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First and foremost, I simply must relate some of my Israeli bus system stories. It is important to note that I say Israeli bus system, because there is a separate Arabic bus system that I have not yet made use of (but I will, in order to get to places like Bethlehem). To be entirely honest, I have not yet figured out which story is true: I have heard both that the separate bus systems are partially enforced by some sort of law (which would make this de jure segregation, kind of like many places in the US prior to the Civil Rights movement), but I have also heard that after the Second Intifada (during which some buses were attacked), Israelis became extremely nervous about anyone of Arabic/Muslim appearance on the buses, and so a separate business arose due to the desire of Arabic people to avoid being so terribly uncomfortable/silently accused while on buses (making this situation de facto segregation, but still not alright with me).

Due to the fact that the buses seem to be manual transmissions (like they were in Zambia, actually), the drivers are able to REALLY control just how fast they go around corners, the narrow traffic circles, and throughout the several two-lane parts of the streets in Jerusalem where there is construction (while they could wait for a more appealing space to go through, they simply accelerate up to the speed they desire, and God help the cars coming the opposite way – it is ENTIRELY their responsibility to dodge the incoming bus. Even more odd, the buses that are double length, and have the flexible partition in the middle, are the ones that have seemed to be most intent on getting places on time, no matter the price. I suppose that based on the logic of “my bus will not be hurt by that incoming imported Peugeot,” they are technically correct, but still….

Therefore, I would have to report to you, my audience, that my RTD (Rides To Date) on the Israeli system have been fairly good, quick due to their driving habits, and also very, very different than any other bus I have ever been on. An Orthodox woman was getting on the bus with her young child in a stroller, and the stroller simply would not fit past the seats to let her roll past the bending partition in the middle of the bus. She proceeded to hand her child to the gentleman sitting next to me, with no words passed between them. He held the kid, who was amazingly quiet and comfortable with this, while the mother folder the stroller and got it to where she wanted to stand. She proceeded to take her child back, and went to her possessions. I have certainly never seen anything like that on other forms of public transportation anywhere – most parents are somewhat reticent about their children talking to strangers, much less handing them over for temporary holding purposes.

On to a different review, I share with you now the follow-up to my credit card woes due to the good old Bank Haapolim, over beyond the Student Village dorms. This is the same bank whose ATM ate my card after telling me in English that it would give me shekelim. This is the same bank that I went to a week later, waited in line for 3 different tellers, and was promptly told that I needed my passport and to go to the other, other, other, other teller upon my return. This is the bank which, when I went yesterday with my friend Scott claiming “oh, it will only be a few minutes because they explained to me how to properly take money out” actually ended up taking one hour and 19 minutes. I did actually manage to take shekelim out eventually, but after waiting for my number to be called, I was informed again that I actually had the wrong teller entirely. I went to the newly suggested teller, who explained that she spoke no English. Putting my Ulpan skills to the test, which are meager indeed, I managed to get out “ani rotze shekelim” [I want shekels] while pointing to my passport and credit card. She explained with pointing and more simple Hebrew that actually, the teller next to her was the real one, and she would be back “soon.”

At this point, let me just quickly mention: while I was in Zambia this past summer, the lines to each teller were clearly marked, and although the lines were long, the first and only teller you spoke with helped you with what you needed to get done. They also only made me sign a regular credit slip. The Bank Haapolim, however, made me sign something like 15 pieces of paper in order to really REALLY ensure that I wasn’t trying to cheat them.

This whole experience has started to make some sense to me, because of its close similarity to the manner in which mathematics are taught to younger children. Every level of math that you enroll in is billed as “The End-All Math, Which is Completely and Utterly True.” Then you enroll in 6th grade, and the teacher is like “SURPRISE – THERE ARE NEGATIVE NUMBERS HAHAHAHAHA!!!” The Israeli bank system seems to function like this. They claim that the teller they refer you to is the 100% honest-to-God real actual teller that will help me do what I need to get done. And then after waiting for a period of time, that next teller also pulls the carpet out from underneath you, leaving you cold, alone, helpless, and somewhat dead on the inside 😛

On a different note – while I was familiar with the fact that dried fruit existed before coming to Israel, I was not aware of how absolutely delicious it can taste when done right. I purchased a bunch of dried kiwis, bananas, papaya, and apricots, and all of them are simply great. Some of my best purchases thus far, no question there.

I am also happy to report that after 3 weeks of telephone calls to El Al, I was finally able to speak with one of their managers. To put this concisely and politely, I was “very firm, straightforward, and clear” about my intense dislike of their company, their practices, and their loss of my possessions. It only took me that conversation to be called directly by their Baggage Claims department the next morning, who explained to me every detail of what to send, and to where. I spent the time necessary, assembled and completed what ended up being 17 pages of paperwork (the El Al form, receipts for what they list, and the like), and emailed it to my dad. He faxed it to their New York office, and got a return email assuring him that they received everything. Regardless of how much time/difficulty it will take to get reimbursed for these losses, my dad was actually able to find another one of the same cameras and is preparing to ship it to me, which is quite awesome. Hopefully, this is a true indicator that I will be posting some great photographs to this blog within 2 weeks or less (I hope).

And, as a slight update to the gentleman next door who has the “slightly” annoying laugh that is likely to go off between 10:30am and 2:00am on any given day, here is a list of possible additional metaphors for what this experience is like. I might just record his laughter once my replacement camera comes from home, and post it here for everyone to enjoy 🙂

1) old style police siren only the high pitch
2) REALLY fast electric motor that whirs for a moment then burns out
3) kind of like the Howard Dean screech, but it is prolonged and pulses rather than a two-pitch noise
4) think a seal’s barking, except higher pitched, faster tempo, and it lives next door

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5 Comments

  1. I liked the mathematics education metaphor. lol. nicely done.

  2. actually it was a simile, yes? sorry about that. or maybe an analogy? I was never good at distinguishing those.

  3. Once again, brilliant post! I really enjoy reading these every couple of days and hearing about your experiences. Also nice use of de jure and de facto segregation, I doubt many people know what that means but lets hope they can figure it out and learn some new vocab. Also, damn Mrs. Razante (sp?) and her negative numbers!

  4. I just wanted to point out, that regardless of the bus system – the Israeli school system is segregated du jur. That’s right, separate school systems for secular and religious jews and a third for arabs.

  5. Also – great blogging Mike. Keep it up!


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