Tuesday, November 11, 2008

A walk to the pharmacy

As I have often found myself explaining, many aspects of being here feel like retracing my steps from when I lived here 20 years ago. Sometimes this has a "do-over" quality; it offers the deeply healing opportunity to make choices as a 35-year-old that my 14-year-old self did not know as options. For example, I literally felt like I was retracing my steps when Alan and I climbed Masada. First of all, his companionship is itself a tikkun, a healing of the loneliness I felt doomed to as a teenager. Just as importantly, I have learned how to set my own pace, how to worry less about how others might or might not be seeing and judging me, and, thank God, how to rest and enjoy the view.

One thing I was dreading in anticipation of coming here for the year was getting sick. It would not be an exageration to say that I associate being in Israel with a variety of ills. The first time I came here, to visit my older brother, Isaac, during his 10th-grade year on kibbutz, I got an ear infection. I had gotten ear infections quite a bit as a younger child, but they had stopped after I stopped eating dairy for a year and I hadn't had one in years. But there I was, staying behind in the King Solomon Hotel while my parents went in search of medicine (hastily prescribed by the father of a my Hebrew school teacher Shelly).

The year I lived here I had chronic colds which in the end were deemed sinusitis. I became quite fond of the doctor in the kibbutz's infirmary but saw him much less after he put me on antibiotics prophylacticly. In addition to the large amounts of dairy in the local diet, I also blamed the fact that I worked with 3-year-olds. Not only does my Hebrew vocabulary include little-used words for childhood diseases, I even managed to catch one myself. Even though I had been vaccinated as a child, I was awakened by pain in the middle of the night and wandered to the bathroom mirror to see my face and neck grotesquely swollen with mumps! The three-year-olds ran around with little piggy faces -the Hebrew חזרת/hazeret, with its etymological link to "pig" is apt-- seemingly unbothered by the virus. I was in bed on codeine for a week and none of the boys in my class would be in the same room with me.

Then the summer after my freshman year in college, Isaac and I were back on kibbutz and I was working with kids again. This time, for the first time in my life, I got strep throat. I proceeded to get strep throat just about every semester thereafter, usually right around finals week, usually when I had a voice recital. I became expert at formulating hot lemonades and I can go on for quite a while about the wonders of gargling.

All of this added up to a resistance to admitting to myself that, yes, I really did need a sick day today. I had already tried chicken soup and throat lozenges. I was cheered by the fact that none of my glands seem swollen so I'd been going to classes despite the facts that I didn't have much of a voice left and that I spent much of the time blowing my noise. At about 3am last night, in the middle of a particularly rattling bout of shivers and teeth-chattering I was reminded of my friend Steven Lewis' habit of saying "Oh good, another f***ing learning opportunity." I am not sure what good, if any, is meant to come of this particular "retracing" but I decided it was definitely a good idea to stay under the covers for much of today.

So, what I really wanted to write about was my walk to the pharmacy this afternoon because it seemed like a wonderful little snapshot of life here:
Jerusalem is electing a new mayor today and one of the first things I saw and heard was a van going by with its רמקול/ramkol/loudspeaker blaring. I did not catch what was being said, but the huge signs on the side of the van made its viewpoint clear. It said that as of 14:00 hours the voter turnout was 54% חרדי/Haredi (Ultra-Orthodox) and 12% חילוני/Hiloni (Secular). I couldn't tell whether this meant that 54% of haredim had voted or 54% of voters were haredim but the concern was written even more starkly: above these numbers it said, החרדים כובשים את העיר/"The haredim are taking over the city!" The haredi candidate, Porush, was depicted in cartoon form in his posters. My friends and I wondered whether this was an attempt to make him look less scary.

The pharmacy was closed when I got there, but the sign on the door said it would open again at 16:00 (a number of businesses, as well as the post office seem to have these "afternoon siesta" hours). Another customer arrived two minutes before the pharmacy was supposed to open. He asked when it was opening and when I told him he remarked that the proprietors must be "more Yekke than the Yekkes!" for waiting until exactly 16:00 to re-open (Yekke is a mildly derogatory nickname for German Jews, believed by some to stem from their insistence on wearing formal jackets even in Israel's 100 degree weather).

On my way back from the pharmacy, I stopped to get myself a treat of kubbeh (a delicious meat-stuffed dumpling of sorts) at the grill place. Another customer walked in as the man behind the counter was ringing me up. After asking about the freshness of a particular item, the customer reached over the case and onto a counter where some chicken fingers were cooling. He took one to taste.

Continuing my slow, congested walk home, I noticed that even some taxis had signs on them for political candidates. Then, just before I got home a man with a kippah rushed past me. He said something to the man in the kippah who was approaching me. The man approaching me looked back at the hurrying man and said, in English, "Actually I' m already past mincha." Apparently the man in the hurry was trying to find enough men to make a minyan but the other man had already prayed his afternoon prayers.

I am going to try to go to my evening activity, but not before a dose of medicine and a dose of chicken soup.

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