Monthly Archives: October 2013

A bitter sweet symphony, that’s life

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Parents will do anything to protect their children but sometimes it’s the little things that you can’t protect them from and though they may be life lessons, they are so hard to learn.

Yesterday was voting day for local government in Israel.  We chose a mayor and the members of the city council and so as usual I wanted to take no. 1 son to the polling station yesterday evening so he could see the democratic process in action (and he likes posting the votes in ballot box).  It was getting late so decked out in full pj regalia and ready for bed (the kids not hubby and I) we all went, en famille, across the road to cast our votes, twins in the double stroller and no. 1 son on his scooter.

courtesy of wikipedia

courtesy of wikipedia

As an aside I should say that voting in a foreign language is no mean feat.  In Israel you don’t mark the box on the ballot paper and post it like in the UK,  you choose the slip of paper with your candidate’s party already marked and post that.  Sounds simple right?  Wrong.  The party is not written on the slip of paper, instead there is a letter or a couple of letters and unless you are familiar with the letters of your party (it’s not the equivalent of D for democratic or L for Labour, more randomly S for Labour or G for Democratic – I am sure there is a reason for it but I haven’t found it out yet), its hard to know who you are voting for.  I am an old hat at this now so am ready prepared before entering the booth, but the first time I was well and truly thrown and took the longest time to vote in the history of democracy as I laboriously read all the small print to figure out which party was which.  But that’s by the by.

scooterFast forward to this morning when no. 1 son was looking for his scooter to go to nursery on.  Ooops.  Scooter was left outside the community centre polling station.  After dropping off the little ones at nursery this morning we hurried over to see if the scooter was still there.  Of course it wasn’t.  We checked with the manager, the cleaners, the caretaker, no scooter.  The more we searched the more silent no. 1 son became, not like him at all.

By the way in Israel we refer to scooters as corkinets.  I am still researching why this is and where the word comes from – it’s also used to refer to the electric scooters – if anyone can enlighten me….

As we walked away with my plans to put up a sign in the neighbourhood and worse case scenario (for me) get him a new one, the questions began.  ‘So where is it now’, umm, ‘why would someone take it?’ umm, ‘Saba and Safta (grandparents) bought it so how can we get another one, you don’t know where to buy one’.  And then the fat slow tears.  The worst kind of tears for a parent because your eyes fill too.  No screaming and carrying on, no demanding and stamping just silent wet tears because at 5 you just don’t understand that someone would take something of yours, that something that you love has just gone and that you won’t see it again.  

It’s a fact of life that things go missing, that people take stuff that doesn’t belong to them and hard though it is for him, it is, after all, only a scooter but it broke his heart all the same and a little chunk of mine too.  I wanted to make it alright for him.  I wanted him to understand that it’s not so bad, there are things we can do to make it right but the fact remained that he left it and now its gone.   I empathise, I am incredibly over sensitive and was known in childhood to give emotions and personalities to inanimate objects.  When we lost a camera in a theme park when I was 10 I couldn’t sleep I was so upset – ‘all those photos that we will never see’, ‘poor camera, is it alone somewhere in a dark empty theme park?’.  Yes really… I know.

When he comes home today he may well have forgotten about it (until he wants to ride it) but I am bracing myself for the next level of questioning ‘ did a thief take it?’, ‘will the police catch them?’, ‘will they go to prison’.  Yes, no, no, life sucks sometimes but it’s not the end of the world, possibly not what I should say.  Poor kid, perhaps the newly elected Mayor can help.

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How does your garden grow?

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How does my garden grow?  Well it doesn’t.  No scratch that, there are a couple of things that grow in my garden, the gigantic date palms and the Ficus trees and therein lies the problem.

I grew up in an area where the garden was more likely to be waterlogged or too cold to grow anything so imagine my excitement when moving to a house with a  garden in Israel that had sunshine, warmth, little rain and ready planted fruit trees.  Three years on I want a balcony.

We had a banana plant (which has since be chopped down following that night), a lemon tree, olive tree, date palms and yuccas, it all seems on first view to be so exotic and wonderful.  But we have Ficus trees.  Ficus is more commonly known as fig but do not be mistaken into thinking that our garden sports an impressive fruit bearing tree.  Oh no, our garden sports 3 overgrown, root-tastic, uncontrollable Thai Ficus trees.  And no, they are not the bonsai variety.  The gardener who recently came over to give me a price for salvaging my garden reliably informed me they are Thai Ficus and no-one should ever be allowed to plant them near houses (I have since googled Thai Ficus and I am not convinced he’s right on the name).  Think the story of the magic porridge pot but with roots and leaves and I don’t know the magic word to make it stop, except perhaps axe or poison.

