Monday, January 22, 2007

Off to work

As I said at the end of the last blog I would be working in the Druze school and the absorption center. The Albyader school is located in the small Druze vilage of Ein-Al-Assad up in the mountains about a twenty minute drive from Karmiel. Therefore every morning there is a minibus to take three of us to school, Jessie, who is working with me, and I to Ein-Al-Assad and Ariel to Ferod a very arty primary school near by. All lessons are taught in Arabic, and the only person who speaks English is oddly enough the English teacher Nasreen. Therefore the staffroom can be a very isolated place as none of the teachers can talk to us, and so Jessie and I make use of our breaks and free periods (of which there are quite a few) to do copious amounts of reading.

Lessons themselves are very mixed, we take years 4-8, which I think is a range from 9-12 years old. The students have a very mixed ability in English, some are very good, others need things to be said very loudly and require a lot of hand gestures to have points illustrated to them. Although the lessons are in Arabic the children can all understand and speak Hebrew, although I try to avoid using Hebrew as much as possible, as how can they learn English if I am not talking to them in it, and also if they here me speak Hebrew they may get the idea that I can speak it well and then start talking to me very quickly and loose me completely. However, their grasp o English has lead to many interesting conversations, mainly based on how Israel is going to beat England in March, I tend to agree.

The kids are on the whole really sweet, and I frequently get high fived in the corridor. The oldest class are on the other hand absolute hell. They seem to have all the disrputive kids in the school in one class, and as they have absolutely no desire to learn I dread going to teach them, and owing to the fact my role is teaching not discipling I unfortuneatly and much to my regret cant shout at them and tell them off.

Most classes take more or less the same form, the kids push their desks together in two or three blocks, and Jessie, Nasreen and I take a table each. We then spend about twenty minutes going through a couple of pages in the text book, reading passages and answering some questions. The kids then spend the rest of the lesson doing excercises and we are meant to help them. However, as most of the kids are very good and half the work is translating into arabic there is really very little I can do and I spend half the time sitting around clock watching. Occassionally I find someone who really needs help but this always seems to be at the end of the lesson and I cut out by the bell half way through explaining and I have to hurry the rest. It has happened on several occasions that kids have come to me expecting the answers only to be dissapointed by me telling them the rule or explaing the exercise, and so they leave me dissapointed and are forced to go and copy the answers off their friends.

There was one time when year 7 had a free lesson and they requested that Jessie and I take the lesson. So there we were standing in front of a group of 12 11 year olds, trying to work out what to do with them. Luckily we werent supposed to teach anything and so we spent the lessn playing games like 20 questions, hangman and boggle. The kids spent most of the time shouting, although I was rather pround of myself from letting the encounter descend into total bedlam, and the kids were all very grateful to us at the end.

There is one last thing I should mention and that is the bell. The bell is a constant source of amusment for Jessie and I as it consists of famous children's nursery rhymes, which we always find ourselves singing along to. The bell always plays one tune, then starts a second one and cuts out about six notes in.

My afternoon placement is at the moment only once a week at an absorption center half an hour outside Karmiel on a Kibbutz Ayelet Hashar. Every Monday evening I go there with Nick, Annabel and Ariel. There are two absorption centers and when Annabel arrived at us we discovered we were not expected or needed and so we went to join the other two. Here we met a group of four new Ethiopian emigrees between the ages of 11-13. We sat with them very awkwardly for a bit until we worked out a couple of activities to do with them, where we taught them English and they taught us a bit of Hebrew. Actually after two hours we were having qite a nice time and it turned out far better than expected. We are going back for our second encounter with them today and we have been promised it will be better organised.

On the whole volunteering has got off to a very good start, Jessie and I are planning on speaking to Nasreen to see if there are ways we can be more helpful, otherwise all is good apart from the wake up time (which I have realised I have yet to complain about yet) which is at 7 every morning, and if I dont get up then I dont have time for coffee, which is even worse, even though there is a constant supply of Turkish coffee in the staff room.

Over the next few weeks I intend to keep you posted on different elements of what we are doing here, so until then I hope you are all well and happy, and I look forward to writing again soon.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Disorientation Part. 2

On Sunday wake up was early so that we would not miss the bus, you know I dont know why we bothered we were all ready to leave on time, and we had to wait around for a bloody hour for the bus to arrive, finally it came at eleven and we packed it frantically and boarded it for the ride to Karmiel. We arrived at two (an hour late) and were greeted at our house by Oren our madrich who i will speak more of in due course, the same goes for the house, no sooner had we been welcomed to the house and dumber our excessive amount of baggage on the ground we were being herded onto a mini-bus to do our first big shop, as the house had of course no food in it. The bus ride was taken up with making an ad-hoc shopping list with inevitable arguements over whether we should use olive oil or sunflower oil, butter or margarine. Despite any sign of organisation we still managed to conduct a successful shop, and it took us a whole hour less then Oren had expected.

