Open doors

It’s getting hot in here. The three of us go to sleep with the fan on, window open and barely have a blanket on the whole night, and still we wake up sweating. And after having breakfast we decide it’s too hot to do anything reasonable or productive, so we just go back to sleep. Sieastas make a whole lot of sense in hot countries, trust me! It’s after 6pm that there’s any point in going out and living a life. Even Oscar will barely stick his nose outside the cool, air-conditioned apartment before the day has passed its hottest hour. Thank God for a smart dog!

He really is a reasonable puppy, though. I’ve been observing him rather closely these past days that I’ve had him, and he’s surprisingly humanlike even in all of his dog-ness. The first couple days when I took him out for a walk, he’d refuse to get out of our apartment, and once we came back from our walk he’d refuse to go back inside our the building. He’s very much afraid of entering open, unfamiliar doors. He doesn’t know what’ll wait for him inside, and he’s still not absolutely sure if he trusts me enough to follow me through all ways in life.

Whenever faced with these open doors he’ll sit down and refuse to move. He’ll fold his ears back and take a good look around his surroundings to decided whether it’s safe to enter or not. With a little encouragement and coaxing he’ll get up slowly and walk with careful steps inside. The first time when we came back from the pound I had to carry him all four flights of stairs because he was SOOOooo afraid. And it’s not like he’s a little chihuahua you can just pick up with one hand and carry upstairs without effort. I got a little workout that day …

But aren’t we all a little afraid of open, unknown doors in our lives? I have no idea what life will bring me the next few months or so. I’m facing a whole lot of responsibility getting this puppy out of the country. And I have no idea what’ll face me when I get back to Finland. I need an apartment, I need a job, I need to get back on track with my studies. There are big gaps everywhere in my life, and I need to plunge into them with a whole lot of energy to figure things out.

And yet those open doors somehow always seem to turn out good. Today I Skyped with my mom, and she informed me about an apartment that might be available right after I get back from the US. And I also have a vet appointment for Wednesday to see what documents Oscar needs to do a little traveling (boy is he going to be a cosmopolitan pup!).

As I’ve found out this far: Life always wins (in matters of all size).

Reality check.

My life has been completely invaded by the puppy, and it seems like the past 48hours were merely a second. We’ve all learned so many things about the dog already: all it’s quirks and likes, but still it’s a lot of “getting used to” at the moment.  I’m pretty sure he’d say the same about the situation if he could talk! He looooves to be petted and he absolutely refuses to go through doors, which is especially annoying when you’re in a hurry to get back home before work starts… He’s also in his chewing stage at the moment, which means that we’ve rescued (almost) all of our shoes from the floor (I left a pair of ugly rubber crocs lying around. I really won’t miss them if he gets to destroying them).

I’m really enjoying all the exercise I’m getting by taking Oscar out, though. During midday it’s horrible with all the heat, and he doesn’t really seem to enjoy those moments either. But in the morning and later on in the evening the weather is nice and enjoyable around here, and I could spend hours and hours with him in a nice park (too bad there really aren’t any parks here in the desert!).  However, getting up at 5am just to walk him before my morning shift is not my favorite chore in the whole world. But of course I knew this was coming.

Meanwhile during all the fun sides of adopting a dog, I’m also stressing about how to get it out of the country. I’m trying to figure out if it has to be in quarantee for awhile before exiting Israel, but I seem to bump into deadends where ever I check. At the pound I was told to call the ministry of agriculture, where surely they’d know everything about how to get a dog out of Israel. I called, but first of all it was a Hebrew speaking operator, so I needed a little help from somebody I know at work to actually figure out is it 1,2,3 or 4 that I have to press in order to get the right line. When we finally got somebody at the other end of the line, she merely told us that she has no clue what the process involves and said to contact a vet who’d know everything about the process (funny, wasn’t it a vet at the pound who told me otherwise??).

Sigh.

Well… then there’s the airlines… I called one airline, and the person who I spoke to told me that yes, I can take the dog, but I have to contact the airline of the connection flight about their policies (before landing in Seattle I have a layover in Frankfurt). So I sent an email (didn’t want to pay to call to Germany..) and the answer was yes, I can take the dog but I need to contact the airline of the first flight to figure out about their policies.

