first day in jerusalem

I was woken up by two telephone calls from EuropeAssist at around 8 AM on February 7th, both of which told me that a driver would be at our hotel to take us to the university at 10 AM. I immediately fell back asleep and slept through breakfast, only finally getting out of bed at around 9:45 to get ready. My roommate for the night, Shannon, soon informed me that apparently the EuropeAssist actually would not be providing a car, but that a cab would be there shortly. This was strange, and the first time that the company had fallen through on something. Nonetheless, we dragged our bags into the elevator (whose doors attempted to shut on us at about every other second), waited in the lobby for a bit, and finally got in the car.

The driver was a friendly guy who told us that we all had way too much luggage, but “don’t worry…be happy!”. We asked if he liked Bob Marley (the artist who re-popularized the phrase), to which he replied, “Of course! Yo yo yo wutup!” we told him that wasn’t exactly what Marley was known for, but oh well. After a short ride, we arrived at the university. The driver helped us unload our luggage and left- we thought that we were in front of the right building, but even so, we were alone, surrounded by bags, and didn’t speak a word of Hebrew. Shannon went off to track down some help, and Jeremy, Analucia, and I “guarded the bags,” a.k.a. took pictures. The University is in a very strange (but beautiful) location. It’s at the top of Mount Scopus, which means that it has great views of Jerusalem from all sides. On one side, you can see a skyline of holy symbols and places- including the Dome of the Rock itself! On the other, an “Arab neighborhood” comes almost right up to the wall of the university. The area is called Issaweya, and the houses there are notably more quaint and less manicured than most of the other areas of Jerusalem, let alone the university itself. The reality of the separation really hit us right off the bat- there’s no avoiding the views from the university. I think it’s a good thing.

Shannon soon returned with an older, cheerful man who offered to help us with our luggage and soon introduced himself as Yoni. He was one of the main academic advisors for the Rothberg International School at Hebrew University, and would be our (extremely caring) helper for the duration of our study abroad period there. We left our luggage in a side room before heading to Yoni’s office for soda and an “orientation talk,” which ended up being a few words about the admirable qualities of the university, followed by a kind of security briefing. Yoni chose his words carefully as he showed us a series of maps which outlined red areas- more “Arab neighborhoods” which we were told to avoid. At one point, we looked at a map of the Old City, which outlined the different areas inside, including the Armenian, Jewish, and Muslim quarters. Yoni told us that we were free to go anywhere there except the Muslim quarter, especially during Friday prayer. It was extremely strange to be told to avoid the Muslim area altogether, when we had been living, eating, studying, and talking with Muslims in Egypt for the past five months. Most administrators and some students that we’ve talked to will stress that “these Arabs” are very different from “those Arabs,” and I agree that the situations vary immensely, but the few “these Arabs” that I’ve met here so far seem pretty cool. I’ll have to wait and see how this all pans out. The “security briefings” don’t really seem to end. We were told to stay away from the West Bank completely, unless we had a very experienced friend or guide with us. The Gaza Strip is also off-limits, but that’s because we would have to obtain special permission to enter. So that’ll probably be a no-go. Bethlehem, Ramallah, and other significant sights are within the West Bank, though, so we’ll just have to find a way to go do a little bit of sightseeing there. Students have also been quick to warn us about harassment and troubles here in Jerusalem, but honestly, after Cairo, I think I can handle a little staring and a few comments.

After speaking with Yoni, we were introduced to Sloane, a Vanderbilt student who was also evacuated from AUC. We were told to head towards the “Student Village,” where we would be given dorm assignments. Yoni was even nice enough to drive us over there in his own car to avoid some of the rain and help out with luggage. Up until this point, the whole transfer process had been exhausting, but was working out okay. And then were told about dorm prices. Basically, living in the dorms at Hebrew University would cost about $1100 more than it would have to live in my flat in Cairo, as I had been planning to. The dorms were also suite-style, meaning that we would have to provide our own bedsheets, towels, kitchenware, bathroom supplies, and other miscellaneous necessities out of our own budget. This is not to mention the fact that most of us had already paid February rent for our Cairo flats, furnished them, and stocked our refrigerators with food in case the protests wiped out grocery store supplies. So, obviously none of us were too happy to hear all of this, and Jeremy, Shannon, and Analucia brought up the idea of getting an apartment off-campus instead. We weren’t sure if it would actually be cheaper or feasible, but we wanted to at least explore our options. When we told Yoni this, he informed us that the UC system had an agreement with Hebrew University, which basically stated that all UC students absolutely must live in the dorms for security reasons. It was one of the stipulations which allowed the Israel study abroad program to be reinstated. Shannon even e-mailed one of the study abroad directors about it, and was completely shot down. There was no option. Hebrew University decided to give us an extra week or two to organize our funds, and we were off to move into the dorms.

