I write to you now from my usual blogging spot— perched on my tiny dorm bed surrounded by laundry hanging to dry on every corner, nail, and tack in the room. The plus side of this, of course, is that this prison cell sized cube of mine smells of lavender and roses. I have been enjoying the fresh scent after returning from a day at the pool yesterday (sun, friends and date/pecan/banana smoothies included), and preparing for our first day of traditional classes, which is today. Phase one of being abroad (Ulpan) has wrapped up and six weeks are under my belt. Incredible!
Last Thursday evening (which, in Israeli time, feels like 6 months ago) all the students on my program piled onto a bus and drove south, to the valleys and rock crevices surrounding Sde Boker. From there our program leader’s friend, Aviv, lead us on a five-mile hike, winding through wadis, plateaus, and dried river beds. The desert was quiet, free from the hum of Beer Sheva we are used to, and the stars were clear. I hadn’t realized until we got out into the desert how much I have missed hiking. After training for various backpacking and climbing trips virtually every day this spring and summer, I arrived in Beer Sheva in July— bus-bound to civilization, without a car to drive to trailheads. Coupled with the safety risks of hiking in the Negev during the daytime (AKA risk of turning into a raisin and actually dying), I have been deprived of one of my favorite activities. Anyways— after relishing in the joy of finally hitting a trail, we finished our hike on a wide plateau. Our program leaders made coffee and lemongrass tea (new favorite), we chowed down some cookies, and a few amerature astronomers in our group pointed out different constellations in the sky. Filled up on treats and hot drinks, I stared blankly at the stars for a while, overwhelmed by a completely visible Milky Way, and promised myself to figure out ways to explore the beauty of the desert more.
After returning late on Thursday night (Friday morning, really) I went to bed utterly exhausted from the hike and past week of Ulpan. Never the less, I was summoned awake at 6 AM by a strange vibrating noise from my phone— which turned out to be “Facebook: Stacy Sullivan invites you to a video call”. After stumbling around in my room to find a pair of headphones, I answered the call to find Maggie and the whole Sullivan clan (minus Jack) staring at me in bed. I cracked up and said that they were pretty smart, as if you ever need to get a hold of me, the middle of the night is actually a good time, as I am predictably in one place (asleep), with Wifi. We chatted about the “little ones” starting their senior year of high school (WHAT?), me coming home (not in the plans), Israeli food (yes, I’m surviving, quite happily), safety (I feel safer here than I do in America) and Thanksgiving (no, they do not have that here, and no, I will not be coming home). It was so good to see their faces and feel connected to life at home (ah, the wonders of 21st-century technology).
The remainder of our weekend was surprisingly low key. We followed our normal routine of grocery shopping, preparing for Shabbat, having Shabbat dinner, going to the pool and exploring Beer Sheva. While I have enjoyed traveling around the country on weekends, I am equally happy to stay in Beer Sheva. So much of studying abroad is the experience of actually living somewhere else— rather than just using that place as a launch pad to a million other cities or countries (one of my issues with European study abroad, and a large reason I chose Israel). I would highly recommend to anyone who is planning on studying abroad to “stay in” on most weekends and explore the museums, restaurants, bars, and parks within your city rather than jumping on a train or plane out of town. It makes the experience that much more enriching and meaningful.
Okay, (forgive my rant on advice) back to what the heck I did last week…
On Monday, my friend Mimi invited me to go to Jerusalem with her to meet a friend and attend the annual Jerusalem Wine Festival. After Ulpan, we hopped on a bus to Jerusalem and arrived in time for dinner (the beauty of a small country… easy afternoon trips to the holiest city in the world). We met her friend, Ben, in the shuk and had some delicious pasta before heading over to the Israel National Museum, where the festival was held. The museum’s sculpture garden (a large, multilevel garden with olive trees and stone pathways) had been transformed into a wine taster’s heaven— lined with tasting booths of wine, cheese, peanut butter, gelato, liquor, and (of course) chocolate. We were, in all truthfulness, happy as could be. After inhaling every food, drink, and dessert in sight, Mimi and I hopped on the bus, carrying our complimentary wine glasses (got a few weird looks from security), and were back in Beer Sheva by bedtime.
In other news, last week we wrapped up our last days of Ulpan. This basically meant that Michal threw a ton of vocabulary and grammar at us. At one point she said (in her ultra sarcastic Israeli voice) “I will be so mean to you this week and give you so many many verbs. You will cry!”. No crying occurred— but a fair amount of studying took place in preparation for Wednesday’s final exam. I was nervous, but performed well on the test and surprised myself with the amount of Hebrew I have picked up in the last six weeks. While Ulpan was exhausting and overwhelming, it was ridiculously effective. A big shout out to Michal, who keep the mood #positive and #humorous, even when I felt like I was drowning in two new alphabets and a million similar-sounding vocabulary words.
The evening after our final exam, the university catered an “End of Ulpan” dinner party in one of the campus gardens. We had our classiest dinner thus far (first salmon I’ve had in months!) and enjoyed being all together and celebrating the completion of 120 hours of Hebrew (in the quarter system, this translates to 9 units). After dinner, we watched skits that each class level had prepared to perform in front of the other students and our teachers. They were each uniquely hilarious. Ours contained many classic, sarcastic Michal quotes (“If you do not put away your telephone, I will kill you! No, this is Israel, I will actually kill you.”, “It is so hard it will make you cry.”, “Oh, my darling, my darling.”, “Where is your smile?”). Other skits were based on inside jokes within each class itself, but we all enjoyed watching them and laughing at the “balagan” that is learning Hebrew.
The following morning Hannah, Mimi, Felice and I headed back to Jerusalem for a 24 hour whirlwind of site seeing, eating and shopping. So far, Jerusalem has turned out to be my favorite place in Israel. Similar to my love of Washington DC and Rome, my obsession with Jerusalem is rooted in the fact that the city holds so much history, culture, and power (will definitely write a more in-depth analysis of Jerusalem soon). On Thursday we spent most of our day in the Old City, exploring each quarter (Jewish quarter, Christian quarter, etc.). In the late afternoon, we went to the Western Wall. I was overwhelmed by the power and importance of the wall and sat in a chair staring at it for half an hour. What a place.
The remainder of our time in Jerusalem was spent eating yummy food (what a surprise, right?!), jewelry shopping (another huge surprise) and meeting up with mutual friends. Before leaving on Friday we made a quick stop at the shuk to buy fresh challah, pastries, fruit and a few boxes of rugalach for Shabbat. The shuk on Friday morning is madness, but a good kind of madness. It holds the same combination of hustle, joy, and happiness that holiday shopping at Stanford does. The whole shuk smelled of fresh bread, strollers were getting in the way of carts of fish, vendors were (literally) throwing samples of their food at those passing by, little five-foot-tall Grandmas were yelling at the shopkeepers for better prices, and everyone, undoubtedly, had a smile on their face… #love
Whew! What a week. We finished up the weekend at the pool yesterday, followed by a visit to the ER last night with one of my friends (she’s fine and dandy now). Mom and I were both surprised (and a little relieved) that my first experience with Israeli medical care wasn’t because of a weird disease I had contracted or a ridiculous accident I had been in (shout out to stepping on sea urchins, suffering from the infamous Haitian sickness, stomaching persistent E.coli from Ireland, slicing my booty open on a ski track, having a multiple months-long concussion and contracting bizarre Central American worms…what will Israel bring?!).
That’s all I got for you for now. In a few minutes, I’m off to my first day of real classes. I couldn’t be more excited!
As always, sending big hugs and lots of love out to all of you.