Thursday, October 11, 2012

Settling In

Moving In, Part One
After three wonderful weeks in New York, Arnon and I are settling into our new apartment in Haifa and setting things up. So far, it has been an adventure of mishaps and crazy situations. The first day, when I was moving things from the car, I saw this curlyheaded guy watching me through his window. Then, as I was hauling a heavy box, he popped his head from the window and yelled, "Bruchim habaim!" --welcome-- so loudly I almost dropped my load and disappeared as quickly as he had come.

I went through the gate and wound myself into the building and passed his apartment just as the door swung open. "Hello, neighbor, when did you move in?" a second guy asked. Arnon stepped out just as the man opened the door wider to reveal his full glory. Teetering beside us was a disheveled, scrappy-haired man with at least five face piercings, two in his chin, two in his nose, and one in his brow, a stained,  white wifebeater crumpled above his protruding, jiggling belly, and bare legs beneath white, equally stained underwear.  We're not exactly sure what the roommate situation entails and are guessing that the curly-haired one is no older than 24 and the underwear man is in his mid-thirties. They insisted we "tour" their ashtray-smelling apartment, which is three times bigger than ours, full of broken, dirty things, and hardly more furniture than their hookah, cigarette butts, and sound system. Above us are apartments of old people, Russians, people with loud crying children, and religious folks. That pretty much summarizes the neighborhood we have chosen. It is sure to be an interesting year... :)

We chose this exact location because we are trying to be accepted into a new community of young academics who if chosen, will be compensated with a large sum of money towards rent each month in turn for some hours of volunteer work in order to revitalize the area. If we're accepted, we'll have a new group of fascinating, passionate people to meet, only $125 a month in rent between the two of us, and the opportunity to do something good for others. If we're not chosen then we'll be kind of bummed that we had to limit ourselves to certain streets with old, broken-down apartments such as ours.

Moving into apartment also has revealed a myriad of "exciting" revalations. Things are not like in America, to say the least. Apartments don't neccessarily come with ovens, regridgerators, much less with an air conditioner or washing machine. We have some of those things ourselves but none of them exactly work in the apartment. In addition, there are hardly any electrical outlets, wavy walls that we only noticed when trying to hang things (yes, I said wavy), and strange knicknacks to be found in old furniture. When we hang things they keep falling, when we go to buy things we can't find them, and nothing fits exactly in the space that we have.

At the moment we have two unplugged ovens and no range, two tvs, a sound system, and speakers that are from the 80's, a wall that is so dusty that the shelves keep falling from their reinforced brackets (hopefully Arnon has fixed that situation), our washing machine is temporarily in the kitchen and waiting to be moved to the balcony however we have no electricity there to hook it up at the moment, we had to hang our shower curtain from a string, and we have cleaned hundreds of cobwebs, calcified bugshells and animal dung, and spent days organizing and trying to set everything up.

It does have its charms though-- there are two wonderful balconies, one that we plan to make a cozy sitting area with scented, climbing vines, flowers, cooking herbs, lanterns, and such; in our bedroom one whole wall is covered from floor to ceiling with storage. There are fun shelves, nooks, drawers, and ingenious hanging devices the like that only existed years ago, and in the kitchen is an old small window with a small ledge that peeps out to the hallway from the days when milk was delivered from home to home. And despite the lack of electrical outlets, a nonstop howling dog on one side and sounds of children and groups of prayer on the other side, our strange mishmosh of weird circa-70's furniture, and lack of ways to cook, we are very happy to be together. Now if we could just avoid the next disaster, we will be on our way to domestic bliss...

Our Work In Progress

I wish we had had the forethought to take before and after pictures, but just believe me when I say that these pictures represent a gigantic improvement:

Putting up the shelves, take two

The bedroom

Three pieces of fabric later, we have a new couch!

A peek at the balcony

Our bathroom- notice the googly-eyed toilet paper holder

The biggest work in progress, the kitchen

Here we are so far!

Monday, October 1, 2012

Year Two, Trying to "Lizrom"

There is a phrase that is all at once antithetical to an American perfectly normal to an Israeli that seems to pronounce itself in every strain of Israeli society, to creep up in the strain of a casual conversation, and make itself known at work, when making plans, and in every other aspect of typical Israeli life, and it is lizrom, to "go with the flow. " To the typical American, this phrase can already feel overwhelming, with our ten-year plans, schedules, and playdates, but to the super-organized, intricitely-planning, big picture envisioning type, with her handy, organized, and colorcoded planner firmly at her hip, synchronied and labeled calendar (once again, color-coded) on her phone, computer, and floating in the "Cloud" somewhere in cyberspace, the phrase lizrom, to "go with the flow" takes on an added apprehension-swallowing horror. Go with the flow??? Just go with it?? Don't plan ahead? Just see what happens next? NEVER! But this, indeed, is what I have been doing ever since I made the decision nearly five months ago to stay in Israel to live with my sweet, handsome boyfriend, Arnon.

