Monday, September 13, 2010

September Blogger, Lisa first six weeks!

Common street scene in Be'er Sheva, although
this tree is
looking particularly healthy!

Using all the Hebrew I know to buy dried dates
at the Bedouin Market.
The courtyard at the hospital.  One of the rare green areas, which helps keep me sane in the deserts

Two weeks of real medical school under my belt, plus a month of orientation classes.  I don’t quite feel like a real medical student yet (although I officially passed my first class!), but it’s getting closer.  Right now, I just feel like an immigrant.  It’s tough.  Before coming to Israel, I knew I was choosing a challenging path in attending medical school in a foreign culture.  Older MSIH students had also warned me of this.  I chose to go here so I could learn how to live and heal in new cultures -- and I do not regret my choice.  However, expecting difficulty won’t necessarily ease the pain when you are experiencing it.

John, the previous blogger, described a classic frustration here: the bank.  Or think about setting up your own wireless router; in the U.S., it can easily bring out the worst in people.  Then, when the internet still doesn’t connect, try calling tech support and pressing every single number on several automatic phone menus because you don’t understand any of the options and just want to talk to a human being who might possibly speak English.  Then you get transferred to five different people before being told that someone will call you back in five minutes.  He never does.  I will never complain about pressing “1 for English” again.  

I could give you a discouraging list of the frustrations, but that would not be entirely representative of my first few weeks here.  Some problems simply take a time investment that I would make if I were in the U.S.  Anyone needs to learn how to turn the key just right in a finicky lock.  Furnishing an apartment takes time, even when you have more than two suitcases worth of belongings or own a car.  Thankfully, we also have resources that ease the burden of living in a foreign country.  There are the Israeli “student liaisons” who have helped us find apartments and overcome some language barriers.  The second- and third-year students have advice (sometimes an overabundance) since they struggled through the same things.  Techies in my class finally got the wireless internet working in my apartment -- after the internet company said the modem was broken.

Since life in Be’er Sheva does not end with frustration, I’ll mention some victories.

I am learning how wait in line like an Israeli.  “Waiting in line” is a bit of a misnomer since Israelis don’t really stand in lines.  From my Minnesotan perspective, when I go to the bank, I see a sea of people and watch them push to get the next opening.  Cute old women cut in line at the grocery store.  However, I have discovered that Israelis usually have a sense of who is ahead of them in line.  I even heard them ask who is last in line when I went to the post office yesterday.  If I know approximately what place I am in line, then confidently and swiftly move forward when it is my turn, I can generally get through the line quickly, fairly, and with only a small amount of yelling and pushing.

My roommate and I have a washing machine!  To give a context for that victory, here’s how you find a used washer in Be’er Sheva based on our experience:

  1. Track used washing machine prices and find a few possibilities.
  2. E-mail a seller, translate her e-mail into English, call her, get vague directions from her friend since she doesn’t really speak English, and walk thirty minutes to the market across from her apartment.
  3. Spend an hour trying to find her apartment.  Look for a building number that does not appear to be displayed anywhere (Israelis somehow don’t believe in consistently labeling buildings).  Stumble through conversations in Hebrew with people on the street and with the seller.  
  4. Keep wandering until you find her.  Follow her through a narrow path to her apartment building and find that her washing machine looks great.
  5. Discover that she will be returning her keys to her landlord at 4 pm the following day.
  6. Head home since you have class from 8 am to 5pm tomorrow, have no car, can’t find a professional mover with such short notice, and have not been lifting enough weights to wrangle a washing machine all by yourself tonight.
  7. Go to bed.  Repeat.

Eventually, we ended up finding a good washing machine and hired a mover to transport it for a reasonable price.  Of course, it involved another night of absolutely no studying, but classes are pretty slow right now.  Apparently things don’t really get going in Israel until after the fall holidays, so we have some grace during the move-in period.  

Sometimes Be'er Sheva,doesn't seem like a different place;
it is also in a time of its own.
Life really is getting easier as we settle in.  My roommate and I have acquired most of the furniture we need.  My classmates continue to be great sources of inspiration and laughter.  I am getting oriented to my new neighborhood and am developing some running routes.  And, after I had a long conversation with the vegetable man over soup ingredients, he gave me a good deal -- a sign that I may be moving beyond the tourist phase.