1. The Smell
Ok, I’m putting aside here the fact that the sewage system in the alleyway in front of our house frequently acts up and emits unbelievably terrible odors. If you ignore this fact, walking around in Nazareth is basically like sitting down to a giant feast. The city has come to be known to many as the culinary capital of Israel, and with good reason. Everywhere you walk, you’re invariably passing by some incredible bakery or five-star restaurant or corner shawarma or falafel stand; and the mingling aromas that fill the streets are possibly more enjoyable than the actual process of eating food. In addition: most of the small shops here sell a huge variety of freshly ground spices; as a result, anything you buy that isn’t pre-packaged will have the faint scent and flavor of a Middle Eastern spice shop. It might sound weird, but I kind of love it.
2. The People I Work With
Yes, I work with Muslims and Jews and Christians at the same time. Hooray, workplace diversity. Aside from that, though, I just really enjoy the company of each of the staff members here. I like coming to work after church on a Sunday morning and being greeted by Marwa, demanding to know if I had prayed that her unborn baby will be a daughter. I like laughing with the rest of the staff as Suraida, the manager, shouts into her walkie talkie, warning Vladi, the 50 year old Russian maintenance man, to leave the attractive female guests alone. I like sitting at breakfast with the cooking and cleaning ladies, listening to them gossip and laughingly fending off their attempts to find me a husband. I like exchanging bewildered/amused looks with Yafit when some crazy tourist asks us a million seemingly irrelevant questions we could never possibly hope to answer. In many ways, I do feel like I’ve fallen into a sort of bizarre, makeshift little family here.
3. The Muezzin’s Call
I remember sitting in Professor Armanios’s Middle Eastern history class my sophomore year when she asked how many of the students had ever lived in a city where they could regularly hear the Muslim call to prayer. At that point, one semester before I would study abroad, I was unbelievably eager to travel and experience and adventure through the Middle East; I was jealous of those who could raise their hands. Everyone told me that the novelty of hearing the muezzin five times a day would quickly wear off and that, after a short time, I wouldn’t even notice it. Three months into my time here – I still really love it. There’s something so peaceful about sitting outside on a still evening, watching the sunset turn the sky pink and the old city of Nazareth golden, when suddenly one voice after another drifts down from the mosques scattered around the city, reminding listeners to pray.