Friday, December 22, 2006

I Love America!

I love how polite people are, and how Christmas-y everything is. The stores are big (a little intimidatingly big actually) and so are the roads. Ben and Jerry's Coffee Heath Bar Crunch ice cream is just as good as I remembered it! So are Outback steaks and cheese fries! And there are movies without intermissions!

This is just what I needed!

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Okay, now I REALLY need a vacation

Okay, let me start off by saying we are all okay and no one got hurt.

There is a course you take before you go overseas with the Foreign Service called Security Overseas Seminar. In it, they tell you that a really high percentage of foreign service officers are the victims of crime at some point in their careers, something like 85% if I recall correctly. Like everyone else in the room, I thought, well, hopefully I will be in the lucky 15%. But as you probably already know, my apartment here was robbed two months after I arrived at post. So I had already done my part to contribute to the percentage. And I hoped that would be the end of it.

Yesterday, M and I, along with two other friends from the consulate, decided to do the ramparts walk in the Old City. That is where you walk around the top of the Old City walls. The views are great and we all took some great pictures. We were all talking about what a beautiful day it was, how much fun we were having and how Jerusalem overall is a pretty easy place to live. That is probably what jinxed us.

We walked up the stairs to a wide part of the rampart (maybe 20 feet wide by 40 feet long....most of it was only a few feet wide). In hindsite, all of us looked up at the two Palestinian teenagers and thought it was odd that they were up there. But all of us dismissed it...true we were on a remote part of the walk, but we were barely a few steps from Lion's gate, the end of the tour, where the police stand. And we knew most of the Old City is covered by cameras, so few crimes more serious than pickpocketing ever occur there.

I was in the lead and the first guy, by the stairs up onto that part of the rampart, asked me in English "what clock," pointing to his wrist. I told him it was almost 1. He said thank you in Hebrew, then stammered a bit and said "you're welcome" in English. I continued on across, figuring this wasn't a place to dally and plus I was hungry and ready to go get lunch. And I as I walked past the second guy, who was standing near the stairs going down on the other side, he said, "wait wait." I looked at him and he said, "give money." I thought he was begging and I said no. Then he pulled out his knife and said "give money." This made me mad, and I said no again. Then he pointed to my camera (a little canon elph) and said "give camera." And I yelled no and put it in my pocket. What I didn't see was that the first boy, the one I had told the time, was clearly the leader (the guy demanding money from me was clearly nervous) and was angry at my defiance. M said he lunged towards me with his knife, a switchblade. She yelled, "Give him the f**king money." This stopped the first guy, and I reached in my pocket and pulled the first bill off the money in my pocket, a 100 shekel bill (a little less than $25 dollars) and handed it to him. M told him I had her money and I told him that was all we had.

In the meantime, our two friends pulled out their wallets. One handed them everything she had, $150 and 120 shekels. The other pulled out a 20 shekel bill and when they demanded more she gave them another 20 shekels (she had about 800 shekels on her). They kept demanding more, but Mary yelled "that's enough." And since some more tourists were coming, the two ran off. In retrospect, I think the one friend giving them so much money was what kept them from continuing to demand more or from hurting us. I don't think the one who asked me for the money and my camera would have hurt us. He was clearly nervous. But the other seemed more dangerous.

We went straight downstairs and reported it to the police, who ran into the city and grabbed every Arab kid they could find in a red shirt (none the right one). One poor group of boys got brought to us twice. Our security came down and sat with us while were inviewed in the police station. It took hours. We didn't get out until nearly 5.

I am hopeful they will catch the guys because of all the cameras. Plus, the police seemed really concerned about the boys having weapons and attacking diplomats.

So like I said, now I REALLY need a vacation!

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Church of the Ark

Last Friday, December 1, I went to the settlement of Shilo. While I was there, they showed me a Byzantine Church they are excavating on the Tell by the settlement. The Tell is the site of the Biblical town of Shilo, for which the settlement is named.

Today there was an article in The Telegraph about the church. The mosaics are amazing. They showed me the inscriptions they refer to in the article, including a new on they had just uncovered Thursday evening. They read: May the Lord Jesus Christ Keep Watch over the Inhabitants of Shilo and may he bless Antonius the Bishop, Germanius the priest and Zorys the mosaic maker." Off to the side is a baptismal font with the inscription they uncovered Thursday. There is an additional inscription by a bench that says "This seat was made by Zoyrs the mosaic maker."

Inscription calling for the protection of the residents of Shilo

There are actually two levels of mosaics. Apparently the older church was built in an area of bad drainage. So they covered it up (which preserved the mosaics really well) and build a new one slightly overlapping the old. There is a mosque on top of all of that which is 1100 years old. I took some pictures, which I will download later.

Getting to see cool archaeological sites while working is awesome! Some days, I really like my job! :)

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Christmas dinner for Bethlehem University

Last night, we went to a fundraiser dinner for the Bethlehem University scholarship fund. A really good cause and I hope they made lots of money for the students.

We had a blast. Dinner was pretty good but the company was excellent. We were at a table with a number of our good friends from the consulate. There was a musician who performed dance music periodically (priests probably shouldn't dance) and did sound effects for the door prize drawings and the raffle, which was the best part of the evening. Everyone on our side of the table won something except one friend, and we told him that was God's retribution for him trying to stack the odds in his favor when he drew a ticket (the tickets came in different colors and he picked one the color of his tickets on purpose). We won dinners to Askidiniya (one of my favorite restaurants here) and the American Colony (I don't like it as much but the garden you sit in is nice). We bought 200 shekels (about $40) worth of raffle tickets, so we made out pretty well. Of course, the emcee (I think he was a university official)did even better. His wife won a plane ticket to Brussels, which he gave back, and then he one a piece of art, which he kept (aside from that sounding rigged, I think he is seriously in the dog house for giving back his wife's trip but keeping his prize!).

M and I are thinking of donating a scholarship to the University. The students there are pretty have to be to go to school in this climate. Many of them have to walk hours and past numerous checkpoints just to get to school, and they stay on campus until they absolutely have to leave. The Christian population in general is in pretty dire straits in Bethlehem. They used to be the majority there, but with the economic and security situation, they are only about 20 percent of the population in Bethlehem now. Tourism, their only real industry, has virtually dried up, and much of their agricultural lands have been seized by the Israelis for the wall and a nearby settlement.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Guess What I Did?

Were you watching the news? Yep, that makes number 6. Six times that I have worked as a site officer when the Secretary came to visit.

At least this time, I got to go to a different place. We had the meeting at the Intercontinental in Jericho. The Intercon is a really nice hotel, and we had the meetings with the First Lady there back in May of 2005. The staff is really nice and helpful, and the hotel would be a great place to stay if we were allowed there without security. The grounds are immaculate, the rooms large and comfortable, and the pool is amazing. There was a casino there, but it has long since been shut down since the Intifada pretty much dried up the tourist crowd.

The best part of today was getting to body block two cameramen who were trying to get out of the door to get one last shot of the Secretary. I jumped in front of him and grabbed the door handle, forcing the door closed. Then I got a hotel security guy to hold it closed. I got another security guy to hold a second door closed...boy were the press folks peeved!

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Cease Fire

Depending on who you talk to, the cease fire in Gaza is a real chance for peace, an opportunity for Hamas to re-arm, or likely to amount to nothing. The cease fire may spread to the West Bank, or the violence in the West Bank may spread back to Gaza. Honestly, I am not optimistic, if only because I have been optimistic before, only to have it dashed.

Who knows?

People seem to think that the Palestinians speak with one voice, but nothing could be further from the truth. Most ideas people have about this place are wrong. There is no one Israeli voice nor one Palestinian voice. Israelis aren't just defending themselves against Palestinian suicide bombers in the home God promised them, though some are, and Palestinians aren't all innocent victims of Israeli oppression, though lots are. Some Palestinians are suicide bombers, but even all suicide bomers aren't the same. Some Palestinians are reasonable and peace-loving, and some are unreasonable and hate Jews. Some Israelis are Palestinian hating and some aren't. There are lots of shades of grey. Mostly its shades of grey.

Anyway, they still haven't gotten buy-in for the cease fire from all the Palestinian groups in Gaza (I think the news said Islamic Jihad claimed credit for the last two qassams), which seems to lessen the chances of the cease fire lasting for long. But Olmert is talking again about land for peace, the first time he has really talked about evacuating settlements since before the Lebanon War. So maybe there is hope...I wish I were more optimistic.

Meanwhile, I am just counting down until my R&R.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Happy Turkey Day!

I just wanted to wish everyone a very Happy Thanksgiving! We had an excellent dinner with 20 or so friends from the consulate with turkey, dressing and all the fixings! There was even pumpkin pie!

A few things I am thankful for:

* A wonderful partner
* Awesome family and friends
* My grandmother's health
* My furry and feathered children
* and that I get to come home for Christmas!

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Softball Diplomacy

Yesterday, a group of us from the consulate met at one of the local sports fields on the east side for a little softball. We didn't have enough people there to really play, so we were mostly just taking turns batting.

After we had been playing for a few minutes, some Palestinian teenagers starting hanging around, first one, then two, and ultimately about six. With a bit of coaxing, we convinced them to join us. None of them had ever played softball, so we had to show them how to hold the bat, where to run, etc. And with me and my handful of words in Arabic being the only ability to communicate, it was challenging! But we were able to communicate none the less, and one turned out to be a great hitter while another did pretty well as a pitcher.

