Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Enrichment and Kef

Every week in Karmiel our school week is broken by Enrichment Day. Enrichment day is a an activities group for the fifteen of us, its purpose, as the name suggests, is to engage us in activities which, as the names suggests, we would find enriching. Such days have included from day trips to Acco, the Ghetto Fighters Museum (the worlds first Holocaust Museum), an encouner with a group of local Israeli Arab girls, talks on Jewish Identity, and even going to the cinema and bowling. Enrichment is always great fun, a chance to hang out and do stuff with the group as a whole, and whilst its not always particualrly enriching its always nice to have a break from school, and the icing on the cake is sometimes we even get a lie in.

Yesterday's enrichment was listed as a surprise, and we were kept largely in the dark about it, although Oren telling us to bring swimming costume and towel was a bit of a give away. Nevertheless we had no idea where we were going until we arrived. Our arrival it should be noted was delayed by an hour, because of the blocking off of the road, because of a suspicous package, which we witnessed being exploded, in a controlled fashion. Actually we did guess the Canada Center, which turned out to be correct. We had been to the Canada Center on Northern Tiyul. The Canada Center is a leisure centre with many different facilities including one of two ice rinks in the Middle East (the other is in Saudi Arabia), a bowling alley, swimming pool court, sports hall, gym and lots more besides.

Whilst the majority of the group decided to go to the ice-rink Richard Smith, Annabel and myself could not resist the pull of the posters for the shooting range, and so we made our way down into the bunker to live out our wildest spy fantasies. After twenty minutes of agonising over which gun to choose all three of us settled on a 9mm Richard and I choosing the Jack Baueresque Glock, whilst Annabel settled on the more elegant yet similarly lethal Beretta. Then after a brief talk on what to do, we proceeded to empty our twenty five bullets against the target. Although we were all first timers our results different greatly Richards shots were all very close together although a little low, Annabel was spread out across the board but she did manage a bullseye and a headshot, I of course was lucky to hit the target. Nevertheless we all left the range feeling rather satisified.

We rejoined the group in the sports hall for basketball, once again my complete inability to shoot hindered my ability to be any good, but this didnt stop me from running tirelessly up and down the pitch trying to make a difference, and of course I had to make what is meant to be a non-contact sport as aggressive as possible. At once stage around 100 youths wandered into the viewing gallery and spent the following twenty minutes cheering us on. After lunch we decided that instead of removing the sweat from our bodies and going swimming, we would let it remain clinging to us, a small price to pay for a game of bowling. Always great fun as a team building/destroying game. We left the Canada centre at 3:30, it was followed by a short drive to the Lebanese border where we looked out over Southern Lebanon and Northern Israel, and the view of the snow topped Mount Hermon was truly lovely. Then it was an hours drive back hopme, where everyone inevitably slept.

About a month ago now, it was suggested (mainly by me) that we were not doing enough as a group and something had to be done about this. Part of the remedy was the introduction of the Kef (fun) night, where two people in the group organise a fun activity for the rest of the group. It was kicked off a few weeks ago by Nick and Richard Sarsby taking us all the second biggest club in Israel, the following week Jo and Nir provided ice cream and sweets for a group viewing of the 40 Year Old Virgin, the week after Ruthie and Sophie decided that we were all far too mature, and that we should celebrate Ariel's 6th birthday, this meant party games (including the funniest game of musical chairs ever played), and a birthday tea, with cake and customary mentoes in coke bottle.

I bring up Kef night because last night it was the turn of Jake and I to plan it. On Monday evening we handed out invitations to an Ambassadors Cheese and Wine Party, in celebration of Jessie' birthday. What no-one realised though was what was to come. As Jake made a toast to Jessie I (playing the bulter) apologetically interrupted him and made it apparent that I had lost the rest of the cheese. This lead to a Karmiel wide hunt for the missing cheese, which Jake and I had hidden a couple of hours earlier. Locations included a main roundabout, the basketball court and a local pub. Each team had a starting clue and when they found the cheese they had to call me with a number which was in the package with the cheese. On receiving the number I prompty texted them the next clue. All the teams took it very seriously and rushed to come back first, though that was probably down to the winner's receiving a bottle of champagne. Once all the teams were back we had Jessie's birthday cake, and I breathed a sigh of relief as a night that could have gone badly wrong went off without a hitch.

