17 December 2006

Hanging Tough

I wrote this last week, after a particularly frustrating day. Two days later, my wallet was stolen while shopping in Jerusalem. Don't worry; I'm fine now. But a word to the wise...it can always get worse.

12 December 2006. Har Gilo.
Just before I came to Israel, I read a blog in which a woman described the process of making aliyah as an ‘ego-crumbling’ experience. I would like to add something to this. The process of making aliyah is an ego-thrashing, ego-slaughtering, ego-bashing, ego-burying, ego-destroying, ego-annihilating, ego-exterminating experience. The scary thing is, I have only been here about six weeks – 44 days, to be exact – and I have a sinking feeling that this is only the beginning. I could be optimistic, tongue in cheek, and say that it could only get better, or that it couldn’t possibly get any worse, but this isn’t true. God knows that it could get a lot worse than this. All I’ve suffered is a bruised ego and some wounded pride (Oh yeah! I forgot! Making aliyah is an ego-bruising experience). Maybe it’s good for me?
This morning I was tired, not the kind of tired that makes you a little sleepy and makes you want to sit down and have a cup of coffee or something. This is the kind of tired where you cannot even form a coherent sentence in your mother tongue, much less in a foreign language that you’re trying to learn. Not even coffee would have helped me this morning.
The problem is that I knew I had to go to a certain place as soon as possible to inquire about joining the army. I knew that I would probably have to do this in Hebrew, but I was unaware until I arrived just how deficient my Hebrew skills would prove to be. The frustration comes in here because I know that I can actually speak enough Hebrew to get by, and I am learning more and more every day. In ulpan, in my comfort zone where I am the *star student*, I do very well and, on good days (not today), answer every question quickly and properly. Unfortunately, this doesn’t mean that it will pass in other places and other situations. Sometimes I am afraid that I will never be able to say things on which we haven’t drilled in ulpan, I am afraid that I will never be able to have a conversation past, “Moshe, I looked for you. Where were you?” or “Did someone speak with Bush? No, nobody spoke with Bush”. A completely irrational fear, I understand, but it doesn’t keep the thought from popping into my head and lingering there for a few minutes…hours…days.
I arrived at the place, told two separate people in English that I wanted to join the army and asked if they could direct me to the correct person. I went upstairs to the right office, and could. not. form. one. coherent. sentence, in. Hebrew. Dear God, help me!! Really!
For the sake of my self-esteem, I have to give myself the benefit of the doubt that it was an explosive mixture of nervousness, excitement, fatigue and desperately wanting to be accepted and desperately wanting to prove that I could do it. This all led to my temporary downfall experience and crash-and-burn-I’m-never-going-to-get-this after-feeling.
It’s not just this one situation, though. Being in a foreign country and trying to assimilate into a foreign culture with the fewest number of visible seams is an extremely taxing experience – emotionally and physically. Simple activities such as going to the supermarket or buying fruits and veggies in the market or needing to buy a pair of shoes are so much more complicated. Sometimes you feel like you just want to sit inside your house, have groceries and new clothes delivered through the mail and curl up with a good, long book in English, or Russian or whatever your language is. But you can’t always do this, and, in times like this, when you’re mentally and emotionally exhausted and ‘just a little off-kilter’, you can’t always curl up in your comfort zone. There are still things you have to do, today, things that cannot wait for tomorrow or next week. So what do you do? The only thing you can, put your head down, lift up your feet and trudge on through. You keep saying to yourself hakol yihye beseder. Everything will be fine.
In the end, I believe everything will be okay. Maybe it’s the optimist in me. One day I will speak Hebrew, one day I will no longer feel like an immigrant, a greenie, a newbie, one day I will see everything I desire materialize in my hands. Today, I will work hard, today I will do my best, and today I will believe that I will see the fruit of my painstaking labor and sweat.

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