Sunday, April 14, 2013

I finally ride a camel

This is way overdue, but a few weeks ago, some friends and I went to Jordan to see Petra (really cool lost city carved in stone) and Wadi Rum (desert nature preserve). If you're friends with me on Facebook, you've seen the pictures. Anyhow, the most important thing is that I rode a camel. Through the desert. And it was awesome. I've been hoping to ride a camel since I moved to Israel, and I finally got to do it.

this is me on a camel. just look at that grin.

these are my friends on camels.

We had an absolutely fabulous time, and it was a much needed break. As I hunker down now to start studying for finals, I wish I could go back. Petra was so beautiful that pictures couldn't do it justice, but here's a few...
the Monastery

the Urn Tomb

the Treasury

I also want to mention that I will be cheating on this blog with another blog. I'm the blogger of the month for our MSIH first year blog, which you can check out here I highly recommend reading some of the other entries, my fellow first years are incredible writers.

Monday, March 4, 2013

A Return to the North

     Recently, Israel celebrated the holiday of Purim. For those familiar with the Bible story of Esther, it's the celebration of a Jewish queen of a Persian king who saved her people. Well, maybe. In modern Israel, Purim is more like Halloween. There are costumes, parties, and of course lots of sweets. In particular, there's a date cookie called ozenaim haman (Haman's ear) based on the villain from the story. They're delicious. From a student perspective, the most important thing about Purim is that Purim is a day off from classes. So, what to do over a three day weekend? How about a four day hiking trip?

     There's a trail in Northern Israel called the Jesus Trail that wanders from Nazareth to Capernaum over 60 kilometers (that's 40 miles) of gorgeous Galilean countryside. It travels past important sites in Jesus' ministry, such as the town of Cana and the Mount of Beatitudes, as well as historical sites from the Crusader and Roman periods. Spring is a beautiful time for hiking in Israel (yes, spring has already sprung here, sorry to those still stuck in the snow!) The weather is warm, but not hot, and all the wildflowers are in bloom. And, if you want to hike 20 kilometers a day, you can see all the wildflowers and some of the sites in one long weekend. If you hurry.

    We began the hike in Nazareth. It's a predominately Arab town, which means that you see more signs and overhear more conversations in Arabic than Hebrew. It's a change that you notice right away, and despite the fact that all the signs also have Hebrew characters on them, you almost feel like you're in a different country. It was my first experience in an Arab city in Israel, and it's definitely something I'd like to do again.

     We started off through Nazareth from the Church of the Annunciation of Mary, where I was surprised to run into a tourist group from St. Cloud, MN, who had something to say about my Gopher hockey t-shirt, and a tour guide who insisted I couldn't enter the church with my backpack only after I mentioned I didn't want to go in. Go figure. With that bizarre start, we walked through the city shuk (market) just as it was opening for business, working our way up the side of the mountain and out of Nazareth.

there were a LOT of stairs...

but the view was pretty great!

From Nazareth, we hiked to Cana, where we saw some churches, but they were closed. Typically, this is the first day of the hike. We decided to keep going so we could see it all in three days.

my fellow hikers

    We hiked through beautiful countryside all afternoon. I especially enjoyed all the green, which we don't have much of in Beer Sheva, even in the rainy season. And, of course, the wildflowers.

it's so GREEN

new Hebrew word: flowers are praHeem (with a nice guttural CH!)

     By late afternoon, with tired feet, we began to daydream about our plans for the evening. We were staying in a geodesic dome on an organic goat farm. We couldn't wait to arrive, pet some goats, curl up in our dome and get some rest.

our home for the night

look how cozy it is!

Day 2 we ventured onward, seeing the remains of a Roman road, a hillside where the Crusaders made one of their final stands, and lots of wandering livestock. Yet as we passed grazing cows and open fields, I began to wonder if I had been transplanted back to the Midwest.

well, this certainly looks familiar...

