Tuesday, 23 December 2014

The End: A fork burial and a birthday

And just like that - it was all over.

The last 5 months of my life - which, if I'm honest, always seemed like it would never come to an end - have been filled with everything and anything, from the wonderful, to the unpredictable, to the downright crazy.

Talking of which, let us continue a hallowed tradition of first discussing the cats.

Last week, I found myself sitting arse-down in the mud outside the kitchen area. I was digging a grave using a fork while my friend looked on, cradling a dead kitten. If that doesn't signal the end of ulpan or encompass the transformation I have undergone, then I don't know what does.

This is a different dead kitten, by the way, to the one I discussed last post- Scruffy (BDE). This week's dead kitten was one of Black and White Mummy's 4, one of the ones I called 'the twins', as they looked so alike. The other twin has since also died.

I'd noticed that she was semi-abandoned and having difficulty breathing on Friday night. Much like Scruffy, she wasn't eating. Unlike Scruffy, the kitten had a support network around her, and was being kept warm by her siblings and Mummy.

The next day however, early in the morning, I counted up Mummy and one kitten, two kittens, three... but couldn't see the other, ill one. I scanned around a bit more and eventually saw it much in the same place we'd left it only 12 hours before.

It couldn't move. Mummy had clearly left it to die, and moved the others away (yet more fascinating cat psychology I've learned), so I grabbed it and took it to my room, trying to keep it warm.

To put a very sad and distressing story short, the little kitten - one of whom I'd helped raised and fed ever since they were born - sat with me for about 20 minutes, before dying in my arms.

Her little nose went white; her eyes, glassy. So along came Sarah and we set to finding a way to give the kitten a good burial.

I had to keep double checking with her that the kitten was in fact dead. Despite seeing it happen literally infront of me, I found it very hard to believe it.

The only thing we could find (despite searching far and wide) to dig with was an abandoned fork. So Sarah sat cradling the dead kitten, while I channelled my inner dog and started going hell-for-leather with the fork.

After a while, I'd managed to create a large enough hole to safely cover the dead kitten and be sure that noone would step on her. We put the earth back over her, almost like we were tucking her in to sleep. I covered up her face last. I still couldn't quite believe the sequence of events, all in the space of an hour.


But, onto less scarring things - finally, after all of the crap that rained down (it feels like years ago now, but I think it was only a month ago. Once again, the Ulpan time-space paradox), I finally have some exciting news to report -

It's all looking UP!

 I have found a job. But, not only a job - the perfect job! - in online content writing.

It's in a perfect location, right by a Cofix and some bars etc, in the heart of Ramat Gan, and I'd be writing THE. WHOLE. DAY. It's also in a really cool company and my boss seems amazing.

I've also managed to find an apartment, located in central TLV, in walking distance of pretty much everything. So I'm a fairly happy bunny.

I'm also heading back to London for a week, to visit my family and 'celebrate' Christmas (read: eat chocolate, watch TV and get my haircut/go sales shopping).

I'm excited to be going, also because it's the first time I've ever left Israel, being absolutely certain of the exact timing of my next trip. Previously, I'd be quietly distraught and scheming internally at ways in which I could stay in Israel for just a little while longer.

This time, I know that London is there and waiting for me and that I'll be visiting again in a few months. I don't have to worry that I will never make it back to Israel, because it is now where I call home - for real.

I'm leaving on a high, having finally got all my shit together, and - despite some rather horrible bronchitis/laryngitis and self-imposed sleep deprivation - I feel great - happy, relaxed and excited for what will be and is to come.

Otherwise, the ulpan has vacated, and ironically I'm literally the last person to leave.

The place is quite nice but a bit eerie without the hustle and bustle of everyone and everything. The cats are free to roam the hallways, uninterrupted by people. It's pretty great, actually.

It does come over a bit like 'The Shining' at points though. The other day I got so bored (and hungry - I 'd forgotten the ulpan stops providing us food now), that I went exploring. I climbed up all 3 buildings and tried to get on to the roofs. While all doors were locked, using my cat-like abilities, I managed to climb up and squeeze through the window to gain access.

I can't believe I left it until the last few days I was in ulpan to do this. The view was absolutely breathtaking - I could see the West Bank!! -
Armon Hanatziv - West Bank to the left; East Jerusalem to the right
Later, I went back to the roof at night. The sky was clear, the stars were shining (I didn't realise how polluted the sky is in London - sometimes there I could barely see the stars) and so I started, what Grandpa would call, 'aving a fink'.

I've had a great time in Jerusalem lately. Despite what happened, despite the random terror attacks, Jerusalem has actually rather grown on me.

For me, it used to be a place of only bad memories, tension and general lack of opportunity. It was where I was biding my time until I left.

But, then several things happened - I met some fantastic people, namely my colleagues at Masa; some of the girls from my ulpan (they made my birthday one of the nicest, calmest and best I've ever had), as well as some other factors.

But Tel Aviv is where I've set to lay my hat...well, as soon as all my things are in one place - as I've had to stay in Jerusalem to finish my job at Masa (which actually I don't really mind so much), I've had to stay at the ulpan until I leave for London. When I return, it'll be to Tel Aviv. I therefore need to keep my bags all in one place, and move them before I leave for London.

Once again, David HaRomani has helped me out. He kindly offered to pick me up form the ulpan in his car and schlep my cases from ulpan to Oranit, just outside Tel Aviv, leave them there for a week and let me collect them when I return to move them to Tel Aviv. It's a massive help - I needed them to be near Tel Aviv! - and puts a lot of worry to rest in my mind.

In the meantime, just like I said, it's all coming up Milhouse,....or Fliss. The 11th hour is better than the 12th. I knew I'd get there eventually!      

All that is left to say is Merry Flissmas to you all... and a Happy Jew Year :)

Sunday, 9 November 2014

The Great Apartment Hunt

'Great' as in 'large', not 'great' as in 'good'.

Since I arrived in Israel, 4 months ago in a few days, I have dealt with overwhelming amounts of bureaucracy, and found getting pretty much even the most simple things done a borderline migraine-inducing test of strength and will. Oh, you want to open a bank account? Sit here for two hours, and don't even think you're going to get your bank card until you've been here 7 times over 8 weeks. You want to earn some money and make a living? Well, do you speak Hebrew? Ha! If it's a no, then it's a no. Come back when (and if) you do. You want to convert your driving license? No, I'm sorry. I'm going to give it to some randos in Talpiot, and you'll have to go to a tribunal in a month's time where they'll decide whether you're allowed to drive or not. The racists.

All that is manageable, and bearable, because I'm where I want to be, and I've managed to get through it all fairly unshaken. This is mainly as I know I've got a certain amount of time during ulpan to 'land softly' and get through most of it, surrounded comfortably by my safety net.

But soon, this is all going to change. In just over a month's time I will be out on my ear, having finished ulpan finally. Sounds great, but in reality, the flat-hunting is maddening, draining and saddening by turns.

Here's my formula while conducting the search: location, divided by cost, divided by access, divided by space. I'm looking for something near the centre of the city or in a nice, well-to-do place, up to 4000 schmekels a month. I don't want a million rooms (for some reason, in Israel property isn't advertised like in England as '1 bed, 2 bed etc, but 1 room - studio - two rooms, etc) but I don't want to squish up all in someone else's face either. 2 rooms minimum would be fine with me, and easy to keep clean.

I'm also beginning to realise that my flat in London is massive. Some of the places I've visited (I've been to 4 so far) have been about a third of the size of my flat - 30 sqm, whatever that is. some have been fantastically located, a great apartment, one even came with a little kitten (which I'm going to try and foster even if I don't live there) but is a lease for only 5 months. one I saw today is fantastic, newly renovated and in a lovely quiet neighbourhood, but is a bit far away from the centre. Another I saw was in the best location possible, looked great from the outside but then had this weird bunk bed/loft thing, and a shower hanging over a toilet. That's a step too far even for me, I'm afraid.

And - even if you manage to find he magical apartment that is everything you ever wanted in a place and location etc etc, you better be quick - here, the best apartments re advertised 'mi pei le ozen' - literally 'from mouth to ear', but colloquially 'by word of mouth'. People tend to avoid using agents, as they charge a full month's rent as their service fee, plus a security deposit of one month's rent, plus your normal rent. As a result, when a 'good' apartment is advertised, around 50 people show up to view it. And, if you're stupid enough to look in 'advance', as I am, with 4 weeks to go, you're going to have to pay to get it. If I want to move in in mid-December, I'd need to pay for the rest of this month too to secure the place for myself.

Anyhoo. Stress-rant over.

Two of the best things to happen today - my sudden nosebleed after my third apartment viewing earlier, which happened out of nowhere and had people scrambling to help me, rather embarrassingly, and my driving lesson earlier.

My driving instructor - fluent in English, yet throwing in some Hebrew here and there just to keep me on my toes -  turns out to be my bank mate's dad, is absolutely charming, and has a lot of belief in me. I kept telling him that it felt wrong to be on the other side of the road, but he didn't seem to care, and off I drove for a full hour, in an automatic. next time I'll have a go on the manual, which is the one I want to take my test on.

Impressively (I think!) I managed to stay on the right side of the road, and noone got hurt. My instructor said that if I'd wanted to take the test on an automatic, he would have given me the test right there and then. Score!

As I said just a few weeks into my ulpan sojourn, 'hakol yihyeh beseder' - it's all going to come up Milhouse, just as everything else has.

Like most other things in Israel, it will take zman, savlanut and koach - time, patience and strength - and then it will be ok.

Here's to another week.

Monday, 3 November 2014

The Dismembered Kitten, and other stories

...and so begins another week. It's beginning to feel like I've been here for quite a while now.

