Sunday, August 31, 2008

Some of my favorite stories begin...

My sister moved in to our new apartment today. I've been living alone (well, with the cat and gerbil, so I'll amend "alone" to "without human company") for the past month. Now I have a dining room table and chairs, a washing machine, a wonderfully stupendous oven in which I will bake delicious treats like biscotti without them being burnt by a crap heating element, and a sister who is also my roommate.
Some of my favorite stories begin, "One time my sister and I...". Like that time when she got stuck in the doors of the train in Madrid. Now, that's a good story.

Thesis watch: Working on it

Book Rec: Are you my boyfriend? (But the big thing just said 'snort')

Cubbie Watch: 5.5 games up

Thursday, August 28, 2008

In Which I become a Fangirl (Or, an Open Letter to Ian Crocker)

I'll be the first to admit that I don't know much about the sport of swimming. Oh, I know how to swim, and I do swim often- but only for recreational purposes. My appreciation of competitive swimming could pretty much be summed up as- "Oh, hey. Look at all the pretty going fast." But this August, like much of the rest of the world, I got caught up in Phelpsmania (את חטאתי אני מזכירה היום) and in doing so I found Ian Crocker's blog.
Ian Crocker, my friends, is fast . He holds the world record in the 100 meter butterfly at 50.40 seconds, which is faster than I can put on my shoes in the morning (also I have never learned the butterfly). He can also write. In fact, he writes very, very well. Reading his blog, I was torn between intense jealousy (He can swim! He can write! He plays the guitar!) and immense admiration (He can swim! He can write! He can play the guitar! He loves his car! Made entirely of win). Sometimes his posts are just very good. He writes with wit and sincerity about music, his car and truck, his cats and food. He's fun to read. But sometimes his essays absolutely resonate.
One of his more moving posts is about scars. He writes about small scars- the time he sliced his hand open while tinkering with his beloved car and having to call his newly ex-girlfriend to come help him out. It's a sweet story and you can't help identifying with his open, slightly self-depreciating tone. I've certainly got scars like that-the ones on my hands, because though I'm a good cook, I'm an absolute klutz with a knife; that guy who won't call (jerk). You know, little scars. And then, suddenly, his essay becomes something else entirely. It becomes about a moment- a single, irrevocable moment in time; the type of moment that's personality forming. (And yeah, I got me some scars like that as well.) But the tone of the piece never falters. It remains open, self-reflective and humble. He doesn't wallow in self-pity, or anger. He never closes down on his reader. That takes a lot of guts.
After I read that post I felt like I needed a good cry, or in the very least, a good hug. But nobody was around so I settled for some quality bonding time with the cat. (Mr. Crocker, Annie thanks you.) I enjoy reading blogs. It's a feeling akin to catching glimpses of people's houses through the windows of a fast moving train- it's amusing, enlightening and sometimes perplexing (Why, in the name of all that is holy would anybody furnish their apartment like that? Really. Really.) But it is rare that a blogger makes me feel like I would like to stop and admire their living space, so to speak.
So, dear readers ,(I have readers?) go and check out Ian Crocker's blog at Send him some love. He hasn't updated in months, but it's worth reading his older posts. And to Mr. Crocker -at the risk of sounding presumptuous, condescending and generally fangirlish (none of which is intended)- I say this: Swim. Swim for as long as it serves a purpose in your life and for as long as it keeps you happy. Break a few more world records, if you so desire. I'll watch. But please, please, write. I don't much care about what- you have talent and sincerity and an interest in the small details of life- all of which contribute to the makings of a good writer. I sincerely hope to walk into a bookstore at some point in the future and find a book with your name on it and be highly happy.