To some, after a hair longer than a month of meeting him, a decision this astronomical would involve some sleepless nights and wagging "what-do-you-think-you're-doing" fingers in the air, but to me, this decision was the only one I could make. And I knew it was the right one when the second I made it my tense shoulders loosened, my spine lengthened, and my worried frown softened into a glowing smile. Yes, all my friends had joked that I would meet someone in Israel and stay there. And yes, I had joked with them. But I honestly never really believed that it would actually happen. And then, on the same day that I definitively decided that after this ONE-year fellowship I was indeed proving all the jokesters wrong and began planning what I would do once in New York, I met him.

We met on a crowded festival street one night after I came for a day of work to the Haifa Museum of Art. I climbed the stairs through the alley from the museum with my friend Adi to Masada Street. Crowds of people walked in between jugglers, food and beer vendors, flashing decorations, and small children chasing after twinkling toy trucks that zipped around their parents' feet. Adi and I walked around chatting and looking at the food. In the middle of the street, a little way up ahead we saw a large circle of people dressed all in white surrounding two others also in white who seemed to be performing some sort of tribal breakdance mixed with karate. Behind them in part of the circle sat five people playing different foreign instruments made of gourds, wood, and strings. They were playing and chanting a monotone yet rhythmic song as the two performers circled around one another. Adi tugged on my sleeve and pointed to one of the musicians, banging happily on a drum. 'That's my neighbor,' she explained. I stole a second glance, took in a clump of shining curls on the bobbing head, and shrugged. 'What are they doing?' I asked her. She pursed her lips and said that it was capoeira, a type of fight dancing. She said they were from Portugal. We watched for a bit, she waved good bye to her neighbor, and we moved on.

A few minutes later, the same curly-haired guy came over to Adi to say hello. He had a sweet, happy smile and kind blue eyes. 'How do you say hello in Portugeuse?' asked him, very fascinated in what had drawn someone from Portugal to come to live in Israel. He looked at me quizzically and said, 'I don't know,' and smiled his sweet smile again. I searched his face confusedly as he began to answer my questions about capoeira in flowing, fluent Hebrew and it slowly dawned on me that he was Israeli, not Portuguese. I laughed at my misunderstanding and we strolled through the streetfair, our surroundings slowly dimming into a light buzz in the background as we became more engrossed in conversations. Eventually, we lost track of Adi and disappeared into the crowd, laughing, talking, and sharing stories. I have no idea what we talked about but I remember the immediate connection I felt and the way he threw his whole body into the dance when he pulled me into a salsa circle, my face hot and red from all the eyes watching me dance with this stranger who had already become a friend.

About ten minutes later, a frantic Adi finally located us and we all made our way to the other side of the festival to join a clump of jumping, shouting teens in front of a loud punk rock band up on a platform stage. As we danced, the songs vibrating through our chests, I was suddenly taken up with a chill and hugged my colorful purple shirt tighter into my burgundy courduroy coat. Arnon looked at me and asked if I was cold. He reached out and gently touched my hand and pulled it between his two palms and slowly rubbed it warm. At that instant an electric tremor charged through me and all the noise, music, drumbeats, smells of food, and the crowd fell away so that all I saw were his warm, shining blue eyes and handsome face.

That was six months ago. Since then all of my original plans have been carefully placed back in their puzzle box and instead I have taken on a life that is forcing me to "lizrom." In the span of a mere two months, I packed up my Jerusalem apartment, moved to Haifa, made aliyah, set up an Israeli bank account, went on job interviews, chased connections and ran from meeting to meeting to try to find a job, been shaken by my Saba's funeral, flown to Paris, planned an elaborate gallery show and play as a culmination with my students in the moadonit, finalized the curriculum I created for JDC-Israel, flown to Sweden and Norway, searched for a new apartment, gone home to New York for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, moved and begun setting up the new apartment, and continued on my job search. Every day I have woken up with one set of expectations and gone to sleep with a completely new result, perspective, and path for the next day. What I think will be one hour changes into a completely different situation in the hour that follows, and everything that I seek out leads to a completely new reality: each and every day.

So I am learning to "lizrom." And lizrom I will try to do, but I will still keep my colorcoded planner hidden safely in my bag.