After the shop we unpacked the food and were shown to our rooms. I was sharing with Ilai and Ariel, two of the newbies, and we were delighted to find our rooms had cupboards, curtains and doors, all things that other rooms lacked. The girls who were on the same floor as us walked into their rooms to discover beds, and that was it. Room selection you might be curious to know was conducted b Oren showing us the names of the rooms and then giving us the choice on the names alone, ultra violet was too hideous for anyone else to pick, and so we ended up with it, and cupboard space. The room is called ultra-violet because for some bizarre reason it has an ultra-violet on one of the walls.

Starting that evening until the following evening we spent our time going around looking at all the different places we would be volunteeing at. On Sunday evening we went to a kibbutz half an hour outside Karmiel, here there are absorption centers where new emigrees from Ethiopia live and study. The first one had no idea we were coming, so they gave us a quick talk and showed us the door, the second one was far more welcoming, they had laid out a whole array of refreshments and gave us a talk about what they did and gave us a tour of the area.

Following the absorption center we returned to the house, during our drive back it transpired that Reg seeing how bad my cold was had instructed Oren to take me to to the doctor. I should explain that I am the sort of person that has a running cold for months on end and never goes to the doctor, so the idea that I should visit the doctor for a cough (however ferocious it may be) was abhorrent to me. Nevertherless I complied and I found myself in a small doctors surgery in Karmiel waiting for the inevitable. The doctor illustrating what an independent and inventive thinker he was took one look at me said I was getting the flu, and banged me straight on antibiotics.

The next day the tour of the placements began, I should explain that there is a morning and afternoon placement, the morning placement is every day and in a local school where we hel teach English, and the afternoon placement and is two or three times a week and in an array of different volunteering locations. The first place we went to was a local primary school called Hairism. After a talk and tour there, we went to the municipality building for a talk about Karmiel and then a tour around the city. I shall devote more space to the city itself but I would like to say at this juncture it is a truly beautiful city and nothing like I expected. Following this it was back to the house for lunch before a speedy tour of the library, pool, school for delinquents, and moadonit (social club for children with disabilities), all places where we might be volunteering in the afternoon.

The following day it was time for us to see the rest of the schools, these included a primary school, two high schools, a druze school, and a primary school very much focused on art and music. Each school provided us with a talk about the school and our roles there and a tour of the school. Once we had seen the schools it was back home to prepare for one of Reg's public relations masterstrokes. Owing to the fact our house is in a very nice residential area we have a considerable number of neighbours, and so it was decided that in order to appease them and make sure they are not terrified of us we opened up the house to all of them, so they could meet us and bring copious amounts of food.

Following this rather successful event (which stretched out for some time as of course our neighbours were not the leaving sort) we prepared for some rather unpleasant business, finding out our placements. During the course of the tour it had been assumed that we would get to choose where we wanted to work, but as everyone wanted to work in the same places, Reg and Oren decided it would be a lot easier if they just assigned us our placements without giving us any say in the matter. To ease the pain we were taken out one by one to hear where we would be working, this caused a lot of nervous waiting around. Finally my turn came and I was told that I would be working in the absorption centre and the Druze school.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Disorientation Part. 1

Wednesday saw our return to Jerusalem, via a four hour bus journey from Eilat, giving us plenty of time for much needed sleep. During my last couple of days in Eilat I developed a minor cold, something very typical for the time of year, and I assumed that it would remain as it was for a while to come. However, my arrival in Jerusalem also brought with it something of a cough, nethertheless I marched stoically on and tried not to complain about it. We arrived in our hostel at aroound two pm. We were staying in the Rabin Hostel, a very well appointed hostel, which we had also stayed in on tour. We spent the afternoon generally moping around, and then in the evening, in true gap year student who need to save as much money as possible style, we went out for a 100 shekel a head Chinese. What it lacked in sense it made up for in taste.

So as not to cause excess schleping over the break, there had been arranged a storage room somewhere in Jerusalem for all our excess stuff. It was my shared responsibility along with Richard, Ruthie and Grace to collect all the stuff and bring it back to the hostel. Our belongings were stored in the basement of an old age home not from from where we had been staying on Machon. We all brought the stuff upstairs, and whilst I single-handedly attempted to pack all our baggage in the back of a minivan, no mean feet as there was so damn much of it, the girls were chatted up by some octigenarian hebraic gentleman.

Once back at the hostel the orientation started, the purpose of the orientation was two-fold, first it was to initiate our five newcomers into the group and second to prepare us for living together in Carmiel, a small Northern City, where we would be doing our volunteering. The orinetation lasted from Thursday afternoon to Saturday evening. It began with a number of discussions on expecations and so on. An element of the orientation was using more alternative activites to help the group bond. The first of these on Thursday night was pottery painting which despite my reservations was actually quite fun, following this we had a very nice Middle Eastern style dinner, where there was too much food to even bother contemplating.

Friday began with a vist to the gym hall of the Hebrew University for a couple of hours here we played lots of various fun games, including a variation of rounders, dodgeball and basketball. It was here that I really began to feel my cold and I hoped that by running around a lot I could sweat it out, my efforts were in vain. After this we had more discussions and talks (or at least I think we did, to be honest with you I cant really remember) and then got ready for shabbat. Friday evening was very pleasant with the usual prayers, a lovely meal and a slightly more alternative onegg, run by Assael (more on him later).