Here are my  latest satirical finger-smashes: Israel to host the 2020 winter olympics, 'The Expendables 4' to be filmed in Gaza' and how a yogurt caused mass Israeli emigration to Germany. You should also check out theisraelidaily.com. It's totes worth the click. And the signing up. And more. Sod it, just read it every day!

But to the main point of this post. As I may have made mention of before, Israel has a lot of street cats. Ulpan, a microcosm of this compact but strangely vast land, has shitloads.

According to the JPost, it's (once again, as per my last post) the fault of the British:
'Cats were not prominent in Israel’s streets until the 1930s, when they were brought in to help eradicate a rat problem, but this decision ultimately caused a “cat infestation” in and of itself. No one knows exactly how many of the street cats live in Israel now, but estimates say about 2 million, according to Meow Mission.'

Obviously, cat are way preferable to rats. Much, much more so. The cats, providing they're not wholly diseased looking, are both a depressing and cute infestation to have. Add to this that quite a few of them seek affection (sometimes even post-eating), they really tug at the ole heartstrings - even my blackened, shriveled ones. Especially since I'm still feeling guilt about giving up Corny.

Since being here, I and some other ulpaners have unofficially (sometimes officially) adopted some of the cats in and around, mainly because of the boredom around here, anything to do with the various groups of cats - the ones who live in the back, in the garden; in the playground; by the entrance etc - causes excitement. There were three pregnant cats, all of whom gave birth about a month ago. All have interesting stories.

Mummy 1 - blind in one eye, black and white - the story goes, snuck into the building one day when we were all in class, and found an open suitcase outside in the corridor. She gave birth in it, to somewhere between 5 and 10 kittens (accounts vary). The suitcase's owner then returned, freaked out at its most recent usage and slung it outside, either with or without the kittens inside (again, accounts vary).

Someone then discovered to where the mother cat had fled - a tiny crack in a hidden away stone up a derelict and disused staircase, and put the suitcase near to the crack. People then started putting food and water into the suitcase, and the mother has kept her babies in the crack ever since.

Mummy 3 - a very friendly cat, one day we realised she was pregnant. Another day, I noticed she'd suddenly slimmed own and was defending a small corner of the courtyard - it turned out she'd given birth to two babies overnight - a little ginger one and a grey one. They are absolutely tiny and sleep together all snuggled. She has since moved the babies - to below my window, which is nice. I hear them mewing in the morning, and then mummy sometimes comes to the window to say hi.

Mummy 2 has had a very difficult time of it lately.

She initially gave birth to 3 kittens - two ginger ones and another, which looked just like her, with loads of different colours.

From the start, she had a hard time. Just a day after giving birth, people swarmed to look at the babies (like I said we're bored and they were really cute). For some reason, all 3 of the kittens have strange eye problems, where one of their eyes won't open fully, and developed crusts, later turning into almost a mask of gunk shrouding over half of their little faces.

To put a long and very sad story short, one of the ginger kittens died, of natural causes. It must be tough being a street cat-kitten. being around a lot of activity and not being able to see out of one side of your face. the kitten was very undernourished (cats are fascinating - the mother may have sensed that this one was weak and refused to feed it).

After it died, the mummy sat with it for a few hours. Then later, I went to check on it and possibly remove the body (in a public place, it would start to smell and rot quickly), but instead saw, horror of horrors -

The mother had decapitated it, and dismembered it limb from limb, not one foot away from her remaining kittens' shelter. A day later, only 4 little paws and half a skull were remaining.

Apparently, feral cats do this for several reasons - to fend off pray from attacking the rest of the family, or as a strange mourning ritual. Either way, it was pretty horrifying to see.

Another horrifying, sad incident involving Mummy 2 happened just this week. The other ginger kitten (who probably wouldn't have been much longer for this world anyway) mysteriously vanished.

According to the kitchen staff, she was last seen bleeding and being thrown on the floor (the Hebrew 'לזרוק', to throw, is different to 'לפול' to drop - one is active, one is passive) by a member of the ulpan. We hadn't found a body, or any trace of this - it could all be heresay, but disturbing heresay nonetheless.

Hot on the heels of that, someone decided to spread the rumour that the body of a cat had been found 'blugeund' ('bludgeoned') in the playground. We were horrified, with people out searchlight til 3am for the body of this cat. It later transpired to be one hell of a shit-stirring sick joke.

And that's ulpan for you.

It will end in 1 and a half months, and I'm crapping myself a little bit about finding permanent work - I have a few things up in the air currently - and a place to live. Do I stick around in Jerusalem (for a bit)? Do I up and move to Tel Aviv? What's my budget? We're all finding it a bit stressful at the minute.

But, onwards and upwards. With all of the chagim out of the way, it's much easier to crack on and plough through.

Thursday, 2 October 2014

How time flies...unless it's 3 days of Chagim

...And suddenly, it became October.

I'm not sure how this has happened. It seems like only yesterday I was living my humdrum little life back in Britain. Fast forward to now and the spirit of change is in the air.

I like to think that I'm staying on top of things, news-wise, with my musings for The Israeli Daily - here's my thoughts on Scottish Independence and Lady Gaga's love of Israel. Check 'em before you wreck 'em.

Strangely, the whole Hebrew thing seems to have clicked. Although it takes slightly longer to form a whole sentence - without mistakes, hesitations etc - than it would in English) as I need to think about what I'm saying more, not necessarily a bad thing), my conversational skills and vocabulary are definitely improving. I'm even beginning to understand some of the logic behind the (intensely complex but deep and beautiful) language!

Although sometimes, my accent leads people to assume that I don't know Hebrew, or that I'm American. Both presumptions offend me.

The other day in the shuk, upon stocking up for the 3 day festival bonanza, of which I shall shortly discuss, I was buying fruit. The bloke behind the till, hearing my accent, began to address me in English. In competent - if imperfect, but I can live with this realisation - Hebrew, I let loose: that I needed to practise my Hebrew; that as a new immigrant here, he shouldn't assume that I couldn't or wouldn't speak Hebrew, that I wasn't stupid and he should be happy that I was at least trying to communicate. The bloke apologised, and I asked him how much my purchases would cost.

Just as I did so, by sod's law, there were a chorus of loud noises - someone shouting next to me; a van driving past - and I didn't hear what he said.  I asked him to repeat.

Cue the other chap, next to the first. After my whole, glorious sphiel about proud new immigrants etc, he turned to me and said, in heavily accented English: 'It nine shekel!'

What a time to make a point! I turned, and with my strongest English-accented Hebrew, retorting and enunciating every distinct word: 'I. Understood. I. Didn't. Hear. Because. Of. The. Noise!'

But que sera, sera. I'm now over halfway through my ulpan program - we had our מבחן אמצה - midway test - this week, and I think I did ok. I have noticed my test scores, spoken and written Hebrew have definitely improved since I've been practicing, attending class more and doing my homework every night. I'm willing to begrudgingly admit these are direct correlations.

And so it came to pass that Rosh Hashana - the Jewish New Year - this year ended up being a 3 day festival, incorporating Shabbat too. It's a time where people go to their family or friends and celebrate with them.

Having precious little of either in this country (most of my ulpan mates had gone to their families, alas), I stayed in ulpan for the 3 days. It did feel a bit weird initially - as usually I'm with my family over the holidays, apart from last year as I was looking after Corny, who wasn't very well, but that passed.

It was actually quite nice - some of my friends from ulpan were also staying there, being in the same boat as I am! - and we tried to make it as special as possible. The ulpan's kitchen tried to make everything that much more special, either because it was a festival or they pitied us poor sods with nowhere to go, but I appreciated it all the same. The food was good, the company was good and I had a really nice time!

And then, on Shabbat, just as a few more people returned to ulpan, we were fed yet another delicacy - beef. Now, I've been a little bit suspect of places which feed people en masse, other than restaurants, for some time. It's a tendency with these places, when people aren't paying directly for their food, to feed as many people as possible, as quickly and cheaply and possible. The unfortunate timing of the 3 day chag/Shabbat combo also meant that he food for Shabbat had to be cooked before the chag began.

Hence the slightly suspect timing of the beef's appearance on the Friday night. nevertheless, with not a care in the world, we ate, drank and were merry.

And then, the next day, we weren't. It soon transpired that the beef had been cooked, cooled and reheated a few days prior (aha!), and to cut a rather unpleasant story, we all got the runs. While painful, revolting and unfortunate, it was also one of the strangest bonding experiences I've yet had in ulpan. Yelling at some other pale, weak-looking soul across the courtyard, 'how many times have you had the shits today?' really goes to show just how close some of us have become.

And so. Not much else to report - this weekend will be the first time in 33 years that Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, and Eid al Addha, the Feast of the Sacrifice, will coincide. It's due to get heavy, and security has been beefed up across Jerusalem, so that should be fun. But that's probably just how stuff is, when you've got two sets of people (who already have 'issues' with one another), with one set praying, crying and fasting, and the other set feasting, celebrating and making a lot of noise.

Ironically, Eid was always my favoruite time of year when I was a teacher, as none of my pupils would be in, and I'd manage to plough through my work, free of distractions, for one blissful day.

Wishing all a גמרכתיבה וחתימה טובה וצום קל ושבת שלום! - 'may you be written and sealed in the book of life, have an easy fast and shabbat shalom'.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

'The British'

I have now been in Israel for two months, as of yesterday.

I really don't know where the time has gone - between waiting out the war and settling into ulpan, it seemed to have just slipped away.

Lately I've kept myself busy writing satirical news reports at theisraelidaily.com (because the only way to deal with the ever-present situation is to laugh at it, really): I've written about Kate Middleton's pregnancy; The West Bank starting their own bank; Evangelical Christians becoming radicalised by IS. A little bit close to the cuff, perhaps, but why ever not?

