Thursday, June 3, 2010



My name is David.

And I'm addicted to books.

Anyone who helped me move into, or out of, my apartment this year and anyone who visited my apartment this year probably knows this.  I have a lot of books.  If books were words, I'd have an epic poem.  If books were letters, I'd have an ocean of alphabet soup.  I know I have a lot of books, but I never considered it an addiction.

One book is not that heavy, but when you gather 3 or 4, they get pretty hefty.  On my 10-week journey to another country my luggage is two backpacks, not rolling suitcases, backpacks that I had to carry.  In my two backpacks, I brought 17 books.  For those of you not from here, that's Hebrew for SEVENTEEN.  Even after lugging those books through a couple of airports, a bus, a train, and a taxi, I still never once thought to myself, "I'm addicted books."

This past week Be'er Sheva has been home to some sort of literacy campaign.  As part of this campaign, there were many books for sale and on sale. Many. Beautiful. Books. On sale.  Buying a book on sale does not make one an addict.  No, it wasn't the two books I bought in English that tipped me off to my addiction.  It really wasn't even the children's books in Hebrew that I bought.  After all, I'm trying to learn Hebrew right.

What really brought me face to face with my addiction was the pictures. I was taking pictures to share my purchases on this blog.  I thought I might even introduce Flat Stanley and wrap it all together with a literacy bow.

I was taking these pictures...
This is one small section of the glorious book sale that was filled with tables and tables of books.

I bought the book below because it's in English and it's by a famous Israeli author.  File under the excuse: It will help me get to know the culture.

This one is also in English and by an acclaimed Israeli author.  It was recommended to me by my colleague Amny. Also filed under the excuse: Getting to know the culture.

This is one of several children's books I purchased.  All filed under the excuse: It's a good strategy for learning the language. Really.

Notice anything wrong with this picture?  I didn't. 

Took me several minutes to realize that the book was UPSIDE DOWN!  I'm now purchasing books that not only can I not read, but I can't, without serious thought and effort, place right side up.  I can't avoid the truth any longer.


My name is David.

And I'm addicted to books.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Art Appreciation

On a whim I stopped by the local theatre box office on my way to get groceries around noon today.  Honestly, I'm not much of live theatre person.  Plays rarely keep my interest for long, but I figured with the venue so close to my house I should try it out.  "Do you ever sell discounted tickets for shows just before the show starts," I asked, hoping to find a good deal on seats that would otherwise stay empty.  "No," the ticket seller replied, "but I'll give you my discount for tonight's show". Her discount was less than a third of the original price, so I decided to keep following this whim and asked about the performance.  I almost laughed out loud when she told me the play being performed, but I thought it might come across as rude and it would have been difficult explaining myself.

Surprisingly, they were performing a play based on book I've read and liked.  The book was also made into a very good movie.  Since I was familiar with the plot and she was giving me a really, really good price on the ticket, I bought a seat for the show.
This is my ticket stub for the play "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest".  For many reasons, I thought it would be hilarious to watch this play in a language I don't speak in part of the world that seems to be locked in an incomprehensible struggle.

What I didn't realize is how additionally funny it would be to watch it at the 5 p.m. showing. Here's a hint for those of you under 70 who might be visiting the Be'er Sheva playhouse in the future: If they give you the option of the 5 p.m. show or the 8:30 show, choose the later one.

Here is a shot of the stage just a few minutes before a couple hundred of Be'er Sheva's older set and I settled in to watch the play.

At the beginning of the play I expected to come home and write some pithy blog about dealing with the madness in this and other parts of the world.  Too obvious.  Thankfully, that wasn't what struck me about the experience.  To my surprise, I really, really enjoyed the play.  In some ways I enjoyed it more by not knowing the language.  Since I was familiar with the story line, but unable to follow the dialog, I studied the performances of the individual characters and pondered the symbolic elements of both the story and the play.  Someday I'd like to be like Ken Kesey and write something that's meaningful to people regardless of the language they speak.  This experience helps me appreciate the work being done by my friends Becca, Judy, and Sarah on their art-based IPSPs.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The Wheels on the bus...