Monday, February 12, 2007


It was taken for granted from the outset that in a house of 15 there was going to have to be a forum where issues could be discussed, this is obviously aside from the obvious berrating of whoever pissed you off. Consensus dictated that each week there would have to be at least one weekly meeting, and also each week there would be two chairs to preside over the running of the household and the meetings. This week it I am chairing the week with Richard Smith, and so I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to talk about the meetings, and some of the issues within the house.

Meetings follow a very common pattern and they rarely vary, and no matter how little time you think an issue will take discuss, it will invariably take 5 times as long. Richard said at the start of yesterdays meeting, with only one topic on the agenda, that we were aiming for it to be the shortest meeting yet, an hour later it was decided to postpone all other points to a later point in the week.

The order of meetings has developed over time but on average it goes something like this. The chair introduces an issue (or asks someone else to introduce it if that person feels more strongly) the chairs tends to speak on the issue for a moment, stressing the main areas of discussion. During this time at least ten hands shoot up. In the beginning the chair just picked people out a random and so at any one time at least five hands were hovering in the air, however, a practice soon developed for the chair to start writing down a list of speakers. We however have no structure for closing the list and so discussions can last for a long time, until the chair finally decides to move to a vote.

This seems to be very orderly and it does work. However, when discussions heat up you frequently have people shouting at each other with absolutely no regard to proper meeting decorum, and as the shouting heats up the chairs struggle vainly to restore the meeting to order something that takes some time. Eventually a vote occurs but before this must happen the motion must be clarified several times, then the issue is split into several votes, then it has to be decided whether the majority has to be simple or two thirds. Finally we vote count and of course have a recount.

The house can be split into three different types when it comes to group meetings, those who dont say a word, those who repete what has already been said, and those who cant say enough and will who continue to speak even when everything has been decided. There is a fourth which can be extracted from the other three groups, these people are the ones who try to speed the meetings up by proposing soloutions, these people (of which I am one) always slow the meeting down and the group suddenly gets bogged down in specifics, and the meetings just drag on and on.

Issues that have been raised and re-raised include washing/cleaning/tidying, guests in the house, group activities, the t.v., internet and the most contentious of all the playstation. I do not really want to go into just how bad the issue of the playstation was, lets just say it divided the house (unsurprisingly boys v. girls) and there were a couple of days when it was the only thing that anyone talked about, eventually it was decided to ban it, and in hindsight, though I hate myself for saying it, the decision was the correct one.

Although we have had our issues, and we will continue to debate discuss and argue I feel we have actually handled house living rather well, and that if we did not have these group meeting however long arduous and repetetive they may be, without them it would all fall apart.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

The Druze

As I have mentioned before I am teaching in a small Druze village about half an hour a way from Karmiel. Because of the location of the school naturally most of the children are Druze, and so I thought it might be nice to speak a little about Druze and the people who I am working with, as are far as I am aware, it is relatively small and obscure religion. The following infromation comes from my own knowledge (mostly from talks on Druzi beliefs and culture) and that vast vat of knowledge that is Wikipedia.

The Druze religion branched out from Islam in around the 11th century, they however do not see themselves as a sect of Islam, but instead as a completely different religion. The Druze split themselves into two those who are religious (the minority) and those who are secular (the majortiy) each member of the Druze religion is able to choose which path they take. However, if one does not choose the path of the religious you are not permitted to know the secrets of the faith, which are jealously guarded.

Basic tennets of the Druze include belief in one god, honesty, protecting ones brother and guarding the elderly. They also rejuct tobacco, alcohol and pork. There is also a belief and at the time when the Druze broke off from Islam, mainly because they believed it to be unfair to women (Druze are egalitarians), there was a period when everyone could become Druze, at this end of this period no-one could join. They said at the end of the period there were a million Druze, and as the Druze believe in reincarnation they claim that if a Druze person dies they will then be reborn as Druze. They also do not permit conversion either into or away from their religion.