Anyhoo. Not much has been happening, as I've been a working lady. My job finishes at 9pm, so my social life has been pretty non-existent, as I'm usually exhausted and starving afterwards.

But, ladies and gentlemen. The real reason for which I write is to tell you of a particular, varied experience I had one day this week.

On Wednesday last, the ulpan took us on tiyul - a trip - to the north. The north of Israel is a very interesting place - beautiful scenery, very hot heat, as opposed to the humidity down south and in Tel Aviv, and an all-together different sort of vibe to the rest of Israel.

The last time I went up north on a tiyul, I ended up on a drip, having dry-retched for 3 hours after a 6 hour hike, although out of iron deficiency, not dehydration. It was perhaps one of the worst days of my life. So I was quite excited that we'd be going back north-wards, as last time that whole business had overshadowed my previous visit somewhat.

The day began at 6am. Yes, 6am in the morning. Us ulpaners seem to have some issues when getting up for 8.30am class just downstairs (I look back on all of those 6am wakeups in London and wonder how I did it/how I became so lazy), and this was no exception. What should have been a 6.15am leaving time became a 6.45am one instead - Israeli time.

But, no matter. Off we went to Ganei haNadiv - the Gardens of the Benefactor. It is next to the lovely, picturesque (and eyeballs-bleedingly expensive) town of Zichron Yaakov. We visited the gardens, which is actually a collection of different gardens , which our tour guide (called Ben Hur - am I the only one who finds that funny?!) told us included a traditional European rose garden; a garden with all fauna and flora from each different world continent and a sensual garden especially for blind people. Amazing, innit? there's also a wildlife park surrounding, which is home to many wild animals, and is more like a nature reserve. I have to go back and explore it all properly one day.

We were knackered and starving, and so we were fed (a very interesting Israeli 'continental' breakfast, of two rolls, some cheese, cream cheese, a pot of tuna, a pot of salad, butter and jam. I loved it!) and then taken off to our next location: Mount Carmel, just before Haifa.

Last time I saw the Carmel was on that disastrous trip up north, a month or two before I returned to England for a Very Long Time. Aside from that, I have many fond memories of Carmel - I stayed for a time in a youth village up there called Yemin Orde, where - coincidentally enough - my old school used to take the Year 9s on a trip. Just after I left Israel that last time, there was a massive forest fire, which destroyed a lot of the forest, scars which are still visible today from most angles. It also burned down Yemin Orde (which I believe was relocated somewhere else) and an artists' village just below it.

And off we went for what had been described as a 'stroll'. Maybe I hadn't been listening, but everyone seemed to be wearing proper walking shoes. I had on my favourite sandals, which, while comfortable, are unsuitable for a 'stroll'. I was also wearing - for some stupid reason - a little dress.

Readers, never EVER trust an Israeli 'stroll'. We were schlepping up and down vertical rocks (everyone must have seen my knickers when I was climbing) and going over sand and cliff edges - it was quite unlike any stroll I'd ever been on - way more exciting, for a start. It was absolutely amazing. And the views! Totally worth it. It was also lovely just to be in the fresh air, as opposed to cooped up in an alternatingly freezing cold/sweltering classroom.

After a pit-stop to view the memorial for those killed in the forest fire(the explanation of which I listened to in the French group, because I couldn't find Ben Hur), we went to our last destination of the day - the Atlit Detention Camp.

It's a name that I've seen so many times in books I've read, and never really taken in. I didn't really put two and two together until I realised that we were walking into something that looked like a DP camp; we were near Haifa and it was fairly modern looking - not from the 'ancient' side of Israeli history, but from the 'other' more recent bit.

Now, non-Brits reading - I want to tell you that people of my generation - unless they've studied History in university - don't know much, if anything, about the British Empire. Even if you'd attended Jewish schools your whole life, as I have, you learn absolutely nothing about the British Occupation and the British Mandate, pre-State of Israel. Except for those times when your dad holds up a map and exclaims, 'all this used to be pink!', which, I confess, used to leave me confused, and wondering if half the world used to maybe be gay.

The long and the short of it is, the British were very, very bad in the region. That part of history is pretty much why everything is so f*cked in Israel and the Territories today. It's a tragedy partly of (unclear) promises made and then broken; anti-Semitism; people-pleasing, downright lies and some other random shit.

It always makes me a little bit uncomfortable.  Everywhere I go, there seems to be a plaque commemorating a tragedy where 'the British' did something inexcusable. Not to say that the Jews didn't - the Lehi and the Irgun certainly attest to this! - but kidnapping randoms and torturing them just isn't cricket.

 In Atlit, we heard about the ways in which the Jews - the majority of which had just survived the Holocaust - were gender-separated, bundled up into barracks and sometimes deported back to Europe. Not like a concentration camp, but not exactly welcoming  treatment either. We also heard about how Britain harshly restricted immigration to Jews; other countries refused to accept Jews and how the fledgling state were begging for the Jews to 'come home', yet the British refused, so as not to create a Jewish majority. So then the Jews began commandeering boats to get to Haifa, which the British then intimidated and refused to allow in to port, or would allow them to dock and then deport/detain those inside.

And - and - and. It always seems to be a story with so much more to say - they never mention the ramifications on British Jewry. According to Grandpa (who is my source of information on all things WW2/post related), those young enough to do so left to Haifa to fight/help etc (such as the late Vidal Sassoon), or stayed behind as wave upon wave of anti-Semitism hit the community in Blighty.

But I digress. It's always interesting to learn a bit more about one's history - both the Jewish/Israeli side, and the British side. Britain is what bred me and made me, and is an integral part of who I am. I've always felt that I was too Israeli for the Brits, and too British for the Israelis. I fit into this weird middle ground,where I find myself saying exactly what I think of something/someone, and then needing a cup of tea and to demonstrate the art of queueing.

With this new knowledge in mind, off we went back to Jerusalem, another place which the British f*cked over majorly, and continue to do so nowadays, politically and foreign policy-wise.

But maybe I shouldn't be so harsh. After all, I have the strongest British/slightly French (don't even get me started...!) accent when I speak Hebrew. I'm immediately identifiable - I out myself.

To be honest, it's not even an issue here in modern Israel. There are so many British tourists here- all of those I met during the war were non-Jews, actually - that it seems all has been forgotten. It's never something that is made an issue, just a historical, commemorated issue that I keep inadvertently noticing. I suppose it's inevitable, really. And a wee bit surprising.

All in all, an exciting, varied and pensive - if not all-out knackering - day out. Nice one, Etzion.

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Lines and Wines

Or - 'The One Where I Start to Dislike Humanity and Visibly Show It'.

This week has been exciting in ways different to last; you'll be happy to know that this week, I have not suffered any animal bites, and the ones I do have have scarred over nicely (I have two little teeth marks engraved on my knuckles for a good few years yet), and due to the 'open ended ceasefire' dealy, it seems that there will be no further azakot for the time being, unless I venture up north, where there are rocket attacks from Syria and Lebanon.

I've started working 4pm-9pm at the MASA offices, answering calls about Israel programs and other hullaballoo. So far, so good, but I've been here since 12 and had to speak to my fair share of Americans who can't understand a word I'm saying. But, it's a half-Hebrew, half-English speaking environment, and everyone seems lovely, so I'm quite happy. 

Anyhoo. This week has seen hellos and goodbyes once more, aswell as a trip beyond the Green Line. By the way, did you know that the 'Green Line' name comes from the green ink used to draw the line on the map during talks? As in, it's nothing more symbolic than that, as some have suggested? This country never ceases to amaze me.

So. Last week, my Ulpan class said goodbye to one of our two teachers (for some reason, we have one teacher 2 days a week an another for the remaining 3. The other teacher goes to teach the class below. As they say in Israel: 'lama?(why)'- 'kacha!(because)'). Amira is a very sweet, docile older religious lady, who was actually really funny - she has a great sense of humour (barring some slightly random racist outbursts by way of demonstrative examples), speaks pretty good English and has the patience of an absolute saint.

It must be bloody difficult teaching adults, and not just that - a cross-section of olim chadashim, all of whom speak vastly different first languages - in my class, mostly Russian and French, but also Spanish, Portuguese and Italian. The class is all taught in Hebrew, but occasionally we slip into our defacto second language of English. Matters are further complicated as some of the class don't speak English. So, when something potentially confusing happens, such as the class doesn't understand some vocabulary, people start shouting across the room, at the teacher etc in every sodding language under the sun. Some voices are impressively (and irritatingly) louder than others, and it becomes difficult to concentrate.

I found teaching Jewish children a nightmare, but we're all adults - (mostly) Jewish adults. Whether or not this means we are amplifications of the worst aspects I saw in my Jewish pupils - assumptions of superiority, general egocentricity and apathy - or not, it definitely does not bode well for the teacher, making her job even more difficult than mine ever was.

What most of us have is motivation (even me, when I don't give up completely). We need to learn this language in order to survive here. And we are learning - even though I'm still a bit shy to speak, in class and in real life contexts, I understand directions, words and more every day.

But I digress. Last week, ladies and gentleman, I learned not only Hebrew, but about human nature. It's a bit like ulpan is a petri dish , and I am presented with many wonderful opportunities to study the life and habits within.

It all began with a trip to beautiful Oranit, courtesy of David HaRomani (who you may recall from a previous post), who put me and 9 other people up for Shabbat. Oranit is kind of near Tel Aviv-Hod HaSharon (indeed I passed my kibbutz on the way there, and it has the sweltering humidity of TLV and surrounding environs). What I didn't know was that it's beyond the 'Green Line', but infront of the separation barrier.

