Monday, September 19, 2005

Ahoy, Ye Landlubbers!

Avast, me matey, it be September 19th at last! The day we scallywags of the sea call International Talk Like A Pirate Day. This year, it really be international, as I be here and Velvel (and his scurvy wench) be in America.

So lift a cup of grog and sing "Yo ho!", me hearties! Else I'll make ye swab the deck like the filthy bilge rat ye are!


Shabbos was great. Motzei shabbos was better. Sunday I started ulpan and ate falafel. Now it's Monday, and I'm taking a break from class. Tomorrow I start work.

I'll provide details soon, but I need to let someone else use the computer.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Foreign Policy Announcement

Cara's World Ministry of Foreign Affairs hereby declares Spanish to be an official language of business. This policy went into effect as of 9:00am this morning, when yours truly found herself called upon to help translate instructions into Spanish. My services as translator (luckily, I'm only the lovely assistant as far as translating is concerned. My spanish is too rusty for me to do a good job on my own) will also be needed on shabbos, if any of the South Americans come to the parsha hashavua shiur tomorrow afternoon.

My nine years of spanish are proving increasingly useful. Not only can I make friends with the South Americans (who already like me because I play futbol), but my closest friend so far is Luciana the Brazilian, and we can switch into Spanish when we want to speak without the children understanding. I never really thought that high school would come in handy. I also never thought I'd come to ulpan to practice my spanish.

Israeli Humor (Or Lack Thereof)

Yesterday was the first "real" day here at the United Nations. By 6pm, we had nothing else to do, and I was facing a very long night spent with the little American puppies. I've found that the Europeans and South Americans, even the 18 yr olds, are much more mature than their American counterparts. So neither the idea of going into Ashdod with the children or staying in the Love Shack was particularly appealing. Luckily, my phone rang. Last week, at Sam's Tel Aviv birthday party, I met his friend Isaac, who teaches at the Technion. Isaac was in Tel Aviv with some friends, and was planning on going to a comedy club, and invited me along. After dinner, I hopped on the (very cheap!) bus to Tel Aviv, and arrived at the tachana hamerkazit 40 minutes later. Isaac picked me up, and we began the adventure of navigating our way through Tel Aviv by car.

Tel Aviv may be the most poorly designed city that I have ever been in. Now, I am very much accustomed to one way streets, but in Tel Aviv, you'll have three streets in a row where you can't turn right. Then, when you finally turn, you're on a street that soon curves in the opposite direction from the one you want, and in three minutes you're in a totally different neighborhood with no idea how to go back to where you started. We finally got to the club, but the show was canceled. So we hopped back in the car and went to the other comedy club. The show started at 10:45, and featured six stand-up comics that each had about 15 minutes. After a brief intermission, we went back in for another six comics. The show ended around 2:30. I understood about 25% of what was said. Since I was also very tired, I came very close to falling asleep a few times. Only the fear that the comic would see me and make fun of me in front of everyone kept me from taking a nap.

Israeli stand-up is not quite my kind of thing. Even without the language barrier, most of the comics were very vulgar. Ten of the twelve made jokes at some point that involved farting or taking a shit. There was one woman comic who was so unbelievably crude that I was a bit embarassed that she was Jewish. Everything was either a swear word or a reference to genitalia and procreation. A few of them were actually very funny. What I found most amusing, though, was how Jewish the jokes were. You don't have stand-up comics talking about streimels and sufganiot in the States.

Isaac drove me all that way back to the kibbutz afterwards, dropping me off around 3:30am. I'm running on four hours of sleep and two cups of coffee, so it's time for a pre-shabbos shluff.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Welcome to the Love Shack

It's all quiet in the madhouse right now. Everyone is either taking a test to determine whether they'll be in Kita Aleph or Bet (aka, beginners or intermediate class) or they are trying on work clothes. Since the computer is actually free, I'm using it while I have the chance.