We all played together for about an hour, when several of the guys had to leave for work. I yelled "fursa saideh" to them, which is Arabic for "nice to meet you," and one turned around and asked how to say that in English. I told him, and he called out "nice to meet you" to everyone. It was a lot of fun playing with them, and I think we sent away five young men with good feelings towards Americans.

It made me feel particularly good since Thursday and Friday at work had demonstrated to me just how accustomed we get to awful things. I had to take two groups, one each day, on a tour of the Jerusalem part of the separation barrier. It is pretty depressing to see how it splits families, dividing Palestinian neighborhoods in half. The first day, two separate places near one checkpoint had been closed off since just 5 pm the day before. Both the UN-employee who was driving us and I knew to have our badges on in case we passed a checkpoint or has become ingrained in us. But the guy we were showing around had to fumble for his badge, because in his three months in country, all in Tel Aviv, he had never come across a checkpoint. And both days, we went to Augusta Victoria hospital, a Lutheran Hospital on the Mount of Olives that serves Palestinians. It has a great but depressing view of two checkpoints, one of which is only for foot traffic and one which is only for Israelis (of the 12 routes into Jerusalem, only four are open to Palestinians and one of those is the pedestrian one) as well as the barrier and the ever-expanding settlements.

While at the hospital on Thursday, a doctor came up while we were there to speak to our guide. She told him she was doing a UN film on Palestinian access to health-care (or more accurately, lack of access) and he said he had a kid she could talk about. The child, maybe seven-years old, has leukemia and was running around the hospital alone. I said, "Parents couldn't get permits, huh?" And he said yes, so they had sent the child through the checkpoint alone, where he went from taxi to taxi until he found one to take him to the hospital. He didn't know who to ask for at the hospital, only that this was where he should go.

When I got back to work, I told my co-workers about the little boy with leukemia who was wandering around the hospital alone, and my co-workers, without being told more, said "Parents couldn't get permits?"

Monday, November 13, 2006

...but I was in Cairo!

So more than a month back, when we saw that this past weekend was both a long weekend AND the weekend of the Marine Ball (no offense to the Marines...some of our guys are good friends, but ball gowns are not my thing and we went last year), we decided to go to Cairo. I can't remember ever NOT wanting to see the pyramids.

We flew over on Thursday night after work. The flight is only about an hour from Ben Gurion Airport. A friend at work, Heather, told us she had a friend in Cairo from when she lived there and he drove a taxi for a living. We called Ali first thing Friday morning and hired him for the day to take us around. Let me tell you, that was a great decision! We drove down first to Dahshur, home of the Red and Bent Pyramids. These are the third largest pyramids in Egypt, after the ones at Giza. The Bent Pyramid was one of the first attempts at the kind of pyramid we know today, built by the 4th dynasty Pharoah Sneferu (2613-2589 BC). But the angle was too steep and the pyramid became unstable, so his engineers had to reduce the slope, hence the name. Not satisfied, Sneferu tried again, this time creating the Red Pyramid using the angle his engineers had used at the top portion of the Bent pyramid. It is the first true pyramid. Sneferu's son, Khufu (aka Cheops) is the builder of the first, and largest, true pyramid at Giza.

The Bent Pyramid

We actually went inside the Red Pyramid because we had been advised that the big pyramids would be just as empty inside but would be more crowded. We got hit up for bakshish, a sort of tip, usually one Egyptian pound (about 20 cents) for the first time there, and by none other than the tourist police. We paid again to the old guy who took us down into the pyramid. You have to back down the ramp to go in, and while the ceilings inside are amazing, the smell is well, I guess there aren't toilets around.

Our next stop was Saqqara, home of the Step Pyramid of Djoser. The Step Pyramid is the first pyramid and was built by Imhotep in six mastabas for the 3rd dynasty Pharoah Djoser. It was here, in the pyramid of Titi, that we got the "Fish Tour," our new descriptor for all bad tours. A guy wanting bakshish followed us around the tomb, pointing to the wall carvings and saying "fish" when he saw a fish. Accurate, but not so very helpful. I think he knew maybe 6 words in English. He would point to an empty pedestal and say, "Baby statue. Not here. Egyptian Museum Cairo." We ultimately gave him a pound to go away.

Me at the Step Pyramid

From there we headed to Giza. A friend had recommended we ride camels around the back side of the pyramids, and after coaxing M a bit, we decided to do it. Ali, our taxi driver, took us to a reputable camel stable and we got an hour ride around the pyramids. It was a great way to see the pyramids, away from the traffic and vendors. But boy does that make you sore! Our camel driver said that this is how you really learn to walk like an Egyptian!

On Saturday we went to the Egyptian museum. Ali had warned us about people on the streets luring you with with how they love America and their brother was in America and blah blah. And still we almost fell for it, with a "doctor" (read: perfume shop owner) telling us the museum didn't open until noon and trying to get us to come to his shop. At the last minute, we escaped and continued to the museum. The Egyptian Museum is every bit as incredible as it is billed, and though we opted not to pay the extra 100 pounds to see the mummies, we did get to see some amazing stuff. We even saw Tutankamen's burial mask, which is extraordinary. That night, we headed back to Giza for the sound and light show. In our defense, we already knew it was hokey before we went, but some kitsch you just gotta do. So we went. The talking sphinx was a riot, and at least now I know that the three biggest pyramids there were built by father (Cheops or Kufru-2589-2566), son (Khafre) and grandson Menkaure). Khafre also built the sphinx, and the face on it is his. His is the most recognizable of the three pyramids, with some of the limestone exterior at the top. It is actually smaller than the Great Pyramid in deference to his father, but it looks bigger. The real highlight of the show, however, is the end, when Egyptians dressed in the kind of "ancient Egyptian" costume you'd have worn as a kid at Halloween played the Road to Tiperary on bagpipes as an exit march.

Sunday we went to Old Cairo and visited Salah Eddin's Citadel. Built in 1176, it has amazing views of the city and two really beautiful mosques, the Mohammed Ali mosque and the Mohammed Nasser mosque. Since this was an organized tour, our Muslim guide also took us to the Hanging Church (named for its location) and the grotto where, according to the guide, Muslims and Christians hid Mary and the baby Jesus when they came to Egpyt. I'll leave it to you to figure out what is wrong with that picture. She also took us to a synagogue that she said was no longer used because there were no Jews in Cairo. Of course, she also said Christians were 50% of the population. It is more like less than 10%. And she wrapped up the tour with a trip to a perfume factory. I left with a headache but no bottled scents.

Me and M on camels at Giza

No, I Wasn't at the Rally...

There was a Gay Pride rally here on Friday. It was supposed to be a parade, but the Haredi (the ultra-Orthodox) responding with a week straight of nightly riots, as well as threats to harm the marchers. So it was decided to have a rally instead. It made the international news, so in case any of you were worried, I never even had to think about whether I should or wanted to go. We had long since planned to take the long weekend and go to Cairo. I'll write more on that later, but let me just tell you that Mary didn't come anywhere close to falling off that camel no mater what she says.

Also, in other news, I got a job offer in DC. Looks like I am heading back to INR Watch! The Op Center, my first choice, decided not to offer jobs to any second-tour officers which took me out of the running. But this does mean that come May, I will be back in the states for at least 14 months, maybe more. Woo hoo! Outback, can I do call ahead reservations now?

Monday, November 06, 2006

Yay Mail!

Our mail folks and the ones at Tel Aviv are awesome. They had someone standing by 24/7 in case there was a break in the strike. Over the weekend, they called a 2-day halt to the strike for emergency negotiations. And in that time, our folks got the mail that was here.

So now I have a 24-day supply of diet Mountain Dew! Woo hoo!

Friday, November 03, 2006

No Mail!

I have never before given a great deal of thought to strikers, and that would certainly be true of the current baggage handlers strike at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv except for one thing...

Our mail comes by plane.

The baggage handlers unload our mail in addition to the bags.

Or, more accurately, they don't unload our mail. We have heard that some of our mail flew away with the planes that came here and left again.

That makes me cranky.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

I voted!

Yay! The board of Elections relented and faxed me a ballot. I checked out the information on each of the candidates so I could make informed decisions, and then I faxed in my ballot. We are luckier here than at some posts, in that we have APO (military postal service) twice a week, so I will actually be able to get the ballot post-marked in time (they require you to mail the original for auditing purposes. So insha'allah, my vote will be counted.

I was especially glad to get to vote for a guy who was mayor of Carrboro, the town next to Chapel Hill, for 10 years and was one of the state's only openly gay politicians. He is running for the Board of Commissioners, and still lists improving opportunities for LGBT folks as one of his priorities.

Yay Democracy!

Monday, October 30, 2006

They Sure Make it Hard to Vote

I called a while back to my local board of elections to see about getting an absentee ballot. They said I had to request it in writing and they would mail the ballot to me. Then I'd have to mail it back to them. At that point, given how slow APO mail can be, I sort of gave up. I figured there wasn't enough time.

But then last night, I learned of the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act. According to that, you can fill out a form, fax it in, and they will fax back your ballot. You fill out the ballot, fax it back and mail the original. Great! I can vote!

Not so fast. I fax in the form and I get an email this afternoon saying I can't have my ballot by fax because I don't qualify as being temporarily overseas. Say what? So I emailed back and said I was here temporarily serving the country. Then, I called and got the director. He said he'd see what he could do. In the meantime, I get a snippy email back from the first person who emailed me back saying that the problem was I was a "regular" voter and so they would have to see if I could get special permission. AND that I should have requested a ballot earlier.

So I pull up the wording of the act and email it to them. I qualify under a citizen temporarily overseas based on the definition in the act, and as such, can request my ballot up to the day before the election. They are still "seeing" what they can do. They said they would go ahead and fax the ballot and I could fax it back like the act says. It wasn't there when I left this evening, but maybe it will be there in the morning.