    We ended Day 2 near the foot of Mount Arbel, and the landscape no longer reminded me of home. Day 3 we climbed down the cliff face of Arbel and got our first glimpse of the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee). It was easier this time around, since we weren't doing it in the rain (to see pictures of climbing Mt Arbel in the rain, check out my blog post from October). We finished the hike in Capernaum, checking out Peter's house and the eight churches that have been built over it. It's one of the few historical sites I've seen in Israel that hasn't been glamorized, fought over, or disputed. While a simple structure, that made the moment that much more powerful for me.

Peter's house

We made it! 40 miles in 3 days!

Do's and Don'ts of the Jesus Trail

DO pack lots of snacks and water bottles

DON'T accidentally urinate on ancient aqueducts

DO plan on eating falafel or schnitzel for every meal

DON'T sprain your ankle in the middle of Day 2

DO hike with a group of medical students who can wrap sprained ankles

DON'T get stuck in Capernaum when the Internet is wrong about buses

DO magically find a sherut (mini-bus/taxi) that goes to Haifa for the same price as the bus

not that any of these things did/did not happen to us...

Many thanks to the Dittys for the pictures in this blog post that you let me steal!

The Dittys on Mount Arbel

Saturday, January 12, 2013

A lesson in living in Israel

      Moving to a new country involves a lot of adjustments. There's a new culture, a new language, a new...pretty much everything. At the start, it's exciting. Meeting new people, trying new foods, and exploring a new city is amazing. Those first few weeks are an adventure, an extended vacation, a brief respite from normal life. Then you realize you aren't going home soon, you are home. You realize that figuring out where to buy toilet paper is more important than heading to Jerusalem for a weekend. You learn that constantly discovering something new is exhausting. You decide that some nights after a full day of class all you want to do is curl up in bed with a movie or a good book.

     I think that's when it happens. That's when the adjustment is complete; when an exotic new place becomes home. It's been a long journey getting here, but Beer Sheva now feels like home. Coming back after a long visit in the States, I wasn't sure how it would feel to be back. Yet as I walked home from the train station, I realized that I missed being here. Beer Sheva has captured a little piece of my heart, and I know I'll leave it behind when it's time to move on.

     When asked to describe the difficulties in moving to Israel, I always think of buying a washing machine. Laundry is one of those things that seems unimportant until you don't have it. And my roommate and I went a whole semester without a washer. Instead, we went old school, hand washing our clothes in the bathtub.

I always wanted to feel like a pioneer woman. Not.

      This was not done intentionally. We first attempted to buy a washer in September. We did some research, checked out prices at several stores, and finally decided what we wanted. Our first attempt to buy a washer failed when the store clerk refused to accept our American credit cards (despite the fact that we've used them several times in stores all over Israel). We were told to come back with a check from an Israeli bank (which, thankfully, we have).

     Our second attempt at buying a washer failed when the clerk learned we weren't Israeli. The store computer needed to have an Israeli ID number entered in order to complete the purchase. Only Israeli citizens have ID numbers (I could go on and on about how stupid this rule is, but I won't).

      Our third attempt to buy a washer, we decided to do something different. Enter NATALIE's MOM, who deserves to be in all-caps due to her superheroine status. Even now, we say her name in hushed, reverent tones. We enlisted the help of Natalie (a fellow first year) and her mom (an Israeli citizen and fluent Hebrew speaker) to defeat the evil plans of the appliance store. We were somewhat successful. We bought the washer and made plans to have it delivered. It never showed up.

      Then the rockets came, and we left Beer Sheva, still washer-less.

      Upon returning to Israel after Christmas, we continued our quest to do laundry in our own home. Enter our next superhero, our neighbor DINA. Dina is a complete sweetheart who we often rely on to translate confusing Hebrew things, like bills. She talked to the store, the delivery man, and the technician, making sure to keep us in the loop. I'm proud to say that we are now the proud owners of a washing machine. And it only took us four months.  

isn't it beautiful?

