I cooked my first meal here in our kitchen. I managed to go to the supermarket and buy ingredients without being able to read most of the labels. In the bigger supermarket I was very confused that I couldn't find any bacon... turns out it was a kosher supermarket. I made spaghetti bolognaise, a classic fave of mine, and it turned out fine, despite me buying veal mince instead of beef mince... That's what happens when you can't read labels!
|The spaghetti sauce - From Our apartment in Tel Aviv|
I realised that it had been years since I'd stepped into a bar or pub and been assaulted by cigarette smoke when I came across it here. There are signs in every bar saying no smoking, and there are no ashtrays on the tables or anything, but everyone it smoking inside! The bar tenders make ashtrays from folded cardboard coasters, so if the police come in they can say that they had nothing to do with encouraging the smoking. It's another little thing that tells me I'm really in the wild west, rather than a western country! And I really do hate that smoke of course, it makes your clothes stink and your eyes water, so unpleasant.
Seeing the country
I went to the area near Be'eri twice in the same week, just by chance. It is about an hour or so south of Tel Aviv, close to the Gaza Strip, that is famous for the red anemone flowers that are (supposed to) carpet the grass fields there. The flowers don't seem to be that cooperative this year though, probably due to the very hot weather we're having (about 28 degrees C each day - lovely!).
I went first with Amit's mum for a drive around the area to visit some memorials (including an ANZAC monument, how unexpected!) and to view Gaza from a safe distance. We couldn't see much, just a densely populated city in the haze. It is one of the most densely populated areas in the world. We drove through towns nearby and saw the missile shelters on the streets, as missiles randomly land in these areas. It was an interesting experience, and made me think about the fragility of peace in this country. In Tel Aviv and surrounding areas you would never think there is any danger, yet 80km away missiles could land on your street. Amit's mum said something about how Israelis don't really talk about the weather in Israel, there are more important things to talk about, like life and death.
|View album - Heading south - looking at Gaza|
I went again to Be'eri on Friday (the weekend is Friday and Saturday here) with Amit, Noa and Yair. We had a lovely picnic in a eucalypt plantation (very common here) and then a 'hike'(what we would call a walk or a bush walk) through some lovely grassland dotted with wild flowers. See photos on Amit's album.
On Saturday we went to a synagogue in Petah Tikva (where Amit grew up) for a religious ceremony related to Elad and Einat's wedding last week. After the wedding the husband goes to the synagogue to say a prayer and say basically that he will be a good husband in front of god. Amit and his friends go to the synagogue only very rarely, so everyone felt a little out of place at this event, not only me!
Men and women are segregated in synagogues, with the men downstairs in the main part, and women upstairs, behind a curtain, so the men aren't tempted by us (apparently). So we go upstairs, and you really can't see anything from up there - you can peek through the curtain but the religious men don't really like that. Us ladies sat up there and whispered about what was going on, wondering when Elad would finally get to speak... Once he spoke we all threw wrapped lollies on Elad (and all the men down there), which was quite fun. Then we escaped to the outside.
That was about it. I would describe the experience as being just as dull as a church, but without being about to see the people speaking or what is going on, or understanding a word that was said! Also, the building was very modest, not decorated and grand like a church. This was Bulgarian type of synagogue with it's traditions by the way, there are many different branches of Judaism I hear. While we were sitting in the synagogue, Amit's friend pointed out a line in the Torah, a very famous prayer that says something like "Thank you God, king almighty, for not making me a woman". She said that explained one of the reasons she wasn't too enamoured with the religion... Fair enough!
After the synagogue we went to Elad's sister's house in a town nearby. There we had a fantastic lunch, reminding me of probably my most favourite thing about this country - the food! It is incredible - huge quantities, amazing variety, great quality and super fresh. I could go on and on about it... and I will, but later, after I've eaten the delicious leftovers from Friday dinner at Amit's family's place. His mum is the most amazing cook!
Finally, the people
I've reached the end of this blog post without talking about the people here, which is a huge oversight. Of course everything I've talked about couldn't have happened without the amazing people facilitating it all. Amit's family have been so welcoming, asking me for lunches and dinners and taking me on day trips and cooking amazing food. Amit's friends are lovely and making sure I'm enjoying life here. The people I meet are so open, warm and friendly, it makes me feel so excited to be here. It is hard to describe how wonderful everyone is, hopefully you can see it throug the smiles on our faces in the photos.