Several of my classmates have posted about experiences on buses in their respective countries.  I had my own bus experience today that I'll add to the chorus.
I woke up this morning to an email which led me to getting directions to go south into the desert, and gave me the name of a bus stop (not a city). I didn't have time to check a map if I was going to make the first bus, so I raced out the door.
I'll skip the now familiar details related to my lack of understanding of the written and spoken language and say that I missed the first bus. :-)
The second bus came by in less than hour.  Many young soldiers (there is mandatory military service for Israeli Jewish men and women 18-21 yrs old), myself, and several other random folks piled into a fairly nice bus.  It was pretty much a tour bus with comfy seats, air conditioning, and a radio doing its part to contribute to my immersion language strategy.
Some of the soldiers were armed with rifles, which is pretty normal around these parts, but I'm still not used to seeing it.  As many of you have heard and seen, there was an incidence of violence between the Israeli military and a boat bound for Gaza.  The Israeli military killed several people on the boat and the international community, including the surrounding Arab countries, have been very critical of Israel's actions. One result was a general strike by all of the Israeli Arabs in the country.  I thought that meant all Israeli Arabs would be staying home today, but at the second bus stop that theory was proven wrong.
Nearly a dozen Arab men, women, and children boarded the already full bus and had to stand in the aisles while we journeyed on.
As soon as they boarded I felt the tension rise.  And as soon as I bothered to look around at the other passengers I realized it was only my tension level that rose.  The Arabs had clearly just returned from a grocery shopping trip and were laughing and chatting.  The soldiers were listening to their ipods or sleeping.  And everyone else was just minding their own business or chatting.
The ride was entirely uneventful.  I got to look at some desert scenery and tap several neighbors on the shoulder until I found one who helped me recognize my stop.
I shared my surprise and concerns and realizations with my client once I arrived.  She laughed the kind of laugh that let me know I'd never quite understand unless I lived here.  "The tension is always here," she said and explained that it both was and wasn't a really big deal. People couldn't let it stop them from going on with their lives, buying their groceries, completing their tour of duty, and getting up and going to work.  Increased tension and violence in one part of the country impacts everyone to some degree, but thankfully it hasn't escalated to the point that there is violence everywhere.  And generally things are less tense in southern Israel where I am.  There is still some hope that daily life will return to a more normal level of tension relative to this part of the world for all parts of the country soon.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Existential Crisis

In theory, I'll be working with 8, maybe 9, Bedouin women's groups.  At this point, I've met with 5 of the organizations.  Each meeting goes something like this...

Amny, my colleague from Shatil, and I arrive at a meeting with a representative of the organization.
The representative sees Amny and her eyes light up with recognition.
Then the representative sees me and her eyes say, "What's he doing here?" They wouldn't actually express that out loud, so I could be projecting because...
Once I see the look in their eyes, I briefly panic and think to myself "What am I doing here?"

Turns out there aren't a lot of American men hanging out in the Bedouin women's groups in the Negev. 

My lack of fluency in the language, culture, and politics of the region has definitely created bouts of insecurity and some degree of an existential crisis in the early stages of this project.

Turns out I'm not the only one wrestling with those issues.

"What exactly is a Bedouin?" is a question I've asked several folks.  I did a bit of reading about the Bedouin before arriving, but I still couldn't easily define them. 
The first couple of folks I asked were non-Bedouin and they had a difficult time answering it. 
They could tell what they're not:  Bedouins have "old" customs and traditions, but they are not defined by adherence to a single set of traditional religious principles, like the Quakers.
They could tell me what they used to be:  Nomads.  Herders who wandered the desert.
They invoked the concept "culture".  Bedouins share a common culture, but they couldn't really describe the culture, so it wasn't of much help.

Today I attended a workshop led by The Right Question Project for some of the representatives of the women's groups.  During one of the breaks I posed my question to one of the Bedouin women.  Surprisingly, her responses were similar to the others I'd gotten.
Bedouins were nomadic herders that have become sedentary for a variety of reasons.
Bedouins don't share a common religion.
Bedouins do share common traditions: some healthy, like being extraordinarily hospitable; some unhealthy, which I'll categorize in general terms as denying women some of their basic human rights.

What I gathered from our brief conversation is that the Bedouin have not been able to clearly define themselves as a group since losing their ability to be nomadic herders of the desert.

Our independent existential crises give me some solace.  They allow me to reframe my initial separate questions from "What is he doing here?" and "What am I doing here?" into one shared question: "What are we doing here?"  That's a question that implies unity and co-creation.  And it's one I look forward to answering together for the next 9 weeks.

Here is a picture taken at today's training of some of the women I'll be answering it with.