Bureau-crazy

Bureau-crazy

Settling into a new life in another country takes time. Joining the university in the context of multiple entities and institutions sponsoring my fellowship is trying. In reality, they are part of the same herculean process of navigating an unfamiliar bureaucracy, set of cultural rules and norms, actual laws, and diverse personalities.

For Americans, who are accustomed to a specific idea of customer service, personal responsibility, and timeliness, working the system can be frustrating. Mitigating/adjusting my expectations has helped, and Jesse too, but acculturation is a slow process. Fortunately for us, we are pretty damn good at it!

Case in point: When do banks close?

You: “Oh, I don’t know… M-F at 4 or 5pm, sometimes Saturdays at 1pm depending on the branch.”

Well I’ve got news for you. First, don’t expect a whole week of regular business hours. No, no… there are different sets of hours on Sunday-Monday and Thursday, and on Tuesday-Wednesday. Did I mention that the weekend is Friday-Saturday? Honestly that is the easiest part of this equation.

Second, closing hours are not ON the hour. Nope. 1:15. I am not prepared for this! It’s hard to describe, but getting somewhere before the quarter of the hour is kind of an adjustment. Never did I think this would be an issue.

Maybe people here think that our speed limit signs are weird. 65 MPH? 35 MPH? “Who ends a speed limit with a 5?” thought no one ever until just now. 105 KPH wouldn’t fly… who cares about that extra 5 KPH anyway? What is that, like .2 MPH? (It’s not)

Anyway, as a result of this 1:15 closing time, I missed the bank’s open hours, twice. My fault, sure – and not completely the result of my inability to adjust to this new on-the-quarter-hour closing system, there were other factors too – but I missed it nonetheless. So, third try, Jesse and I make sure we’re there at the university branch early, and BAM! We’re in. Got a number. All set, and the teller calls us up and asks us for our papers.

“You are not Israeli?”

She calls her boss over, “you are not Israeli?”

“No,” I blurted out, trying to hold it together.

“I am sorry, there is a new rule that just came out this morning,” the boss explained. “All foreigners must open new accounts at the central branch, near Kanyon HaNegev. Only Israeli citizens may open accounts at this branch.”

Perplexed, I asked “But. The most non-Israelis are here. At this University. We live across the street. The other branch is so far! How does that make sense?”

Sympathetic, but unwavering, she says “Yes, I understand, but there is nothing I can do. It is policy, set in stone.”

In the face of defeat, I could only laugh. Three is not the magic number here. In conversations with new friends they simply remark: “Welcome to Israel.”

Undeterred, and with a new sense of determination, Jesse and I set out the next day by bus, taking Harvey for one of his new favorite activities. No one’s really happy on a bus, until they look at a cute baby. Harvey is instant besties with everyone who has sense enough to smile at him.

In my idiocy infinite wisdom, I somehow got in my head that the university branch must have odd hours, and that the main branch would have “normal” hours. Whadda dummy… Our 1:30 pm arrival to the bank is met with closed doors and crushed spirits. This was a Thursday, the last day of the week. Sure, we could wait around for two and a half hours for the bank to open again for their evening hours, but patience, our stomachs, and Harvey were not into it.

Sunday morning. Fifth try. Working around the nap schedule we arrive at 10:30. I get my number: 6. I’m telling you right now this number is prophetic. We sit down in a room bustling with people.

Later on, we learned from our teller that the people in Beer Sheva don’t use the ATM much, or online banking, or phone banking. Clearly annoyed, she explains to us that every transaction, for many people, must be done in person. That means waiting for 20-plus minutes to withdraw 200 shekels or check ones balance. WAAAAT?

As a result, the bank is swimming with customers. It’s a full blown clusterfuck of people, or as hebrew speakers would say, “a balagan.” This very common word, originally coming from Persian, through Russian, literally translates as “fucks in a cluster**”

Numbers are called over the banks intercom, and displayed on multiple flat-screen panels throughout the room. 5 is summoned to counter 9, 400-something to 16, 400-something else to some other counter, 7… 8… Something’s wrong. I go to ask the manager for help, who looks in her computer, “I think 6 was called already.”

Fifth attempt. Failure.

“But my wife and I are both here attentively watching and listening. How could we both miss it? We are just trying to open an account.” I explained to her that we are new in town, that I am a postdoc at the university, and we need a bank account very bad.

“Okay, let me see,” checking her computer again. ” Why don’t you open a bank account at the university?”

Rage monster stirring, “I was told that by law I could only open an account here.”

“Yes, that is true,” she smiled.

I would be asked this many times, in fact. It seems to be some sort of weird trick question they ask for security purposes.

Anyway, after some deliberation we are sent down to the lower level, where there are far fewer people, and tellers sit in glass offices with large desks and stock nature photos on the wall. Ofra, our bank teller, warns us, “this will take about an hour.” Fine. We’ve been trying for freaking ever to open an account. Nothing will stop us now.

And on the sixth try, nothing did. When we left the bank at 2pm, three and a half hours after we arrived, we returned home to rest. I felt little sense of accomplishment; it seemed like a typical day. In that, we embraced a new sense of acculturation.

