Six Years

Reading through the archives of this blog, which I started in 2013 to document my life in Haifa, Israel, I am struck by the changing of life phases. My commitments were few when I arrived in Haifa fresh out of collegeno spouse, no career. The job I held there, a secretarial position that mostly entailed cataloguing things, left me creative energy to write and do the occasional art project.

Continue reading

The Immigrant Clinic

As evidenced by my prolonged absence, it has been a rough semester! I wrote 65 pages of final papers, and I just submitted my very last assignment–actually, not a paper, but a comic. I made this for a seminar on “graphic medicine,” a field that studies comics about health and medical experiences. Check out the Graphic Medicine website for more information. Hope you enjoy this creation! (You should be able to click on each image for a closer look.)

The Immigration Clinic - by Layli Miron_Page_1 The Immigration Clinic - by Layli Miron_Page_2 The Immigration Clinic - by Layli Miron_Page_3 The Immigration Clinic - by Layli Miron_Page_4

A bee on Christmas Eve

What better time to recount a pleasant vacation than when it is a fond memory of a month past–the balmy days of mid-December?

The Statue of Liberty with Ellis Island behind it, taken from a ferry.

The Statue of Liberty with Ellis Island in the middle-ground and the Manhattan skyline in the background.

As a belated celebration of our first wedding anniversary and Sergey’s thirtieth birthday, we went on a trip to Philadelphia and New York City, and afterward went to Wisconsin. Our itinerary was packed. In Philly, we visited Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell, the National Constitution Center, the Museum of Art, the Independence Seaport Museum (first time on a submarine), Eyes Gallery (where I found more Mexican ceramic birds to add to my collection), the Reading Terminal and Italian Markets (where we sampled cheesesteaks). And we attended the Nutcracker Ballet where we sampled sugarplums (figuratively).

William Tell stands atop the Philadelphia City Hall.

William Penn stands atop the Philadelphia City Hall.


Perhaps the most momentous occasion was our room service breakfast, Sergey’s first and my second, paid for by our neighbor’s dogs. We were surprised to hear yapping on the other side of our room’s wall when we arrived. I didn’t recall ever staying in a hotel that permitted canine residents, but apparently Philadelphia is also Philadogia. Optimistically, we figured that since the dogs had barked the whole afternoon and evening, they would exhaust themselves, fall asleep at night, and leave us to snooze in peace. We were incorrect, and the next day raised the issue with the front desk staff, who apologized—we were apparently not on a dog-friendly floor—and gave us credit for breakfast. And that is how yappy dogs financed the pastries and coffee delivered to our door.

Statue of Diana at the Philadelphia Museum of Art

Statue of Diana at the Philadelphia Museum of Art

In New York, we spent seven days in the thick of the madding holiday crowds. I had not expected so many tourists to be hardy enough to confront the city in the dead of winter, but sure enough—our first day there, the coldest of our visit, our ferry to the Statue of Libery was packed with fellow tourists despite our faces being whipped numb by the harbor’s icy winds. It was a reminder of the difficulty of the transatlantic voyage many European immigrants made, passing through Ellis Island, where we walked through the great hall where thousands of new arrivals had been processed. How different that scene was from Sergey’s arrival in an airport the previous month!

The processing hall at Ellis Island

The processing hall at Ellis Island

Over our remaining days, we visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the City Museum, the Museo del Barrio, the Intrepid Air and Space Museum (second time on a submarine), the Empire State Building observation deck, and Ulysses S. Grant’s tomb (we were actually looking for a coffee shop). And we went to a Broadway show, the Phantom of the Opera! We wandered the streets of areas like Little Italy, Chinatown, Morningside Heights, Greenwich Village, Soho, and Chelsea. We were also able to meet up with two of my friends from Mount Holyoke. One of them suggested we visit the highline, an old elevated train track recently renovated into a city park. That day, Christmas Eve, the temperature had reached an uncanny seventy degrees, and on the highline above Chelsea we found trees in bloom and bees pollinating them. It was strange, perhaps a glimpse into the northern state’s future as our climate changes.

Blossoms and a bee on Christmas Eve.

Blossoms and a bee on Christmas Eve.

Of course, some places still conform to December norms….

Sergey partakes in a Wisconsin hobby.

Sergey partakes in a traditional Wisconsin hobby.