Sigh.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if you had someone who’d automatically give ALL the answers to all the questions and worries in your life?

Sigh. I guess I’ll just brood over it until Shabbat ends when I can actually start the whole process again.

Of Mice and Pups

For the past few days we’ve been dealing with the issue of pets here on Radak Street. Well, if you can call cockroaches, pigeons and lately mice, too, pets. Last week our Hebrew lesson was abruptly interrupted by a little mouse running around between our two sofas, and after that Tatiana and I could not concentrate on verbs anymore. I got some mouse traps and set them up before leaving to Arad for a couple of days. When I got back to Beersheva on Friday, I caught two mice in a row during the same day with the trap. The trap is a mouse friendly trap, and it doesn’t kill them: it just traps them inside, and afterwards you can release them outside. Since it’s warming up outside, the cockroaches are also multiplying and finding their way inside our apartment. No bueno. I like animals, just not the unwanted ones, and especially inside the apartment I live in!

But seriously, we have been thinking about real pets also. When I first got here, I was told that we’re allowed to have pets in the apartment, and that the previous Finnish volunteers here had two cats. But I forgot about pets and fun things for a while, when the sirens and crap in life hit me during February and March. It’s been a hard spring. But the other day Tatiana and I were talking about how lonely it is here, and somehow the idea of a dog came up. And just to let you know, the thought of getting a dog has REALLY been in my mind for … the past two decades or so? I’ve never had the privilege of having my own dog :(. So, Tatiana asked around and her boyfriend here directed us to the local pound, which we visited today.

A BIG mistake. Now I want a dog. I mean, just look at them!:

I have no idea what I’d have to do to take a dog from Israel to the US and from there to Finland (and I can’t say how glad my relatives would be to hear that I’d be traveling over with a puppy. Aunt C?). All the paperwork, vets, payments etc. And I have absolutely no earthly idea why this crazy thought of adopting a dog has hit me this bad right now. Who puts these thoughts in my head anyway? It’s a totally harebrained idea, and you all agree with me, right? Why am I still thinking about it then?

But this I do know: this little 6 month old sweetheart stole my heart:

Out of all the cute 3 month old puppies (some which Tatiana really fell for), all the cute Golden Retriever and Boxer pups, the mix breed little bear cub looking cuties, it was this that caught my eye.

Sigh. Being in love sucks. I mean, who can seriously resist this face?

A trip to the oasis

I’ve been rather busy lechayiming these past couple days! On Wednesday I took the bus to Arad, a smaller city only some kilometers away from the Dead Sea, and spent two nights in a Bedouin tent sleeping right next to a herd of camels (the word’s a herd for camels too, right?).  I was picked up from Arad, and taken to our camping location, which is just near to Masada, an ancient Herodian fortress (the big plateau on the right in the picture below).

I spent my days there with 20+ Finnish people. About 8 of us were volunteers from around Israel, and the rest was a group of Finns who flew in for a week to visit Israel and see what it’s like around this part of the world. The first night after our arrival, we had a short lecture about Bedouin life from a real Bedouin. He told us interesting facts … Bedouins usually have three wives and about 15 kids, and they do their grocery shopping in town with a camel (they actually have their own parking spaces for camels!). Afterwards we had a dinner a la Bedouin, i.e. we sat on the floor of a Bedouin tent and ate meat and rice, and aferwards we were served tea and coffee. In the evening we had made a little fire and ate some  birthday cake, since one of the volunteers had her birthday. What a fun place to celebrate it at!

The next morning we woke up early to eat a very big and filling breakfast before we took off on a morning camel ride (the camels had some rather heavy passengers!). I had never been on a camel before, but it was so much fun! The pace of the animal is not as steady as a horse’s, but it’s more realiable in the rocky desert than a horse would be. And camels ARE rather hilarious.