It was interesting lesson in politics too - the 'Green Line' demarcates Israel's pre-1967 borders, separating the West Bank from the rest of Israel. The separation barrier is there to...well, I don't really know any more. Especially when David's brother drove us to it and explained how the Palestinian Arabs behind the fence regularly - and illegally - cross over to Israeli Arab villages to work, as they get better pay and healthcare etc if they work here and not there. I did not know any of this. Like I said - a messed up but fascinating country.

But I digress once more. David had been kind enough to offer us full reign of his house ('Italian style') for the weekend and a fabulous time was mostly had by all. The one (or two) thing(s) detracting from this was the selfishness and unwillingness of those around me.

Now, I'm in no way suggesting this was an issue with everyone. Oh no, no, no. But what I observed was that some people are natural 'givers' in life (such as our gracious host), helping in whatever way they can, giving generously (although sometimes too generously, as it's not reciprocated or appreciated) and contributing to the group in whatever way - be this meal preparation, washing up or otherwise.

Unfortunately, I also saw a lot of 'taking' - people inviting themselves along, without having been asked beforehand, waiting for everyone else, usually the same people, to clear up after them; do their washing up etc. Maybe I've just been well brought up, but I found it disgusting. I had a real Holden Caulfield moment of misanthropy.

Even more so when, at about 2am, I was made to leave my bed (where I was just drifting off to sleep!!!) for another person to use. I ended up sleeping outside on the ground, resulting in not only a bad back, a lack of sleep but also numerous painful and infected-looking mosquito bites running all the way up my legs.But it gets worse. I went back to the room in the morning to retrieve my stuff, which was still in there, noticing an empty bed on the way down, only to find an 'opportunist', to use the polite euphemism (because there are oh so many disgusting and terrible words I could use to reflect my disgust and rage) had joined someone in the room.

I'll let you make of that what you will. Moving on to the other area of latent disgust I've acquired for our dear species, last week was the Jerusalem Wine Festival, a calendar highlight.

The way it works is you pay a certain amount, get a free glass at the entrance and are then free to taste as many (and there are MANY) wines as you like. You're then free to buy the wines you taste, or just to keep drinking more.

The price is kind of worth it, but a little on the pricey side - 85 schmekels, but, had shit not gone down, it would've been totally worth every last drop. Twice.

The night all started well. The ulpan took us on a trip to the Israel Museum during the day - the same place which was hosting the wine festival later. Because we'd been out since the afternoon, not many of us had adequately eaten beforehand. You can see where this is going, can't you?

The Israel Museum is fascinating, if not a little overwhelming - think along the lines of the British Museum, or the New York Metropolitan. I felt a little bit drunk just walking around there, if I'm honest - there was just too much amazing stuff to see.

But, off we all went, 'wine tasting'. It was incredibly fun. That is, until some twattish people could not handle their drink and managed to completely and utterly ruin the evening for everyone involved, including yours truly.

But, that has been dealt with now, and all respective parties have either been, as my darling grandfather would say, 'sawted aaahhht' ('sorted out', which usually means punched) and shouted at. And lessons have therefore been learned by us all.

And so... I feel like things are finally starting to settle for me here. I feel better now that I'm a bit more busy and, most importantly of all, I've discovered that Israel has Dorothy Perkins, my most favourite shop ever in the entire world other than Gap. It's a massive schlep - near Oranit, but one day I shall make a pilgrimage there. This discovery was perfectly timed, as I was ready to buy out almost all of their current collection in my size and have it shipped to the Holy Land.

As I have emerged from the past week feeling so optimistic, I may even make extend this approach towards my ulpan classes, and may even make it to a few of them. Note the conditional tense, and that I mentioned no word about homework.

Have a great week, people.

Monday, 25 August 2014

Alarming, biting stuff!

I apologise pre-emptively for the continuing negativity of my recent blog posts. I'm aware that my initial blog posts pre-aliya were admittedly much more positive and hopeful. However I'm still a FOB, so I'm allowed to be a bit whingey for now.

Today, dear readers (and I really am grateful for your readership, if a little confused as to why you'd want to regularly read the drivel which spills forth from my mind) we will be discussing alarming and biting stuff. Specifically, the siren - an 'azaka', as you may remember from recent posts - which surprised Jerusalem on Tuesday night, and an incident the other day where I was bitten by a dog, under circumstances which could only ever happen to me. 

1. The Azaka-towel incident

Picture it - a standard Tuesday night in Jerusalem. Nothing too exciting going on midweek; I'd been out shopping after ulpan, returned and gone to take a shower. I planned on having an early night, which in ulpan terms means any time before 1am. 

So there I was at half 11, post shower and switching on my laptop when two things happened; a siren began wailing somewhere outside my window, which sounded like those azakot I experienced in Tel Aviv a few weeks ago (You remember? If not - the first was rather scary; the second was quite irritating). 

I was actually quite taken aback - here in Jerusalem, surrounded by some of the holiest sites in the world to the 3 Abrahamic faiths, one doesn't really expect to have rockets shot at them. I mean, can you imagine what would happen if one hit anywhere near the Temple Mount?! All hell would break loose, from several places. It would start an apocalypse. 

But anyway. I was a bit confused about what was going on, to say the least, until my 'Red Alert' phone app also started blaring a second later. Up it flashed with 'Jerusalem', and stuff began to thump into place in my evidently shrinking brain. 

So it was really happening - but why now? So I had to run - now - to the bomb shelter? When I was sporting only a towel and my irritation? Could I struggle into some clothes and make it 3 floors down in only 90 seconds? 

Life is cruel, but I'm not stupid. Since I arrived to the ulpan over a month ago (!), I've kept a dressing gown by the door, 'just in case', much to the amusement of visitors to my room. Yet, in that moment of indecision and potential social embarrassment, it saved my skin quite literally. 

In a split second of the only triumphant thing in this whole sad story, I grabbed the dressing gown and shoved it on over my wet skin, all the while slamming the door shut, running and screaming to the others on my floor, 'AZAKAAAAARUNNNAZAKAAAAA' in a dignified, non-panicky fashion, obviously. 

And off we bolted to the bomb shelter. 200 people,all at once, in various states of dress. 

It was actually a bit scary this time, as it was so unexpected. In Tel Aviv, pre-extended ceasefire, it had become almost commonplace: people would talk about making arrangements before the evening bombardment. This one came completely out of the blue. 

And while we're on the subject of out of the blue/'wtf' style incidents: 

2. Dog bites and bitches

Now. I'll start by telling you the fictional account of what will most likely be the stupidest, most embarrassing injury I'll ever receive (BH):

On Friday, while strolling in Jerusalem's Tachana Merkazit (central bus station), I saw a child encircled by three menacing, slobbering alsatians, ready to pounce and attack. As the child cried and screamed in terror, I leaped towards it, kicking the dogs out of the way, when - unbeknownst to me, so busy was I - one attached itself to my right hand, clamping down as hard as it could. There was blood everywhere, but it didn't matter, for I had saved a child's life. 

Had that, chas v'chalila, actually happened, my injury (and the subsequent pain//lethargy/blood loss etc) would have been explicable and worth it. What actually happened was nowhere near as dramatic, and even makes it into the 'top 5 stupidest things that have ever happened to me, ever' list. 

It all went down while I was waiting to meet someone in the Tachana Merkazit. Having some time until this was due to happen, I had a wee mooch around all the shops I always see but never get a chance to go into, as I'm usually running for a bus. Or food. 

One such shop had interesting weird little gifts and was full of fluffy and shiny things. I think I've always known that my pursuit of shiny things would inevitably lead to some kind of downfall or injury. And so it came to be.

Anyway. As I entered the shop, I noticed there was a little rat-faced dog sitting on the floor by the till, his lead lying next to him, unattached. I registered that this was an interesting sight to see in such a shop, and continued on, touching and playing with all the (other) fluffy and shiny things around the shop. 

Once I had carried this out to my satisfaction, I rounded back towards a stand near the till, to look at some particularly glittery things near the bottom. I reached down to take a closer look, and - out of the corner of my eye - saw a blur of something moving. 

The dog - for g-d knows what reason - had launched himself at me, quite out of nowhere, and attached himself to my hand! Later, I'd see that there were several other grazes along my hand, and scratch marks all the way up my knees - but at that moment, all I registered was the feeling of him sinking his teeth in. 

I did what anyone would do - start running away - but he followed me, trying to get at my knees, my ankles, anything he could reach. I think I even threw a few shiny things at him to stop him, which finally attracted the attention of the owner and shop assistant. 

You'd think they'd be sympathetic - a foreigner being chased around by an apparently bloodthirsty dog - but no. Even though the bites were bleeding pretty badly by that point - down my wrist; onto the floor - the owner's only reaction was to pick up that little gobshite and try to leave! 

Seeing this, I shouted at her - in Hebrew, noch - to come back here right now and look at what her dog had done to me. She was hysterically shouting at me, stuff I didn't even understand as it was too fast, but the gist was that she thought it was all fine; he'd bitten her loads of times before (as if that makes it acceptable) and I shouldn't worry - and then she tried to leave again. I pointed at the rather impressive amounts of blood emitting from the bites (and on the floor) and said I'd have to check that out. And if I had to have it checked, she'd be the one paying for it. 

She started shouting at me again, that he had certificates stating he was clean (again, translating from Hebrew here, I know it sounds a bit sordid in English) and I was being dramatic, that I didn't need to go to the hospital. Then she tried to leave again. 

