Friday, October 26, 2012

אני עבדת בגן חיות!

(I work at the Zoo!)

Well, I know it's been a while since you've heard from me, but it has been a very busy month! 

October started with the festival of Sukkot, which is essentially the Jewish harvest festival. Nearly every family builds a "sukkah," something like a tent or fort on their porch or in their backyard. Every meal is supposed to take place there, and the roof is purposefully wholey, so that you can gaze up and see the stars. It is quite an experience. We at Real Life Israel assembled our own sukkah -on the porch next door!

After the festival, before we started our internships, we went on a "tiyul," or trip, to the Golan Heights in the north of Israel. We toured a kibbutz, swam in a water hole there, and then stopped by a shop that teaches children how to make cake-toppers out of fondant. Below you can see my attempt at a sheep (and naturally, a hippo with my leftovers, on the side).

The next day we went on a breathtaking hike in the heights:

Around every corner was an amazing view. One of the reasons I love Israel is that in a country slightly smaller than New Jersey, you have highlands, valleys, desert, coastal areas, and snow-peaked mountains. Here is just another astonishing hillside behind myself and my amazing roommate, Zahava.

About half-way through our gorgeous hike, we took a dip in this water hole, complete with waterfall. Wow:

After a month of Hebrew learning, two weeks of holidays, and an amazing trip, it was time to get to work. As much as I loved the first six weeks of our trip I think it was the longest I have ever gone without working a day, let along setting foot in a Zoological Park! I began in the bird department, and got thrown into the mix at full-tilt! Here you can see the penguin exhibit, which appears to quite lovely, as all their exhibits are. However, they are planning some renovation, which I have been lucky enough to help with. In fact, I have assisted in the planning, designing, and assembling of the new islands. I am so happy that I will leave a "footprint" in this zoo for many years to come!

I was also able to observe the elephant trainings. Their approach to animal care is far different from in the states, but I would not say one is necessarily better than the other. The keepers develop a strong personal relationship with their animals and are very much in favor of hands-on training, enrichment, and husbandry on the part of the keepers. Below you can see the elephant keepers riding their respective animals. This is not for the sake of circus tricks or to please the crowd, but instead they use this training so they can take the elephants out for "walks" around the zoo and sometimes the surrounding neighborhoods. This allows them to keep the elephants from developing health problems that often arise when kept in captivity.

I have also assisted in some work with the more dangerous animals at the zoo - we recently received a 20 ft crocodile that someone was keeping in his backyard from the time he was a baby. When cleaning the pool, I received my first souvenir - yes, that's a real crocodile tooth!

I'm happy to say I am also finding time for my hobbies. I have been crocheting up a storm, and my roommate has been knitting. Last weekend, we swapped information - she taught me to knit and I taught her to crochet; now we are proficient in both skills! I have also begun sketching again - here are just a few of my most recent doodles:

(Happy Birthday)

"Oswald the Dragon"

My Roommate - as a Leopard

A lot of my time at the zoo has been spent with this little guy - he is a red-crested turaco chick (google it!) who has yet to learn how to feed himself. Don't worry, I haven't been pre-chewing his food! Last week I was asked to start teaching him to eat on his own, and I am proud to say I have him eating out of tongs almost exclusively, no force-feeding necessary!

I found this little guy in our bird kitchen - Dr. Girman and Dr. Geist at SSU would be proud - I've put my lizard catching skills to use! I'd like to see someone find one of these in SF...

I find it very hard to be idle around all of these fascinating animals. During breaks I often spend time holding this little girl, a black and white tegu from Argentina. She's only about 10 inches long now, but she will grow to be over 3 ft!

So far this trip, especially my time at the zoo, has far exceeded my expectations. I am so happy I took the massive (and perhaps a bit crazy) leap that I did when I decided to come to Israel. Sure, homesickness comes to me from time to time, but I thank my lucky stars every day that I am here. I am doing my very best to soak up as much as I possibly can from my time here. This is truly the experience of a lifetime.