Yesterday was primarily spent meeting new people as they arrive. We have people from Italy, France, Spain, England, Sweden, Holland, Venezuela, Brazil, Colombia, and Canada. I may be forgetting a country or two. Many of them are 18-20, so I'm actually one of the older ones here, which I was not expecting. With only a few exceptions, everyone seems pretty friendly and some are actually funny. Even the few exceptions seem like they're basically good people, who just happen to be particularly annoying. But since we'll all be here for 5 months, I'll need to learn to be patient. I have a roomate now- she's an 18 yr old Londoner named Elana. I think we'll get along just fine. We just need to decorate our room so it doesn't look so institutional.

I've been placed in Kita Bet, which is what I was expecting. I know there are a couple of girls who speak Hebrew fairly well on the program, so they'll be in my class. Other than that, I don't know how advanced we'll really be. Classes will start on Sunday. Today and tomorrow we'll be taken around the kibbutz and given our work assignments.

Generally, the ulpan house, aka the Love Shack, is utter chaos. Twelve people will be watching TV, while another plays the guitar and someone else turns on some music. Right outside the moadon, the Europeans will be smoking their cigarettes. This may be the only moment of quiet that this room will experience until shabbat. I don't mind the chaos. There's usually someone doing or saying something funny. The only thing I find irksome is a couple of American teenagers who have no concept of volume control or self-censorship. They say whatever they're thinking, and they say it loudly. Maybe that works for some people, but I don't need to hear some girl I just met screeching that she's a virgin at the top of her lungs three times in a row. TMI, people! Neither of these kids speaks anything other than English though, so when they get too annoying, I just switch to Spanish and talk to the South Americans.

So welcome to the Love Shack, the multilingual capital of Cara's World for the next five months. Who needs the Real World? MTV doesn't know what it's missing...

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Kibbutzwatch- Day One

I made it to the kibbutz today, after spending four nights in Beit Shemesh. Taking the bus was remarkably easy. I think it only took abut 25-30 minutes. Getting my stuff from the bus stop to the kibbutz was a whole other matter entirely. The kibbutz is only about 2km away from the bus stop, but I had a backpack, a small travel bag, and a 65lb duffel on wheels to shlep in the hot mid-morning sun. I got about halfway, stopped to take a breather, and then hitched a ride the rest of the way. The very nice Israeli person who drove me wasn't familiar with the kibbutz itself, though, so I was dropped off at the first official-looking building. Another nice Israei person then took the backpack and small bag on her bicycle to the ulpan, and I followed slowly behind with the duffel.

There are about 10 people here so far. The guys are all American- two are 18, one is 28, and I don't know about the fourth. There might be a fifth lurking about, but I'm not sure. As for the girls, I've met a 28 yr old Brazilian who's in the process of converting, and an 18 yr old girl from the Netherlands. There's also an Australian who's converting, and a fifth girl who I haven't actually met yet, but have seen going in and out of the moadon.

I've unpacked my stuff, and am trying to find something to do with myself. I may go in to Ashdod tomorrow. I was told that they would give me towels, but that doesn't seem to be true, so I need to go buy some. Tonight there's a wedding on the kibbutz, so I'll most likely go, although I've never crashed a wedding before. I may have to add that to my list of virgin experiences.

Virgin Experiences

Here's a brief list of the things I have done for the first time since being in Israel. Some of them may be things that I'd done in the States, but doing them here is a different experience, so I'm including them anyway:

1) Going to Eilat
2) Parasailing
3) Riding a banana boat
4) Having roast duck in passion fruit sauce
5) Spending more than four hours in Sam's company
6) Riding a train
7) Tremping
8) Doing laundry

I think it's a pretty good list, given the short amount of time that I've been here. Soon I'll post a brief list of things that I just don't get about this country. Right now, the top of that list is men who roll the bottom of their shirts up to their chests and walk around thinking it looks sexy.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

The View From Beit Shemesh

I love this part of the country. I love looking out the window and seeing the hills rising up behind the houses, particularly as the sun sets and the white walls of the houses turn rosy and orange. I'll stay in Beit Shemesh another night or so, as I try to figure out the easiest way to get me and all of my stuff to the kibbutz.

