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.

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