At this point I got angry. I shouted that, if she left, I was calling the police (despite not actually knowing the police's number in Israel, but still). That stopped her. Despite yet more protestation from her, I made her give me her phone number (she refused; I started dialing 'the police' again) and she started crying, saying that thing she called a pet would be put down if I went to the hospital, that he didn't have rabies (or 'rabbis', as one of my pupils once wrote - 'The squirrel bit her, and she got rabbis', I recall. Either way, both are scary methods of contracting deadly diseases and religious leaders). 

Obviously I don't want the little bastard to be put down - I'm still feeling the loss of Benjy.  On the other hand, I'm in a new country and I was bleeding loads. It was fairly obvious that I would have to get this thing sorted.

So that charming female finally surrendered her number and left. And then, once the battle was over, I realised I had no idea what to do next. In Blighty, I'd go to the A&E, but here, my doctor's surgery closed at 12 (Israeli institutions and services keep weird hours, which bizzarely change day to day and usually end at 12pm) and their 24/7 phoneline was bloody useless, is difficult to hear and had no English speakers (if I have to speak Hebrew, it has to be on a clear phoneline, and when I'm not sobbing, you see). I didn't even know if there were any emergency rooms near, or how I'd find one. So I did what I suppose any bleeding, knackered olah chadasha would do - I burst out crying. And that's when the person I'd been meeting there called. Through the tears, I said: 'dog, bite, blood' and hung up. 

I've had a bit of a crap week. This was merely taking the piss. I stopped myself crying quickly (DAMMIT I AM BRITISH AND WE DO NOT CRY IN PUBLIC) and went off to the pharmacy. I got an antibacterial wipe to clear up the blood, shut my eyes and went blank for a couple of minutes while I considered my next move. 

I thought a bit about Corny, and my friends back home, and my flat, and Pizaza, and my (lovely, very well raised, non-biting) dogs. I also thought, had I contracted Rabbis, my mum would have a shit fit and want me to go back. 

In the midst of all that crazy, I received a phonecall. The person I'd been waiting for came to meet me, taking a cab over as I had sounded 'a bit off' (for that, read 'crazy').

Off we went to the emergency clinic around the corner,and - as I was having my blood pressure taken and some tests done - he went to collect the service fee (a total of 82 schmekels) from that charming female counterpart of her pet. 

I had a tetanus shot, which didn't hurt at the time, but dear g-d! About half an hour later, my whole arm went numb and felt really heavy, and it didn't subside until Monday morning. It was all a massive faff which I would have liked to have done without, and was absolutely knackering to boot. One arm was numb, while the other had pain radiating all the way from my war wound.

It was even more of a faff when, on Monday morning, still feeling exhausted, I had to bunk off class to go and get the once over by my doctor, who said that I wasn't going to die of Rabbis as the bites were healing well. Once I knew I was out of the danger zone, we had a laugh about the whole thing. 

But never mind, it did happen, and there were even some positives to come out of this - I have a cracking story to tell about my in-shop-dog-bite, amongst some other stuff.

As for what I've learned, I'm not entirely sure. What lesson/s can I derive from this experience? Never be...in the same shop as a dog? A little dog?

I don't know. But take heed, people. Avoid dogs with clear symptoms of Small Dog Syndrome.

Here's to a less exciting week. 

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

The Unfamiliar Familiars

This week's blog post is dedicated especially to David HaRomani, a friend and a very special member of my ulpan class.

Apparently, when David is bored in class (as is wont to happen to us all, sometimes), he reads this blog for entertainment. Nice one, mate - this one's (kind of) for you.

In the past week, I've experienced three things which, back in England, were so familiar to me that they were surefire sources of confidence, comfort and positivity. Here in the Middle East, these things, which had previously been ways of making me feel better, or assured, at the very least, have now been turned on their heads and left me a bit befuddled. There are still shreds of recognisable aspects within them, but these familiar things have now become less so - the 'Unfamiliar Familiars', as I've dubbed them.

We begin with a leisurely activity, before moving on to more serious (and troubling) UFs:

1. The Belly-dance balagan

Belly dance, as you must know, is a Middle Eastern art form. Back in England, I was hooked after taking only one lesson. That was 6 years ago. Since then, I've tried to practise as much as possible, mostly as a way to keep fit (it's the only form of exercise, other than walking the dogs, which I enjoy) but also because it's incredibly fun to do and an expressive outlet.

I decided it was time, partly out of boredom, partly out of a desire to start up again, to find a belly dance class in Jerusalem. Facebook led me to a highly recommended teacher who spoke English. We spoke, and she asked me about my dancing experience, and then she asked if I'd like to try out for a show she is putting on in September. I said I'd try my best, thinking it would just be nice to get back into a dance studio, at the very least, and off I schlepped to the other side of Jerusalem to audition for her.

Well. It was a bit different, to say the very least. Mostly older women, of rather varied (and at times highly rotund) sizes were also to audition. And all were wearing croptops. Yes. All.

I was rather taken aback. Yes, we were all women, and I'm all up for women being comfortable in their bodies. Maybe I'm a prude, but I didn't want or need to see any of that. I think I was also expected to schlep up my tshirt, but refrained from doing so (especially as I had just eaten a large meal. Noone needs to see my post-food tummy, thank you very much).

Long story short, the entire introduction and set of instructions were in rapid-fire Hebrew. Trying to understand what was happening, while learning a routine - with veils (I've never done the veil stuff before) was tough. The others  (all Israelis, all danced with the teacher before)in the audition managed to pull it off beautifully - I got the idea eventually, but was about five seconds behind everyone else in my delivery. When the music was turned on, I couldn't help but laugh at my baby elephant-esque stumbling around, trying to keep to both the beat and work out what I was being told to do.

Needless to say, I left the audition early. I suppose I always have my dance DVDs, even if my DVD player won't connect to my laptop. At least they're there if I want them.

2. My apparent lack of teaching experience

Ah, teaching. Something I don't necessarily enjoy anymore, but which I know I can do with my eyes closed (and which I did once, with my eyes closed as I had an awful headache).

As I've mentioned before, I'm going slightly nuts what with all the free time, and have started looking for jobs. I didn't really want to return to teaching, but that soon changed when I realised that I was, erm, going nuts. I therefore applied for a post, advertising for 'native English speakers' to teach English to Israelis (teaching experience preferred).

So off I schlepped once more, to another far corner of Jerusalem, to meet with the woman who'd placed the advert. A middle-aged American lady, she seemed to like my 'energy' and 'enthusiasm' (I'm pretty good at faking it, when I'm in desperate need, you see), but refused to believe I had that much experience. Here I produced my various degree certificates. It was going pretty well, until she told me that she was only looking for people for November, for 3 hours, one day a week and the pay was measly. And then she asked me to explain the different tenses in English.

Now, both as a learner and a teacher in the English education system, I know for sure that our charming language is not taught like that. The closest I ever came to learning about strange tenses - the present perfect? The past continuous? The dreaded subjunctive? - was during A level French. I had almost no idea what she was talking about, but gave it my best shot, before admitting that I didn't know about tenses but would pick it up. She told me that she would have to spend a lot of time training me, and that I'd only be able to work as a student teacher, if at all.

She then followed this by loudly doubting my quality - at times, soul-destroying- teaching experiences, or that I'd ever taught non-native speakers at all. That particularly irritated me - most of the best, most impactful and rewarding teaching I ever did was with kids who were newly arrived in the country, and they sure as hell didn't pick up English by learning ridiculous tenses unknown even to native speakers.

I can take being patronised, but that really took the biscuit. Teaching English to non-native speakers here may be delivered in a different way than I am used to, but that doesn't mean I have to wait around for 3 more months just to have a shot at doing it. I mean, anything can happen in that time.

And while we're on the subject of education gone crazy:

3. 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' - the brash, gurning American way

One of my personal favourites (and the last Shakespeare play I taught before making aliya), 'AMSND' is  a bit complicated but also wonderful - it has 3 narrative strands, with something for everybody - romance, comedy and fairies. Particularly fairies. The fairies are very important.

When I heard that a theatre company were staging an English language version in the park, for free, noch - I jumped to attend. I always thought good theatre would be just one more thing I'd have to forgo post-aliya, alongside the likes of Tesco, Primark and Starbucks.

Now, I've been lucky enough to grow up seeing excellent quality plays of all sorts, as I come from a city with world-class productions. I recently saw 'Titus Andronicus' at Shakespeare's Globe Theatre - one of the goriest, most enthralling plays I've ever seen - I'd highly recommend it. Good, solid quality there.

When teaching Shakespeare (which I've been doing for years, to pupils of all abilities), it's absolutely imperative that pupils understand (to a very basic level) what is being said, and why. There's not really much of a point in reading or seeing Shakespeare if you've no idea what's going on, however good the body language/costume choices/delivery of lines.

And this was the issue I had with the production in the park. It was an excellent idea - I used to watch 'AMSND' in the Open Air theatre in Regents Park every year - but it was absolutely ruined by the fact that the actors mostly seemed to be clueless about what they were saying. Lines were delivered with an overcompensation of face-pulling, shouting, reading in a rhyme, strange and misplaced inflections and more. Where did all of the subtle humour and clever language techniques, not to mention the iambic pentameter Shakespeare so carefully crafted into his work, go?

Other people seemed to enjoy it, which was good. Maybe I am just snobby, or spoiled, or have a low tolerance for bad Shakespeare, or maybe I'm just a horrible person, or an ex-English teacher, but it actually upset me. I had to leave halfway through the production.

This week has been a little bit of a test - for the above reasons and others. But, despite all of this week's Unfamiliar Familiars (and more to come, I'm sure), I'm still happy to be here. Nothing worth doing or having is ever going to be easy.

On another note, I seem to have acquired a Russian accent when I speak Hebrew. To be discussed, anon.

