I feel like I’ve been out of touch for a while and so much has happened, so this is me saying, “Hello again.” One of the things I’m coming to realize is that no matter how much we try and no matter how much we write, words, pictures and video are still not enough to completely convey the total sensory, emotional, psychological immersion that is life and living in a foreign country. That being said, I will try to give you a brief update on our activities as well as some reflection.
Since returning from the Fulbright orientation, we jumped right back into things. I’ve been finding more and more free time for research, which is great because I was beginning to worry that I was taking too long of a break. The department is very active. There are a lot of interesting looking topics courses and seminars being run. There are so many options, it’s hard to choose which to focus on and how to balance going to seminars versus spending time on my own research, but that’s a good problem to have. I feel like a kid in a candy store. Furthermore, I’m not surprised to find that my fellow post-docs are really smart cookies; it provides me with a good sort of peer pressure to try to hold my own with them. I also gave my first talk in Israel last week. I spoke at the algebra seminar at Bar Ilan University about my research to date. It seemed to be well received. Also, Michael Schein, the professor that invited me to speak was able to answer a question that had been bugging me for a few days, so it was a fruitful trip. I hope to have further positive and productive interactions with him over the coming months.
Some other highlights (and lowlights) of the last couple weeks include seeing our friends from the US, Felix and Rebecca, get married in Jerusalem, losing my wallet on the bus, getting my wallet back, having an allergic reaction to insect repellent, and then recovering from this reaction. Visiting with Felix and Rebecca was great, and it was very special to be a part of their wedding. Losing my wallet on the other hand, was very annoying and slightly nerve racking as we hurriedly canceled all of our credit cards. The good news is that nothing was stolen. The next day, I called Egged (the bus company) and sure enough, someone had turned in my wallet to lost and found. Retrieving it from lost and found, however, proved to be more difficult. I spent about 3 hours riding the bus and going back and forth between Har Nof and the Central Bus Station before I finally tracked down where they had stored my wallet. (The Har Nof office said it was there, but when I got there, they sent me to the Central Bus Station, which sent me back to Har Nof.) Beyond the stress of dealing with losing my wallet and tracking it down, the thing that sticks with me about this experience is that through it I wound up yelling at someone in Hebrew for the first time. I think I made sense, but that’s secondary. The point is that in order to get things done, sometimes you have to be a little pushy here. Our Israeli friends have told us that there is no etiquette here, but I think this statement should be slightly modified. It seems that it’s expected that you’ll speak up for yourself when necessary (rather than waiting quietly in “line”), but speaking up for yourself does not mean taking advantage of other people. While dealing with people in day to day business, my impression is that they just want to do what’s right and so just as they will speak up when they see a mistake you’re also expected to speak up if you see a mistake. This happened to us a couple times, once on the bus and once while buying our refrigerator. The bus driver gave me the wrong change one time (in the bus company’s favor) and I didn’t notice, but he called me back and gave me the right change. Similarly, when we bought our fridge, the store gave us some gift cards to ACE, but we forgot to take them. When the salesperson discovered this 15 minutes after we left, he called us on the phone so that we could still get the cards.
Anyway, about this allergic reaction. So there are a lot of bugs in Israel (or at in the parts we’ve visited), particularly mosquitoes, which surprises me since there is less water here than in CT. The other weird thing is that our windows don’t have screens. When you combine this with the fact that we don’t have air conditioning, well, the result is that we were being bitten like crazy since we’d have our windows open all the time. To combat this, we started putting an all-natural bug repellent on at night. After a week of doing this, plus using an electric bug zapper, we weren’t being bitten quite so much. On the other hand, I broke out in a very itchy/burning rash everywhere on my body that I had sprayed the repellent. This means the rash covered my arms, my chest, my stomach, and my legs. So no more bug bites, but the rash was a lot worse. After 2 sleepless nights, I gave up on trying over the counter medication and went to a walk-in clinic called Terem. They spoke English there (thank God), but I had prepared myself by learning the Hebrew word for rash. In the end, the doctor that helped me was originally from Philadelphia and he gave me some Predisone, which took care of the rash. Oh, but Predisone has some side effects. One of which is acting like an upper, so even though the itching went away, I hardly slept for the next 5 days. So now I’m recovering from a cold as my immune system finally rebelled against the stresses I had been putting it under.
All in all the experience so far has been a mixture of amazing and stressful. I may have already said this, but it is still true. So many strangers have been so nice and understanding and helpful; it made our transition here so much easier than it could have been. I hope that we will get the opportunity to pay this kindness forward to other people. That being said, moving is hard, and feeling like you’re stupid or can’t function as an adult because you don’t know how things operate here and you can’t speak the language so you’re making decisions knowing that you only have a partially understanding of all the words on a piece of paper is very nerve-racking. The best way to describe it is feeling vulnerable.
In our next post, we’ll talk a little about some of the differences between the US and Israel that we’ve seen so far.