Category Archives: ex pat

What a difference a decade makes

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Ten years ago today I said good-bye to my family and friends and boarded a plane for the Holy Land. I was about to embark on a journey of life, of discovery, of fear, loathing and love. Ten years on, 3 children, 3 conflicts, 3 homes and a lot poorer I can honestly say that I have some of the best friends I could have ever imagined, I have tasted a life I never would have imagined and I am certainly not the naive small town girl I was back then.

In December 2004 I had been married just 4 months and had lived as a married woman with my husband for 1 week before his visa required he returned to his native land. We had spent the 7 years previous working towards the end goal; marriage, family and a life together in one of our countries.

I arrived to blue skies and bright sunshine, a far cry from the grey, damp, drizzle of the UK and was filled with hope and dreams for our new life together. I was still at the stages of checking my wedding ring finger and admiring the shiny rings. I was excited, but also I was scared. What if I never spoke the language, what if I couldn’t find a job? What if this place was just. too. foreign? It was, not so much now.

Our first few weeks were spent at the apartment of very generous and welcoming friends, sleeping in their spare room and seeing each other every now and then. Husband was, at the time, working as a pastry chef in a newly opened restaurant and that meant long hours, day and night. I was on my own. Luckily our friends lived near Tel Aviv’s large and luscious park and I spent many an afternoon with a book or a journal, marvelling at the sunshine and the parrots and acclimatizing myself to the Middle East. Each morning I rode our friend’s bike to the Ulpan, the Hebrew school for new immigrants (you may remember the comedy of errors that experience was). I met people from around the globe, 1 of which has become a great friend and ally here.

In lieu of my husband the weekends were spent with his friends, one in particular who became my regular date for nights out, coffee shop meetings and cinema trips. Seems like as good a time as any to say thank you, your friendship was and still is invaluable.

We finally found an apartment to rent, close to my newly beloved park and I set about setting up home as a not so smug married. We got a dog, my adored Jesse. We bought furniture and unpacked our belongings from their shipping crates and the first of our UK visitors came to see us in our new life. Once Husband changed jobs his hours became easier and we spent time exploring Tel Aviv, the beach and the benefits of year round sunshine.

There were ups and downs. The language was so hard and the people so aggressive. Many a visit to the supermarket or post office saw me seeking refuge on our balcony, sobbing into Jesse’s fur. But on the up side, Husband and I were finally together, permanently, after our long and international journey. We had a ready-made set of friends from his early army days and I could manage one or two words in Hebrew. We had money in the bank and we wanted to start a family.

A long period of ill-health put paid to the family for a few years but eventually and due to the incredible health system and amazing Doctors here, 4 years later at full health, we welcomed our first child. By this time I was working back in television where I had worked for many years in the UK. Things were on the up. We had a bigger apartment and a wider network of friends including my gorgeous British girlfriends who continue to provide me with laughter and wine and a shoulder to cry on.

By 2010 we were a family of 5. The arrival of twins sent us packing to the suburbs and a child friendly home which is where we reside now. The TV career took a back seat as I faced the challenges of motherhood and three very small people. So now what?

As 2014 comes to a close and I look back on this year and the ten years I have spent here I see that we are on the edge of a new chapter. What that will be, we still don’t know but it seems a fitting time to take stock and count our blessings; our friends, our children, our health and our love for each other that has carried us through the upheaval of moving countries and facing the challenges that a life in Israel brings.

Thank you for your loyal following of my ramblings through 2014 and I’ll see you on the other side, hungover and ready to begin the next stage of the journey.

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I was looking at all the life

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About 2 and a half hours south of Tel Aviv you will find yourself in the Arava.  The desert plains of Israel.  A thin strip of seeming nothingness but rocks and sand, jutting cliffs and mountains that appear to have been swept in on the last wind.

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Every Passover my family and friends go to the desert to make the most of the holiday, spend time with the childers and discover another little part of Israel. Spring is in full bloom in the desert, in fact in another week or so the evidence of the little rain we had in Israel this winter will dry up in the water holes and the plants and trees with the short roots will wither and dry until the desert is drenched again next year. If you look closely what on first glance appears to be miles and miles of rocks and sand actually reveals so much life.

The butterflies as ever did not aid my amateur photography skills, I did however find this little fella baking in the sun and he obliged by staying still.

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It made me wonder at how this little caterpillar and probably all his friends, found one of the few flowering plants, albeit a prickly home.  Nature is indeed a mystery.

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Deeper into the Arava heading towards a water hole the road ran alongside a riverbed.  Of course the water had long since gone but the evidence of its path was obvious.

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And what beauties I found here.  I drove the childers mad by stopping the car every few minutes as I spotted another colour, another shape, the chance of the elusive butterfly picture.