I have yet to encounter anyone here who voices support for the disengagement. Opinions vary as to what will happen now, and whether the IDF will soon be rolling right back into Gaza, and whether we ever will actually give up the Shomron, but so far I have not heard anyone say that they think the pullout was a good idea. Then again, the only Israelis that I have had this conversation with have all been dati. I don't know if that's making a difference. I've heard that a number of settlers from Gush Katif have relocated to kibbutz Yavne, so I may soon have the chance to hear their thoughts in their own words. The only argument that I've had on this subject has been with Sam. He thinks he won, but we both know that I conceded nothing.

I feel like I should be having some very deep and interesting thoughts about my life right now, but I really have no coherent thoughts about being in Israel. I have no idea what to expect when I get to Yavne. I have no mental image of what the kibbutz will look like, no sense of what ulpan will be like, no expectations of what the people will be like, either the other ulpan students or the kibbutzniks themselves. All I have is a vague sense that this year is one day going to be a very important chapter in my best-selling autobiography.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Last Days of Sam

We got in to Tel Aviv around 7:30 or 8:00 in the evening on Wednesday night, and went back to the Yamit Park Plaza to pick up the bags we'd left in storage. Then we walked down the beach to the Carlton and checked in. They gave us lemonade while we were waiting. I think the Carlton was the nicest of the hotels that we'd stayed in, followed by the Dan Panorama Eilat.

After checking in, we went for dinner at a Chinese restaurant called ShangriLa with Sam's friend Yael, and then went for a drink at one of the many bars on the beach. They all look exactly the same, except that each has differently colored cone-shaped lights dotted around the chairs. We walked past the red cones and the green cones, and ended up at the blue cones. Our server was either a complete moron or on some very powerful mind-altering drugs, because the service was the worst I have ever experienced in a bar, and that's saying something in this country. There were hardly any people there, so its not like he had a good excuse for never coming back. We had a good time anyway.

Thursday was a very busy day, as it was Sam's last full day in Israel. We met up with his friend Ron for an amazing steak lunch at El Gaucho. Then Sam went to see his baby cousins and I went off on a mission to get a cell phone. While spending time with Sam's baby cousins would have been much more fun, I didn't think I'd be able to find time to get a phone later in the day if I'd tagged along. My mission was successful, and I now have a phone of my very own.

We met up again later on, in time to get ready for dinner and the first of Sam's four birthday parties. We had dinner with Sam's friends Michal and Isaac, and Isaac's brother Michael, and then went to a rather swanky bar on the beach. This one didn't have colored cones, but it was decorated almost entirely in orange. It wasn't a political statement, though. I think the Orange cellphone company had something to do with it. Dalia, Itai and Yael joined us, as well as some other friends who I didn't get a chance to really talk with. As it got later, the party thinned down to the 5 of us who'd had dinner together. We went down to the water and hung out on the beach for a while, and then went back to the hotel. By the time Michal, Isaac and Michael left, it was around 2:30am. Sam was determined not to go to sleep at all, so that he'd be able to fall asleep the minute he boarded the airplane, so we did our best to keep him up. Of course, this meant that I was also up for most of the night, but it was a willing sacrifice. I think we fell asleep at some point, but it couldn't have been for more than an hour or so, because we were definately awake when the sun began to rise.

This morning was pretty much just packing up and shipping out. We got Sam to the airport 2 hours before his flight, and I continued on my journey to Beit Shemesh, where I will stay for a few days. Now, however, it's time for a little pre-shabbos shluffy.

I Heart Eilat Part 2

When people have asked Sam and me what we did in Eilat, the answer that always pops out is, "What didn't we do?" On Tuesday, we went to talk to the woman at the attractions desk in the hotel lobby, and found an amazing deal of parasailing, tubing, kayaking and banana boating, all for only 180 NIS. SO that's what we did.