Counting blessings


The other day, I was organizing the bedroom closet to make space for Sergey’s clothes. In the course of digging through the piles of clothes that have accumulated over the past few months, I rediscovered my flannel pajamas and my sweatpants. Needless to say, fashionista that I am, these are among my favorite clothes, and since it’s break, the next morning I donned my pajamas and donned my fuzzy pink fleece pullover on top, which makes me look like a cousin of Elmo or Grover. Later in the day, I decided to switch from pajama pants to sweatpants…you know, to feel more professional. It turned out to be a fortuitous decision, because I felt mildly less ridiculous when I had to answer the door. It was the mailman, a very friendly man, who had Sergey’s giant box of possessions sent from Israel. That box seems to weigh about sixty pounds. At first, I asked the mailman to set the box inside my door, but then discovered I couldn’t close the door, and with my scholarly (feeble) physique, there was no way I could get the box upstairs into my apartment by myself. So, I asked the mailman if he could please carry the box up, and he assented, remarking jovially, “Now I don’t have to go the gym tonight!”

I’m grateful to the friendly mailman who went beyond the call of duty to help out a frail Muppet. Living alone is hard for multiple reasons related to muscles—especially that one muscle, my heart. Like many Americans, I’ve been thinking about gratitude this Thanksgiving season—and also ingratitude. Feeling debased by the immigration process, I found myself turning bitter. For instance, I’ve been resenting every couple who crosses my path. I see happy couples and I think, “They don’t know how lucky they are to never think about words like ‘CR-1’ and ‘NVC.’” I see grumpy couples and I think, “Why should they have the right to live side by side when they don’t even appreciate it?”

There’s an aphorism that used to confuse me: count your blessings. It befuddled me because I conflated it with a similar aphorism: don’t count your chickens before they hatch. Don’t count your blessings before they hatch?

Well, there is something to be said for counting blessings, even those that are only semi-hatched, or even still devloping in the egg. I read an article called, “Choose to Be Grateful. It Will Make You Happier” by Arthur Brooks, which I would recommend. Brooks inspired me to do an exercise: counting my blessings. Let’s start with friendly mailmen, flannel pajamas, and sweatpants. And add…

  1. The fact that our separation has been so painful is due to my good fortune in finding a wonderful husband whom I want to spend all my time with.
  2. My family. Without my parents, I wouldn’t have even had a shot at getting Sergey a visa.
  3. All the people who invited me over for Thanksgiving. Thanks to them, I know I have a community here to support me. I chose to spend the day alone to prepare for Sergey’s expected arrival…tonight!
  4. Penn State. They pay me to…take classes? How is that even possible? This gives me a super flexible schedule, which I can take advantage of with Sergey to spend time with him, e.g., doing our driving lessons—and while my current school break has been admittedly miserable, winter break will give me time to take Sergey on a special vacation and to visit my family.
  5. Material comfort, American conveniences. After returning from Israel, I was amazed at timesaving technologies like dishwashers and laundry machines right in my apartment! Thanks to my experience needing to lug my laundry on a bus just to wash it, I fully appreciate the ease of simply walking ten feet from hamper to machine. And the luxury of not needing to spend hours doing the dishes after cooking a meal is also a godsend.

Soon, Sergey will be here. I am cooking Thanksgiving foods—the green bean casserole, stuffing (Mommy’s recipe, of course), and butternut squash soup. Soon I will be doing a joyful thanksgiving, counting the blessings right in front of me, so clear,

no more pixilation to disguise

every eyelash around his eyes

every line on his palms

every whisker on his chin.

On my husband’s thirtieth birthday

My favorite tricenarian

My favorite tricenarian

I haven’t been able to touch Sergey’s hands for four months. But I can picture them: strong, gentle, scarred. The thick scars run down the fingers of one hand, the result of a woodcutting accident at work when he was a teenager.

Sergey’s hands are gentle despite the wound. They delicately peel mangoes and pomelos for us to share. They write loving messages. They hold my hands, keeping them warm, keeping me steady.

Over the thirty years of his life, Sergey has sustained many wounds deeper than the cuts on his hand: the adversities that have beset him from infancy. I marvel at his strength, his early maturity. Photos of Sergey from his teenage years show a mature man with a set jaw and prominent cheekbones, as though in his desire to support his family, he skipped boyish adolescence to grow up faster.

When Sergey finished high school, he started working full-time and attending university, where he graduated at the top of his class. Besides working constantly, he also made time to serve his community. At age twenty-six, he was elected to the national administrative body of the Bahá’ís of Moldova—and later that year, he started his term of service at the Bahá’í World Centre, to which he has dedicated three years. (He also met and married me, but that’s another story.)