Perhaps my interest had been piqued by the book I am reading at the moment, The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert (which by the way is fantastic). The central character of the book is a botanist so my fascination with how things grow and where they grow was possibly slightly higher than usual. I am only sorry I have never learnt how to photograph my findings better – the yellow flowers are so terribly out of focus that I can only apologise but to get a full idea of the colours I have included it.

I have always had a slight fear of the desert.  On my first trip to the Negev in the days before I lived here my future husband decided to take us off roading, trekking and exploring and when night fell he pulled out a sleeping bag and we slept in a huge open valley with only the stars and the sand for company.  I say slept but I think I finally dropped off as the sun was rising and I could see where the scuttling noises were coming from.  The sheer enormity of open space, open air, nothingness was overwhelming and the thought of snakes, scorpions, spiders and other desert freak creepy crawlies added an edge of Indiana Jones.

Luckily on  this trip I didn’t see any snakes, although one of our friends almost ran his stroller over one as he pounded the dirt tracks to encourage his baby twins to sleep.  I did spot a grasshopper20140423-090935.jpg

and by a water hole, a frog (can you spot him?)

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Of course it being the desert we saw the camels – pregnant or feeding their young, the goats eating the scraps from the pepper farmers and I won’t shame myself with the dots in the sky photos of the massive preying birds.

So have I changed your view of a desert?  Not so barren after all. The desert in the spring is brimming with life, the sun burns but the heat not so intense, it’s dry but you can find water and where there is water there is movement and life and colour.  Try it, you might like it, I do.

System Failure 651

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As a self confessed luddite I thought nothing of it when my home internet went down last week.  Little did I know the knock on effect after 5 days internet free.  Handily at the same time no.2 son got hold of my iphone and dropped it, duly smashing the screen so I have been 100% disconnected.

My major upsets so far;

I miss my daily Facebook updates from friends and family overseas.  I may have mentioned before the importance of hearing the mundane from your home country when you live overseas.  Little Charlie went to the zoo today, John and Jill had pizza for dinner and Gareth doesn’t like his neighbours.  Important information I think.

I rely wholly on skype to chat to family and friends; no internet = no contact.  (obviously picking up the phone or texting is out of the question)

As a newly converted kindle fanatic I can’t buy new reading material without internet access. As my husband remarked as I was flicking through an old paperback “what’s that you’re holding?”

I am relying on Sky and BBC international TV for my news, not the numerous online newspapers I usually headline read – makes for an interesting outlook on world events

I found myself more than a little concerned that I couldn’t check out the Oscar winners and the fashion choices of the stars. (Does that make me shallow?)

My work is obviously suffering, I am well and truly behind on a deadline and my new business venture is being set back; trying to decide how a website looks through the cracked screen of an iphone is not terribly beneficial.

I feel cut off, a little jumpy, perhaps I am missing something, perhaps someone is looking for me.  Probably not.  When I choose to be offline I don’t miss it, but as this cyber exile is not self imposed it’s suprising the effect it’s having on me.

Luckily today the iphone is fixed and I am tapping away on a borrowed pc. I feel calmer and more in control.  Seriously, how did I manage before the internet, or rather look how addicted I have become to the internet.  Is this an addiction or just reliance and is it something I should try to work on along with the other 50 million self improvements I have been promising myself? Sod it.  Someone just help me fix the thing and let me get on with my cyber life. Please, I may go out and I need the internet to tell me what I should wear.

Have a little patience

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Savlanoot, one of the first words they teach you in the Ulpan – the first stop for all keen new arrivals to Israel’s fair shores.  Savlanoot means patience and as most Israelis will admit, is something you don’t see much evidence of on the streets here.  Remember the driving post?  Why wait patiently when you can lean on your horn, shout, ram into the back of someone, why go the correct but long way round when you can drive the wrong way up a one way street?  Same applies in supermarket lines (the supermarket being just about the only place you will see a line), I have been crushed by an old lady’s trolley in her haste to make it to the check out first, what did I say to her? “savlanoot”.

Recently they have installed self check outs in some of the big supermarkets here.  More fool the supermarkets.  Trolleys full of weekly shops bumping and grinding into one another whilst impatient shoppers try to figure out why the machines won’t work – you can’t fit a trolley full of shopping on a small shelf “unexpected item in the bagging area” – yes that’s the shopper’s bored small child trying to get into the bag. There is a sign saying no more than 15 items but is basically ignored.  A self check out requires patience at the best of times; the computer gets confused, the user gets confused, how do you delete something youscanned twice by accident ?- add a dash of I know better than the check out girl (or boy), a sprinkling of disregard for those queuing behind them and a gigantic dollop of impatience and you have supermarket meltdown.  Wish I would remember this and just go to the regular check out.

Unlike the word patience in English, savlanoot is most often used as an instruction eg all 3 kids want to be first out/in the car/house/bath/fridge so yelling “savlanoot” is rather like “hang on” or “wait” in English.  Obviously I never yell at my 3 childers, I tell them calmly, whilst at their level, in even tones.