What really annoys me is how I am having to convince them to abide by the law in allowing me to vote when I am here serving my country! I wonder how many of us overseas don't end up voting because they make it such a pain.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Halloween Blues!

Halloween has always been one of my favorite holidays, but as you might imagine, Halloween in the Holy Land is, well, not so much. Considering the Christian and pagan overtones to the holiday, I shouldn't be surprised that it isn't really celebrated in a land where Christians are just two percent of the population and pagans pretty much don't exist. But still, I just don't think you have to be a Christian to recognize how much fun Halloween is.

We will have a Halloween party at the consulate, complete with haunted house, but what I really want right now is Halloween candy! And not individually wrapped Israeli candies, which are perfectly good but not Halloween-y. I want some Braches Candy Corn and some Smarties. And can you get those here? No. You can't even find them at netgrocer.

We did have a nice Halloween party at the Marine House last night, and I will say it was a bit disturbing how into the spooky food thing the gunny's wife was. The raspberry jello heart was downright creepy, as was the shrimp dip brain. And there were eyeballs, fingers, bones and other assorted creepy things to eat. All good, but WHERE WAS THE CANDY CORN?! Sigh.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Barack Obama

Barak Obama has been in the news a bit lately. I got to meet him last year. A heck of a nice guy. We don't often get to do "meet and greets" with Senators and Representatives, but he had one with us.

Me and Obama

Eid Mubarek

Just wanted to wish Eid Mubarek (excellent feast) for all my friends finishing their celebration of Ramadan on this Eid Al-Fitr.


Today we took a ride with a couple friends from work up to Acco (also called Akko or Acre), an old Muslim town north of Haifa.

The city is fascinating. It is mentioned in some Egyptian scrolls from around 1800 BCE, and it was an important port for centuries. Julius Caeser, Alexander the Great, Francis of Assissi and Marco Polo visited there. Napoleon laid siege to it but failed. During Crusader times, it had as many as 40,000 residents. When Jerusalem was captured from the Crusaders by the Muslims, Acco became the Crusader capital.

The town has several mosques and the old crusader citadel, complete with Knights Halls, a subterranean city and a crypt. While we were down in the crypt (you get there through a long, narrow, creepy underground tunnel, I went and explored some dark rooms off the beaten path. I heard this squeaking that I assumed was rats or mice, but the area the sound came from was too dark to see anything. So I thought I would snap a picture, and maybe with the flash I could see the rats. It wasn't rats in there, but something that rhymed with rats...BATS. REALLY BIG BATS! Oddly, bats that you disturb like to come flying at you, and these were bigger than any I ever saw in the states (when I was a kid, we'd make this whirring noise with our tongues that the bats thought were insects and it would make them dive at us. Let me tell you, those bats were little bitty compared with the ones in the crypt!). So I made a hasty exit.

The Old City is preserved really well, and is a thriving Arab town that reminds you of Jerusalem's Old City. We had a nice lunch at a restaurant on the harbor, (which has a hilarious statue of a whale with a whole in its belly so you can take pictures of your friends doing Jonah imitations!) and then spent the afternoon touring around.

We had wanted to get up there a while back, but it wasn't safe during the war with Lebanon. The area we were in was getting some serious shelling back then, though we never saw any signs of it. But today it was sunny and peaceful.

The sea from Acco's Old City wall

Jonah's Whale

Acco's Great Hall

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Indian Ringnecks

I guess it shouldn't surprise me that as my job got more interesting, I had less time to say anything here. At any rate, I have just finished my first two weeks in the political section and I am having a blast. The work is interesting and engaging. Plus, I just love the garden as Post 1. The flowers are just beautiful (and we all agree that the gardener seems like the happiest guy on the planet. He seldom talks unless spoken to, but he just seems so content. We call him the zen gardener). Plus, we have two pairs of Indian ringneck parrots that live in one of the trees in the garden. I like to sit out there and watch them play. I keep trying to get a good shot of them. The one below will have to do until I get a better one. Apparently the birds, who seem to have invaded, are considered "public enemy number 1" to Israeli farmers, but I really like them.

So in general, I am pretty content lately except for the time change (Israel and the West Bank "fall back" at the beginning of October, so until I think the 29th, there are only 6 hours difference between here and the east coast as opposed to the usual 7). Anyway, with the time change, it is dark when I get home. And I end up going to bed early because it has been dark for so long. Of course, that doesn't mean I get up early!

Fall is finally settling in here, complete with a little rain, and like last year, the cooler weather makes me homesick. Maybe I have even said that already. I have certainly thought it. There is no change of leaves here, and I miss all the color. The rainy season starts in the fall here(there is NO rain from about March or April until October), so before long, it will be pretty dreary here. But right now, it is mostly sunny and cool and crist. Fair weather. Man, I miss the fair. (You two who are taunting me about the fair, and you know who you are, are just hateful!)

Indian ringneck in the garden

Saturday, October 14, 2006


Okay, I confess.

I'm part of what is known as the drinking club with a running problem.

That probably comes as a shock to those of you who know I neither drink nor run. Oh well. The Hash here, Jerusalem Hash House Harriers, is lots of fun and has some good folks. I always do the walking trail and take Noostie with me (hence my Hash name of "Walks with Fluffy Dog"). But today's walking trail on the Hash in Ein Kerem (ever been here? LOTS of hills! People forget Jerusalem is in the mountains) kicked my butt! Like 20 minutes of it was straight up this massive hill. I swear it was a 45 degree angle.

I hurt. And you should have seen the runners! At least a couple of them came back bleeding!

Speaking of cats

I think I mentioned before that there are LOTS of street cats here. They are in every alley, every dumpster, and a few figure out that restaurants with outdoor seating are definitely the place to hang out.

So last night a group of us when to the YMCA on the west side of town. When dinner was done and we were all just chatting about work and other non-sense, we all hear a tiny meow. M turns around an announces "It's the world's tiniest cat!" A little black kitten was walking between our table and the table next to us.

I got up and picked up the kitten, a little unusual since most street cats will not let you touch them, even when they are at a restaurant and are as young as this one (she's maybe 4 weeks old). I took her over and handed her to T, one of our best friend's here. We have all been telling T that she needed a pet because she gets so stressed about work. Pets are a great way to keep your life in perspective in a career that can become your whole life if you let it. She agreed, but had never found an animal that she felt bonded with her that didn't already belong to someone else (she coveted out younger cat, Pishik, who is really more dog than cat). We had found a kitten nearly a year ago, but T and that kitten just didn't bond.

Well this kitten clearly picked T. It curled up in T's lap, stretched out and tapped at her with its tiny paw, and went to sleep. Sound asleep. I told T the kitten felt safe, and she said that this was probably the safest the kitten had ever felt. At that moment, I knew T had found her cat.

Sure enough, T took the kitten home, and named it Blanca (did I mention it was black? T liked the irony) in honor of her Jeep that was stolen (also named Blanca). So she lost and gained a Blanca here. I helped get her set up last night with some food and kitty litter. I am going to show her the vet and pet store tomorrow. But already the kitten is using its litter box and following T happily around her apartment. Both of them seem happy.

You can't save them all, but you can save some!

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Herding cats

Heard a strange banging lately? That's me, using the wall to flatten my forehead.

Anyone who has done a codel (congressional delegation) or staffdel (staffer delegation) knows it is like herding cats. The situation is even more sensitive here than in many places because you combine the congressional and staffer sense of urgency with our need for security. The result is battles that sound a lot like "I'm not coming if I can't go to the West Bank without your security folks following my every footstep."

Now I am the first to admit that it is a lot safer here than you might think given what you see in the states, but part of that safety comes from having security rules and following them. Sigh.

Other than that, I am LOVING being in political. The work is challenging and interesting and the day just flies by! I am currently getting to work on things that could genuinely make the lives of the Palestinians better in small but really tangible ways. How cool is that? And tonight I went to my fourth Iftar. So I am getting to do cool stuff AND eat awesome food! How much more could you ask for?

Friday, October 06, 2006

Good News and Bad News

The Good News is that it is looking really positive for me to get offers from both of my top two job choices in DC, the Op Center and INR Watch. The bad news is that I may not find out until November 17. Keep your fingers crossed for me.

But the really bad news is that my Ipod shuffle died. I looked online and apparently lots of people had their ipodlettes die after downloading the latest software updates. So I am profoundly annoyed. And what's worse is that it has a one-year warranty, and I got it for Christmas. But they list the purchase date as March 2005. Now I KNOW M doesn't buy Christmas presents that early. In fact, I got her an Ipod for her birthday in May 2005 and she got mine for me after that because I coveted hers. But we have to find the receipt to prove it so that it will be covered. And in the meantime, no portable music. We even have the tape-deck do-hickey to use it in the car. Granted, I don't use it at work since I moved to political because you can't take electronic devices into the office (unlike in consular, where nothing was classified so it didn't matter). But still. Really annoying!

So a word of warning if you have a shuffle...don't download the new software unless you want to buy a new Ipod. And if you don't have an Ipod yet (all two of you), get the regular one instead of the shuffle (they apparently break, but not as often) or get a different MP3 player altogether.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

A job offer and a visit

First, on the job front. I have received an offer, sort of, from INR Watch, one of the two jobs I bid for in DC. I have the interview with the other, the Operations Center, tonight. The Ops Center is my first choice, but at least I know now that I can be in DC next tour. Now here's the I play the odds on the Ops Center or go ahead and tell INR Watch yes? Ops Center is better for my career, but figuring out whether to accept now, hold off a little while or just say no and go for Ops feels a little like "Deal or No Deal." I should know more tomorrow.

