Reflections of the Earth

Reflections of the Earth
In a field in the outskirts of Rome

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Couch Surfing Across Jerusalem

This past weekend (6/10/10-6/13/10) I spent my time in Jerusalem visiting friends that I am now saying goodbye to instead of hello. I guess it is coming full circle. My second week in Israel I took a couple of days and went to Jerusalem to see a great friend I hadn't seen since I had been in Israel four years ago in 2006. Now, I went to that same friend, watched the USA vs. England World Cup game and celebrated my last night in Jerusalem with some great pizza. This weekend started before last night, but it was a highlight of my visit and since it was full circle, I felt it needed mentioning right off. It all started by helping two friends (Dana and Lauren) move down to Jerusalem from Haifa. We went out as a group to רחוב בן יהודה (Ben Yahuda Street) and met another friend (Ayal) who studied with us at Haifa University. So the four of us enjoyed some Shwarma and spent the rest of the evening walking around Ben Yehuda. I stayed on the first couch that night at Dana's. The next morning I joined Ayal in going to Hebron with a group called "Breaking the Silence". This group has former soldiers guide tours through Hebron talking about their experiences serving in Hebron. We got to hear a settler's perspective and a Palestinian perspective, all the while being trailed by 4 regular police officers, 4-5 Border Policemen (and their vehicle), and the occasional Nachal soldier at a checkpoint. After meeting with the Palestinian from Hebron, we came out only to be met by two angry settlers who were shouting insults at us and our tour guide ("Michael, how much did the EU pay you to come here?").

The man reminded Ayal of a redneck with a potbelly poking out of his shirt, barefoot, and shabby looking. It was a great experience to say the least. After we left there, Ayal and I went to the Shuk in Jerusalem. Later in the evening we went to an Orthodox synagogue in Jerusalem that is unique because it has the mechitza, but both sides are equal and next to each other and women are able to lead prayers and read from the torah. After Shabbat services, Ayal and I went with a woman from the synagogue to her home for Shabbat and had a great time speaking with her daughter, son, and cousin. They are really a great group of people. I ended up walking back to Ayal's place to meet Steve so we could go to Dana's and get his stuff, and then finally back to his place so I could stay on his couch. The next morning consisted of HUC Shabbat Morning services and going with Dana to meet her sister who goes to Clark University with me.  That night I met David and we watched the US vs. England game over pizza and beer (great combination!) and we said our goodbyes at the end of the night and I returned to Dana's couch. Sunday morning, my last day in Jerusalem, I had the great opportunity to meet and have coffee with Josh, my Jewish History teacher from 4 years ago in Israel, and we had a great conversation catching up on 4 years of life, Aliyah, what life in Israel has been like for him, and much much more. This was a great weekend, it is sad that it is my second to last weekend, but I will always look back on this weekend with fondness. I was great to be with everyone and to see those that I have not seen in many years.

The Last Days

With only one week left in Israel I have a pretty long list of things I am going to are some (They are not in order of importance):

1. Having coffee with Tal and Ronen in the morning
2. Emet (Amir) visiting at night and spending hours talking with us
3. Playing soccer with Chadash (Amir #2) and the other students in the international school
4. Listening to Israel Na'aman's history lessons on tiyuls
5. The Tiyuls
6. The Madrichim
7. Having an awesome apartment (people and my room is the best!)
8. Having a bus system that takes you anywhere and everywhere-->same goes for the train
9. Bargaining 
10. Going to the Second Floor with Shai and Guy

More to be added later...

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Second Magen David Adom Shift

I finally got on to a second shift with Magen David Adom (MDA). Let me tell you, it has been extremely frustrating and at times I have just wanted to throw out the white flag of surrender, but fear not, I have continued to pursue my goal and have succeeded. We had three calls and I ended up working with two other volunteers from Canada and a regular MDA medic. It was a long day filled with some frustration, embarassment, and fun...or at least fun for didn't seem like it for the other two volunteers. A word for the wise, if you decide you want to volunteer with MDA either through a program (I highly suggest this approach) or alone (what I did), keep in mind that while you are on an ambulance in Israel and trained to handle situations like a US first responder, you are not always respected. You will most likely be talked down too, isolated from the rest of the regular crowd,  be yelled at for not understanding, and even while doing a good job feel like you aren't. I know it sounds depressing, but this is the impression I got from the volunteers I saw today, they all seemed pretty happy to be done with the work. After two shifts, I can see why they would be frustrated. Israelis are like cactuses (sabras), they are prickly on the outside, yet soft on the inside...its just getting past the pricklers that can be an issue. I succeeded on my first shift to meet people and get the jist of what I needed to do, but this second shift was not quite what I expected. I know, I know, it sounds like I am always frustrated here, and while that is partially true, it isn't always the case. MDA is a great organization that provides excellent care and I don't blame the medics for not wanting to work with volunteers who, for the most part, are not necessarily interested in EMS, are told not to do anything without express concent from the driver, and decide that learning about symptoms and other "non important things" are just not worth the time. However, for those who take advantage of this fantastic opportunity and utilize the skills learned to their full potential, I guarantee this is an adventure that will change your life. It has already made me excited to return to my home EMS in the Boston area to learn even more about EMS. I know for my brother and best friend, MDA was one of their favorite experiences in Israel and enjoyed it! I now join them in that feeling!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