**This is completely made up, by me. Sorry Notsorry.

Advertisements

Jet Lag

Jet Lag

If there’s one thing I like about jet lag it’s that I often wake just before sunrise. I’m no morning person so this is rare. There is a gentle electric current to the chilled morning air. Everything feels, smells, looks crisp. Like an unopened book – whose pages, brisk with fresh ink printed for this occasion – my early morning tryst.

Every city has a rhythm, predictably melodic and syncopated. No moment is quiet like the predawn hour. And then, as I sit sipping my coffee, the city slowly begins to awaken in a doppler orchestra of cars, conversation, and public transportation. We live adjacent to a busy street so this quickly becomes a wall of sound.

Grateful Dead's wall of sound system

With the family sleeping, a brief moment of solitude: even the cat sleeps somewhere other than my keyboard. In the morning we have a fleeting confidence, one part anticipation for the day’s potential and one part security in those tasks we have not yet failed to complete. Be’er Sheva stirs.

Ramadan

It’s a beautiful evening here in Jerusalem, at 73F and partly cloudy, I’ve got a nice breeze coming in through my window. Also, the numerous stray cats around the university are keeping quite, for now.

This month, by the Islamic calendar, is Ramadan (رمضان‎), the most important month for Muslims. It’s special because Mohammad received the first revelations of the Qur’an from God during this month. Ramadan is a time of religions and spiritual reflection, self-sacrifice, charity, and fasting. Yes, Muslims fast for the entire month – but only during daylight hours. Fasting includes abstention from food, water, smoking, and sex. Everyone is expected to fast, with the exception of young children, pregnant or menstruating women, people who are traveling, the ill, and other situations where fasting is unsafe.

I’ve always been curious about fasting. Many of the people I work with in Jordan fast, as do many of my new friends here in Jerusalem. So, I’ve decided to fast with some of them for a day, starting tomorrow (or tonight, if you’re on the west coast!). I’ve set my alarm for 4:00am, so I can wake up and have my pre-fast meal, called suhoor (سحور). Then I will abstain from food and drink until it’s time to break my fast at the iftar (إفطار), sometime around sunset. So, wish me luck, and I’ll try to post updates on my status!

!!!رمضان مبارك

Hebrew University

Greetings from Jerusalem! I’ve been here for about two weeks now. After getting over some pretty bad jet lag, I’m alert, awake (sort of), and analyzing the crap out of some samples I excavated in southern Jordan. I’ll get to that later, but let’s talk about this campus! The Hebrew University in Jerusalem has three campuses, one for science, one for medicine, and one for the soft sciences. I’m at the Givat Ram campus, which has most of the hard science labs. Givat Ram is also where the Knesset is, you know, the Israeli legislature. When I go runing at the track, I can see the Knesset up on the hill.

The campus is also beautifully landscaped. Yeah, I know. I really like the landscape. But there are so many TREES! And everything has a natural feel to it, like they didn’t tear every single shrub for miles before erecting buildings.

HU1 HU2

There’s also this really nice open air theatre. As far as I can tell there aren’t any shows this summer, unfortunately.

HU3

I love sea turtles. When I saw my first sea turtle, I was snorkeling in the Red Sea during a day off from excavation. It swam along the bottom of the sea floor, a few meters below me. I followed. Occasionally he turned to one side to check me out.

I can’t say why I like them so much. I just do, and I’ll never forget that experience. So while I was in Hawaii, I jumped on the opportunity to see the Hawaiian sea turtle, an endangered species that is protected by numerous federal and state laws, among other things. One of the prohibitions is getting too close to a turtle, because any kind of close interaction, especially touching, can be very stressful for these amazing animals.

There’s this beach on the north shore where the turtles rest or spend the night. Much to my pleasure, it was clear on this particular day that visitors had followed the rules of enjoying from a distance. As you can see in this picture, the beach had been walked on quite a bit, but there was a circle of un-walked beach surrounding the little turtle!

 

No footprints around this little turtle!
No footprints around this little turtle!


Day trip to Joffa

I was in Tel Aviv recently, doing some sightseeing before my research starts in Jordan. It’s a beautiful, modern, liberal city with great food and beaches. Only having three days, I was on a marathon tour of the main attractions. The first place I went was the old city of Jaffa, just a short walk south of Tel Aviv. You can walk along the boardwalk next to the beach.

Jaffa has a long history as a port city, dating back to the Bronze Age. In fact, Tel Aviv was originally founded as a suburb of Jaffa and only recently overtook Jaffa as a major city. We ate lunch at a famous resutant known for its shakshuka – poached eggs in tomato sauce. The guy who founded the resturant popularized the practice of serving the dish in the frying pan in which it’s cooked.

The park is full of shops selling typical Middle Eastern goods with tourist appeal. The modern buildings often incorporate older architectural features. We found an old archway inside a hookah shop that was tiled with ceramic vessels. Instead of tearing the archway out the owner just repainted it white to match the rest of the building.

Since I’m a sucker for wildlife, I was also really excited to see a colony of bats living in the 19th century soap factory. Jaffa was well known for its soap industry during this time. Thousands of bats now make their home in the derelict building. These bats aren’t like the small southern California bats. No no. They are easily the size of your open hand (bigger if you have small hands). You can see them hanging from the ceiling and along the back wall.