted to spend my birthday especially when I wasn’t feeling up to snuff and it was beautiful and sunny outside. I opted instead to work with the kitchen volunteers and I helped make my birthday lunch. When asked what I wanted for the meal I requested one of my favourites… mashed potatoes. Little did I know that I would be the one peeling them! Hahaha.. Nevertheless I had a fantastic lunch complete with my favourites (potatoes, pita and the Israeli version of Nutella) and even got a cake with candles. On top of that my roommates each got me a present (one gave me a Napoleon Dynamite t-shirt, the other a box of my favourite Israeli cereal “Oogi”) and I got a very nice necklace from one of the sweetest guys in the program, Kenny. Everyone else was great too, all pitching in to make food, a birthday hat and sing Happy Birthday. When asked at the end of dinner how it was reflecting on the past year I said that if you had told me a year ago on my last birthday that next year’s birthday would be celebrated in Israel, I would never have believed you. How lucky am I?

After dining on the best lunch meal here to date we had a nap (a favourite pastime here) and then we had a 4 hour class discussing Jewish history and current events in Israel. What a great class!! We got very involved and had a great debate and conversation. Exactly what I love. After that a few of us did some yoga on the roof while the sun was setting… so amazingly beautiful and so nice to stretch out my sore muscles. Then we had dinner and here I am post-supper, writing a post. All in all, it’s been a great birthday. I think I might end it by calling my grandma back home (my mom and dad are vacationing in Italy right now).

Right after I wrote that post I went to find a way of getting online in order to post it only to be dragged out to another group outing late that evening. I never got to post it, and I never got to speak to any of my family and friends. While I appreciated that the whole group had written and sang a song for me for my birthday (“Pita”, sung to the tune of Michael Jackson’s “Beat It”. Very funny stuff!) I was extremely upset that I hadn’t been able to hear a familiar voice or retrieve my birthday emails ON my birthday. It made me feel a million miles from home despite my group’s effort to make me feel at home.

The next day was of course when everything went wrong. I was sick so I stayed on campus while everyone else went hiking. I took the opportunity to finally get my birthday emails but never read them because I saw my brother’s email first telling me the bad news of our cat. After reading that, my birthday seemed silly and trivial and I skipped the rest of the emails and left the computer room crying. In an effort to clear my head I went on a long walk around Tzfat and spent some time alone with my thoughts and memories and sorrow.

The day after that, Sept 15th, I decided I would try and join the group again as they headed out to do community service. The activity for the day was helping paint and clear up the walls at the local Ethiopian Immigration Absorption Centre. I wanted to see where the Ethiopians came to when they immigrated to Israel and to learn about the process as they are absorbed into Israeli society (they often stay in the centre for 1.5 years before going off on their own!). It was a nice low activity as we all repainted some walls in the hall that were in need of a new coat. A young Ethiopian by the name of Yaacov (almost 13 years old) was very interested in our group and it’s activities and hung around with us while we worked. He dabbled in the paint and helped with the cleanup effort and so on. When we took a break outside he and (what I can only assume was) his brother followed us out and sat with us. Language barrier did not deter him from sitting with one of our group members to watch as he played his guitar. He was absolutely fascinated by the guitar until our friend finally handed it to him to try. It was just amazing to watch this boy connect with us despite age, race or language. It was a great outing, for sure. I have enjoyed the community work here in Israel.

Later that day I recall having my first Hebrew class but I was so sick that I couldn’t really hear what was going on. Everytime I blew my nose my ears would plug up and cause me great pain. That night I went to the doctor and got some meds to relieve the pressure. The Hebrew class was a bit on the horrifying side as I was slotted to be put in the ‘advanced’ class after doing the hardest little test I’ve ever seen in Hebrew, which was meant to sort us into only two levels. Far too easy for me, or far too hard for me. So of course I got put in the far too hard for me course in which the teacher did not speak a word of English (not that I could have heard her anyway) and I was lost most of the time. Here’s hoping it’s better this week or I’m sliding down to the easy class.

Friday (Sept 16th) was spent preparing for shabat (ie: cooking and cleaning). Still sick as a dog I did not do much in that department either. That night, during the big shabat dinner I had attempted to join in but didn’t last long; I ate only the soup and then left to go back to sleep. The next day Yom Shabat (Saturday, yesterday, whichever) I got up and tried my best to pull myself together in order to head out with my partners to the host families that we are sent to for shabat lunch. Due to my illness I was reassigned to a family that lives practically on campus (as opposed to a 30 min walk to another family in the city). The family was of course one of the founders (or is he THE founder?) of Livnot whom I had met before so it was a very lovely shabat. Despite an enormous coughing attack in the middle it was a wonderful lunch, though again the fine meal was wasted on me as I only ate a few beans and a mini potato. It comes as no surprise then that I did not participate in the closing of shabat last night (havdala) or the meal that went along with that. I had decided last night that I would go back to the doctor today.