The four girls were placed together in one suite- me, Shannon, Sloane, and Analucia, while Jeremy was plugged into a different building. We were just thrilled to be able to unpack and leave our luggage somewhere for an extended period of time, and honestly, the suites weren’t too bad. We have a living area, kitchen table, kitchen (with large refrigerator), five bedrooms and two bathrooms. The only rough part is that it looks a little institutional- almost everything in the place is pure white, and none of us brought anything to decorate with. We’ll have to piece together something. One of the bedrooms is also a “shelter room”, with an extra steel door and steel window curtains. Apparently, all of the safety rooms are in one column of the building, so if a bomb were to strike, that section of each dorm building would be safe. After exploring the new suite, we all headed over to a small cafe near our building to grab something to eat- most of us literally hadn’t eaten all day, and were starving. I got an 8 sheckle pita falafel, which was surprisingly delicious, and pretty inexpensive! One of the madrakheen (like an RA or counselor) met us at the cafe and showed us to the bus stop, where she rode with us to Jaffa street and pointed out a couple of places to buy bedsheets and kitchen supplies.

After stocking up on sheets, utensils, trash cans, and a few other random necessities, we made our way down the street (huge blue shopping bags in hand) to check out some of the shops. I bought a pair of rain-proof boots (my Toms don’t do so well in rain), and Shannon, Sloane, and I lost Jeremy and Analucia when he went searching for some pants. The girls and I eventually wandered far enough down the street that we ended up just looking for another bus stop and transferring back to the 19. Once on the right bus, we sat for awhile before wondering aloud if we would even recognize the right stop once we got back to the university. As we rounded a corner, we thought that it might be the right stop…and then a man sitting directly across from me looked up and commented, “…nope, it’s not.” before we all started laughing at our complete incompetence. I had been wondering whether or not anyone on the bus spoke English, and was therefore eavesdropping on our conversation, thinking that we must be complete idiots for not even knowing where we live. The man was genuinely helpful about it, though, and soon enough we were on our way to the South Gate of the Student Village.

There, we met up with yet another madrakheen, who helped us carry our things to our suite and reviewed some basics about the dorms- how to turn on the heat, order cell phones and internet, turn on hot water, etc. Once he had finished and left, Shannon, Sloane and I decided to head back to the cafe on campus for one more round of pita falafel, and to use the internet there. We ended up talking to a couple of the other random study abroad students, and soon learned that we would be explaining our Egypt evacuation story pretty frequently because of one thing: Ulpan. Ulpan is an obligatory Hebrew intensive course that all international students must take for three weeks before the beginning of the semester. Since we were in Egypt and Barcelona until a few days ago, we were exempted from Ulpan. This means that we have no classes to attend during the day (although our time is almost fully dedicated to arranging our things here), and we speak absolutely zero Hebrew. So, when people ask how Ulpan is going, or why we don’t speak Hebrew, we eventually have to explain our entire situation.

After a few minutes, Analucia and Jeremy finally joined us at the cafe and we all hung out for a bit before returning to our respective apartments. We all spent a good hour or so unpacking all of our things, and I stupidly stayed up for another hour reading- I was at a huge cliffhanger in my book (The Girl Who Played with Fire), and literally couldn’t sleep until I finished it. Thanks a lot, Stieg Larsson. So, book finished, things unpacked, I finally went to bed for the first time in my home in Israel.

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5 Comments

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5 responses to “first day in jerusalem

  1. Renee

    Are you going to be able to talk your Mom and Anna into visiting? I’d give a couple years off my life to come!

  2. Lynn Simmons

    I want to see my daughter! Hopefully we’ll journey to Israel during passover break.

  3. Lynn Simmons

    Bob Marley, no.
    Bobby McFerrin, yes.

  4. Jan Meins

    Sophie, I am so glad you are finally settled. I have been following your blogs and so excited and scared for you and your Mom. I just can’t imagine all that you have been through! Best of luck to you in your new school….keep on writing! and take good care of yourself! Jan, Allie’s mom from Alameda.

  5. Kim Dahlgren

    I’m finally catching up on all your posts! And I read The Girl Who Played With Fire while I was traveling abroad last summer! I couldn’t put it down either, I just finally finished the 3rd book

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