The afternoon was extremely hot, so we postponed our 12 o’clock hike to 3 o’clock, when the sun was already past it’s hottest point. We set our for a 10k hike, which included superb scenery, going down to a canyon and wading in little pools of water. It was rather memorable (as was the whole trip, in fact!). I was even smart and put on some sun screen and dodged all sunburns! Maybe I should do it more often…

Sleeping in the Bedouin tents was fun and exhausting. There wasn’t much sleep involved actually, since the first night it was Israel’s Independence Day, and some locals came to celebrate it down at the Bedouin camps. Israelis are sorta LOUD. The next night the place was invaded by 100+ (yes, the place holds a lot of folks) LOUD AMERICAN TEENAGERS. As I said, I didn’t really sleep that much. We also had some cats coming inside the tent during the night, and one even decided to camp in my lap for the night. It was cosy. And of course, our tent was just next to the camel’s fenced area, and camels can make a lot of interesting sounds too (not to mention the donkeys, that sounded like they were tortured! Check out a donkey voice, if you haven’t heard it.)

The last morning I woke up with three others to watch the sun rise from Jordan. We weren’t sure what time the sun was actually coming up, so we played it safe and set the alarm for 4:45am. We definitely did not miss the sunrise, since it wasn’t until 6:06 that the prettiest moment of the morning was at hand!

Returning to the desert

Basically I’ve never left it, but I’m returning to the untouched. Today I will finally –FINALLY!!– go on the desert trip to ride camels, hike in the sandy landscapes and experience the Bedouin life. I’m so excited!!

I figured that I’m in love with deserts. I have a thing for the magical feeling of the vast spaces and quietness. It’s a rather one-sided love, though, since the harsh conditions seldom care for us weak humans. But they’re excellent places to disappear into. And I’m more than glad to escape masses of people for awhile again, even if it means that I’ll miss the Independence Day celebrations here in Beersheva.

Until Friday, folks! I’ll snap a camel picture or two for ya!

My song for the year.

I’ve been slightly disappointed by the selection of Hebrew songs that I’ve heard here during my stay. Nora and I purchased a small radio on our first week here, since our tv with five Hebrew speaking channels isn’t that interesting, and we just had to have some background noise. However, for a long time I just hadn’t found THAT Israeli song that I could listen to afterwards back in Finland and think “Ah, Israel!”.

But I did find it.

But not on the radio.

And not by anybody famous.

But by someone who’s company I’ve really enjoyed during my stay.

And that makes the biggest difference.

This is sung by a friend who I work with. Alona, you truly have an amazing voice.

I need some views in my life.

You never no how many muscles you have in your leg until you climb a mountain and hike a crater for 6 hours. Today I can feel all of them! Yesterday Nora and I had a free day together, and already last week we decided that we’d be doing a hike. So, we got up early (4:45am) and caught the first bus from Beersheva to Mizpe Ramon, a small little town (population not even 5 000) further down south of Beersheva, which overlooks a HUGE erosion cirque called the Ramon Crater. The crater, or should I say the crater, is very impressive and not just a little hole in the ground, and it has well-routed trails for backpackers and hikers. Nora had done the same hike we did yesterday with a friend of hers a month ago, and she told me already early on that she wanted to do a hike there later with me, too. And I’m very glad of that.

The crater (not formed by a meteor, just so you know) is very interesting geologically, so if you like stones, this is your place to visit. For me, it was purely an experience of pleasure, challenge and solitude. The crater is so big, that it actually has mountains and a road on the bottom of it. The trail we chose to follow featured a climb to “Shen Ramon”, or “Ramons Tooth”, or just plainly “The Tooth”, which is a tall peak made of magma, which rose through the cracks of earth after it had hardened. Although it’s just referred to as “a rock”, my legs have decided to list it as a mountain after my muscles had a go with it.

The views on top of The Tooth were breathtaking, and I couldn’t stop thinking how I never would’ve experience it if I hadn’t come to Israel. While we were enjoying the stop on the top of the whole country (or so it seemed), Nora sighed and said: “Imagine, if on a very chaotic day at work you could just snap your fingers and be here, just like that.” I’ve stored all the wonders of that crater into my mind, and I think on those crazy days at work I’ll just reside back to the mountain top to escape everything. Sigh.

But really that physical and mental climb up The Tooth did good to me. I needed the views, and I’ll continue needing them. In the quietness of the desert it is somehow soothing to feel small, vulnerable, human. The mind gets to thinking about silly and scary things like the possibility of falling off the edge, running out of water or getting lost. But once you shake those thoughts off your mind and settle into the flow of hiking, your mind goes deeper into comparing the hike to your life. You have the long steady-ons, the scorching hot spots, the abrupt ascents and the heavy-on-mind descents, and all along you have views. Views of the present, views left behind and views to come around the next corner.