Which brings us up to yesterday’s events! As I said before, the day started with a little rain which is always welcome here. After breakfast we had a flag ceremony of sorts. Without getting into sordid details or pointing fingers and making accusations, let me just say that someone in the neighbourhood has been expressing his/her/their unhappiness with our presence by attacking the Israeli flag we have hanging on our building. The first time they simply tore the flag. The day after that (when we replaced the flag) they snapped the flagpole right off (so we couldn’t hang another, I suppose). This caused a wide range of emotions within our group, from fear to anger to disbelief. Many theories were developed about who and why it was done, but I still feel it was because certain orthodox religious groups don’t much appreciate girls in shorts (and tank tops) in their hood. While we have made the effort to be as modest as we can when walking out in public, but there are times when we are coming to and from hikes and there’s just no way we’re going to wear pants or skirts between the bus and the campus door, I’m sorry. We’ve had some Orthodox man scowl at us, making spitting motions and mumbled under their breath in protest. So was it them that attacked our flag? We can’t know for sure but we decided we weren’t going to let them win. Shortly after 8am two of the guys from the group stood atop the roof and hung the biggest flag yet from the top (try and reach THAT, you meanies!) while the rest of us stood below and sang Israel’s national anthem and cheered. It was a great morning.

The activity of choice following that was a tour through Tzfat (yes we’ve been here a week without a real tour. What does that tell you about how packed our schedule is? Oy, don’t even get me started). The tour was really great as we visited the artist colony and a few of the old local synagogues. We met some amazing artists and learned of the stories on how they came to be here and how they chose their art. It was very nice to be in touch with (friendly) locals. I of course had to bow out the tour for a few minutes as I had a coughing attack that was severely unpleasant, and hours later I would have several more. Hmmm… maybe I should have gone to the doctor instead of taking the tour?

Last night I went to the most amazing music show here in Tzfat. It was a music group composed of 3 men who played a fantastic assortment of instruments and Middle Eastern music. The setting was wonderful as the room had been transformed to look like a tent inside, complete with the ceiling draped in cloth and low tables and chairs to sit at (with lanterns and candles for lighting). I was mesmerized by the hypnotic rhythm of the drums and the bittersweet tunes playing…. truly I loved every minute of it. And near the end we were invited to play along as hand drums were handed out to us and we created a thundering beat as we all played together. Wow, wow, wow! A fabulous night.

Anyhoo, I went to the doctor this morning and picked up some cough syrup and antibiotics. All going well I *might* go to Eilat this weekend, but that's not confirmed yet. Because I have been sick I have stayed behind on yet another hike today which is starting to get VERY frustrating. This weekend we will have a free weekend and then next week we have a big three day hike! We will be hiking from Tzfat to the Mediterranean Sea!!

Before I go, a few random points/observations:

- I hate, and I mean HATE, the shower we have in our room. The shower head is in the middle of the ceiling leaving you nowhere to really go to get away from it. This means that when you try and soap up you are getting rinsed at the same time. Plus there are a few rogue jets of spray that get worse if you try and point the head in any other direction other than straight down. The cherry on top would be the shower curtain that practically molests me the entire time I’m showering. I really hate it when the shower curtain touches me let alone glues itself to me.

- I’m not sure what the deal is here in Israel but they seemed to have dispensed with any need for light fixtures. More often than not you will find a lightbulb screwed right into the socket with nothing over it to soften the harsh light. Very odd and not very esthetically pleasing.

- I managed to slice my thumb open with a plastic knife during a hike when cutting up a yellow pepper for the group’s lunch. Perhaps the airlines need to consider giving us NO utensils because now if anyone were to threaten ME with a plastic knife I would do whatever they want.

- I have seen several lizards, some small some quite big, ALL too fast for me to catch. I did however, manage to get a picture of one as it ran out from under a rock to drink the water on the rocks that we had been dripping all over after climbing out of the river we were swimming in. I also got a good pic of a frog sitting on a rock.

- I grew up in a country with mosquitoes the size of bats, horseflies with a bite worse than a dog, and blackflies as small as ants which enables them to crawl up your pantleg to bite you real good and in some very special places. However, the mosquitoes in Israel are far more slick (I have seen maybe ONE) and yet I keep finding more and more bites. But most notably I have much more severe reactions to the bites here than the ones back home. Are these Israeli mosquitoes vampires or something!? Also I have developed a strange rash on the inside of my left wrist and it’s been driving me nuts for nearly two weeks. I have no idea what caused it, but I’d very much like it to go away.

- I said it before and I’ll say it again…. I feel like I’m living in bubble here as I have little-to-no exposure to world news. Hell, I only found out today that Britney Spears had a baby boy, and that was only because another girl in our group was told by her mother on the phone! And here I have an issue of People magazine showing Britney’s baby shower. Ucch, I am SO out of touch.

- I am starting to feel really sad that I will be missing my favourite tv shows this fall. Lost, Battlestar Galactica, Desperate Housewives, Survivor, ER, Scrubs, Boston Legal and a bunch of new shows that were coming out. And don’t even get me started on all the movies I’m missing. VERY upsetting. Omigod. Survivor started last night. (* crycry *) Call me a spoiled Westerner if you like, but I can’t help it if there are some tv shows that truly bring me joy!!