On arrival in Israel I had bags of savlanoot, I could have shared it around I was so well endowed with savlanoot.  Not so much 8 years on.  Obviously I can’t lay the blame entirely on Israeli culture, 3 very small childers stretches anyones patience.  Mix the two together and you have me as I am today.  Not an ounce of savlanoot, in fact I wonder if anger management classes would be of benefit.  My new look blog site is the case in point of my new-found impatience.  Having fiddled around for at least an hour trying to change the site’s background, font colour etc I basically got annoyed with it (myself) for not being able to do what I wanted, I ran out of patience and what you see is how it turned out.    Comments/advice gratefully received.

Mine’s a G & T thanks Kate

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Kate Middleton, Princess, Duchess, whatever you want to call her, I love her.  She seems like a nice grl, she wears nude tights which is weird and her shoe collection should be more Princess worthy but no need to attack her.  I don’t understand why she deserves such negative press.  Leave her alone.  Luckily for me it appears that someone in Israel is just as fond of her as I am.  I wonder if I’ll bump into her if I become a member?

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Jiggety Jog

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As the plane touches down in Israel, especially if you fly with Israel’s airline, the passengers applaud.  The first time I heard it was the first time I visited in Israel way back in the late 90’s and I figured I’d missed something – we were about to crash and the pilot had saved us? – in fact it’s for a much more heart warming reason.  People are just happy to be here.  For many, coming to Israel is a homecoming in the spiritual and the literal sense.  Not only for the Israelis coming home but for the thousands of Jews visiting the Jewish homeland, the Christians coming on a pilgrimage and the tourists who come to visit one of the most hotly debated yet arguably one of the most religious country in the world – for the 3 largest religions.

As I looked around the plane last night I saw just what a big deal it was for many of my fellow passengers.  Hasidic Jews alongside nuns, a couple of priests, an elderly group of Christians and a group of Jewish teenagers from the States on their first visit.  Amongst the business passengers and the visitors coming to their holiday homes there were many who were experiencing the awe you cannot help but feel when you first come here – infamous, historical, Holy; some people dream of praying at the Western Wall, attending worship on the shores of the Galilee.  To them a trip here is a lifetime goal.

Not so much for me, my emotions were somewhat mixed;  I was beyond excited about being back with my husband and children again having left them all for the first time on a trip to my particular homeland,  however,  to come back to the everyday stresses of living here after a whirlwind 4 days of ease; seeing friends and family, talking to people without concentrating, was hard.

As an ex-pat I am caught between the dream and promise of a new life and the reality of being the outsider, the dream of going home to my extended family where everything is familiar and the reality (in my case) of cold, grey weather and double dip recession.

I didn’t applaud when I landed but when my three little ones ran towards me in arrivals with I Love You balloons and screams of ‘where are our presents’ (in Hebrew) I did wipe away a little tear of happiness.  Home again, home again jiggety jog.

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Sunshine and Oranges

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IMG_0098Forget what you know about Israel, go on, try.  Just for a moment put to one side the religions and the politics and the trouble, forget the fear and the anger and the sadness.  Just for a moment picture Israel as simply a piece of land, call it by another name, ignore the borders:  The blue sky, the sparkling sea, the warm February sun.  Smell the oranges in the groves and taste the strawberries, the grapefruit and the lemons, see the flowers and breathe the warm air.  The fights, the troubles and worries can wait for a moment whilst we admire a perfect February day.

Homeward Bound

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Youth is a state of mind.  I know you know that but it’s taken me a while to see it.  It doesn’t matter how you look (although it helps), it doesn’t matter if you are married, single, divorced, have kids, not have kids.  Its all in your head, or maybe just mine.

You may not want to be 16 or 26 again but wouldn’t it be nice to have that feeling of youth?  That ‘I want to dance and even if I look stupid it doesn’t matter’ feeling.  Maybe you have it.  I categorically don’t.  Recently I was at a gig – I even feel old saying that word.  It was a small affair in a small venue and the age group was predominantly under 30.  I spotted a number of ‘I am young and I don’t care’ outfits; the patchwork flowery waistcoat (on a male) gave it away, the smell coming from some energetic dancers was also a telling sign, the fact that they were dancing at all was evidence enough;  I shuffle, if I’m pushed (literally) or sense I look more conspicuous if I keep still.

I am trying to pinpoint the time when I lost the ability to  throw shapes on a dance floor just for the madonnasheer enjoyment of it.  Once in an outdoor nightclub in Turkey I remember dancing to Beyonce with a feeling of utter joy – I was certainly crazy right then – I didn’t give a hoot who saw me or how terrible my dancing was.  I was young, I was on holiday and I simply didn’t care.  I wonder if that’s how Madonna feels all the time.  What other reason could she have for flashing her bits on stage or wearing high cut leotards at 54?  oh yes she’s Madonna.