Said gardener regaled me with stories of Ficus roots lifting houses from their foundations, the trees killing everything around them in their quest to survive and I know from experience that these darned roots can work their way into your pipes.  Our bathroom has been flooding on and off for 2 years until a plumber comes and cuts the roots underground, down the pipe.  Yes really – who knew such a machine existed?  This new gardener, whose name is Shimmy and therefore became my favourite person even before I met him, gave me some hope to my gardening skills when he pointed out that the grass doesn’t grow because of the Ficus roots under the lawn, the plants don’t grow in the borders because the Ficus blocks the sun and takes the nutrients out of the soil and in short anything that needs water doesn’t stand a chance, yes you guessed it, the ficking Ficus takes the lot.  So they’ve gotta go.  The uplifted tiles on the patio, the blocked pipes and the bumps under the bedroom floorboards is warning enough I think that this is just the start of one hell of a horror story.

IMG_3017Now what about those beautiful date palms?  Rustling in the wind, casting long shadows across the garden, dropping dates that rot all over the (parched and hungry) grass, providing birth centres for cockroaches and attracting bats that relieve themselves all over my drying washing.  I think chopping the palms down maybe a little excessive so I will just have to fork out an inordinate sum of money to get a specialist to come and clean them up.  Although there are a couple that have just given up on their own.

 

My plan for this week is to try to breathe some life back into the garden, not that I can plant anything because the f word will kill it in a week.  I can however water it a bit more (plenty of water available as there’s not much long shower/full bath action going on at the moment due to the roots in the pipes problem) and I have taken the shears to the overgrown leaves this morning as I am unable to wait another week for Shimmy to come in order to see the sky.  Where is Alan Titchmarsh when you need him, if ever a garden needed a makeover it’s mine.  Roll on next week when hopefully Shimmy will shimmy in with heavy machinery and cut these blighters down and give me back my garden.

It’s life Kate, but not as you knew it

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My friend is a teacher back home and her Remembrance Day assembly this year is how wars affect families.  She asked me to write about my family’s experiences, she actually suggested I make a video to which I snorted and said no, although seeing as she is an English teacher I am a bit scared about the grammar mistakes I have made.  Anyway, here’s what I wrote.

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Until 9 years ago war was something that happened on the news, to people in the army and in history.  Then 9 years ago I moved to Israel and war, or at least the constant threat of it has quickly become a part of everyday life. Now I am the not so proud owner of my own gas mask and my home has a bomb proof safe room.

The first time I experienced war first hand was 18 months into living here when the 2nd Lebanon war broke out between Israel and the Hezbollah in Lebanon.  My husband as a serving member of the Israel Defence Force was called up to fight.  In Israel all able men from the age of 18 to around 40 are either serving in the army or are reservists and so despite my husband being a chef and more attuned to baking on a daily basis he also has to be trained and ready to fight as a combat soldier.  When war broke out we knew there was a chance he would go, we thought as a reservist he would be needed to take over from the positions of the career soldiers whilst they went into Lebanon.  Not so.  He called me from the barracks after a week and told me in code he was going in.  That was the last I heard from him, or about him for over a week.  It was my first taste of the real fear that it really could happen to us, that it wasn’t just news and it was truly terrifying.  Life continued as normal in Tel Aviv and if you ignored the fighter jets and choppers flying overhead you wouldn’t know there was a real war going on just an hour’s drive North.  They called Tel Aviv the bubble, a bubble that on his return from whatever he experienced seem unreal and difficult to comprehend.

We now have 3 children and this time last year when the Gaza conflict broke out and the sirens were sounding throughout the middle and south of the country it affected us in a different way.  This time we heard the explosions, saw the soldiers and tanks on route to the South and had to prepare for possible missile attack.  We are lucky enough (so far) to live in the centre of Israel so a few hours from the North and South borders where, in my experience, the missiles fall.  One day during last November my kid’s play park was full of young female soldiers handing out leaflets of what to do to prepare and how to react if the siren sounded.  It also gave clear guidelines on how long each area of Israel had from the alarm sounding to detonation.  We had 2 and a half minutes.

Our children are still very young so were seemingly unaware, although my eldest did ask me why ‘they’ wanted to throw rockets at us.  Tricky to explain the intricacies of war to a 4 year old especially as there are always 2 sides, not always one right and one wrong.  The conflict was mercifully short but the ‘bubble’ that Tel Aviv had lived in was well and truly popped.  We are not really safe anywhere.

