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 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 is Israel, after all.