The question therefore has to be how do I get it back – not that I am planning on wearing a leotard any time soon.  I know people older than me who act and feel young.  I know younger people than me who act and feel old.   Perhaps the responsibility that comes with age is the reason and waistcoat wearing stinky dancers at gigs just haven’t got to the stage of  responsibility yet.  

ozricI will soon be away from my usual responsibilities of life, alone in my old home town with old friends.  Will I catch a glimpse of the young me and be able to harness it and bring it back to real life? We’ll see.  Lets hope I don’t stop washing and buy some suspect Ozric Tentacles waistcoat in Camden Market whilst I am away in a flush of re(un)discovered youth.

This will be the first time in 5 years I have been back and I am getting nervous – can you tell?  I’m not sure why, apart from the obvious fear of not knowing my way around the tube or getting lost in Soho.  Possibly the real fear is that everything will have changed and I am subconsciously expecting it all to feel the same.  The UK is not the country it was 8 years ago when I left, nor is London the same city I knew and loved.  However some of the people I love are there and changed or not I can’t wait to see them.  I may feel older but I am also wiser and some reminiscing over a glass of wine (no pints of Stella for me these days) could well be just the ticket to rediscovering the feeling of youth.  London here I come.

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Stormy Weather

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On receipt of an email of doom from a family member (yes it was my Dad), about the catastrophes and natural disasters that will befall planet Earth in my children’s life time my thoughts naturally turned to Rihanna.  Perhaps it was fear displacement or perhaps the true catastrophe that is Rihanna and those like her to our children is, like global warming just accepted, not acted on and quite terrifying . Oh I know, I know, you can’t compare an annoying pop star with a husky voice to earthquakes, landslides, floods and hurricanes but I had nightmares for weeks after watching The Day After Tomorrow and I find annoyance and anger easier emotions than fear.

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So Rihanna, she of the abusive boyfriend, the tendency to dress in underwear alone and the 25 million record sales.  According to my usual taste in catchy music I should by rights actually like Rihanna and her many peers who sing ridiculously melodic and rhythmic tunes, but I just can’t stand her.  It’s a sign of age probably, but to me, her lyrics are just plain offensive.  Just as my generation’s parents were mortified when we requested Frankie Says Relax t-shirt, ‘but why is it rude Mummy?’, now the parents of today are horrified as their 8 years olds sing along to Rihanna, ‘Come here rude boy, boy, Can you get it up, come here rude boy, boy, is you big enough’, just wrong, and not just grammatically.  Don’t even get me started on, ‘sticks and stones may break my bones but chains and whips excite me’. Really?  You really think that is an acceptable lyric for a mainstream pop star?    Well let me tell you Miss Rihanna, it is not.

Rihanna is not alone, just the other day I found myself humming along to Britney, ‘Mama I’m in love with a criminal’ (what?!!), and I am not sure I can even mention Flo Rider with his lessons on how to ‘whistle’, ‘you just put your lips together and you come real close’ without shuddering.  What is all this doing to our children’s heads, their morals, their self respect?  More importantly why is nothing being done about it?  I am all for freedom of speech but vulgarity for the sake of it when your audience is mostly under 16, please.  This is nothing to do with music and art and expression.  It is just plain wrong.

And breathe.

I recently took the test that appeared on Facebook to see how many of the 100 most influential albums I owned.  I figured zero but actually I own 7, 5 of which were bought in one bulk purchase britannia_musicfrom music mail order Britannia Music, (remember them?), back in my university days when I was probably trying to impress someone rather than actually knowing what I was purchasing.  Cool, I am not and my taste in music underlines this fact.  Not surprisingly then, on moving to Israel and listening to Israeli music on the radio I discovered that the only Israeli artist I can genuinely say I like turns out to be the favourite of the middle aged and reiterates my inability to be cool.  Luckily it’s not something I need hide anymore.

The irony of my bad music taste is that I have amassed a huge number of friends who really are music aficionados and therefore by my definition, cool.  I have friends who are DJs, friends who collect vinyl, friends who spent their childhood summers and their first jobs in record shops, friends who can talk music for hours and hours on end (DULL).  I seem to be drawn to people who like music – a lot.  Even my husband has a record collection that, although may not be everyone’s taste, is gigantic and varied.  So why then am I just not interested?  Why do I favour cheesy pop over just about everything else and why if I were left on a desert island would I request satellite TV rather than an ipod?  If the world is collapsing around us and I am alone on island (albeit a flooded, windswept one) an ipod would certainly be more use than a TV, right?  And no, Rihanna, I’d rather get wet than stand under your um-be-rella rella rella.

PS My 2 year old has just seen this and asked who’s the girl with the bottom…nuff said