This summer’s tensions in Syria brought a new wave of panic as the real threat of chemical attack once again reared its ugly head. We were advised to buy bottled water, to ready the safe room and to make sure our gas masks were in date but for now, that threat has lessened and I hope never becomes a reality.

Since 2004 when I moved to Israel the terrifying terrorist war has quietened down, the bus bombs and unexpected attacks on the general public not so common.  But there is always the fear and you are never far away from armed security and army personnel, nor from those whose friends and family have been injured or killed.  We are vigilant and we try not to panic.  I choose not to talk to my children about it, others tell theirs everything. For me, as a Briton, it is something that I didn’t have to deal with growing up and I want to protect my little ones from the fear for as long as possible.  If we stay here then it will all too soon become part of their everyday life anyway.  My children, like all Israelis will join the army at 18; the boys for 3 years and my daughter for 2.

Although not strictly speaking a war-zone at present, life here is tough; the threat and fear is real and constant.  When the sun is shining and the Mediterranean sparkling it’s hard to envision the ugliness of war.  I cannot imagine how it must have felt to be a mother in Gaza city or Beirut, Iraq or Afghanistan in recent years.  I hope for my family’s sake that we and all families affected by war around the world experience some peace.

Ging gang gooley

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When Israelis go away for the weekend they stay in zimmers (or they camp but that’s a pretty dusty/sandy experience).   Zimmer comes from the German word and has been adopted by Israel, pronounced tsimmer in Israeli-speak and is a little self contained cottage usually set in a small garden in a rural community. Zimmers in Israel range from the most basic – bed, bathroom, small kitchen to the most decadent 5 star luxury with separate bedroom and living room, fully equipped kitchen, jacuzzi, state of the art sound system.  One thing they all have in common is that they are a fantastic escape and are fiendishly expensive, think London hotel prices.  Yet, like many luxuries in Israel people pay the price because there is no alternative.

In our family we refer to zimmers as wooden houses (bite me etz) as these little cottages would not look out of place on the set of Heidi.  In fact once we went to a zimmer with the kids and they were highly disappointed to discover it was stone built.

In the days before the childers the zimmer experience was a romantic getaway, candlelight, jacuzzis and complementary wine.  In a country with a shortage of water like Israel’s, a bath, let alone a jacuzzi has always struck me as a decadence that the country (and it’s residents) can ill afford but it is a luxury that most Israeli’s wouldn’t dream of having at home so a little treat on your hols seems acceptable.  Nowadays our holiday jacuzzi holds as many small children as we can fit to have one giant bath experience.  Woe betide the person who turns the jacuzzi on though as tears and shrieks of terror are sure to follow.

I have mentioned in previous posts about our twice yearly trips en masse with a few families, many childers and a large cheese and wine selection to a group of zimmers.  We book a place to fit all the families and no more, and have an experience not unlike the scout camps from youth; cooking together, eating together, sitting around the camp-fire, toasting marshmallows, singing tunelessly to hubby’s guitar.  During the day we take short trips, sightseeing, mini-trekking and return to our ‘camp’ with tired kids to dip in the pool, drink turkish coffee (botz) and generally put the world to rights.  Once the childers are safely bedded down, exhausted from fresh air and new experiences, more wine comes out, the guitar is open to requests and the hidden stash of choc is miraculously found.

We are incredibly lucky to have a great group of like-minded friends who we go with.  If the time ever comes that we were to leave Israel it is these trips with this bunch that I will miss the most.

view towards the Golan

view towards the Golan

This Succhot’s trip was to one of Israel’s most stunning areas, The foothills of the Golan, overlooking the Sea of Galilee.  The small village we stayed in had a spectacular view across the water towards Tiberias.  We were moments away from the Gamla valley where Griffon Vultures make their home.  Armed with binoculars this is a trip a birdwatcher would salivate over.  In fact on my parent’s very first trip to Israel 9 years ago we took them to Gamla and my Dad still talks about it.  Convinced as he was that Israel was all sand and camels, the green of the Galilee  and Golan in April with the added bonus of these gigantic scavengers (their wing span is 280cm) has firmly remained in his mind as one of the most beautiful experiences.

image courtesy of wikipedia.com

image courtesy of wikipedia.com

Now I won’t tell you once again how beautiful the country is, you can read about it here, what I will say is that when life seems a little like groundhog day, when the grind of work, child rearing, housekeeping, decision making gets you down, a few days away can certainly remind you that a change is indeed as good as a rest.  You should try it, at home or perhaps in Israel.