But I leave you with a famous quote from the aforementioned 'AMSND' -

'Lord, what fools these mortals be.'

I agree - especially when these same mortals don't understand the (not so complicated) lines they're publicly acting out.

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

'Al Ha Panim'

Literally, 'on the face', but used colloquially to define something as 'crap' - for example, 'How are you today?' with a reply of 'Al ha panim' means something akin to 'it's all crap', or 'how's the weather?', 'Al ha panim' - the weather is crap.

If I have become slightly late with blog updates, it's because I have been busy - not only with visiting the bank to unravel the mystery of my missing bank card (quite a few of the clerks now know me and my story very well), but because I have been on various other sorties, the sorts of which I can't document here, but which are sufficiently sobering enough to bring me back into the adult world, at least for a short amount of time anyway. I described one of these events - the two terror attacks in Jerusalem last week - in my Times of Israel blog, located here.

Things move quickly in ulpan. You're amongst people 24/7 who have also made aliya. It's sort of like being back in university with a side of summer camp. There's a common ground established by dint of being in the same situation, having made the same massive life decision, and also collective grumbles - the lunch queue; strange class/room mates etc.

For me, ironically, the classroom setting has regressed me about 10 or so years. Because there's not much going on otherwise, there's a lot of partying, drinking, hanging around late at night, eating strange things and having meaningful chats with people you've just properly spoken to in the first time in a month.

Shamefully, it seems I have not adjusted very well to returning to the classroom as a pupil. I'm ashamed to say that I'm using my phone in class when bored or frustrated, occasionally bunk classes (usually when I need to go to the bank, yet again), fail to do my homework and don't revise the new material. This is entirely different to both what I expected to happen, and also how I was during my actual school days. I always worked very hard for the teachers I liked or hated (the former is self-explanatory; the latter, borne out of a desire to refute negative assumptions towards me, or so I assumed) and consistently achieved highly.

I'm also slightly horrified that I've just spent the last half decade or so as a teacher - always with a fair few non-native speakers in the class, noch - and so really should know better than to act like this. I am a professional adult who has had first (and second, third, fourth...) hand experience of disruptive children, and therefore mamash should not seek to replicate such unworthy and undesirable behaviour myself. However, it seems that, instead, I've collated and acquired only the most subversive and clever disruptive behaviours from my previous pupils and finetuned them. So I'm either regressing into an alternate past-version of myself, or I'm just a lazy idiot lacking motivation.

And it is really difficult to be motivated at times. The class is taught all in Hebrew, which is actually a good thing. Most of the class are non-native English speakers, or speak no English at all. In my class, at any one time, conversations will be firing away in English, Russian, Portuguese, Spanish, French and Hebrew, often while the teacher is attempting to teach. There is a lot of calling out, and 'silence' is not the most Israeli of concepts. It is incredibly difficult to concentrate most of the time, especially given that so much ground is covered in a lesson (sometimes); the grammar doesn't correlate to English and its just a pretty difficult language to learn.

On that note, I have noticed that my professional, native language of English is being corrupted by other languages. Sometimes, I'll be speaking, to either native or non- native speakers, and realise that I've either forgotten a word, or what I've just said isn't entirely in English. The other day, I forgot the English for 'washing machine', instead using the Hebrew ('mechinot cavisa'), and, when that didn't receive a response, said it in French instead ('machine a lavage'), before miming it. Oh dear. Most people in the ulpan - of whatever native language, have seen similar Hebrew infiltrations into their conversations, so at least we're all in this together.

I know I need to push myself more with the Hebrish, yet I honestly feel that I'd do this better if I was working. Working in Israel requires some use of Hebrew, which would force me to practise more, and would give me a routine. This is the first time I haven't had a job in over a decade and, once the shock wore off, it's left me feeling lost. It's also scary not to have a regular income. I've started applying to places, and will see how that goes.

In the meantime, things are ok - it's actually quite nice, being emotionally unstimulated, or bored but happy. It definitely makes a change from London, where - I can now say - despite having everything I could ever want or need, I was lacking something, and at times could be pretty miserable.

I finally feel like I'm whole again - even if this country is shocking, baffling and nonsensical by turns - and that's just from opening a bank account. The situation back in London, while not informing my decision to make aliya (and actually occurring concurrent to it) makes me even more certain of my choice.

I'm aware that ulpan is a'soft landing', and therefore I shall try to make the most of it. Some days will be 'al ha panim', and some 'chaval ul hazman' - something like 'the dog's b*llocks'. Either way, excitement and intrigue is always around the corner...it is Israel, after all.

Thursday, 24 July 2014

'Hakol yihyeh beseder' - 'Everything will be alright'...

Into week two now, and the dust is beginning to settle.

This week there have been a few developments. Impatience abounds due to the vast amounts of free time (to be discussed later), and I want to start building up my career here.

Speaking of which, I've started a blog at the Times of Israel (link here) dealing with the issues arising from being an olah chadasha (female - new immigrant) in the current situation. Feel free to peruse.

I have been focusing my efforts on getting the career up and running. Whilst I was previously a teacher in Blighty, I've been longing to return to the good old world of journalism. One of  the main reasons behind my aliya was in order to achieve this - I've always seen Israel, with it's transformed desert and hub of high-tech and start ups - as a land of opportunity.

It seems much easier to break/return to the media here. In Jerusalem all of the media outlets, both local and international, are in one building, coincidentally next to my bank. This building seems to be the very key to my success. Having been there before, and wanting to access that within it again, I formulated a plan .

So, in I strolled, nonchalantly and like I belonged there and charmed the guard, just like in a video game. Upon seeing me, he realised that I didn't actually belong there, demanding to know, 'Where's your press pass?'. Using what G-d and my mum gave me, I offered him a cheeky grin and retorted, 'Where's YOUR press pass?' namedropped a bit, and up I went.

Since I had already achieved my objectives thus far by entering the building, why not try to push my luck further? I decided to go down every single floor of the 8 available, introducing myself to the various news agencies within and offer my services as a freelancer.

It would seem that a cut-glass English accent goes a long way here. I met with the news editor from CNN (who first asked if I was a model. No, seriously.I tried to stop blushing, wiped the sweat off my face, looked him in the eye and said, 'ex'). He asked if I could go to Gaza and report, like RIGHT NOW. I politely declined. I then barged into the Associated Press office, and others. I was both shocked and quite pleased at the way that head honchos (the chief of the bureau at AP and I chatted like old friends) were really welcoming (you know, rather than calling security and treating me like an escaped lunatic) and even took me seriously. That's great, but I honestly can't imagine attempting the same approach with, say, the Times in London, who's first resort I'm sure would be calling security and treating me like an escaped lunatic.

In other news, I have moved up a class - to Alef-4. Hebrew is a wonderful, rich language, albeit with confusing tenses and specific male/female forms. It's funny, but just as I feel that I'm getting the hang of aspects of the language, along come what I've termed 'transsexual plurals' - female words which suddenly become male in the plural, and vice versa - which confound and befuddle. Either way, I respect their right to exist, even if I will never fully understand or appreciate their transformation.

Talking of which, my attempts to speak in Hebrew, beyond the basic, at least, usually culminates in something confusing or ridiculous through mispronunciation. For example, attempting to express my confusion and delight with the language by declaring, 'what a language!' - 'Eze safar!', I was pronouncing the word with an 'f', instead of it's rightful 'p' - 'eze saPar' - and was therefore actually saying, 'what a haircut!' No wonder people looked a bit confused, what with the definitive lack of strange haircuts anywhere in the proximity.

The main goal now is to establish a routine and keep myself busy. I'm finding it a bit difficult to deal with having not had any free time for the past...I can't remember. Before teaching (where 'free time' seemed to be a mythical concept, something we heard about from other people but hadn't experienced ourselves), I was living in Israel (I recall having some free moments on the kibbutz... for a short period of time. I think), and before that was university, which is usually where you have the most free time of all. However, when not in class, I was running a university society and that took up insane amounts of time. I was always schmoozing, planning, attending or communicating in some way. It's a wonder I even managed to do a degree!

Anyway. A routine of sorts has formed - I attend ulpan (language immersion) at 8.30 am, have a break ('hafsaka') at 10.30-11am, and return to class until 12.45, which is lunchtime. After eating, the boredom zone awaits - the afternoon.

There is sweet FA to do if you're staying in the ulpan. I mean, you could always do your 'shaarei bait' - homework - but to be honest, I've had a lot of stuff to sort out - I have just moved country, after all - and I want to use that time to explore and reconnect with Jerusalem.

Then there are the evenings.  Some people do their homework in the evenings, some go out. Central Jerusalem is only a bus ride away. I have been good and completed my homework every evening except for last night and tonight. I must confess that, even when I was a teacher, I hated homework. It's a routine exercise in pointlessness - backed up by research, noch - and I used to hate having to set it, answer people's questions about it (both kids and parents), and then mark it and give feedback on it. Then there were the colleagues I had to deal with, regarding homework - had they set enough homework? Could I show them my homework tasks so they could copy it? Was this sort of thing the right idea? It went on and on, and it was almost as bad as being a pupil myself.

Because, homework is a pain in the arse for everybody involved - anyone who cares enough about it to that extent is clearly misplacing attention. I did eventually, after 3/4 years of teaching, work out a way to set homework for each class I taught twice a week and still mark each and every kid's homework in the lesson, but that is slightly off topic. The point is, however much I don't want to do it, I'm self motivated enough to know it's beneficial to me and make sure it's done. But, when the weather is so warm and I'm bored anyway, I resent having to do it. It's ironic that this is what it's taken for me to empathise with my former pupils.