Anyway, if you've been watching the news, you know why I haven't posted in the past few days. The Secretary came for a visit yesterday, and because we are a small post, the Secretary has been here 6 times in a year and a half, and the only visit folks here didn't work on was the one where she had no meetings with Palestinians because she was working on the issue of the war with Lebanon (The Embassy deals with her meetings with the Government of Israel. We are the mission to the Palestinian Authority).

The visit was the most complex of any I have done here, but it all went off fine in the end. She even went to an Iftar with the President, which means we all got fed well as well.

Tomorrow is my last day in the consular section...I was supposed to do half days in consular all this week, but today was the only day I was able to manage it because of the visit.

Monday, October 02, 2006

"Let's Go This Way!"

If you have ever been out with M, you know those are the words that lead to exhaustion!

We decided this morning to take advantage of Yom Kippur's lack of cars to walk to the Old City. Of course, you walk in the middle of the street, not because it is easier than the sidewalks but because you can. We opted to head up the hill and around to the back side of the city and entered by the gate that takes you to the Western (Wailing) Wall and Al Aqsa Mosque. We didn't take any pictures there though since the use of cameras is prohibited on Jewish holy days, and Jewish days run sundown to sundown, so Yom Kippur doesn't end for another few hours.

Once we entered the Old City, we just explored. I don't know why we don't go in there more often, but today was particularly nice because there were fewer people in there than usual. There were comparatively few Israelis and even fewer tourists (though that made us the only target for the merchants who were open), so most of the people in there were Palestinians who likely lived there.

We made our way through the maze of streets, stopping by the photography shop of the father of one of our co-workers. His father, our co-worker's grandfather, was a photographer in Jerusalem in the 1920s, and the pictures in the shop are prints of the pictures his father took. They are amazing. He has even put a bunch of them together in a book that I keep planning to buy before we leave here.

We did see more cars ignoring the law this year than last. Last year, we saw only two, an ambulance and a car full of Palestinian youths blasting Arabic music. There are certainly far worse forms of protest, so I didn't complain. This year, we saw a fair number of cars (maybe 10 or so), all driven by Palestinians and only a few in close enough proximity to an ambulance that they could have been following them. We saw our first two violators of the law at one intersection last night on the walk home from our friend's house. One was Israeli and was allowed to pass. The other, a truck full of Palestinians, was surrounded by at least four police cars with police screaming at the driver that driving on Yom Kippur was against the law. Given that the other driver was allowed to pass (and in fact got out and moved a barricade to do down the street he wanted to), I suspect part of the Palestinian's crime was DWA - Driving While Arab.

By the time we got home from our walk this afternoon, we had walked for well over two hours straight, and let's just say my feet are still protesting. Did I mention Jerusalem is built on several mountains, so walks here are more like hikes?

M taking pictures near the Old City on Yom Kippur

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Yom Kippur

Today at sundown is the beginning of Yom Kippur, the Jewish day of atonement (and to my observant friends, "Tsom cal"). Everything, and I do mean everything, will be shut down. Driving is prohibited. Last year, the quiet of no traffic was like the quiet of the first snowfall, except of course it was hot. And the city sort of looked like the aftermath of nuclear winter...the survivors out walking around through the once car-filled streets.

I had planned to get out of the country this year, but the plans fell through. Luckily, we have friends within walking distance, so we will walk over and spend some time with them.

Last night, we went to my second Iftar. The food, again, was fabulous. It was hosted by the head of our PD section here, and most of the 50 or so guests were PD contacts. It was good to get to meet some new folks and hopefully I will be talking with them soon in my work in political.

Oh, and just in case any of you heard about the car bomb the other day in Rishon LeTzion, it wasn't a terrorist act. About 20% of the population here is Russian, and as I think I mentioned before, that means we also have Russian mafia here. So the car bomb was *just* a hit on a member of one of the crime families.

I'm not sure that makes much difference.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Ramadan Kareem

Last night I went to my first Iftar. Observant Muslims are currently celebrating the Holy month of Ramadan, which marks then the Prophet Mohammed received the Koran. During the month, they fast from sunup to sundown, and then eat a huge meal as soon as the sun has set.

Just let me say that I now know why no one loses weight during Ramadan. OMG. There was so much food! And all of it was good. Course after course. I, of couse, having not fasted, ate until I was miserable and still didn't make a dent compared with the folks we were eating with.

The dinner was hosted by the political section and therefore was my first official even as a political officer. It was pretty is nice to be treated like a diplomat instead of like a bureaucrat (which is how consular officers are often treated).

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Holy Crap!

Okay, here is the way Entry Level bidding works if you are trying to go back to DC and are in the first batch of bidders to be assigned (people who are at dangerous or hardship posts with a combination of danger and hardship differentials of greater than 30% get first choice of where to go next). You submit your list of 20 bids, putting your DC bids highest if that is where you want to go. Then your CDO (Career Development Officer) assigns you to one of the non-DC positions on your list, with the caveat that if you get offered a DC position, they will give the other position they assigned you to to someone else.

So I got my assignment today. I may still go back to DC, and I still hope to go back to DC. It is still my top choice. But if I don't get DC, guess where I will be?....


I said I didn't want to go to a hell hole after being here! I think I managed that!! As one of the real post reports said on Tales From A Small Planet, if you can't hack living in Geneva, you really shouldn't be given a passport!

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

I'm Moving

Not places, jobs. My tour here was supposed to be a two-year consular tour. But one of our officers volunteered to leave and go to Iraq (I never said everyone in the Foreign Service was sane!) before moving over to political. Hers tour was supposed to be a rotation, one year in consular and one year in political. So that left political short-staffed. And while her replacement is here, the department requires folks to do at least 10 months of consular work in their first two tours. So he can't move over to political for a while. While there are two other officers in the visa section, one has only been here a month, needs at least nine more months of consular, and is in a rotational position anyway. And the other doesn't speak Hebrew and the position is Hebrew-designated.

That leaves me. I am the most senior in the section anyway.

I have been here almost 20 months. I have just less than eight months to go because I extended to be on summer cycle (more jobs are available for your next tour if you are on summer cycle). Beginning next week, those months will be spent in political. I am ecstatic! I will miss getting to handle the fraud prevention portfolio here in consular, but in return, I will get to do something new and different. My portfolio there will include religious issues, settler issues and the city of Jerusalem, checkpoints and all. It should be a lot of fun. The new Political chief seems like she is great to work for (M really likes her) and the work sounds interesting. Plus, it means I will have two consular EERs plus an EER with something other than consular work when I come up for tenure next spring, which can't hurt!

So it looks like I will fall just under 4,000 short of my goal of having the most visa adjudications of anyone who has been here in the last 10 years (I have done more than 15,000, and the guy with the most, 19,000, was here three years). But for this, I think I can live with it!

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Bid List

Okay, so I submitted my final bid list yesterday. I am really really hoping to get a job in DC. Just today, I was thinking how nice it would be to head to Outback for a nice steak, potato and plate of cheese fries. I can't remember them all off the top of my head, but the top five is something like this:

1. DC - Operations Center
2. DC - INR Watch
4. GENEVA - Management Officer
5. OTTAWA - CON (consular)/POL

After that, there are a three London slots, one Dublin, one Vancouver, two Canberra, two Auckland, a Melbourne, two Nassau, one Helsinki, one in Dubai, and one other I can't think of. I don't remember what the slots are, but there is more consular on there than I care to think about. I really need to brush up on my German and study some other languages so I have more options!

Now, we just wait. Sigh.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Jerusalem? Never Heard of it.

I'm having an existential crisis...I seem to be nowhere.

Jerusalem? Never heard of it

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Something always gets lost in translation, but usually not an entire city.

"Jerusalem. There is no such city!" the Jerusalem municipality said in the English-language version of a sightseeing brochure it had published originally in Hebrew.

The correct translation: "Jerusalem. There is no city like it!"
Carrying a photograph of the brochure, Israel's Ma'ariv newspaper said on Wednesday tens of thousands of flyers had been distributed before city hall realised its mistake.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

False Alarm

It is never a good sign when you hear lots of sirens, lots of cars honking or helicopters. Today, we had all three.

I decided to go to Post 1 today for lunch and got a co-worker to tag along. Once we got out into the traffic, she remembered: "Oh yeah. I got an email that the IDF thinks a suicide bomber got into Jerusalem in a white van. That explains all the cops checking all the cars."

There was a vehicle in front of us at that moment that was sort of a small white van. A soldier was checking it. I remarked that it would be bad if that was the white van they referred to.

It had all calmed down by the time we finished lunch, and none of the news outlets have any word of arrests. So I imagine it was a false alarm. It did mean it took me an hour and a half to get to lunch and back, so I wasn't able to do as many visa interviews. Darn!

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

A Pet Peeve

Terrorists attacked the U.S. Embassy in Damascus earlier today. They apparently detonated a car bomb and had a shootout with local guards. All but one of the terrorists were killed in the attack.

Warning: here comes a soapbox. I am not sure if I have jumped on this soapbox here before or if I only leap up around other folks at the consulate and in my head. But what annoys me is the way the media refers to non-Americans at embassies and consulates. They make a big deal about no American diplomats being killed. And for that, I am really grateful. But they refer to one or two Syrian guards being killed. I have seen this repeatedly, and they never make it clear whether those folks are our guards or not. This matters. These are folks who probably put more at risk than we do to serve America. They run the risk of being targeted for "collaborating" with us and they have to stay here long after we leave. In fact, we can't always evacuate them in an emergency. These are colleagues and friends, and I can tell you that there are an awful lot of our FSNs who I am far closer to than some of the other Americans here.