The banana boat was first. For those in the dark, a banana boat is actually a very phallic rubber floaty thingy attached to a boat by a long rope. There are handles spaced out evenly on top, and places to rest your feet on each side. It fits seven or eight people, sitting one behind the other. The boat pulls the floaty thingy, a.k.a. banana, and you try not to slide off. We were deliberately flipped over a couple of times, which was great. The funniest part of being flipped turned out to be this Israeli chick who was completely incapable of pulling herself back onto the banana and kept sliding back into the water.

Then we went tubing. Now, I had been tubing before, back in my summercamp days. In the Wisconsin Dells, tubing meant sitting in a tube and being pulled by a very fast boat. In Eilat, tubing means lying on your stomach (two people at a time) on a raft-type device, holding on for dear life while a maniac behind the wheel of the boat tries to see how far you can fly off and how hard you can smack the water when you land. I was laughing and praying and cursing the driver simultaneously. It was awesome.

Then came the parasailing. At this point, I have to give Sam major kudos for agreeing to try this, because he hates heights. It was phenomenal. You look down at the water beneath you, and it just looks so impossibly blue, and the sun makes the surface sparkle with golden shimmers. If you tip your head back and close your eyes, you feel like you're flying.

We took a break for lunch because I needed refueling, and walked around for a bit before we went kayaking. We both got in the same kayak, and rowed ourselves out a little bit, and then we let ourselves drift. It was so peaceful. I can't tell you what Sam was thinking, but I don't know that I was thinking much of anything, and it's a rare moment when my brain shuts off during waking hours. I just laid back in the kayak and listened to the water and the wind and completely relaxed. It was bliss.

Wednesday morning we checked out of the hotel room, and then I went to the Marine Park by myself so that Sam could get some work done. I loved it. I spent over an hour in the underwater observatory taking pictures of fish. I've never seen so many different types of fish before, or imagined that they could be so colorful. I loved it. After communing with the fishies, I met up with Sam again and we went back to Tel Aviv for the last few days of the trip. More to come...

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

I Heart Eilat

Sunday night was uneventful, so let's fast forward, shall we? Monday, Sam and I hopped on a short flight down to Eilat, arriving around 1:30 in the afternoon. We checked into the very pretty Dan Panorama Eilat, and then decided began the "What shall we do now?" discussion. After viewing the tourist pamphlets in the lobby, we decided that the time had come to introduce Cara to snuba.

Unbelievable!! For those unfamiliar with the ancient Mayan water sport of snuba, it's a cross between scuba and snorkeling. You're given a breathing regulator, which is attached to a raft by a 20 foot tube. Then you go under water and swim around, looking at the fishies and coral and pretty things that don't exist on the surface. Getting put into a wetsuit was an interesting experience. I felt like a cross between a burrito and a penguin. They stick a hose into the suit to wet you down before you go into the water, and since the water was warm, it pretty much felt like I'd pisched in my suit. It was very hard not to start giggling. Sam had much better composure than I did.

The actual dive defies description. We took underwater photos, so once I have the digital pics, I'll try to post some for you all to see. The colors are amazing. It's hard to believe, when you look at the surface of the pretty blue sea, that there's so much going on right below the surface. We swam through a school of purple and orange stripped fish. I saw a long silvery fish that looked like a strip of polished sheet metal. I have no idea what the names of all the plants and fishies are, but I'm suddenly very interested in marine biology. Are those pink bundles related to flowers, or do they just look like flowers? What do the fish eat? What predators live down there? I can't wait to snuba again sometime.

By the time we got back ot the hotel, cleaned up and made ourselves pretty, it was time to eat. We found an amazing Chinese restaurant a short walk away, but it wasn't open for another 30 minutes. Being incredibly resourceful individuals, we walked to the beach and had some tasty fruity alchomoholic beverages while we waited. Then we went back for dinner. I had the roast duck in passion fruit sauce, while Sam enjoyed the filet mignon and sweet potatoes. was so yummy! Why can't we have food like that in the States?

