life in jerusalem

Just a few notable things that have cropped up recently :

The prevalence of UC Santa Barbara students abroad. Within the first week or so of classes at Hebrew University, I had met at least three or four other UCSB students, and had multiple people tell me that they’re shocked at how many UCSB students are abroad. It’s cool to know that one of the facts that I say to visitors while giving my tour at UCSB (that we send the most students abroad out of any UC) is true and noticeable.

Exercise classes at the gym. Each international student at Hebrew U is given 10 “points” to use for activities- the points themselves don’t cost anything, but different trips cost between 1 and 3 points. Unlimited access to group classes at the gym cost 1 point for the entire semester, so I definitely took advantage of it. The classes are great- they offer yoga, pilates, zumba, and aerobics, among other things, but the group setting is a little silly. Most of the instructors only speak Hebrew, and when they do speak English, their knowledge of terms for body parts is usually a little questionable. So, ‘ankle’ ends up meaning ‘wrist,’ and right means left, and vice versa. Also, the gym isn’t only for Hebrew U students- most of the attendees are usually Israeli women in their 50’s and 60’s who gather to gossip and socialize. Between the language barrier and age difference, Hebrew U students are definitely the odd ones out.

Jeff Seidel’s. My initial excitement about finding a place to do free laundry has turned into me spending embarrassingly large chunks of my time there. Some of this isn’t voluntary- even when you do sign yourself up for a 1-2 hour time slot to do laundry, there are usually other students there still finishing up loads, or random people who have shown up to wash clothes unexpectedly. So, laundry usually ends up being a 3-4 hour adventure. The bright side is that Jeff’s also has good, free internet, and better yet, free cookies!

Egypt. I mentioned in a previous post that I was asked to compile an overview of the 2011 Egyptian Revolution for my Comparative Politics class. It’s really basic, and doesn’t go into details or my personal experience, but covers a few key events and people that aren’t always discussed in the media. Click here: egyptrevolutionpptnew

Internet. About twenty feet from my dorm room, there’s a small cafe that offers (comparatively inexpensive) food, drinks, music, and most importantly, free internet. My apartment chose to not pay for internet for the first month or so that we were in Jerusalem, for various reasons- Sloane and Analucia’s laptops were broken for awhile, then we were too busy with schoolwork and weekend trips, and finally we were waiting until the beginning of a new month so that we wouldn’t have to pay the full month price for just a week or two. This resulted in some creative maneuvers to find internet access. We managed to get the password to a friend’s internet in the building next to ours, and mooched off of that for awhile until his roommates found out and changed the password- it was nice while it lasted! The most consistent solution was to run down to the cafe for awhile and use their internet. At first, we tried to pay them back for the free internet usage by buying a coffee or serving of french fries while we were there, but eventually, we were there enough that they didn’t mind our presence for a few minutes while we checked our e-mail. After a few weeks of this, it got a little embarrassing- they all recognized us and we were spending waaay too much time there, and Skyping from the cafe was always interesting thanks to their music choices. But hey- it worked! As of last week, I’m proud to say that my apartment is finally internet-enabled.
The cafe also offered a place to practice our Arabic. A few of the guys working there spoke it fluently, and often welcomed us with an “Izzayik?” (how are you?). We ended up making the mistake of assuming that everybody working at the cafe was Arab and spoke Arabic- a couple of the guys ended up getting angry at the fact that we assumed they were Arab, when in fact they were 100% Israeli. Oops.

Media attention. Over the course of our first couple of weeks in Jerusalem, we started getting requests for TV and newspaper interviews. Yoni, our academic advisor, served as the medium through which various media outlets contacted us, and for awhile, we were scheduling a few meetings a week with the press. They even had “press packets” for us! The interviews were always interesting, to say the least- most of the interviewers either didn’t speak English as their first language, didn’t know any background about our story, or were desperately searching for a quote from us about how anti-Semitic Egyptians are. We ended up in the Jerusalem Post, Channel 9 News, YNet, a couple of French and Russian news channels, and I was interviewed for the UCSB school newspaper (the Daily Nexus) and the UC Education Abroad Program newsletter. Aside from direct media interviews, we’re also getting requests to comment on our experience in classes and in meetings with Israeli Middle Eastern Studies students. It’s been kinda cool to get our fifteen minutes of fame out of this, but I’m glad it’s over.

Break-ins. When we first moved into the dorms at Hebrew U, the madrachim (resident advisors, or counselors) warned us about the necessity of locking our doors. Apparently, there had been a series of thefts within the student village. I didn’t think much of it, but made sure to lock both the front door and my personal room whenever I come or go. Within the first few weeks here, I started hearing stories that made me question the motives of people around the dorm area. On a couple of occasions, one of my roommates has heard somebody try to open the lock to our door, and then quickly turn and rush down the exit stairs upon realizing that somebody was home. Sloane also walked into the living room on one occasion after hearing the door open, only to find that a book on the table had been rotated slightly and that the zipper pull to her laptop case was swinging back and forth. Within the last week, money and a book has also gone mysteriously missing. None of these instances have proven anything, but it has kept us on our toes.

Falafel! One of my favorite places around here is a tiny falafel place right next to the dorms, on the way to Jeff Seidel’s. It’s Arab-run, which means that the guys there speak Arabic (…and Hebrew, and English) and they get really excited when you even attempt to speak Arabic with them. I go there every week or two, usually on my way to do laundry or grab free cookies. The guys have started recognizing us by now, and are always a lot of fun. Today, I stopped by to grab some food, and determinedly walked up to the counter to say, “Wehid falafel, min fadluk!” (One falafel, please!). The guy half-smiled before reaching behind the counter and picking up one single ball of falafel. I realized my mistake as he quickly corrected me: “Wehid falafel pita,” before beginning to pack falafel, salad, pickles, and french fries into my pita. They guys working there always make us repeat the Arabic words for each ingredient as they put it in- I ask for french fries, and they respond “batatas,” insisting that we repeat before it’s served. A couple of times, Shannon and I have attempted to tip them for their kindness, but they always insist on putting more french fries (I mean… batatas) in our pitas in return. Today, one of the guys even gave me a fresh strawberry from his own box. It’s a great place to have nearby.

Parents!! My mom and stepdad Mark are currently en route to Israel for a week-long visit. This is their second attempt at coming to visit me- the first was supposed to bring them to Egypt in early February, but that didn’t happen for obvious reasons. There’s only about 12 hours left until they’re due to land, so hopefully nothing dramatic will happen before then! (Protesters, take the day off for me.)



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