      I share this example not as a complaint of how terrible it is to live in Israel, merely as an example that some things are hard to figure out in a foreign country. I'm so grateful to have people around me that turn brick walls into small hurdles. Living in Israel would not be possible without them.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

back to the midwest...

A lot has happened since my last post. Some highlights:

1. I left Beer Sheva and went to Haifa, which is in the north, and free of rockets. It was glorious. I was spoiled by an Israeli family, hung out with fellow Beer Sheva refugees, and studied a lot. Here's some classmates sitting down for one of our nightly family-style dinners. It was so good to get away, even when it meant squishing eight people into a three bedroom apartment.

2. The administration cancelled the rest of my classes, and I decided to return home, since classes would not resume until after Christmas.

3. Right after booking my flight, a ceasefire was called. If you weren't keeping up with the news, Jon Stewart has a great summary of the conflict that had me rolling on the floor laughing. You can find it here:

4. I returned to Minnesota and promptly turned into an icicle. Who knew it only took four months to completely lose all tolerance for real winter.

While the temperature difference hit me first, I'm surprised by how many differences there are between Minnesota and Israel, especially in my reactions and behaviors. For instance, I've been told by several people since returning home to stop yelling. I have been speaking at that decibel the whole time I've been away, and I could go louder. Also, I have difficulty speaking English while buying something. My first assumption is that I need to speak Hebrew. The girl who sold me a pop at O'Hare did not appreciate this. 

Finally, I'm having a lot of difficulty in grocery stores. In Israel, people tend to go a little crazy in the grocery store. I've seen pushing, shoving, name calling, and cart bashing. The worst part is trying to get in line to pay. There's no such thing as 'I was here first'. It's all about 'I'm not letting anyone get in front of me.' So when I went to the local Cub to pick up a few things, let's just say my Israeli aggression was not appreciated by the other shoppers, who prefer a passive-aggressive approach (smothered in Minnesota nice, of course). I suppose I'll readjust over the next few weeks, just in time to go back to Beer Sheva and relearn how to act Israeli.

Friday, November 16, 2012

there's always a downside...

     For the most part, living in Israel is amazing. I have met some incredible people- loving, funny, smart individuals who have become family. I have seen amazing things- the Old City of Jerusalem, the streets of Tel Aviv, and the Sea of Galilee. I have taken the first steps toward becoming a doctor- starting medical school, learning to place IVs, and studying constantly. While life here is very different from life in the U.S., I found myself adjusting quickly. After all, the life of a student is similar everywhere.
     However, the last few days have shown just how different life in Israel can be. While there have been occasional rockets since I arrived, this Wednesday marked the beginning of something new. Over the last 48 hours, over 60 rockets have landed in Beer Sheva, with many more blown away by the Iron Dome (an anti-rocket defense system). Thankfully, no one in Beer Sheva has been hurt and there's been little property damage. The warning sirens go off, and you have 60 seconds to reach shelter. Given that the sirens have been going off several times a day, sometimes several times an hour, there's no escaping the fact that life has changed.
     After a sleepless night spent running to the hallway (our shelter), my roommate and I decided to try a more creative approach. Our living room is also a shelter, so we pulled our mattresses into the living room, built a blanket fort, and have been hanging out in it ever since. It adds an element of fun to an otherwise stressful situation. We also decided to sleep in, have a no-homework day, bake cookies, and listen to Christmas music (I know, I know, it's too early). The result- our day off school because of rockets felt more like a snow day.
     It's hard to describe how my life feels the same even though I live in such a different place. Maybe it's because I haven't ventured outside yet. Maybe it's because I know this is where I'm supposed to be. Maybe it's because I'm sleep deprived. I hope and pray that things might calm down soon, so that everyone can be safe and I can return to my life as a busy med student. But this is Israel, and in Israel, nothing ever goes as planned...