However, the most important belief of the Druze is that they must be completely loyal to the country in which they live, even to the extent of sacrificing other values to retain their loyalty. This is why in Israel the Druze are fierce allies of the Jewish state. For example it is optional for them to serve in the army but most do. The only exception is the Druze of the Golan Heights, which was Syrian but was captured by the Israelis. Because of fear of retribution from the Syrians the Druze from the Golan tend not to serve in the army. The Druze do considers themselves as Arabs, but as Israeli Arabs and certainly not as Palestinians.

Having worked in a Druze school for a month and having had Druze hospitality a number of times, I can see without any doubt they are truly lovely people. They are friendly, warm, hospitable and on the whole the kids are really sweet. Their food is also out of this world. Our bus driver who collects us from school each day (there is a minibus for three of us) lives in the village, and he is everyone's best friend. He is a large man with a handle bar moustache, and is rarely seen without his wooly hat or boiler suit. More than once he has stopped to greet friends in the middle of the roads with a "Shalom Shlomo" or some such greeting, and he also seems to know every child and teacher in the school.

But then this should not be surprising when you consider the fact that the village has a population of 700. The other day our driver asked us to forgive him as he needed to drop something back home (it looked like pepper) and he asked us if he would mind if he drove us up into the village so he could drop it off. Of course Jessie and I said we had no problem with him doing so and off he went into the winding roads of Ein-El-Assad, and it gave us the chance to see what a pretty village it is. The houses are smart and well cared for the streets are narrow but honely and there were even orange trees growing outside some of the houses. Also at the top of the village there is also the most amazing view looking down onto the village and the valley below.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Location Location Location

I thought that for my subject this week I will tell you a little more about where I live. Karmiel is a purpose built town in the Galilee. It was established in 1964, and was developed according to a master plan. The upshot of this is that Karmiel is a purpose built city and thus actually has a plan and structure to it. The city (of 50,000) is divided up into different neighourhoods which each have their own separate amenities like schools, community centres etc. The city is remarkably beautiful with all the main roads being very wide with a big bank of greenery in the middle, nicely decorated roundabouts and tree planted on every street. The city is certainly green.

Whilst this is all very nice there is really very little to do. The main areas of interest are the gym (clearly the only thing that will make me work out is having nothing else to do), the library (the only place where we can get internet from) and the mall, which is a five minute walk away and is very useful incase we ever run out of milk. On the entertainment front there is one main bar called Frankilins which is situated in the industrial district which we have been to twice, and a few more local bars which we have yet to venture into. There is however a very famous dance festival, in June.

Our house is located about a two minute walk from the main high street. This is not as a you might imagine an indictment on how small the town is but how good our location is. We have a four storey house in a small quiet dead end street, in fact we might as well be just waiting for our neighbours to come and complain. But what of the house itself.

On the front gate one sees a large red and white sign with the phone number on, the house is indeed still for sale. Before entering there is a pleasant covered up patio perfect for a quiet phone call, cigarette etc. The front door bell is the highly amusing sound of birds. The ground floor is a large open plan kitchen and living area. The kitchen is tiny and with more than two people in it, it becomes very hard to move around. One the other hand the living area is huge with plenty of space to swing a cat, and more besides. The garden is rather small but there is a small pond and waterfall.

The first floor contains the two girls rooms and my room and the girls bathroom, strictly out of bounds of course. The second floor houses the remaining boys bedrooms and bathrooms. Above this floor there is a roof garden, and here can also be found the washing machine and dryer (well thats what its meant to do). This is clealry the perfect space to have a quick whinge about everything that doesnt work. This includes the washing machine and dryer, the boiler is tempermental and work when it chooses, and the heating works far too well and causes more arguements then its worth. However, on the whole it really is a great house and Karmiel really is a lovely place, and I doubt there is a better place to volunteer, if only there was something to do at night.