Friday, December 31, 2010

Who Says You Can't Go Home?

The Bride was back in the homeland, if only for a short while.  Just 10 days in the States and I learned that there is such a thing as "reverse culture shock".   I missed the States, I missed my family, I missed my friends, I missed the familiar.  It was good to be back.

Reverse Language Mishaps
For the past four months, I have spoken Hebrew on a daily basis.  It was odd to switch to exclusively speaking English the moment I landed in the States and my brain had difficulty adjusting.  The customs officer at JFK did a double take when I answered him in Hebrew and the elderly lady in the bathroom looked very confused when I said "slicha" (excuse me) after accidentally bumping into her.  It took a good 48 hours of interacting in the world to not immediately think to speak in Hebrew.  Strange...especially since it is not my first language.

I haven't been behind the wheel of a car since a week before we moved to Israel.  Those who know me, know my penchant for "love bumps".  Well, if I'm being honest, I think the only original piece of my BMW was the two side mirrors and the driver's side doors.  Most everything else had to be replaced.  So needless to say, I wasn't the best driver to begin with. 
My parents were brave wnough to allow me to trek around in their shiny cars with my history, but alas I learned you never forget how to drive a car.  I found myself giddy with that forgotten power that comes with having a car at your disposal. I was 16 down, music up, going anywhere fast.

A choir of angels greeted me as I entered these glorious establishments.  Armed with a list a mile long of much needed goods, I mostly wandered around a bit overwhelmed by...everything.  Nice to go to one place to buy my Crystal light, taco seasoning, socks, towels, cell phone charger and favorite body wash.  We Americans don't always get it right, but these amazing stores are pure genius.  I had to go a couple of times since DH called me every other day and reminded me of something else to bring home. 

It was hard to leave family and friends because I have missed them so very much and realize it will be a long time before I see any of them again.  But....I was kind of spoiled from day one upon my arrival.  I was the rockstar, the Israeli rockstar in my own home.  My darling parents bent over backwards to provide me with every comfort I wanted. And my friends were just happy spending time with me. Don't let me lie to you...I ate it up.  Each little morsel and it was delicious.

Frequently heard quotes in the States: Let's have Mexican again tonight!!  No I'll cook you breakfast, you stay right there laying on the couch in your comfy slippers and fuzzy robe all morning.  Don't be ridiculous I'll refill your wine glass, you sit right there and relax.  Need for me to pick you up and take you somewhere...anywhere?  Hey, you are awesome.

Let me preface this by saying, I love my DH with every ounce of me and I missed him to the point that it is actually a little pathetic how much I missed him.  That being said...

I open the door to my apartment after nearly 24 hours of traveling and reality hits me in the face...nope, not a rockstar.  Not even close.  Just a plain old, much needed, sorely missed wife, cooker, bathroom scrubber, grocery shopper, laundry folder, dog cuddler, dish washer, husband comforter, general family and household care-taker.  I swear you could fill buckets with all the relief that was in their eyes. 

My DH and puppy were happy to see me because they missed me of course, but I wonder how much of that happiness was due to the fact that they both know they won't have to sleep on dirty sheets and live off of pizza crusts anymore.  Gotta love this family of mine.

After only four months of living abroad, I come home and suddenly realize home is all relative.  I call the United States is where my family and friends live, where my citizenship isn't in limbo, where I understand the conversations of strangers around me, where I can read the billboards without intently concentrating on the words, where grocery shopping, paying bills and getting around the city doesn't take up half my day. I call it home because it is my roots, it is easier to live, it is where my past and memories dwell.  She is my first love, secure and familiar.

But really, home is there in Israel with my darling husband and puppy.  Home is where my other friends and family live, where I'm a welcomed stranger, where my everyday has immense purpose and fulfillment, where I am learning that I will never again question my ability to learn and adjust. I call it home because it contains my present, it is an everyday adventure, it is where my new life dwells. She is my mistress, exciting and new.

It is odd to be torn between two places, two lives.  Each of them fits somehow.  I can imagine building a life in each place, but I can't imagine living apart from either place.  Maybe I won't make Israel my permanent home, but right now she is home. And I missed her. It is good to be back.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Where Am I?

Mike’s Place: Iron Bowl Weekend

I find myself sitting in a Tel Aviv expat bar steps away from the American Embassy and yards away from the Mediterranean. The sea’s slow methodical lapping against the shore contrasts the scene inside. The crowd is a mix of expats and Israelis. The bar is filling and her inhabitants are taking their fill of alcohol.

The annual Iron Bowl game on the big screen, my boys in Crimson versus our in-state rivals…that cow college across the state. The decibel level has steadily increased and I find myself leaning to debate DH about the Alabama secondary’s poor showing in the second half. The live band is playing a rather pitiable version of Sweet Home Alabama, but the familiar riff and lyrics soothe my soul. The waitress asks for my order in Jersey-accented English.

Budweisers and billiards. The lonely American Marine desperately trying to get the attention of the scantily-clad blonde woman in the corner. For a brief moment I forget….for a brief moment I’m in a bar in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. In reality, I’m spending my evening at Mike’s Place in Tel Aviv with a lone solider in the IDF who still vaguely resembles the 18-year-old kid I met in college and his perfectly sweet, flawlessly pretty girlfriend.

Just for a brief moment, I forgot where I was. I almost forgot the tragic history of Mike’s Place. The suicide bombing that ripped through the bar in 2003, cutting short three lives and injuring 50. Israel has a strange way of reminding you where you are. Of her history and tragedy.

Tel Aviv Central Bus Station: First Day of Chanukah

Dreary eyed from my lack of iced café (I’m seriously trying to limit these delicious devils to once a day), I stumble into the empty Tel Aviv bus station earlier than usual this morning. I nearly pass the twinkling lights, Christmas trees and smiling Santas without taking a second glance. Then it hits me…

I stop mid-step. Jolted by the irony. Half the fourth floor of the bus station is decked out in Christmas décor. Twenty to thirty bare plastic green Christmas trees in heights ranging from cutsie to extravagant stand in the corner waiting for a forever home. Nearby, red and white trimmed Santa costumes (and naughty Santa costumes?) are carefully hung. Hundreds of baskets of colorful rhinestone studded ornaments and ceramic Santas plaster tabletops stretched down the center of the floor. Signs in jolly letters proclaiming Merry Christmas to All! adorn the walls.

A confounded Bride stands in the middle of this paradox, wide-eyed and awed. Where AM I?

Theory one: Jolly Ol’ St. Nick had one too many eggnogs, took a wrong turn somewhere over Italy and thought it would be hilarious to decorate the Jewish State’s main bus terminal.

Theory two: I wandered into the Israeli version of Punked. I’m still waiting for Kabbalah’s favorite boy toy, Ashton Kutcher, to jump out.

Theory three: Even though we’re a small minority in this country…we Christians sure do love our Christmas!

I walk back towards to my platform and wait for my bus. The aroma of fresh sufganiyot (Chanukah filled-doughnut) wafts through the terminal. Once on the bus, the nahag (driver) greets me with a toothy grin and hearty Chag Sameach! (Happy Holiday!). Chanukah songs play loudly over the radio and a child next to me is drawing a picture of a menorah in blue crayon. Chanukah begins tonight and the whole country knows it. Israel has a strange way of reminding you where you are.

From The Bride’s family to yours…Merry Christmas and Happy Chanukah!