I came back home from the hike feeling exhausted, but extremely happy. I’ll need to fill up my reminder of days here in Israel with some more views. Starting next week actually, when I go for another trip to the desert, which will include camel riding! I can’t wait!

What have been your views recently?

72 days

This is probably the most unnecessary countdown in history, but yes, 72 days until I take off from the Holy Land and go to the US. Somehow buying that ticket just took a HUGE load off of my heart, and just knowing when I’m leaving makes life much better around here. I think we’re all tired around here in one way or another, and lately the easy days are like heaven-sent. It’s hard to explain to someone who hasn’t worked with autistics what a significant difference there is when you have an easy day with them, compared to the tough ones we almost always have. Around here it’s the small details that are big.

Tatiana will be ending her program in Beersheva in early June, but she’ll still be in Israel until late July, early August, to attend her friend’s wedding and spend time with family. Nora hasn’t decided yet when she’s going to leave, but she says it’ll be likely that she departs sometime when Tatiana and I are gone. We are planning to do something fun together before it’s time to go each our own ways, and one option for having fun is going south to Eilat and hanging around the beaches and coral reefs. I’d like to swim with dolphins (you can in Eilat), but we’ll see if that’ll ever happen.

It’ll be sad to leave all the good things that I’ve gotten into my life here. The rewarding aspect of working with the friends, the people I like at work, my roommates and the fantastic weather. It has been an honor to experience life in another country! Many people often talk about living somewhere else, but seldom execute their plans, so I’m really glad I actually bought the ticket to Israel last fall. I think it’s amazing how our lives have a certain path already planned without us knowing about it (as it sometimes seems) until the very last minute. I can’t wait to see what life’ll bring after summer, or next year!

But like I said, thinking about the 72 days is totally ridiculous, not to mention thinking about the fall or next year. 72 days of Israel is still plenty to enjoy.

Losing myself

Last October when I first started thinking about coming to Israel, my motivation for volunteering was to take some time off to figure out what I want from life. Looking back on it, it seemed to be a lot to ask for from 10 months. But in fact I underestimated how much you can learn from yourself in just 4 months. I don’t think the concept of time is relevant for learning and growing up, since everyday we’re faced with decisions and choices that shape us and the people around us.

I think I’ve gained more insight to my own dimensions as a social, yet independent person during these months in Beersheva. Firstly, I rely on the presence of other people, although I’m perfectly comfortable to be by myself for even longer periods of time. Compared to Tatiana, who says she’ll go nuts if you put her into a room with nothing to do and nobody to talk with (I guess we won’t see her in a dusty library corner then!).  I love making friends with loud and talkative people, and I think here the saying “opposites attract” comes in nicely. But my me-time is also vital for my health. I’m dependant on my writing, reading, painting and exercising time, and sometimes it’s hard to explain to someone else that yes, I’m actually very excited to have a day off and do nothing special (I know there are people out there who have to have an adventure like… every day). To make things just a little bit more paradoxical: I get bored easily. Even during my lazy days I have to have something — even if it’s just a thought I can play with (and that just might end up as a blog post!).

There are of course practical things that I’ve learned from myself, too. I work hard and I’m rather efficient, I go out of my to do things even if I don’t have to (that’s where the boredom part kicks in), I have a strong stomach for pretty much anything (except cutting someone else’s toenails!! Gross.), and in my silent own way I like to do small, unexpected favors for others. And it’s crazy to think about how I’ve come to learn about myself during my volunteering time. Last summer I would never have guessed that shortly I would be working with autistics out of all the people in the world! And in Israel to boot.

But now after battling homesickness for awhile, I’ve also learned that I don’t always have to be in search of myself, because the things I have already gained and worked for are sufficient. My language studies back home ARE interesting and Finland IS a good place to lodge. I also have people back home who love me, and who I need in my life. Let’s just say that Israel has been a great way to fill up my stock of motivation, even if I haven’t gained a single earthly treasure (except maybe for a pretty dress and a cute shirt I bought) from my trip.

As Ghandi put it: “The best way to find yourself, is to lose yourself in the service of others.”