מצדה וים המלך

On Sunday I along with 6 other friends from the international school left for the Dead Sea (ים המלך) around 2pm and arrived at the  at around 5pm. We immediately got into the worlds saltiest water and began floating around. It was some of the most fun I have had here. We put mud on and continued to float around. A few of us managed to figure out how to "sit" in the water. It was so much fun, especially in the evening when the air and water were much cooler. The Dead Sea is the lowest place on Earth and earlier that day was reaching temperatures close, if not at, 100 degrees fahrenheit. After swimming around for a few hours, we got out, dried off, and headed over to the small rental car for dinner. When I say "small" rental car, I mean it. When this thing pulled up to the bus stop, I was would we fit all our stuff in there? Well, needless to say, we did get all our stuff in there, by cramming it all into every space we could find. That meant me and my friend in the back had the lovely adventure of feeling like sardines being squished into the back of the car. My knees were right up against the chair in front of me and my תחת hurt from sitting for so long, but when we finally got to our was worth it.

Dinner consisted of pita, hummus, tuna, and some veggies (whatever you brought) and many a hungry cat became onlookers to our meal. We gave them the partially empty tuna cans after all refused to eat pita and they seemed to thoroughly enjoy that meal. After we drank some beers we searched for the spot where we would camp out for the night...we found it right on the shores of the Dead Sea on a little rise. It was perfect, you could see stars everywhere, you could see Jordan off in the distance, and have the sulfurish smell and calming sounds of the Dead Sea all around you. We all stayed up a little later watching the stars, discussing where different constellations were in the sky, watching a multitude of shooting stars arch across the sky, and seeing Jupiter perched next to the luminous moon that was sending its reflected rays down onto the Dead Sea where the act was reciprocated and the flowing waves of the sea became illuminated in a ghostly glow.

At 3am we woke up and, after searching for one of our friend's shorts that had been left to dry on a tree and were now gone, began our drive to מצדה for our hike to the top. We arrived at around 4am and began climbing up until one of our group ran back to grab his water bottle and was seen by a previously sleeping security guard who told him no one was allowed up for another 20 minutes and that he must pay the entrance fee of 25 sheckels. He called us to explain this and we hid on the trail behind a mound of dirt waiting until our friend would join us. Once he did find us, it was all up hill from there...literally. We climbed as the sun began to rise over the hills and mountains to the East. The whole hike lasted around 45 minutes and when we reached the top we found ourselves on the very spot where 2,000 years ago the Romans layed siege to one of the last Jewish strongholds after the first revolt. I climbed over the outer wall where there was just enough ground to sit on the very ledge of the mountain and await the sunrise. We all watched with awe as the sun peaked over the horizon and cast its glowing rays across the land before us. Below us, Roman camps sat, abandoned, and lifeless, but one could imagine Roman soldiers just beginning their morning routines in camp, looking above at the towering fortress they were tasked with capturing.

We walked around Masada, taking in all of the sights and sounds and then began our trek back down the Snake Path (the way we came up). It was on the way down that I completed a goal that has been itching at the back of my mind for years...I finally got the opportunity to go into one of the Roman camps. As we passed the still ominous retaining wall set up by the Romans, I found the handle of a shattered pot that was most likely from Roman times as each legion had their own pottery making facility and the X Legion's (the group present at Masada and one of the primary Legions in Israel at the time) pottery factory was in Jerusalem. This means that most likely most, if not all, of the shards we found could be from the Romans. The coolest part about walking through the camp was the feeling of going back in time, like you were completely in touch with the soldiers who once occupied the base. The rocks were still in the outlines the Romans had left them, with different tent or other types of camp locations still outlined as if only yesterday the Romans had set up camp. It was eerie to look up and see the view these soldiers once had of the daunting Masada heights perched directly above them.

