Sunday, July 29, 2007


Despite the fact that I am an extremely low-maintenance kind of girl, it happens that everything I could possibly need or desire at the moment is on one of two large duffle bags on wheels. Personally, I wish I had even less to carry, but what I have is basic and necessary. After all, I'm not on vacation. I don't have a cool, hipster apartment to call home back in the States. I am my duffle bags and my duffle bags are me. This hit me last, whoa...I actually kind of live here...

The first bag contains my clothing, my yoga mat, an assorted collection of underwear and the flip flops that hurt my feet so I only wear them in public showers. The second bag contains what I lovingly refer to as my "pharmacy". It contains my latest acquisition of a half dozen books from used bookstores all over Israel, and dirt-cheap toiletries that a girl living out of two duffle bags simply can't live without. This bag also contains 2 towels, and an assortment of quick-remedy medications for everything from stomach issues to bacterial infections. I also have a portable water purifying device and my back-up discs for my computer. I may be low-maintenance, but this doesn't mean that I'm not prepared.

At the moment, the weight of the bags combined equals my body weight. So, one bag is roughly half of me. Thanks to the sister of a close friend of mine who lives in Jerusalem, I am in the process of relocating my things in pieces to her apartment in anticipation of my Hebrew course starting on Tuesday. Yesterday, I dragged half of me up the street in Bethlehem to the local bus that takes me through the checkpoint and into Jerusalem.

Yes, it is pretty much a spectacle to see a little girl dragging a big bag on wheels up the street in Bethlehem. Every taxi cab driver honked, and a guy in a little green Volkswagon took the liberty of driving by me several times in a circle, but never once stopped to ask if I needed help. For the past several weeks, the same green Volkswagon guy has been a recurring source of annoyance. Some might call his behavior a sign of "cultural differences". I would label it "stalking". I have silently said a prayer for him should he ever attempt to get out of his car. I'm really not as cute and innocent as I look.

I am also not as rich as I look. There was a reason why I was dragging my bag up the street and not taking a taxi. There was also a reason why I selected the local bus which charges $1.25 to get to the Damascus Gate instead of paying $25 USD for a taxi. (I can live for a week on $25 in the West Bank, and this includes bus fare and icecream treats.)

From the Damascus Gate, I dragged by bag another quarter of a mile through the busy street vendors in East Jerusalem to the Arab-only bus stop, where I picked up the Number 1 bus to Hebrew University. As far as I am concerned, the Arab buses are the only way to travel. They are cheap, air-conditioned and direct. Best of all, there are no Jewish fundamentalists riding on the Arab buses, there is little to no tension in the air, and they always play awesome music. Of course, my arrival at the bus stop was to the deep consternation of the Arab bus driver. Little, ethnically-ambiguous girls don't set foot on these buses, especially ethnically-ambiguous girls with travel bags. Fortunately, after a brief conversation in Arabic, the driver let me on and took me to the exact place where I needed to be dropped. A taxi driver would charge me out the yang for this. And an Israeli bus driver would never be so obliging, much less actually help me with my bag.

I'm moving to Jerusalem on Tuesday, and trying to wrap my mind around the extremely cultural shift that I am about to experience in the distance of just 15 km, literally to the very next hillside. I am sure that I will be the only person in my class to have ever set foot in the West Bank, let alone lived there for 10 weeks. Part of me wishes I could stay in the camp and continue learning Arabic. The other part of me struggles with the fact that I know that my diet is about to radically improve in a matter of days, and I'll soon be back on track with a regime of studying, eating right and taking much better care of myself and eating everything with a fork and a knife. I'm looking forward to the cooler nights in Jerusalem, where I won't sweat through my dreams or worry about bedbug infestation. I'm looking forward to taking a weekly yoga class at the YMCA downtown. I'm also looking forward to library. For all of this, I look around at my friends in the camp, and I feel entirely superficial, pointless and guilty for being able to so easily translate my life into so much luxury.


ezfez said...

longtime lurker here. i'm in the process of packing my stuff in anticipation of my own fellowship year overseas. i've been enjoying and appreciating your insights and stories all summer--thanks. and let me express my admiration for your lean packing. does a cold climate give me allowance for a bit more stuff?

Donna said...

Yet another lurker here - I hope that the culture shock doesn't affect you too much. I'm a long time reader and I love your writing. Also, don't forget just how fearless you are being, it's tkes a lot of guts to rough it in order to get the material you need.

Namaste said...

haha. thanks for the comments from my "lurkers". in terms of packing for a year abroad, trust me, you need far less than you think. :)

Anonymous said...

But at least you were there to see it for real and tell their stories. That's more than most of us. -- Laura