 But onwards and upwards. I will be off to Tel Aviv next week for a meeting and to see friends. Bearing in mind the way my last trip ended, I will be wearing my running shoes, just in case.

Saturday, 19 July 2014

My first siren

I've now been here a week and have since done various more bits and bobs, such as buying a kettle (a necessity for a Brit abroad) and unpacking. Life is good.

I think I'm going to ask to move up in my ulpan class, as I'm not feeling challenged (the very same complaint which used to irritate me as a teacher)- but I haven't learned any new vocabulary and, while I quite like the teacher, as a (former) teacher myself, I can tell when I'm not getting something out of the class.

It's actually highly irritating being an ex-teacher in an academic situation. It makes me realise just how much I pushed myself and ran circles around my pupils to help them get the best, most useful learning experience possible. Also that the British educational system is way too focused on box-ticking exercises (peer-assessment? Mini plenaries? Independent learning?) which have little to no benefit, and that these aren't hard and fast rules to stick to in a learning experience. In my ulpan class, we were repeating vocabulary/grammar rules ad nauseum, there was loads of teacher talk and therefore the learning was solely teacher led. Had I not known the vocab being taught already, I would've been absolutely fine with this approach. As it is, I feel now like my prior career was routinely exhausting for no reason whatsoever. Oh well. Plus ca change.

And what a change! Other Brits (and most likely other ulpaners too) have been experiencing some homesickness and doubts. This must be normal: all of us have uprooted ourselves from our lives and schlepped out to start anew in what appears to be a war zone, to the outside world at least.

I confess I've had no such doubts. Yes, I still miss Corny (and Benjy), which is inevitable. However, the lady who rehomed Corny was so happy and grateful to have him, which is both comforting and is closure in itself. Otherwise, I feel very much at home in Israel. I don't know if this is a false sense of ease, or if I'll experience homesickness later, but right now I'm very happy. I don't regret my choice for a minute.

I think because I've been waiting for so long, I'm finally where I want to be. Maybe not Jerusalem (it is the most beautiful city I have ever seen, but a bit claustrophobic/religious, if I'm honest), but Israel definitely. With this in mind, I've been craving a visit to Tel Aviv pretty much since we landed on the tarmac. Telling this to the cab driver, en route to the ulpan last week, he told me I wouldn't be craving it so much once I'd experienced an azaka (siren) there.

And, ladies and gentlemen, this is what I am writing to report. For I ventured to Tel Aviv and experienced my first ever azaka.

I've been stewing over what happened over Shabbat. After going out on Thursday night, to celebrate a fellow ulpaner's birthday (and because the weekend begins on Thursday night in Israel), I arose late on Friday morning, with one idea in my head - to go to Tel Aviv. Screw the beach - I missed the city. I also wanted to see Deborah, who has lived there for the past two years. So off we went, leaving the ulpan at 12.30.

Deborah invited me to stay for the weekend, but I wanted to check out the situation before committing to staying over. As the buses in Jerusalem stop for Shabbat (the Sabbath) an hour or so before sunset, this was to be a flying visit.

I caught sight of my reflection in the window as we approached the city, and I had the stupidest grin on my face. It reflected exhilaration - now I was really home!

Deborah and I caught up; we hung out on the beach a little bit (I have a slightly impressive watch and ring tan to prove it), and at around 5.45ish, she caught a bus home and I began to make my way back to the rendezvous point for my friends from the ulpan.

And that's when it happened.

As I sat on a bench waiting for my friends to join me, an eerie, piercing sound broke the air. It took me a split-second to realise that this was the dreaded azaka.

Now, prior to leaving for Israel, I prepared myself for the azaka in a few ways. During the strike day at school (last...week?! It seems a lifetime ago now), I put 90 seconds (the time you have to get to a bomb shelter) on a countdown, and practised running various lengths of corridor to my, erm, desk, which served as the shelter. I became pretty good at it too. I also chatted to my grandpa, who lived through the Blitz. He told me about the 'Blitz Spirit' and sense of togetherness in these situations, and that being prepared is half the battle. So I felt ok going to Tel Aviv, knowing what could potentially happen.

Being by myself in the street, I wasn't sure where the nearest shelter would be. In something I can only describe as 'survival mode', I ran, calmly, to a building I'd been in before.

The key is not to panic. I'd forgotten the security code on the door, but worked it out in a few seconds. I walked to the bomb shelter, went down into it and stood.

I didn't know where my friends were. I called them a couple of times. I realised they must have been on the street, walking to meet me. They didn't answer.

I was running off pure adrenaline. The sirens were still blaring. Then they cut out.

I took a few deep breaths and suddenly, there were two very loud BOOMs.

Simultaneously exploding in my head were several short, sharp four letter words (which I can't write here).

Up until that point, despite it all, I had been very calm. I knew there would be booms - that's the sound of impact! - but I hadn't realised they'd be so loud. I figured they must be near to where I was. It also hit me that, during my practises for this, I hadn't factored in anything to do with staircases.

After I'd sought shelter, heard the booms and realised what had just happened - a little bit of shock set in (despite all my tough preparation!!!), I felt slightly drained, confused and angry at myself - how dare I feel like this? Tel Avivians - my friend Deborah included - have to do this several times a day! Hell, the people in the south practically live in their bomb shelters, and have been for the past 15 years! Who the hell was I to feel bad for myself?

Mustering that famed British stiff upper lip, I exited the bomb shelter, located my friends, who had been just over the road and had run to a street shelter. The impact(s) had been just above our heads. We made the decision to return to Jerusalem for Shabbat.

On the sherut (minicabs which run like intercity taxis), a bit more shock set in. I started thinking about other times I'd been in equally uncertain situations. I thought about the atmosphere of fear and shock during and in the aftermath of the London bombings. I was keeping it together, but I can't deny I was a bit freaked out, wondering if something was wrong with me to react in this way

Importantly, at no point did I regret my choice to make aliya. I think it's just that the first azaka to a non-native is always going to be shocking, despite expecting it. It's best, in any case, to get these experiences over and done with quickly. I just can't imagine ever getting used to it, as some of my Israeli friends have, but who knows in time?

When I finally got back to the ulpan, the news stated that what I had just experienced was a 5 rocket barrage, each intercepted by the Iron Dome. Thank G-d I didn't know that at the time.

I might wait a little bit before going back to Tel Aviv. or, it could be that next time there's an azaka I'm better prepared.

Either way, it's another first in the Holy Land!

Thursday, 17 July 2014

I'm back!

Hi everyone,

Thanks for your messages of well-wishing and support - I am finally home.

After a pizza-y goodbye with Daisy, Imran and Shane, I retired to bed at 3am, and left for the airport at 6.45.

One of my biggest fears about the actual aliya trip was the flight - when you have that many bags, with that much weight (more of which later) and special circumstances, something is bound to go wrong.

I was fully braced for it ('prepare for the worst'), but I must say I was happily gobsmacked by how impressively smoothly it all ran. If that's a major averse factor when considering aliya, I would think again.

I opted to travel from Luton, despite having an awful experience with El Al at Luton a couple of years before. Long story short, I arrived for their famed overnighter straight from work. Maybe I was just tired, maybe Israeli females take an instant dislike to me, possibly both of these things, I was interrogated at every step of the way - and when flying El Al there are a lot of steps!

Fortunately, we arrived in good time, two hours before my flight. I joined the queue, and was instantly moved to the first stage - questioning by a 'very nice' El Al employee.

The conversation, for those of who who have never flown El Al, usually revolves around where you grew up, if and how you know Hebrew, your intentions on your trip to Israel etc etc. It's a typical Israeli screening method, which is usually replicated at several points in the process.

My parents were eagerly standing by me, helping me schlep the cases. Therefore, the conversation was longer than strictly necessary, as my mum had rather taken a liking to the 'very nice' young man; he would begin asking the questions, as dictated by the El Al protocol:

Man: Tell me where you grew up.
Me: Bushey, north-west London. Near Watford.
Man: Is there a large Jewish community there?
Me: Yeah, it's quite up and coming; loads of young families.
Man: Good. How do you -
Mum (interrupting): And where did YOU grow up?
Man: Erm, I grew up in Tel Aviv. North Tel Aviv.
Mum: Oh very nice! So do you visit England often?
Man: Erm...

This continued for some minutes. The man would ask a question to me (because that's his job), and my mum would subtly refine it and return the question back to him.

I soon sussed out what she was doing. As we left the check in line, after dropping off my bags, she declared him 'a very nice young man' (her highest available accolade), to which I replied, with regards to Hayley from 'Modern Family' - 'Never go with the first option. Scout around a bit before making a decision'.

But before this was the moment I had been waiting for. The bag drop.

Dear readers, I bated my breath. I warned my parents to stay away while it was happening. I prayed for an Israeli male to be behind the desk.

None of this happened. A British lady (*%$@#?!) was instead there. I instantly knew I had no hope. But I tried my very best.

The first bag was ok. The lady (mistakenly) assumed that each bag could be up to 23kg. the first was 22. Off it went on its merry way, and that was that.

The next, once I'd struggled, attempting nonchalance, ignoring the feeling of my shoulder blades threatening to dislocate, weighed - 28 kg. The same for the one after. in fact, the bag had started to split a little bit.

During each weigh in, my dad would sidle up to the monitor, make big eyes and say 'oooh. That's heavy', behaviour which obviously he had been warned against, and did not help one little bit. In fact, I hold him partially responsible for what happened next.

She weighed my hand luggage - I had, as stated that I was allowed on the site, two pieces. This was 1kg over. And apparently, I had one piece too many. Being 19kg (!!!) overweight, she had to consult with her supervisor, and it was agreed that I could either pay $70 for the extra weight, or $50 to check in a bag.