They serve our country too. And I wish the media would make that clear. Which is not to diminish the loss of those folks in the armies of those countries in which we serve. But they are serving their country, and our local staff is serving ours. I wish the media would acknowledge that. We depend on these folks literally with our lives.

Monday, September 11, 2006

A Moment of Silence

We all stopped today at 3:46 pm (8:46 am DC time) for a moment of silence to remember the victims of 9/11. The flag at the Consulate flew at half mast.

Saturday, September 09, 2006


This morning I woke up to what I thought was the cats being naughty. I heard a noise that sounded like something large had fallen. I got up, looked around, and found the cats, looking innocent. I figured I would find the disaster zone later, and went back to bed.

Later, I called a friend from work, who asked if I had felt the earthquake. She and two other co-workers who live in her apartment building (which is just up the street from our place) felt it. That's when I realized that the cats weren't just looking innocent. For a change, they had, in fact, really been innocent. Apparently an earthquake measuring 4.4 on the richter scale hit the northern Jordan valley. We live in the hills above the central Jordan valley. Apparently it was felt as far away as Tel Aviv.

Such earthquakes are not unusual here and in fact, several measuring 3.2 have hit recently. This is the first one I have felt. M, of course, slept through it!

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Bidding Makes Me Cranky

I got a response from my CDO (Career Development or Destruction Officer, depending on your point of view) telling me I would not be allowed to bid on the Russian OR German language positions. This despite the fact that the head of the German department told me my score in German qualified me for a top off. But my CDO says no, meaning I now have to go put only English-language positions on my list becuase you can't bid on the country you are currently serving in. And Hebrew doesn't get you very far in terms of posts other than Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. So I have to replace 10 of my 20 bids with English-language positions, including 5 of my top 10.

Now SOME English-language posts are okay, but she also tells me those will be gone by the time they get to my name. She says "maybe" the straight consular position in London, but even that is iffy (and I don't want another straight consular position anyway).

As I look over the bid list, there are some pretty crappy places I am now going to have to bid on. I *can* bid on Auckland, Sydney and Canberra, but the quarantine period for pets there is about 6 months. I can put Doha or Dubai on there, but if I do, that is where I will go. And of course, there is always Baghdad or Islamabad. Basically there are no good choices that I have a chance of getting except the DC positions. Which are highly bid and highly competative.

I think I need to look at USAJOBS again. Cranky cranky.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Submitted my Bid List

This morning I submitted my bid list. Clicking the submit button was a bit nerve-wracking, especially since I am doing it so early (it isn't due until September 22). But I was advised to send it in early because I am bidding on the DC positions. So here is the top 10 as submitted:

1. DC - Operations Center
2. DC - INR Watch
3. LUXEMBOURG- Public Diplomacy (PD)
4. BERLIN - Political (POL)
6. KIEV - PD
8. GENEVA - Management Officer
9. MOSCOW - Staff Asst./POL
10. OTTAWA - CON (consular)/POL

Ottawa moving up to 10 is the only change. I have misgivings about it given that the Ambassador there is someone folks from SC would be very familiar with. but I decided that it would be worth the risk, given Ottawa's proximity to DC. And I am hoping it is a moot point and that I will get the Op Center.

Monday, September 04, 2006

I Scuba'd

We went back to Taba, Egypt this past weekend for the long Labor Day weekend. In fact, we took Friday off and went with a friend from work for four days. It was fabulous!

The weekend was almost cancelled because of a rumor that the Israeli government had issued a warning for all Israelis to get out of the Sinai because of an impending terrorist attack. What we ultimately learned was that the Israeli government had said there was the possibility of suitcase bombers attacking VIPs in Sharm Al-Shaiq (which was not where we were headed) and of Israeli tourists being kidnapped at Red Sea resorts (we aren't Israelis, but note to self, don't speak Hebrew when on vacation at Red Sea resorts!). An Israeli NGO then reissued a warning from May for all Israelis to get out. So the warning was NOT a new warning from the government of Israel, but the rumor of the warning to get out of the Sinai spread like wildfire through the consulate. About half of the consulate was supposed to go down for the weekend, but almost all cancelled because of these rumors. We weighed the danger, took into consideration that the Embassy in Cairo did not think there was a new threat, and went anyway. And it was perfectly safe there (like I said before, they have a massive hill they have built around the hotel we stay in, so it would be hard to get to our hotel anyway), and fortunately for us but not for the resort, not crowded at all. And ironically, the only incident over the weekend happened when a gunman opened fire on some tourists in Amman, Jordan (nowhere near the Sinai or the Red Sea, and not aimed at Israelis). Like M says, living here is a crap shoot.

Anyway, on the way down to Taba, we stopped at the sign for "Lot's Wife," the 200 ft pillar at Mt. Sodom that is supposed to be the pillar of salt she turned into when she turned around an looked back at the destruction of Sodom an Gomorrah. Now if that is her, that was a BIG WOMAN!

At the resort, M and I snorkled some more, and this time we saw lion fish and an octopus! They are really cool creatures, and I watched for a while as a sea urchin battled the octopus for a crevice under a rock that both wanted. Ultimately they shared.

Yesterday I attempted unsuccessfully to kayak in a one-person sit-atop. Let's just say I don't have the center of gravity for it! Regular kayaks, yes. One-person sit-atops, apparently no. I did manage the two-person sit-atop with M. After a bit, I gave up and M and our friend took a paddle-boat out about half-way to Saudi Arabia while I went to do my discovery dive. Basically, a discovery dive is where you have a scuba instructor putting you into all the gear and taking you into relatively shallow water to see how you would like Scuba diving. It was amazing! The instructor said he "starves" for a student like me because I was comfortable, curious and unafraid. We even went deeper than we were supposed to (9m when we were supposed to only go to 6 or 7 meters) because I saw an eel I wanted to check out in a small crevice on the sea floor. Some friends were getting certified while I was down there, and one snapped a picture of me. I'll upload it as soon as she sends it to me. And I definitely plan to go back and get certified.

Me, M and Lot's wife at Mt. Sodom. Lot's wife is the narrowest pillar formation on top of the mountain, almost directly above my head.

Me on my discovery dive...really, it's me.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

By this time next year, I could be in...

So here are my top ten choices on my personal bid list as it stands at the moment:

1. DC - Operations Center
2. DC - INR Watch
3. LUXEMBOURG- Public Diplomacy (PD)
4. BERLIN - Political (POL)
6. KIEV - PD
8. GENEVA - Management Officer
9. MOSCOW - Staff Asst./POL
10. BERN - GSO

Rounding out the top twenty (we are required to submit 20 bids) are other positions in Bern, Berlin, Frankfurt, Munich, Vancouver, Ottawa, London and Dublin (that's for you, Cat). If any of these slots get knocked off, I have some back up bids in Australia and New Zealand, but they aren't top on my list because of the quarantines they have on pets.

Of course, my primary goal is to come back to DC, and the top two jobs are the only DC jobs I am allowed to bid on as an Entry Level Officer. But if I can't come back to DC, some nice comfy post in Europe or Canada would be nice. So we'll see what happens.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

A Bad Month for Pets

One of my co-workers went in today to get the mid-level bid list (which got posted yesterday after the end of our workday), and one of the guards told him to call me because "Mama Cat" was sick.

Jerusalem, like most places with large muslim populations, has tons of street cats. The Prophet Mohammed allowed cats to be around him even when he prayed, something considered quite an honor, because they were clean. That coupled with the belief that spaying and neutering is "unnatural" (I have argued with our staff that the street cat situation is unnatural because these are the descendants of pets and not wild animals), and you get a city that is overrun with street cats. They are in every dumpster, at every restaurant, in every alley.

We have a few street cats that hang out at the consulate because we put out food and water for them. Three of them are regulars who will let us pet them and have "names," or at least what we call them. "Mama Cat," by far the sweetest and most affectionate, is the mother of the other two, "Handsome" and "Little Girl." Mama Cat got sick a couple weeks ago, and I thought we would lose her. She disappeared for a couple weeks and when she returned, she was emaciated. She could barely walk. I put soft food and water by her head, and she would eat and drink, and slowly she improved. But since then, she has started looking pregnant, not an uncommon appearance for street cats, but Mama Cat was spayed.

So I suspect a serious problem. I went by today to check on her and she was under a truck breathing hard and crying occasionally. She looked awful. The vets are all closed today for Shabbatt, but if she is no better tomorrow, I will take her in. But honestly, I don't expect her to make it through the night.

Mama Cat in the Consulate garden

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Suicide bombers and traffic

Before the AC fiasco yesterday, I took M to work. We both thought it was a holiday of some sort because there was NO traffic. The trip that normally takes 20-30 minutes took more like 5.

I discovered last night that the reason was because the Israelis had intelligence that a suicide bomber was going to attempt to get into Jerusalem. So they shut down the whole West Bank. So nobody could get into Jerusalem, hence no suicide bomber, but also no commuters going to work.

I feel bad for our local staff, most of whom are Palestinian. Our senior FSN didn't get in until 10:30 because of the closures, and she is the one that usually intimidates the border police so much that they let her through! (She's not a big woman, and not much taller than me, but she has such a force of personality that they don't dare bother her. She is fearless, and when they yell, she yells right back! I just love her!)

