Ok, it’s not exactly true that I waver daily between hating and loving cake; rather, it’s more like I spend a lot of time loving cake and a lot of time wishing I could get sick of it. There is ALWAYS cake here. It honestly comprises an enormous percentage of my diet. There are usually two different kinds of cake at breakfast. There’s free cake in the reception area of the inn 24/7. Coworkers celebrate the whole gamut of religious holidays and bring cakes to work. Um Rami, our chef/neighbor, bakes six types of cake for her daughter’s birthday and brings us all the leftovers. It NEVER stops. And, unfortunately for my health, I love it. Other volunteers have said they’re “all caked out”, and I continually try to trick my mind and taste buds into feeling the same…but to no avail.
This honestly applies to Arab hospitality in general. I rarely spend any money on food here because people are constantly feeding me. Even when I walk through the marketplace, a man recognizes me because I work with a friend of a friend of his sisters; so he naturally invites me to his knaffe stand and offers me a piece of the divine dessert and some Arabic coffee. I go to the fruit and vegetable stand down the road to get some produce for the Thanksgiving dinner we’re planning; over the course of the twenty minutes there, I’m fed dates and apples and a glass of fresh pomegranate juice and two cups of tea. And they send me home with a free pineapple and three free heads of lettuce. (I don’t really know why they chose to give me those particular items…) Despite all my best attempts, I can never convince myself to turn down free food; as a result, I kind of feel like I never stop eating.
There are worse things.
(p.s. Um Rami actually brought us a giant plateful of cake right as I finished writing this post)
2. Being Told that I’m Beautiful
I’m not just including this in order to casually repeat compliments I’ve received while pretending to be modest. I legitimately don’t think that they’re a reflection of my actual attractiveness, and it’s honestly really uncomfortable for me sometimes. Everywhere I go, people are either telling me I’m beautiful or talking among themselves about my appearance, not realizing I can understand them. The cooking and cleaning ladies. Customs officials. Kibbutz workers. Kids at the orphanage where I volunteer. Teachers at the orphanage. Random guys in the street. Checkpoint officers. On the one hand, yeah, it does make a girl feel good to be told she’s pretty. And some of the compliments are really sweet. On the other hand… a) it’s creepy when it’s random guys on the street. Obviously. And b) I strongly suspect that the fact that I’m blond and look different than most of the girls here plays a big part in people’s opinion that I’m “beautiful.” Which raises all kinds of uncomfortable worries about cultural ideals of beauty, the dominance of caucasian/Western standards, self-acceptance, etc.
3. The Whole “Working in Tourism” Thing
I feel incredibly lucky to be meeting people from practically every country in the world on a daily basis; the fact that I can converse with a South African pastor and an Australian soccer mom and a Chinese brother/sister combo and a Mexican college student and a German reporter in one evening is really, really something. Even after the first week of working here, I felt like I had an infinite trove of stories and interesting perspectives and ideas stored away in my memory from the people I’d met. However, it does at times get a little tiring to be constantly meeting people whom you know will just move on and return home to their real lives in a few days; and it reminds me that, for now, this is my real life and going home is not something that will be happening in the near future. Which, depending on my mood, can be either a pleasant realization of the stage of life I’m in or a depressing reminder of how far I am from those I love and the culture I know best.