All in all, this trip proved to be a fantastic adventure and one that I wont soon forget. It was awesome spending the time with all of these great people (you know who you are) and I hope that in the very near future I will get the opportunity to float in the Dead Sea and climb Masada for the sunrise.

MDA: First Shift

On Sunday May 30th, I had the awesome experience of having my first shift with Magen David Adom. The shift started at 7am, I got there at 6:30 since buses are scarce going to the German Colony in the morning from the University. The base gradually got busier as more medics, paramedics, and doctors filled the halls of the base. The morning was slow, no calls, nothing much to do other than read (which I did a lot of). Around 9am or so, we got our first call. It was scary because the second partner was called away just prior to our response by the dispatcher who needed help. The chovesh bachir (senior medic) told me to get into the passenger seat and off we went, only to be cancelled enroute. The second call came in 10 or 11am  for an elderly woman having trouble breathing. We ended up not transporting her per her request, but still it was great to get into the action again. During the afternoon things were fairly quiet so I took the opportunity to investigate the back of the ambulance to figure out where everything is kept. Unlike in the US, medics don't administer drugs, so that was one less thing I had to look for as I went through each cabinet meticulously. Then the third call came in. We found the man sitting on the side of the street. The chovesh bachir knew the guy who was a drug addict. The man could barely sit up when we asked him too. In the end we couldn't convince him to come with us to the hospital and we left. In the US this would not fly at all, but it is always so cool to see how a different EMS system works.

After all this, we sat around talking and the day ended quietly...just like a summer day at Armstrong Ambulance Service...or at least most summer days there. All in all, a great experience, though I continue to find the bureaucracy to be very hindering and frustrating making every attempt at getting a shift a painfully slow and inneficient process. You gotta love it!

Flotilla mess

The past two weeks have been plagued with news regarding the flotilla. In Israel last week, things were tense, people were emotional, and our going away party was cancelled due to a violent student protest on campus. Despite all of this, we continue to live our lives, study hard and play hard. The challenge with this specific incident is how Israel and the world reacts and so far both are negative. Israel has released a lot of pictures, stories, and videos, but sometimes it is just not enough.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

A Night Out on the Town

What is a typical night out on the town like here in the city of Haifa? I am glad you asked. If you assumed that it involvs eating a burger and going to a pub, you have safely assumed the right answer.

Lets start at the beginning...

6pm--Monday and Tuesday this is the time I get out of class, I am usually tired, unmotivated to do any more homework required of me, and generally am uninterested in sitting at my computer in my room.

6:30pm--After giving myself some time to check email, facebook, the news, and any other random thing I am interested in (EMS games or news...I know I know, its lame), I tend to call my friends to find out if there is any interest at all in going to a pub. Often times, from certain friends, I get a "oh, I am not really in the mood to drink tonight, but thank you" or the famous "I have a lot of work to do" excuse. Its ok, I usually have my designated drinker on board anyway, so I can handle the this point I call Steve...we decide the time to meet...lets say for the sake of this story its 7:30pm

7:30 pm--I get on the 37 bus to Khorev Center and meet Steve down the road near Denya. At Khorev Center we transfer to the 123 bus to Newe Sha'anan. On the way we decide what pub to go to, again for the sake of the story and to explain a really cool feature in some Israeli pubs, lets go with the Second Floor pub in Newe Sha'anan.

8:15pm--We arrive to the pub and order our first drink. The cool feature in this and some other Israeli pubs is the 1 + 1 Happy Hour. From 6-9 you buy one beer and once you finish it completely you get the same beer in the same size glass for free. Buy one, get one it. We also order the burger which is very good at this place.

8:45--So lets say we are drinking semi-quickly tonight and for the sake of argument we finish in 30 minutes, we then receive our second beer. At around this time or a little sooner, depending on how crowded the place is and how many waitresses are working, we get our burgers.

9:45/10 pm--We have finished our second beer and burgers (usually Steve have finished both in record time and I am usually stuck with a quarter or more of a beer left and chips still on my plate). We pay for the bill and hop on the 123 bus to Khorev, then transfer to the 37. Steve gets off at the top of the hill in Denya and either hitch hikes home or walks. I continue back to the university in a thoroughly happy state, fed and buzzed.

This is a typical weekday night...this is of course excluding soccer nights which will be explained in a future post.