Monday, August 21, 2006

Meanwhile back at the war

The ceasefire is still holding, despite an IDF raid on the Bekaa Valley town of Boudai on what it said was Iranian weapons being smuggled by Syrian guerrillas to Hezbollah. I don't know much about it, because, as I mentioned earlier, I was at the beach.

There is word today that Turkey denied access to its airspace to Iranian and Syrian airplanes flying to Lebanon. This is a good thing if it keeps weapons shipments out of Hezbollah hands. Even so, the IDF is predicting the fighting could flare back up in a few weeks. And still the Lebanese army is not at the border.

So who knows what will happen? I heard a helicopter this morning and looked up, expecting to see one of the ones that searches for suicide bombers and their accomplices when there has been an incident in town. But this looked like an IDF gunship of sorts. It is the first time I have seen one here.

hmm, I wonder if they have vacancies at Taba for this weekend. :)

My Dad Rocks!

I was actually able to get out of town this weekend. As I might have mentioned, the key to maintaining your sanity in Jerusalem is to get out early and often! And this weekend, we made it to Taba, just across the border in Egypt.

If the name Taba sounds familiar to you, it is because that is the resort terrorists blew up a couple years ago. We stayed at the Hilton Nelson Village, which is next to what was blown up but was not damaged in the attack. Security there is pretty tight now, and they have basically erected a small mountain around the back side of the resport and no cars are allowed near the front side. So we felt perfectly safe.

I have to say that crossing the border there is a bit different than our experience crossing into Jordan at the Allenby Crossing. While Jordan and Egypt both have peace treaties with Israel, Jordan does not officially recognize the crossing at the West Bank as a border with Israel. So you go through the Israeli side, which is very efficient and straight forward, then you drive through a long DMZ before hitting the Jordanian side. That side you could basically drive right past, but hey, since you decided to stop, let's have tea while we stamp your passport.

At Taba, the border gates are right next to each other. There is a space of about one car-length between the gates, basically so you can have your car checked by the side you are crossing into. The border guards chat with each other easily, and interestingly enough, in English as a common language, wandering back and forth across the line. And the Egyptian side is more organized than the Jordanian side at Taba, though as a diplomat you still get escorted through (often, but not always, guided to the head of any lines) and you have the feeling tea could be offered at any moment (have I mentioned how much I just love Arab hospitality? And I can't tell you how many times I heard "Diplomat from America? I LOVE America!" As "the consul" (vice consul actually) I got really good treatment because they know consuls give visas!).

Anyway, back to Nelson Village. The resort is right on the Gulf of Aqaba on the Red Sea. Now this is why I had to mention that my dad rocks. The water immediately in front of the resort is full of coral reefs. A while back, my dad got me a snorkle and mask because I had said it was something I was interested in doing. I had never had a chance to give it a test run until this weekend. It fit great and according to a friend who went with us (who snorkles a lot and is a certified scuba diver) it is a really good quality mask (Thanks Dad!!). It was awesome, and made snorkling an amazing experience! The fish we got to see were incredible. The colors were stunning! I can't wait to go back and do it again. I may even get an underwater digital camer to take some shots.

I did take some pictures of the hotel and of the fish coming right to the edge of the water.

A word to the wise though. Always use lose track of how long you have been in the water watching the fish and can get a really nasty sunburn that hurts like h*ll. Don't ask how I know that.

This is the view from our hotel room.

These are the fish that come right up to the edge.

Even the camel thought it was hot!

Friday, August 18, 2006

Life here... weird. My boss told me once that he liked 3-year tours because it gave you time to deal with culture shock. Those who have lived overseas know that Culture Shock is a very real thing. My boss said that with a three year tour, for the first year, you're stupid. The second year, they're stupid, and the third year, it all sort of sorts out.

I don't think it works that way here. I hit culture shock within two months after I got here. After my apartment was robbed, I hated them all. Since then, I have noticed a cyclical pattern of ups and downs regarding being here. One of our local guards asked me the other day, now that I have been here a year and a half, how do I like Israel? (we don't consider Jerusalem to be in Israel because that is a final status issue for negotiation between Palestinians and Israelis, and when you have lived here you can see why we have that policy. Parts of Jerusalem are definitely Israel, but parts are definitely not. And parts like the Old City, well, it depends on where you are in there and the direction of the wind. But I digress).

Anyway, the guard asked me that and I told her I was having a good Jerusalem week, so I was content to be here. And she said that even for people who are born here and live here their whole lives, they go through these cycles of thinking Jerusalem is incredible to Jerusalem is awful. So I guess my cycling is normal.

Just last night, I was content to be here. I pretty much have been for a couple of weeks, but last night, I was even content to be in my present job for the next 9 months (some visa days are worse than others). But today, I am feeling a bit homesick. I really miss the states. Living overseas teaches you how American you are, and how you probably like everything we do better than practically anything anyone else does. I really hope I get to come back to DC next tour. I miss my condo in Arlington and I miss the beaches in SC. So I am putting them both in this entry so I can look at them!

Folly Beach, SC in April

Arlington, VA in January


Yesterday as I was leaving the office, mouth full of falafel that one of the local staff had just handed me, I was thinking about how this place is not a good place for weight loss. Eating is a communal activity, and the FSNs (Foreign Service Nationals, our locally-hired staff) bring in some sort of food almost every day. Usually it consists of falafel, kike (a local bread), pita, hummus and labeneh (a yogurt dip or sorts). On Fridays, we have a full breakfast and stand around in the file room eating and laughing together.

Yesterday wasn't falafel from a full breakfast, but just one of the random servings of falafel that crops up around the office with an FSN standing nearby telling you to help yourself. Good thing these folks are our friends...they could poison us easily!

So I got in my car to head to Post 2 still eating my falafel, when I saw the people begging at the intersection. Palestinians are proud people, so you seldom see begging. And when you do, it is usually the random kids tap tap tapping on your car window trying to get a few shekels for "cleaning" your windshield or for selling you packs of tissues or other items you don't need. We are discouraged from giving money to these kids, because most of them are essentially being pimped out by an older boy or man who takes almost all of the money they get. So you shake your finger at them, a sign here that the discussion is over.

The beggars yesterday were different. The woman is an observant muslim woman in a black dress that covers everything from her wrists to her ankles and a white hijjab covering her hair. I imagine her husband is dead, in prison, or has abandoned her, because I can not fathom the pride of the husband of an observant woman letting her beg. She is carrying a child of maybe two. He was an infant when I got here. With her is her older son, a boy of maybe 6 or 7 with horrific scars on his face that look as though he has been badly burned. I have given to them in the past, but yesterday I didn't have any coins. Then I noticed as they walked away that the older boy is much thinner than he used to be. Painfully thin. They had walked to the next car by the time I noticed, or I would have given them something. Anything.

Suddenly my falafel didn't taste as good.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Canaan Dogs

I saw a Canaan Dog at Independence Park today while I was waiting for M to come out of Post 1.

Canaan dogs are indigenous to this area, and there is evidence of them from ancient times. I saw a special on tv a while back about a woman who is trying to increase the genetic diversity in the ones that are being bred by breeders by going to some of the Bedouin camps and borrowing the males they use to herd their sheep.

There are still wild packs of them around, but because they were domesticated once and have sort of remained near people, especially the Bedouin, they are only semi-feral. The pack in the picture below lives near my house. They bark when you come by, but they neither run at you nor away.

We Made it to Day 3

The cease fire is still holding after three days. The port of Haifa has finally resumed normal operations as a result. This may not seem like such a big thing to folks not here, but it is a very important thing for those at the consulate, especially all the new arrivals and those who will be arriving soon. All our HHE goes through that port.

For those not in the foreign service, HHE is acronym-speak for Household Effects, or, in English, all your "stuff." You get two deliveries of "stuff" when you come to post, your UAB (unaccompanied baggage) and your HHE. Your unaccompanied baggage is about 250 lbs of all the things you think you will need immediately minus the weight of the packing material. So maybe 225 lbs of "stuff." You are supposed to receive it within a couple weeks of arriving at post. Mine included lots of clothes that I discovered I would not use here, plus my tv and stereo, some dishes and pots (like I cook...I was here for over a month before I realized I didn't know how to turn on my stove!). Your HHE is the rest of your stuff, and usually there is a lot of it. There are usually two categories of things in there: the stuff you didn't realize you needed immediately until after your UAB arrived and the stuff you could throw away and never miss.

Getting your HHE can be like Christmas, especially if you packed out a long time before you get it. One of my friends here can attest to that, as it was 9 months between when she packed out at her last post, Djibouti (which she assures me that the fun of making your family say that name is not worth actually serving there) and when she got her HHE this week. M was in Baku a good 6 or 7 months before she got hers (she was there 4 months before she got her UAB, the stuff you need immediately!).

The stuff in your HHE is often sentimental and makes your apartment feel like your place (particularly since it goes with the government-issued furniture that looks exactly like what you had at your last post). Receiving it is lots of fun, plus you get a couple admin days to stay home and unpack it all. So imagine how distressing it is to think that all your stuff is either sitting on a ship that can't come into port (daily increasing the likelihood that the ship will either sink, throw your stuff overboard, or leave and deposit your stuff in a unknown and undocumented port, never to be located again) or worse, is actually IN the port waiting to be aired out by a qassam rocket.

So Haifa being back open in really good thing!

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Day 2 of the Cease Fire

I find it interesting that only minor news outlets are really talking about the Fox reporter and camerman who were kidnapped in Gaza.