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

A brief respite

     Medical school is hard. I'm constantly amazed at the sheer volume of information being taught in each class. It's made more difficult by professors with thick Israeli accents, trying to juggle ten subjects at once, and also learning a new language. Reading my previous posts, I think I've given an unfair picture of what my life really looks like. I'm not constantly off on a new adventure, seeing the sights and having fun. I wish this were true. Too often, I'm sitting at home, alone, reading a textbook. Or having study sessions with classmates.

a recent immunology study session

     Despite how difficult things can be, I wouldn't want to be anywhere else. Even when the sirens go off at 5:30am, telling me I have sixty seconds to get to the miklat (shelter) before the rockets hit (don't worry Mom and Dad, they usually hit open areas). All of my classes are interesting, my classmates are amazing, and I'm learning to love the dusty desert town I call home.
     Even so, it's always nice to escape real life for awhile. This past weekend, the Christian student group arranged a retreat in Tiberias. We studied the words of Jesus on the shores of the sea of Galilee, climbed down a mountain, and visited some hot springs. It was a welcome relief from the stress of school and a great way to get to know some new people.
some fellow MSIHers

      We really wanted to do some hiking, and decided not to let a thunderstorm deter us. (look how determined we are) Most of us were just excited to see some rain, we don't see much of it in Beer sheva. We went to Mt. Arbel, one of the mountains that overlook the Sea of Galilee. You park at the top, then hike down along the cliff. In some places, it's more of a climb than a hike...

careful! use the hand holds!

      The rocks proved much trickier than we expected, considering the storm left everything covered in a thick layer of mud. But med students are a stubborn group, and we prevailed. We saw a castle built into the cliffside...

notice the castle owner on the left, looking suspicious

And also some pretty spectacular views...

while getting covered in mud from head to toe...

After such a grueling, but incredible day, we decided we needed something relaxing the next day. So we headed to a nearby hot springs that was turned into a spa.

nothing like some hot water to wash the stress away

     So, yes, medical school is difficult. Most days are spent going to class, reading, studying, and deciphering Hebrew. There is a never-ending list of things to understand, memorize, and take to heart. But it's the rare times away from all that when I realize how lucky I am to be living the life I lead. 


Thursday, October 11, 2012


     Heading to class this week was tough after such a long break. I think the Jewish holidays are my new favorite part of the year. Israel becomes a different place during the holidays- most people are on vacation, and the pace of life slows down accordingly. My own vacation plans hit a few snags, but I was able to take a short trip to the Golan Heights. There's a national park there, Banias, which is renowned in Israel for its hiking trails and beautiful waterfalls. Speaking as a girl who lived in Oregon, the falls weren't that impressive. However, after living in the desert for the last few months, the sight of water was a welcome relief.

The river- look green! and water!

ah, that's better

getting closer to the falls

we're finally there!


We saw some other interesting things on our hike, like this...

don't stray off the path...

      It's easy for me to forget that Israel is a threatened place, with a long history of violence. The Golan Heights are a highly disputed territory, with Israel, Syria, and Jordan all claiming ownership. While things are safe there for now, land mines all over the region show its turbulent history. This is a perfect example of how life is in Israel. Everywhere you look, there are people going about their day surrounded by the remnants of more difficult times. It helps me understand the toughness that characterizes Israelis. After a lovely morning hiking to the falls, we had some extra time on our hands. So we decided to stop in Tiberias on our way home. How could we not, in such a pretty place.


     The water in the distance is the Kenneret (Sea of Galilee). So of course, we had to jump in. The water was lovely, and just the thing for a hot day. Feeling a little guilty for taking a trip without any historical stops, we headed over to a local synagogue to check out a 2000 year old mosaic floor. This section shows the zodiac, a symbol once widely used in Judaism, which has since been abandoned. Many people claimed that it had never been used, but this archaeological find proved them wrong. 

I can't wait to keep exploring this new country I call home. There's so much to see! Glad I'm here for three years, maybe I can at least scratch the surface.