Now, obviously the most hassle-free step would be to simply check in my hand luggage and have that as an extra bag, all for the small price of $50. But no - the principle of the matter is that I should be given a bit of slack with this stuff. I am moving country, after all. And if I'd known there was the option of an extra bag for $50, I would have taken my kitchen stuff too!

Anyway. To resolve the situation, I decided to try flirting. Hell, these airport staff must get treated horribly. So having someone be nice would help me to achieve what I wanted...right?

I started off with, 'ah, you know us girls - the amount of shoes I had to chuck away!', and riffed on various themes incorporating girly stuff - makeup, clothes... you name it, I did it.

It didn't work. Despite my protests surrounding the principle of the thing, my mum took me off, coughed up the $50 necessary, and checked in my sodding hand luggage. Meh.

Then it was time for the goodbyes. There were a few tears from my mum (and a bit from me), and then onto the plane.

The flight was smooth and short. Despite some musical chairs at the beginning, all went as planned. Until we had to descend into Ben Gurion airport, when we began circling just off the coast for 45 minutes.

I realised this was due to a rocket attack while we were in the air and, surprisingly, felt very calm about it. When we did eventually descend into Ben Gurion, the mood was as it always is, but tinged with a certain alertness which I have never seen before. Signs pointing to the nearest miklat (bomb shelter) were strewn every few yards. The person who met us from the plane (charming) gave us some advice, should the atzama (siren) sound while we were in or around Tel Aviv - don't panic, get to a shelter. That's it.

Fortunately, it did not, and we were taken upstairs to the Misrad Hapnin (Ministry of Absorption) in the airport. I had to wait for another person to finish their appointment, but all in all, the whole shebang took about half an hour, where I was awarded my teudat oleh (Immigrant document), my teudat zehut (ID card) and some other stuff, all in a lovely blue foldery thing.

We were then escorted to the cab, which would take us on to our new destination. Just seeing the outside of the airport, and knowing that my time in Israel was no longer limited, coupled with the sheer exhaustion, I felt the happiest I have in...months? I don't know, but I was bordering on delirious. An atzama could have sounded right there and then and I don't think it would have broken my mood.

We arrived at the ulpan (language immersion course, also the term for the building where we were staying, hosting said course), and settled in. The apartment I'm in has two beds (one each for me and Vicky), a kitchen and a bathroom. There are also some cupboards, which is an unexpected surprise.

Exhausted, I waited up for Vicky, who I haven't seen in 6 weeks and who arrived (after a balagan at the airport) at 3am. After we unpacked some of her stuff and we were settling in to bed, we could hear a strange noise from just beyond our window. Was it the dreaded atzama?

No. After consulting my phone (there are apps indicating a 'red alert' siren), it turned out it was only a muezzin singing the call to prayer in a nearby Arab village. At 3am. After a very long day and week. Nice.

In the past two days, I have been mainly settling in and setting up my new life here - opening a bank account, health insurance, setting up a phone line, getting the Israeli equivalent of an oyster card (a 'rav kav', which up until recently, whenever I heard it discussed, thought it was the latest funky new kiruv rabbi) and working out what my grandpa would term 'what's what'. The best part was when, after unpacking, I realised that the DVDs and DVD player I had schlepped all the way from Blighty only had a scart lead connection...and my laptop didn't. Great! I put that one down to a stressful packing job, as documented in my earlier posts.

I also had my Hebrew language test. Knackered out from the epic events of the day before, where I MADE ALIYA (for real reals, not for play play) and then waited up til gone 3am, I wasn't really up for the intensive reading, writing and speaking test, but I played ball, before going for a nap later.

My Hebrew level is a bit odd. I can understand most of what's going on, mainly through processing the stuff said around the stuff I don't understand, then through establishing the context of the situation. My speaking is ok - barring some grammatical mistakes - I can read Hebrew, without vowels, and I can write it too.

The reading test consisted of several progressively more difficult grammar questions. I made it up to 35 before I gave up, partly because I was tired and partly because I know my limits. There's no point guessing when you clearly have no idea what's going on and I wanted to be placed in the correct level.

For the writing, we were given 3 options to write about. I opted to discuss 'my first time in Israel', which was 9 years ago (!) on Aish haTorah. I described the reason it was my first trip to Israel, how I felt, what we did etc etc. It wasn't the most engaging of reads, I must admit. After reviewing it, the teacher said, 'ooh I think we'll put you in Bet' (the intermediate group). I thought she was taking the piss.

It was then time for the speaking. I took in my writing test, and had two teachers interviewing me about my past Hebrew experiences. I told them about kibbutz, and living in Israel, picking up bits and pieces of different languages etc. they wanted to know what part of London I came from (what is it with Israelis and exact locations? Are they mapping us or something?), my school, my family and so forth.

I did the best I could, but - like with any other language I speak, including English - I usually need a bit of time to think about what I'm going to say, and often get verb endings/tenses/conjunctions wrong.

The two interviewers were discussing (in Hebrew) what level class they would put me in. They said things such as 'she's a writer?' and 'the grammar's a bit off here' and decided that I would be in Alef Shalosh (intermediate). Fine by me!

Since then however, there has been another test. There were too many intermediates, so we were tested again. Once more, I had to write an account on 'My city'. I wrote something that loosely translates as this:

'I come from London, but I really consider Tel Aviv to be my city. It's very similar and I feel at home there. there's always a lot to do - go for a walk, visit a musuem, go shopping, go to the beach, and party all the time. it's always sunny, which is a change as London is sunny now but won't be for much longer. It's not very wintery in Tel Aviv, and so I like it.'

Again., far from poetry. But I was under pressure. I await the final decision, but am excited to be learning Hebrew.

Otherwise, I have been so busy - meeting new people, learning about different their different cultures and communities. It's fascinating - everywhere you go here, there are bursts of conversation in French,. Hebrew, Spanish, Portugese, Italian, Turkish... it really does feel like the biblical ingathering of the exiles!

It's only the first week and already I'm having so much fun and feel so different to when I was in London. I feel much freer and am relishing the challenge of being in a new country and navigating it as a newbie.

But more of that later. Right now, there are places to be and things to do.

Sunday, 13 July 2014

All loose ends tied

Mein damen und herren; mesdames et monsieurs; ladies and gents! The hour is almost upon...me (and you, if you're that empathetic or visual) - in 10 hours, I will be leaving these shores.

The past few days have been a blur; thank gd I took off yesterday!! I will condense the events into my very favourite listing device, the bullet point form:

  • I finished my job! I am no longer a teacher! Well, at least not officially. I'm sure my teacher side will emerge once I do verbal battle with some irritating Americans (Americans: I qualified that with 'irritating'. I'm not grouping you all as that. You know I love some of you) or anyone under the age of 25 (No comment. Teenage til 25, IMO). Nevertheless, and despite the short time frame in which I was at the school, it was emotional to say goodbye to my colleagues and my pupils. A fine bunch, they are, and definitely the best school I've worked in throughout my teaching career. A high point, to end it on, I would say. And thank gd. 
  • I took Corny to his new home. the lady is a proper cat lady (I could never fully commit to the role like that) - she has pictures of every cat she's ever owned on the walls, including one of Corny, and plenty of cat decor and furnishings. Corny seemed very happy there. I held it together pretty well whilst at the house, then cried all the way home. I called her later - she is ecstatic, and he seems quite settled there too. This in itself grants me much happiness and relief. 
  • But, once I had arrived home - I had no time to be weak! I let the cleaners in, finished packing and got ready for more flat viewings. Long story short, I have let it again, and this pleases me muchly. One more loose end tied. Also, my flat looks AMAZING, all shiny and new, once it had been professionally cleaned. I did feel sad to be leaving, but ready and excited for what this meant - aliya, baby! 
  • I then moved some of my stuff - including my cases - back to my parents with the help of my dad, who I called on the way home from leaving Corny and who evidently does not like the sound of girls crying. It's sad I've just learned this technique, but will apply this knowledge tomorrow at the airport check in desk, should it come to it, when submitting my overweight bags.  
  • And now, a life lesson: moving back to your parents home (even for two nights) after you've been away for so long is strange but also kind of great at the same time. My mum had amazing food waiting for me, and has been running backwards and forwards to replenish my tea. Niiiice. I have realised I've picked up some bad habits though - living alone does that to you - such as leaving stuff in random places, forgetting other people need to use the shower and talking to myself, amongst others. 
  • My mum is finally happy for me and accepts my decision, and just in the nick of time. She left me a lovely and positive card, expressing all of this - 

We then packed and repacked my cases (this is still a horrific and painful subject, and as such will not be expanded upon further) - it transpired it was actually a two man job. After this, as a reward or something, we went to get my nails painted, and which Louis the puppy promptly ruined upon our return. 

I'm sure they're sad to see me go. To be honest, the tears I've cried in these past few days have been mostly of frustration (packing. Eurghh!), sadness (Corny, saying goodbye to important people), happiness (that I'm finally doing it!!After so long!) and fear (rockets, sirens and airstrikes). 

And so I await the last round of goodbyes - some very important people - Daisy, Imran and Shane - are right now winging their way over here with one last ceremonial pizza, I am informed. 

And there - just like that, all loose ends are (finally) tied. I knew we'd get there in the end. 

From England-based Fliss, polite, tamed of mane and pining for the fjords of the Holy Land, I bid you adieu. 

The next time I write, it will be from my new, yet prior, home.

My homeland. My lifeblood. My dream. 

I can feel the transformation beginning - Israel is practically within my reach; my hair is frizzing at the mere thought of the heat and I'm breaking out my stash of flip flops in antici -


Here we go...! Lehitra'ot! Yalla! 

I'm on my way home. And it feels SO good.