Thesis Watch: 10 pages

Book rec: Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

Cubbie Watch: a tenuous 4 games up

Sunday, August 24, 2008

In Which I am Dead Serious

I made a promise I intend to keep.
B is a refugee from Southern Sudan. He and his family arrived in Israel in late July of 2007 along with thousands of other African refugees who slipped through the Egyptian border with the help of Bedouin trackers. Unlike many of the other refugees, B was not jailed. He was boarded onto a bus, along with about 6 other refugee families and dumped on the grounds of the Rose Garden adjacent to the Knesset- the home of Israel's parliament- in Jerusalem. It is there that I met him.
To be fair, I will say that I met B's daughter, Y, before I met him. When I arrived at the Rose Garden, laden with clothing and food, (none of which was actually needed), the refugees were huddled in distinct groups, talking in Arabic and looking slightly bewildered by the mass of disorganized volunteers that had come to help. Y was standing amidst a group of men, dressed in a bright pink faux leather winter coat, clutching her father's arm. I waved at her, figuring that if nobody would direct me as to how I could be helpful, I might as well play with the children. She smiled and buried her face in her father's body. I was entranced by her smile and by her incongruent coat which she wore so proudly in the summer heat. I would follow her anywhere and I did.
B's family, through the kindness of various Jewish Believers (Jews who believe in Jesus), found a home first in one suburb of Jerusalem and then in another. They've been living in relative peace now for almost a year. B and his wife, M, both work menial jobs in the community where they reside and Y has started Israeli kindergarten. Her Hebrew is almost fluent. The other two kids, J and A stay at home. At the beginning, I would visit them at least once a week, now a days I'm lucky if I get there once a month. I miss them. The visits I pay them are sometimes for my own benefit as well as theirs. Sometimes I just need to get out of the city; out of my life and play with some kids for a while.
I told B that I would write down his story if he told it to me. This is more complicated than it seems. His English is manageable, but not entirely coherent, and my spoken Arabic is almost non-existent. This is what I know: B was born in Southern Sudan to father who was wealthy and involved in the separatist government during the Civil War. He was a pagan and had two wives. B is one his youngest children. During the war, all his property was destroyed and he and four of his sons escaped into Ethiopia. Of those four sons, one made it to the United States, two may have made it back to Sudan and one was killed. B's father himself returned to Sudan, but was killed along with B's mother soon afterwards. As for B, at some point he left his village for Khartoum, where he was educated. I don't know the extent of his education. At some point he told me that he worked during the day and learned at night, which seemed to imply that he has some sort of higher education. However, he has also told me that he was unable to attend university because he was avoiding a mandatory draft, which would have meant sure death.
It was the draft that compelled B and his new wife, M to Egypt. B had converted to Christianity along with his brothers, and the combination of being both a Christian and from Southern Sudan, meant that he would almost certainly be killed. Most of his classmates were killed in exactly those circumstances. At first, the army sent him letters, then it threatened him with jail, and then with death. With the help of the English missionaries who ran the school he worked in, B changed his name and fled to Egypt. He reached Egypt via boat, which he was able to board only by the kindness of a fellow Southern Sudanese policeman who didn't challenge his assumed name.
B stayed in Egypt for five years. At first it went well for him and his family. He had two more children (Y was born in Sudan) and he and M had opened up a restaurant. But soon the mood changed and the Sudanese in Egypt were being attacked and told they should leave. Then there were the notorious shootings in front of the Sudanese embassy. B knew he couldn't stay in Egypt. He payed some Bedouin friends of his to smuggle him and his family over the boarder into Israel. I don't know how he knew that Israel would give him save haven. Maybe he just knew to go north. In any case, he has told me numerous times that he had always dreamed to see his holy land and now he has. He also dreams of going back to a peaceful Sudan to fix his broken country. I am not sure that dream will come to pass.
Y is prone to asking the oddest theological questions. One day she asks me whether Jesus has a body or not. I want to tell her that wars have been fought over that very question, but I don't even know how to explain to her that I am a Jew and that Jesus is not exactly my area of expertise let alone discuss complicated spiritual matters. I assure her that God loves her (no matter His form) and tell her to ask her father.
One Thursday before Passover we are swinging in the little playground next to her house and she says: "Adam and Eve ate from the tree and then the Egyptians were evil, right?" I pause for a second, but then answer in assent. After all, that's as good an explanation for presence of evil in the world as any I've got. Later, we sit in the trailer and sing the Passover songs that she learned in kindergarten, while her mother looks on, amused, but not understanding a word. I do not realize how moved I am until I am waiting for the bus back to Jerusalem on a lonely stretch of road. Here I am, in Israel, singing songs that generations of Jews have sung, with a little Christian girl who indeed came up from Egypt. Maybe she has just as much right to the song as I do. Sometimes the world is a good place to be.
The next time I see B, I am going to urge him to try and get a visa to the United States. His brother now has U.S. citizenship. This might make things easier. and he might be safer there. I want to say that B and his family will be able to stay in Israel and live in security. I can't say that. There is a distinct possibility that the state will deport the thousands of African refugees that have illegally entered its boarders. It will claim that it is doing so for the safety and security of its citizens and not many people will gainsay the state's right to do so. The politics of these sort of things are always complicated. Except, sometimes they're not. Sometimes, there's a right thing to do and there's a wrong thing to do. Now is one of those times.

Thesis Watch: No Comment

Book Rec: What is the What, by Dave Eggers

Cubbie Watch: 4.5 games up.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Farewell to Hudson

I sold Hudson last night. Hudson is my sleek teal monster of an iMac, who has traveled with me half-way across the world and resided with me in 4 apartments. He is also ancient. I bought him used in 2003- a lifetime ago for a computer. He still works fine and I am still very fond of him, but for the past two years I have been forced, due to my work and the fact that Israelis seem to have no idea what to do with a Mac ("What's a Mac?" is a common refrain), I have been using Ba'ab, who is a laptop and not a Mac and therefore inherently inferior. So Hudson sat there on my desk, sadly neglected, and I decided that the time had come to pass him on to someone who would love him and use him.
I started him up one last time, reveling in his familiar chime and hum. I opened all the documents I had left on the hard drive. I found forgotten papers, bad poetry, general drivel and a cache of letters I had written over the course of a year to one of my oldest, dearest friends who was in the army at that time. Re-reading the letters, I was struck by my intense fear of losing him and my desperate attempts to connect with him. I suppose I loved him. He never wrote back, though he called often, leaving messages on my answering machine at odd hours of the night. I was also struck by how nice it is to have some reminder of my own life outside of the academic exercise that was college. I wrote to him about the concerts I attended, my roommates, the kids I taught; about life. It's important to remember those things as well.
I saved the papers, and the poetry (which is actually growing on me) and the drivel. I erased the letters. Said friend is married now and has moved to his wife's hometown. He is once again across the ocean and not prone to writing back. I miss him, though I am no longer so afraid, nor so desperate. I don't miss that part of me.
I sold Hudson and I started a blog. I'd like to have some record of myself and the odd commentary on my life that floats through my head as I stumble about. I'll probably post all manner of things-drivel, poetry and general going-ons. I don't know how often I will post, or how long this experiment will last, but it will do for now.
Farewell, Hudson. I hope the nice grandmother who bought you really will love you and treat you well and use you to communicate with her grandchildren who are far away and far more technologically savvy than her. I'll miss your Macness, your teal sleekness, and calming electrical hum. The time has come, the walrus said...

Thesis watch: 8 pages

Book rec: The collected works of W.B. Yeats

Cubbie watch: 5.5 games up.