Saturday, August 15, 2009

swirling thoughts #10 - bituah leumi workers are on strike. what's everyone else's excuse?

barbara and asher take out the trash for me every night. barbara carries the bag and asher scares away the cats. they come back in a fit of giggles each time.

My kids are enjoying a ton of freedom here (and the added responsibility that comes with that) – at nine years of age you are officially permitted to cross the street by yourself in Israel – there are actually signs attesting to this posted all over Jerusalem. Probably to keep the under-nine crowd from crossing, and not because the nine-plus crowd would otherwise back away from such a task! The kids walk to friends’ houses. Barbara picks up Rosie from camp and birthday parties. They eat slushies on a park bench outside the makolet while I shop. And every night before they go to sleep they take out the garbage. This is a multi-dimensional task, depending on how long it’s been since the garbage was last collected from the big tank in the street. The number of cats lurking in and about the garbage tank grows as the tank fills and overflows. On several occasions, as Asher would tell it, cats have looked at him, licked their lips and tried to eat him. And so, we use the buddy system. One to ward off hungry-for-children cats, another to quickly dump the garbage – either in the tank or very close to the tank, depending on how overflowing it is…

step one of fourteen in the long and involved process of procuring an israeli drivers license (the eye test) - completed. that's two tests i passed this week (passed glucose test with flying colors!). but will i pass the sanity test when bob leaves as the lift arrives...?

The DMV in Israel
Okay, so it’s called Misrat HaRishu’ii – Licensing Bureau – but the model was culled from some twisted combination of Soviet Russia and the Coney Island Department of Motor Vehicles. You walk in through a metal detector and reveal the contents of your handbag – for the express purpose of reminding you that you are still in Israel. They didn’t let me walk through the metal detector – in fact it was forbidden since I am pregnant. Not the first detector I’ve encountered – but definitely the first I was denied access to. Curious. So we enter and immediately it becomes clear we have entered some sort of alternate universe. There is a room with a ton of people in line but nobody behind the counter to wait on them. We pass this room and enter the larger main room. Just like the DMV in Coney Island there are rows and rows of chairs, all facing a row of windows. Again there are NO agents manning the windows. All around there are flyers stating different types of information, some in Hebrew, some in Arabic and some in Hebrew with Arabic, English and Russian translations. There was one particular sign which was repeated in every language and was posted multiple times around the room. It read: 10:40-11:00 BREAK. They weren’t kidding. It was as if someone froze the scene and then removed all the staff. People were seated at the windows as if they were in the middle of being helped when BREAK started.

So of course I wanted to photograph this scene. I took out my camera and sneakily held it around a corner to capture the line of people in the first room – it was a colorful cast of characters, really – like one of those Israel posters with all the different faces. Then the larger room – I discretely photographed a bunch of people sitting in the rows awaiting the end of BREAK. I figured the photo array would be complete if I could capture the BREAK sign above the line of empty windows. So I held up my camera so I could get a really good shot of the sign and the windows and suddenly I hear “GIVERET! GIVERET!” (Lady! Lady!) I look and there is a police officer running toward me. I anticipate him pouncing on me and confiscating my camera so I hold it out and tell him, “Rak shney” (just two) and I show him the two I’ve taken and then the picture of Becky eating a blue lollipop and showing off her reptilian looking blue tongue. “See! Rak shney!” He stands over me while I delete the two pictures and then we go through the pictures again – Becky’s blue tongue, a picture of the painters in my house (I had to photograph them to contrast with the pic I took of Bob after he painted – it was really quite comical), one of Rosie and Becky eating yogurt on chairs outside my front door because I’d just cleaned the floor and wouldn’t let them eat it inside the house – until he is satisfied and he sends me on my way with a grunt about not taking pictures here.

Bob was finding out where we should go and missed all the action. He did, however, return with some important info. We need to go further, yashar yashar and then to the left to a ‘cheder katan’ (small room) to speak with Yanna. We get there and again, every booth has someone sitting on the “customer” side of the window and not a soul on the staff side. The room is full of people waiting and the machine which dispenses numbers has no more numbers. We look around and some gentlemen (also waiting) inform us that we are after one of them – the one in the yellow shirt. It’s surreal. BREAK is officially over and there is an influx of staffers in the hallway and slowly they trickle back to their window stations. In the hallway Bob asks one of them about the number machine. She waves him off and tells him to go back to the cheder katan. As a woman enters the area behind the glass windows Bob asks her which window we should go to. She waves him away without an answer. Bob goes up to a woman in the window and now the gentlemen who told us our place in line are talking amongst themselves in a mix of Hebrew and Arabic. Enough for me to understand that they are not about to let Bob cut the line. They tell him as much but at the same time the woman behind the counter looks up. He tells the men and the woman he just wants to know which window we should go to when it is our turn. They all answer – “SHTIAM!” (two). From there, although from the look of it you would never believe it, the whole thing ran very smoothly. One of the gentlemen went to window two and then the next. Then the man in the yellow shirt and then Bob and I stepped up.

“Yanna?” We asked. “Yes, Yanna.” We showed her our papers complete with photographs, eye test results and medical exams. She took one look and asked “Olim chadashim?” (new olim). “Nachon.” “Who told you to come to me?? You are supposed to be in the “cheder gadol” (the big room)!” We go through a lot of “oh, but we didn’t know, and they told us to come here and they even said to ask for Yanna”, etc. – all true – and Yanna agrees to help us – this once. Stamp, stamp, stamp – she must have taken out 7 different stamps and finally she sent us on our way. Bob, knowing full well but hoping for a better answer, asked her “What’s next?” A driving lesson and a driving test. Who does Yanna recommend? “Where do you live? Efrat? Don’t you have any friends in Efrat you can ask?” Come again? “Maybe you can look at the yellow pages. Look under ‘driving instructor’.” Thank you, Yanna! And so it went.

Our lift was delayed in America. Then at sea. Then in customs in port. Bob has been anxiously pushing our shipper to get us the lift before he leaves for the states (in 2 days). The last email correspondence with the shipper went something like this: Who can I push to make the lift be ready or am I being too israeli? With a response that went something like: I suppose you could call meches, but that would pretty much guarantee a customs exam, at extra costs and delays. And so we accepted the fact that our lift would arrive Sunday, just as Bob was preparing to leave. Imagine my surprise when a man speaking Hebrew called me at 6 o’clock this evening saying something about a lift. “My LIFT?” He asked would it be better if he spoke to me in English. “Yes, that would be MUCH better – when is the lift arriving?” Between 8 and 9 tomorrow (Friday) morning. Baruch Hashem!!! Bob is still here, the painters are finished, the cleaners have come and gone and the novelty of air mattresses has worn off even for the kids. I will soon be surrounded by the 100 boxes I started packing after Pesah - let's see if I can unpack them before next Pesah. More importantly, tomorrow night, with Gd's help, I shall be sleeping in my BED!

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