In the evening, we wandered around and simply enjoyed. The weather at night is absolutely perfect. Now it's Tuesday morning, and Sam is being very patient while I post. So I'll leave this here and go figure out what we'll do with today.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Deep Thoughts (Or Lack Thereof)

This is my first real chance to post, and I have no idea what to write about. I'm in Ra'anana at the moment, at Gila's sister's home. Esti left me here to play on the computer while she picks the kids of from their first day of school. I suppose I should just start writing about the trip so far, and see where that takes me.

The flight from Toronto to Tel Aviv was pretty boring. This was the first time I didn't have my own little TV screen in front of me, and I now really appreciate the luxury. Watching "Miss Congeniality 2" is not my idea of a pleasant way to make the flight go by. So I read the DaVinci Code instead. I liked it, but I really don't see what all the fuss was about. The first half was surprising, but it got fairly predictable after that. I certainly don't understand why everyone told me that I simply had to read it.

We got to Tel Aviv around 11:00am, and went straight to the hotel. Since I was hungry (didn't eat much on the flight...Air Canada's food was pretty bad), we went and got falafel. It seemed like a good thing to eat as my first food in Israel. After that, it was off to the beach for a bit. We didn't do anything special for dinner. We were supposed to meet up with some of Sam's cousins, but they bailed on us last minute. When we got back to the hotel, Sam ran into some fraternity brothers from U of I, and we ended up going out with them until we needed to crash. The bar was actually a very cool place, and somewhere I'd really like to go again, but I doubt that I could find it.

Friday morning we left for Yerushalayim, arriving around lunchtime. We stayed in the Jerusalem Tower Hotel, and I would not recommend it to anyone that I'm fond of. They have no idea how to run a hotel. This was also my first experience doing shabbos meals in a hotel, and I found it to be rather strange. I'm used to having shabbos meals in someone's home, not being served by a waiter. I can wait a while before repeating the experience. Shabbos was pretty tame. We went to the Kotel shabbos evening, because Sam hadn't been there yet. I'd been there earlier in the day, since Sam needed to get some work done and I didn't feel like staying indoors. Shabbos day was beautiful, so we met up with some of Sam's friends and just wandered around the city. I ran into Navit and Sarah, who will be living in Baka for the year.

After shabbos, Sam and I went to Har Nof to have dinner with his charedi cousins. I probably shouldn't have been so amused by it, but I was. They're very, very sweet, but if we weren't all from Chicago, I don't know what we would have talked about. I did give Sam's cousin a run for his money when he started giving a vort about Rosh Chodesh Elul (by the way, chodesh tov to all!), but I'm not sure if that impressed him or frightened him. After dinner, we went out for drinks with the same friends we'd wandered about with that afternoon.

Now it's Sunday. Sam is in Tel Aviv working (he has a business meeting this evening with some uber-important people), and I'm in Ra'anana, simultaneously spending time with Esti and staying out of Sam's way. At some point today, I may even get myself a cell phone.

That brings you all up to speed. I wish I had some deep thoughts to share, but I'm really just in tourist/vacation mode right now. The strangest thing about being here is that it doesn't feel strange to be here. I'm sure that will change once I get down to the kibbutz. I can tell you that I'm happy that I'm here. People have asked me, "Why did you decide to come to Israel?" and I usually answer, "Do I really need a reason?" It just seems to make sense to me that I'm here and staying for the next several months. I can also tell you that I can't wait to begin ulpan. The only thing that frustrates me right now is having to keep saying, "Lo medaberet ivrit" and "Lo mevina". My comprehension of what's being said is already improving, but I can't respond.

That's it for now. Tomorrow we head down to Eilat, so maybe I'll be able to regale you with humourous anecdotes about my first attempts at snorkeling and scuba diving.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

First Post from the Other Side

Here I am, in sunny Tel Aviv, in a hotel room on the beach. I've had my first falafel, and it's just about time to go swimming.

For those who are curious, the flight was fine. Air Canada was very friendly and efficient. The kosher food might have been the worst I've ever had, but they got me to Israel and that's all that really matters.

Tomorrow I'm off to Yerushalayim for shabbos. I don't know if I'll get to post, so if not, a very merry shabbos to you all.