Monday night, American reporter Steve Centanni, 60, and New Zealand cameraman Olaf Wiig, 36, were apparently seized by masked gunmen near the Palestinian security services headquarters. I saw the story about it on either or, I don't remember which, Monday evening, and shortly after that, they said something about it on Fox. But now it is not on Fox, not on any of the Israeli news sites. If you google it, you find minor news outlets reporting that the PA has condemned the kindnapping and are negotiating for the journalists' release. But nothing in the bigger news outlets. Interesting.

There continues to be fighting in Gaza and the West Bank. There was apparently four bombs thrown at IDF forces in Jenin last night, and a house in Gaza was destroyed, injuring some people inside. And the Israelis arrested 108 Palestinians yesterday for being in Israel without a work permit. Some of those were probably our visa applicants...they regularly pick folks out of our line to check their papers.

And Sharon is getting worse. I know it sounds awful, but I really hope for the sake of my weekend that he at least makes it until Monday. I really need to get out of town!

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

24 hours and counting

The cease fire has held for almost 25 hours now. The IDF is now withdrawing from Lebanon. There has been some gunfire between the IDF and Hezbollah fighters, but nothing serious.

It is not the same in Gaza, where some more qassams were fired and two journalists from Fox were kidnapped last night. The journalists should be okay though...usually the Palestinians serve their captives tea and then let them go!

And in even better news, I may actually be able to get out of town this weekend! Now THAT would be a miracle!

Monday, August 14, 2006

That was fast

A Hezbollah gunman attempted to open fire on the IDF, who returned fire and hit him. But the cease fire is still holding over the big guns.

From what I hear, some of the Lebanese who evacuated the south of their country are heading back. I hope for everyone's sake that they get to stay.

Cease Fire

The guns allegedly went silent 2 hours and 15 minutes ago. I was listening to the news this morning at 8 when it began, and even then, no one was all that optimistic. There was fighting right up to the moment of the cease fire, including Hezbollah sending a couple Iranian-made drones with explosives across the border. And even though the fighting has now stopped, both sides are still rattling their swords.

Haniyeh, the PA Prime Minister, is offering a truce with Israel as well. With all that has been going on in the north, the news has practically forgotten Gaza, even though the IDF has been stepping up their assault. But since Islamic Jihad hit Ashkelon this morning with one katyusha and one qassam rocket, there isn't a lot of optimism on that front either.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

My A-100 Class

I found a link this morning for a friend's old blog. He did a great job of chronicalling our experiences in the 118th A-100. Now I can feel less guilty about not going back and writing all about that (it was in my old journal, on the laptop that was stolen).

Saturday, August 12, 2006


Today we drove out of town a few miles to Castel on Mt. Moaz, the site of a major battle in the Israeli War of Independence in 1948. Basically, the Israelis took the hill without a struggle. Then the Arabs, realizing the strategic importance of a hill overlooking the main road from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, fought to take it back. Essentially the Arabs finally took the hill, after a siege and 27 Israeli soldiers were killed. But after they retook it, the Arabs returned to their homes and the Israelis went back and took it again without a struggle. Having Castel helped enable them to keep supplies going to Jerusalem.

For me, M and our friend Tiffany, it was a nice chance to get out of town. M hasn't had a weekend off in forever, so she really needed the break. Plus, it was a chance for her to play with her camera. I'll post some pics to snapfish in a bit.

The view from the top was stunning, and a nice breeze and warm sun made it a really pleasant outing.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Easing a Little

As people here sort of settle into the idea of the war, post is easing some of the restrictions they put in place just after all the violence kicked up. Most of it doesn't now and didn't then affect me. For example, they canceled all travel to the West Bank. Now we are back to being able to go there if it is neccessary for our work here. But I never need to go into the West Bank anyway unless we have really important company from DC, so that doesn't affect me!

There are still some tensions here. While we are allowed to go into the Old City again (they told us not to for most of last week), I am not sure it is a good idea. A tourist from Italy was stabbed to death there yesterday by a Palestinian kid. They say the motive was nationalism and the IDF has already made arrests. All the same, I don't go to the Old City all that often and I don't think I will start now.

Another change is the shabbat siren. They normally sound off this siren at sundown to let observant Jews know that shabbat has officially begun. But the siren sounds like the air raid sirens up north. But we have a lot of refugees from the north down here, and the siren scares them. So tonight, they played music instead.

Jerusalem Gay Pride

World Pride was scheduled to be here last August, but they postponed it a year because of the pullout from Gaza. It has been going on this week, though quietly. You occassionally see the stereotypical white lesbian couple with their African American children, but that is the only hint that pride is afoot.

There was supposed to be a march. The police nixed it because they said it was too much to handle security-wise with the war going on up north (and in Gaza, though people keep forgetting that). So the organizers asked to have a "protest watch." The police nixed that too, even though they allowed a protest last week because of the anniversary of Gaza disengagement and even though they agreed to allow a protest of the "protest watch" that they were not allowing to happen.

The protest happened anyway.

I had heard it was going to happen tonight at Liberty Bell Park, but I had no idea where that was (and we aren't allowed to go to such things anyway because crowds are targets). But as I was driving home, I happened to pass it (so THAT'S what that park is called!). According to, there were about 200 protestors and the police didn't break it up. It only got violent when some anarchists decided to join in (aren't they supposed to be in Seattle?). But in all, it was a successful protest, and the haredi (the ultra orthodox) didn't have a counter protest.

It was nice seeing the rainbows.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Super Deal

There is one grocery store on the west side that I like to shop in, Super Deal. It is about two blocks from my house, and it caters to Israelis from the West. I went last night to pick up some milk and salad.

One of the discomforting things about this place is the tendency of Palestinians to speak to those they perceive to be in positions of authority in Hebrew instead of Arabic. This is particularly true of Arab Israelis, who are legally full citizens of Israel but tend to be relegated to the jobs no one else wants. So much like in the states, where a bi-product of racism meant that you used to see only African Americans (and now Mexican Americans) doing jobs such as garbage collection or jobs in the service industry, here those types of jobs are held by Arab Israelis. Almost all of the road construction crews, fast food employees, etc., tend to be Arab Israeli. And they always address you first in Hebrew. (M went to Ofer Prison yesterday to watch their procedures, and Arab women wearing the hijjab were saying "shalom" to her. When she responded with the Arabic "marhaba (hello)," they beamed and responded "ahlain!" (welcome).)

It is no different at Super Deal. The cashiers and managers are Jewish Israel and the butchers and cleaners are Arab Israeli. For the longest time, they spoke to me in Hebrew. But I try to make a habit, when I know someone is Palestinian (contrary to what people here think, you can't "tell them apart" from Jewish Israelis) to speak to them in Arabic (or at least the five words I know in Arabic). So there is one butcher there, a young guy, that I always say hello to in Arabic and it makes him smile. But last night, the older butcher was there, and I wasn't sure if he was Palestinian or not. So I spoke to him first in Hebrew. And apparently I have shopped there long enough that they know I am not Israeli and will try to speak to him in Arabic. So when I pointed to the meat I wanted and said, "one please" in Hebrew, he said the word "one" in Arabic. Being tired and I bit slow on the uptake, I said yes in Hebrew. So he said to me "wahad is one." That is when I realized he was trying to teach me some more Arabic. You would never see him do that with the Israeli customers, many of whom are settlers (the one draw-back to Super Deal) and therefore pretty nationalistic.

Of course, I do know Arabic numbers (up to the number six anyway!), but I was pleased that he is comfortable enough with me to do that. And I thanked him in Arabic.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

I saw the Bird of Peace yesterday...

I saw a white dove yesterday trying to fly towards the Old City. But the wind kicked up and after trying unsuccessfully to fly against the wind, it gave up and flew away.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Possible Good News

As always, I am cautiously optimistic. But my boss today, the consular chief, told me that he was sending a cable via the CG (basically our Ambassador) to recommend me for the Op Center, the job I want in DC. This is really good news, and I think will really help my chances in terms of getting posted to DC. The DPO, second in charge here after the CG, said the CG is also on board with helping me get a desk position, maybe even the Israel-Palestine desk, back in DC if the Op Center doesn't work out.

So keep your fingers and toes crossed!

A Little Embarrassed

We had an award ceremony today, not one of the regular ones that happen twice a year, but a special one since we have had a lot going on.

I got two awards. One is an extra mile award for the work I did on the Secretary of State visit. That's pretty cool. But the second I am a little embarrassed to receive. It is a group Franklin Award for helping evacuate the American citizens from Gaza.

Basically, I did very little. I went and helped out on only one of three separate evacuations through the Erez Crossing. I did none of the background work. So it is sort of embarrassing to be on an award with folks like our ACS crew, who worked tirelessly (actually, they were extremely tired!) to do those three evacuations. Particularly, the special consular services folks in ACS were amazing. I only hope they get a bigger award at the regular ceremony, because they really deserve it.

Sunday, August 06, 2006


So according to my bidding rules, I can only apply for posts that don't require a full language course since I already got one (Hebrew). So places like Istanbul are off my list. I am going to argue that I should be allowed the top up in German, so I can still bid on Berlin, Luxembourg and Vienna, but they say you need a 1+/1+ and I scored a 0+/1. Maybe I'll retest. I am also going to argue that I am starting Russian in September and that I am a proven language learner (I got a 3/2+ in a hard language when they expected a 2/2).

Basically I really want DC, and I think I have a good shot at it. But I don't want to end up putting together a bid list of places like Lagos and having them send me there. Or rather, having them assign me there and me resigning.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Yay! Bid List!

First, a thousand thanks to my A-100 classmate, Jim Zix! Our bid list did indeed come out yesterday, and Jim was kind enough to mail a copy of it to me. Yay bid list! Yay Jim!

