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 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.