Then of course there is Gauhati, the Asian rhino. I felt as though we bonded in particular over the past six months... Does anyone know how to teach a rhino to skype?!
I left my beloved San Francisco on Saturday, September 1st, at 11 pm. A six hour flight to New Jersey, five hour layover, and ten hour flight to Tel Aviv later, I found myself surrounded by Hebrew both spoken and written at 7 am on September 3rd, 2012. I recovered my enormous bags, made it through customs, and camped out at the coffee shop for the next four hours.
Just as I felt I had reached my personal limit of sitting in airports in a 36 hour period, the group organizers from Real Life Israel arrived. I have never had such a warm welcome - it was as if I was met at the airport by some extended family I had yet to meet.
As the other participants began to arrive, it became very clear to me that this was an amazingly dynamic, genuine, unique set of people. I received my israeli cell phone and, naturally, called my parents right away - it had been almost 18 hours since I got on the plane in New Jersey. We piled on the bus with our massive assortment of luggage and I sat next to a young woman with a british accent. We clicked right away and I found myself thinking "If I could pick my roommate I'm pretty sure this Zahava would be my choice." I was therefore amazed to find out when we arrived at our new homes that she was, in fact, my assigned roomie! I also met my other "flatmates," three young men from the US, and with every new member of the group I met I was equally impressed. So far it seems as though I could not have asked for better housemates and friends in this endeavor.
Our first whole day together was quite the adventure! We got on a chartered bus and drove out to the Judean desert, where we drove ATV's!
Half way through the desert adventure we stopped at what appeared to be a cave, but was once actually a cistern for collecting water. The Judean desert is the result of the Rain Shadow effect (if you're not a science nerd, look it up!) and therefore nomads needed a water source when traveling through the area. They built trenches that collected rain water from the mountain range and stored it in the cistern so there would always be clean water for weary travelers. Below is a picture of our ATV guide drawing a map of Israel in the sand at the bottom of aforementioned cistern.
Especially for those of us from cooler climates (such as *cough* San Francisco) the heat presented a bit of a challenge, but I am sure I will remember that hike forever. The day ended with a barbecue at the home of the Director of Real Life Israel. Aryeh was so kind to open up his house and make us feel like a giant family - I could not envision a better start to this five-month adventure!
The next few days have been a bit of a blur. I started Ulpan (my hebrew classes) and it has presented itself as quite the challenge! I am studying a lot and trying my very best to learn the language but I have come to believe that it is difficult for fully developed minds to create new language skills. Not impossible, but difficult... I have been writing my letters and trying my best to read every day, but I think these things take time. I can't help but wish that one day a switch will go off in my brain and things will suddenly make sense... Here's hoping! At least if nothing else my doodling skills are getting a workout.
I have been spending the rest of my time settling in, exploring my neighborhood, and navigating the social scene in the evenings. My apartment is less than a block from Mahenah Yehudah, the outdoor market, also known as "the shuk." I have spent a lot of time learning where all the best produce and deals are.
In fact, just today I made a huge pot of minestrone soup 100% from scratch with produce I purchased there - It's simmering now and I think it smells delicious, if I do say so myself!
I have an interview/meeting with my advisor at the Jerusalem Zoo tomorrow. I'm very excited to hear more about exactly what they intend to do with me - One thing's for sure though, a hippo or two better be involved!!!