When I first looked at the list, I was a little dismayed. There are a TON of straight consular tours on that list. (To give you an idea, there were 26 pages of positions, a total of 435 jobs. When I removed all the consular tours, there were only NINE pages of positions!) And I am just not willing to do another straight consular tour. I will have done 27 months of consular work when I leave, most of it visa work. I want some other my cone (public diplomacy) or in political would be nice!

So I sorted out (removed) all of the straight consular positions, and then M and I removed the places we were unwilling to serve. That left me about six pages of places to consider. Then I sorted further to jobs that were in places I'd be interested in going or jobs I thought would be interesting. I think I counted 40 some. And I only have to bid on 25. So I think I am good. And of course, these jobs don't include the DC jobs like the Op Center, which I am allowed to bid on but is not on the list. So I think I am good to go and am pretty excited about the possibilities.

Top on my list: Berlin, Vienna, Luxembourg, Kiev, London, and The Hague. Geneva, Lisbon, Belgrade, and Istanbul are on my short list too. I think I can deal with that!

Bid List Blues

Our bid list is due out any day, practically any minute. I have heard from some sources it will come out today. Of course, it comes out on Washington time, so I checked one last time at 6 pm our time, but that is only 11 am in DC. Guess I will go in tomorrow to check and see if it did. I can't wait to see what the possibilities are...and I am also afraid to see what the possibilities are!

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Your tax dollars at work

This is something we have been aware of here at the consulate for a while. Basically, you don't have to pay taxes to get a refund, even if you have never lived in the U.S. If you live overseas, you can make up to $80,000 a year without paying U.S. taxes (except if you work for the government, in which case you pay taxes on every dime). The reason for this exemption is because the U.S. assumes you are paying taxes to the country you are living in, and in most cases, those taxes are substantially higher than those in the U.S. But the reality is that most use it as a means to pay no taxes at all.

So some enterprising attorney here ( has decided to make a living off of explaining to families here, especially the large religious families, how they can get the earned income tax credit for children without paying taxes. These are often duel Israeli-American nationals who were born here or moved here at a really young age. They in many cases never registered their children as American until they realized they could get the money. And once they realized it, they have been registering their children in droves.

It is not uncommon here, especially among the religious families, to have 12 or more children. The husbands get money here in the form of stipends to study at yeshiva and the wives often work. They get extra money from the government the more children they have. So now they are filing taxes in the U.S., claiming the overseas exemption, and getting a check from the U.S. for $1000 per child. And they have never paid taxes in the U.S., and often have never even lived there. They identify themselves as Israeli, and will tell you they just get American citizenship and a passport for their children so they can get the social security card (which they need for the refund).

Your tax dollars at work.

All Quiet Today

There were no more demonstrations at post today, though there was a massive one last night. That was the huge one staged by the folks protesting the withdrawal from Gaza a year ago, and because they marched from Independence Park to the Western Wall, most of the roads in town were closed off. I missed a dinner for a co-worker's 30th birthday because there was just no way to get into town.

There are supposed to be some more protests and demonstrations throughout the week as the Israelis commemorate the destruction of the 1st and 2nd temples, some of them by going up onto the Temple Mount, also known as the Al Aqsa Mosque. Some Palestinians, in turn, have threatened to protest their presence there. Remember that Ariel Sharon going onto Al Aqsa helped start the second Intifada (at least according to the press, never mind that Arafat's security chief gave him clearance and Arafat had been planning the intifada for months and was just waiting for the right moment to declare it...but anyway). And the Israeli protestors are saying that this is proof that they will not give up a millimeter of dirt of the Old City. Sigh.

So because of all of this, we have been warned to stay out of the Old City and away from Salah Eddin Street on the east side until after Saturday. I pointed out that Post 2 is right between the two...the Old City is one block one way and Salah Eddin is one block the other, but they didn't buy my argument that this meant we should get the rest of the week off. Can't blame me for trying!

Sometimes I think both sides would rather see Jerusalem destroyed than in the hands of the other. Where is King Solomon when you need him?

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

One of ours was hurt

Several people were injured during the clash between the protestors and police today. When the police brought out the ones they arrested from behind the wall, they took them to some police vans just out of sight from where I was standing. I remember a woman yelling, "They're beating him!" I don't know if it is true.

Apparently the percussion bombs injure people too. I found out tonight that one of our surveillance detail was wounded by one. The surveilance detail people are the nameless, faceless folks that watch to see who watches us, and we depend on them for our safety without ever knowing who they are. I am told he is in the hospital tonight.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

So that's how percussion bombs sound...

We had a demonstration in front of our building a few minutes ago. I estimated about 40 people were there, but the police say there were 56. The crowd was a mix of Americans, Israelis and Palestinians and it was a standard, American-style protest...lots of chanting and signs with slogans. I saw one that said, "I paid my taxes and all I got were dead children" (to which I cynically thought, "That's not true. You didn't pay your taxes"), and others that read "Smart Bombs, Idiot Leaders," "No to occupation," and "The US is a fascist state." The chants were a mix of English, Hebrew and Arabic, and I saw at least one sign in Arabic, but I couldn't read it.

The protestors were peaceful, and one even smiled and waved to me when I took some pictures from the balcony near my cubicle. But apparently they were protesting without a permit, so the Israeli Border Police decided to break them up (they have a station near us...we didn't call them). To break them up, the police ran through the middle of the crowd, forcibly dividing it in half. And when they ran through the crowd, tempers flared and I guess punches were thrown...they sort of pushed the crowd out of the way to behind a building, so I couldn't see what happened next. I hear yelling and could see some folks from the protest who had made it to point beyond the building where I could see them again, turn to look. Then suddenly there was some shooting and a bunch of percussion bombs were set off to disperse the crowd (they worked, the crowd scattered...and they succeeded in getting me away from the window as well, because they sound a helluva lot like regular bombs, or at least what I imagine regular bombs sound like!) I think all the shooting and bombs came from the border police, because I never saw any of the demonstrators with weapons.

When it was all over, the police had arrested four people. I saw that one of them was the guy who smiled and waved at me. What bothers me most is that they will blame the U.S., and all of us who were watching are serving partly because we believe so strongly in their right to protest.

Monday, July 31, 2006

A Little Tense

Things are getting a little tense here since the Qana bombings. Yesterday we went to Jafer's, a grocery store over in Beit Hanina, a neighborhood on the Palestinian side of town. I like the drive over there, because unlike Jerusalem, which has a sort of European feel to it, Beit Hanina feels more middle eastern. There is a bridge you cross under and suddenly you are in the Middle East. Plus, Jafer's is one just of my favorite places to shop because they carry a lot of western goods and are generally pretty nice. They seem to have a more western idea of customer service, meaning that they don't yell at you for shopping there. If you have shopped on the west side of town, you know how nice that is!

The place is normally packed, and most of the cars in front have diplomatic plates. But yesterday, the store was virtually empty, with lots of empty parking spaces in front. The owners of the store were friendly but seemed a little tense, and even I was a bit ill at ease. It is the first time I have ever been nervous there.

There are demonstrations scheduled for 7 pm in front of the main part of the consulate tonight, and we have all been advised not to have our cars there. The demonstrators are supposed to be left-wing activists, protesting the war I imagine. More demonstrations are on tap for tomorrow, this time from the settlers marking the one year anniversary of the pullout from Gaza, coupled with the Jewish holiday mourning the destruction of the first and second temples. In the meantime, I have noticed an increase in the police and IDF presence around town, something they always do when they are on high alert.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Forgotten Victims of War

Yesterday, a friend from work and I drove to Herziliya to look at dogs. He had been wanting a dog, and these puppies had been abandoned or surrendered by folks up north fleeing the fighting. The trip itself was an adventure...we kept getting lost and having to turn the heater on in his car to keep it from over-heating. But finally we managed to find the place, and he ended up taking two home with him, one a little chocolate ball that is about 5 weeks old and another blonde puppy about 3 or 4 months old.

Last night, while he was taking them outside, he apparently locked his keys and cell phone in his apartment. So he tells me he was outside in shorts and a t-shirt for FOUR HOURS waiting for mobile patrol to come by. Did I mention it is cold in the desert at night? He and the puppies huddled in a corner trying to stay warm. They probably wondered if this is what passes in America for a rescue! But he did finally get back in.

He rewarded their valor this morning by spending $300 at the pet shop on them. So now they love him. I am sure the pet shop owner does too!

The Crazy Guy Across the Street

I think I mentioned the guy who lives across the street from me, the one who thinks he is invisible if he has his prayer shawl on his head. He likes to walk around with his staff (looks like a curtain rod with a sharpened point on one end and an amulet of some sort on the other.

In a way, I feel for him. He is a retired music teacher and he lives in a run-down shack in a neighborhood that used to be filled with run-down shacks. But as Jerusalem has sprawled out into the areas that used to be just across the green line into the West Bank, expensive neighborhoods have cropped up around homes like his. And now he thinks we are all part of shin bet, here to spy on him. I'd feel for him more if he didn't follow me around pointing his staff at me.

He was out this morning, without his prayer shawl (which is how I was able to see him) but with his staff. I went into the little field that is between my building and his house (the Queen of England owns it...seriously) to let Noostie do her business. He came to the entrance and waved the staff at me, but I turned away and ignored him. So he walked across the street and started ranting at the Palestinian guys who do our building maintenance. He was yelling in Arabic (I had no idea he spoke Arabic)...I don't know much Arabic myself, but I do know "shu hatha" (what's this) and allah (God). He was waving the staff and asking if they knew what it was, and then telling them God spoke to him through it. Here's another word I know in Arabic: majznun. It means crazy.