The next morning was to begin with the usual Saturday morning prayers, in fact that it was exactly how it began I just was not there as I decided that this would be the perfect time to play the sick card and have a bit of a lie in. I finally emerged unsurprisingly for lunch. After lunch we had more alternative group building games and then even more discussions. Finally we finished the day with contact dancing. I had heard of contact dancing but had no idea what it was. It was as it turned out fairly weird. Assael, an Israeli who works in Noam England loves it, he is one of those fairly normal looking guys who turns out to be a bit one of those hippy spiritual types (ie the complete opposite to cynical down to earth me). The guy who lead it might as well have been his brother. Eg he used a stray cat that wandered into the studio to illustrate how our body should move. Contact dancing is a form of improv dancing which involves a lot of rolling all over each other, although once you get over how much of a prat you look it is actually quite fun. Finally when all was over it was off back to the hostel, for an early night (even though I get barely any sleep) in preparation for a departure the next day to Carmiel.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007


Before I begin I would like to apologise for the long delay, I no longer have constant access to a computer so I will be writing with less frequency, nethertheless this exciting account of my intrepid ventures and fun-packed stories of the land of Israel will continue, I of course do not want to upset my beloved readers. Well that enough with the pre-amble, on with the story.

I left you last with my leaving Jerusalem in the middle of a snow storm and coming down to Eilat, the subject of todays blog. Eilat is a small, incredibly tourist city at the southern most tip of Israel, it sits on the red sea and find itself sandwiched precariously between Jordan and Egypt, two borders which are thank God peaceful. Eilat is not Israel. Of course Eilat is Israel but Israelis dont really see it as such and Eilat truly does not feel like Israel. If it wasnt a port it would be just tourists, and the Israelis trying to scam as much money from them as possible. There are many differences between Eilat and the rest of Israel, for instance Eilat is tax free, everybody speaks English (actually it was like that in Jerusalem as well), and cars actually stop at Zebra crossings, which is a real shock especially since as a pedestrian you are sure a car is going to zoom across one even if you are half way across, which is what happens in the rest of Israel.

So the question is why come to Eilat, three reasons exist. First because it is on the beach and the sea is beautiful, second because the weather should be good (note the should, rant to follow) and third and most important everyone is there, and everyone includes my family. I mentioned before that I saw my family when I was down here on tiyul, and it was really lovely to see them after a few months, and I couldn't wait to spend some quality time with them. Now I should say I love my family with all my heart and I couldn't be luckier (I have to say that they are reading this) but that doesn't stop them from driving me absolutely mad. O.K. its reciprical I annoy them as well, especially Gaby (16) my sister, but still was time with the family really the best way to relax, however not having a choice in the matter, I trekked down to Eilat to see them.

I arrived at the Royal Beach hotel (5 star, being with family obviously has its perks) at arround midnight and tried to enter my room quietly so as not to wake anyone up, needn't have bothered as Gaby made so much noise when I came that she obviously woke up Raphy (10) my younger brother. Of course the first thing she wanted to do was try out the nargillah i had bought her (and of course talk to her dear brother.) The next morning at breakfast I saw my parents.

I would like to tell you that I spent the days basking in the hot sunshine with occassional dips in the sea or pool, that would be a lie. In total I think I spent one day on the beach because the weather left a lot to be desired, ie for the most part it was cold and miserable, not beachy weather. My days consisted of shopping, lazing around, seeing friends and some sitting by the beachh. On Friday the three of us went with my dad to the underwater observatory, which is a small observatory out at sea where you can walk down a flight of stairs and be underwater (hence the name), and you can see all the fish and corals, it is a lovely idea and very serene and peaceful.

I was also lucky enough to be able to spend some time with my grandmother Miette who was out in Eilat as well. She is lets just say somewhat eccentric, I have told her so many time, and whilst she is wonderfully funny and great to talk to she can also be somewhat embarrasing, I have told her that as well. The rest of my family is just as embarrassing, I was thus always absolutely terrified that they may meet my friends, and any meetings that did come about I tried to end as quickly as possible, not always successfully.

On the whole the evenings were spent in the various bars of Eilat, particulalry the Three Monkeys which was the bar under the hotel, its vodka laden chocolate milkshake as well as its actually pretty good band, was enough to make me come back several time. It was also the main haunt for most of the machoniks.

New Year's eve was spent first at a Chinese restaurant called Wangs where we had a lovely meal, and then onto a bar called Nikki Beach with Gaby where we met everyone else. This was the first time that Gaby had met many of my friends and if you are reading this Gabs, you made quite an impression. On New Years day my family returned home and so I went to the slightly less well appointed Eilat youth hostel where I was to spend the next two nights.

That afternoon I went to Kibbutz Ketorah where I will be spending the last part of the program, to see some of the AJ6 Machoniks who had just moved in there. It was really lovely there and they had turned it into home after only three days of being there. The next day a few of us went to Kings City which is a theme park in Eilat. It was great fun and it included a water splash ride, a 4D film which was very cool and a magnetic room where you could reinact your favourite Matrix moves. The next day it was on the bus and back to Jerusalem to prepare for the next part of the program.