My Siryojka has transcended mere perseverance. He has taken his afflictions, and instead of letting them scar him with bitterness, he has transmuted them into compassion, kindness, and commitment. There is a line in the Bahá’í prayer for husbands that says, “make him one of Thy angels whose feet walk upon this earth even as their souls are soaring through the high heavens.” If you ask me, I think my earthbound angel’s soul is already soaring pretty high.

Today, Sergey is in the midst of his latest test, the immigration process, which relegates him to “alien spouse” status and has forced us to live thousands of miles apart. But, in his typically selfless manner, he takes on the role of the comforter, reassuring me in our daily calls that it is just a matter of time.

How I wish I could envelop my beloved husband in a warm hug today, when he enters a new decade of his life, a hug that would tell him how much I value him, how abysmally painful every day of separation has been. How I know we’ll be together in all the worlds of God, for all eternity, but how badly I want to be with him right now.

Since I cannot hug him, I offer this story, a small birthday gift to remind him of what he has accomplished, and who he has become: a gentle, loving man purified through adversity.

To my husband, my partner, my soulmate—happy birthday, and congratulations on all you have achieved in your first three decades! I look forward to seeing what we can do together in the years to come. But most of all, I (desperately) look forward to seeing you!

The whistlepig and the hermit

Ah, beautiful autumn palette!

Ah, beautiful autumn palette!

Every time I emerge from my hermitage, wan and disoriented from hours and days of reading and writing for my seminars, I find my neighborhood increasingly colorful. Fall in central Pennsylvania has turned the landscape into a moving painting in hues of red, yellow, orange, and brown–sometimes all those colors in a single leaf. Along with the leaves that come pinwheeling down, glinting like gold, seedpods and acorns plummet earthward. The squirrels grow increasingly squirrelly; whenever I cross paths with one, it glares at me accusatively, as if I had demanded it relinquish a precious acorn.

Even the groundhogs are active, their lumpen brown bodies reminding me of the hyraxes I saw in northern Israel. I spotted one foraging in the vacant field next to my apartment complex, visible as a bump in the grass in the above photo. While it didn’t seem to notice when I watched it trundling around, once I brought my camera, it proved to be shy and headed for cover. I looked up “groundhog” and found that besides the synonym woodchuck, they are also called whistlepigs, which is a pretty great name.

And he lollops off toward cover.

The camera-shy whistlepig lollops toward cover.

My classes have been intellectually stimulating, but in terms of emotional sustenance in these lonesome Sergeyless months, I have been blessed with several visitors. First, Deanna, my friend and former flatmate, and her sister, Debby, made the long road trip to State College. We explored the area together, from downtown and campus, to a lake-filled cave. On campus, we paid a visit to the Palmer Art Museum, which has a diverse collection of paintings and sculptures. I was especially tickled by an ancient Chinese camel statue that appears to have ferocious fangs–perhaps China was plagued by vampire camels in olden times? Outside of State College, we drove through the bucolic countryside to Penn’s Cave, where we took a boat tour of the cavern, replete with your usual cave décor–stalagmites, stalactites, flows, drippings, exhaust fumes, etc. Since I’m a poor swimmer, I was nervous about sitting trapped underground in a boat weighted down by a score of other people. The guide pointed out the lifesaver and assured us she had never needed to use it. Because of the dark, the water looked bottomless. I had a mini panic attack when I thought the guide said it was 30-60 feet deep–that’s a long way to sink!–but then realized she said inches. Ok, I could handle wading if we capsized.

Spelunking around.

Spelunking around.

About a month later, Jasmine came to visit, inspiring me to once again depart my desk and explore the area. Unfortunately, early October unleashed its worst possible weather upon her arrival, with the entire weekend dismally wet and cold. But we didn’t let that keep us confined–no, we decided to climb Mount Nittany in the drizzle. Mount Nittany seems to have a similar relationship with Penn State as Mount Holyoke does with Mount Holyoke College, although as far as I’m aware, there is no Mountain Day at Penn State when classes are cancelled and students climb the mountain to eat ice cream at the peak. Oh well, not all universities can sound like fairy tales! What I meant to be a brief hike turned into a several hour long sojourn on the mountain thanks to a wrong turn. On the descent, over rather slippery, sharp rocks, I finally did capsize, but righted myself with Jasmine’s assistance. We were filled with relief to return to the car.

One of our discoveries on Mount Nittany: a slug moth larva, resplendently leaf-like. Someday it will metamorphose into a rather boring moth. Photo credit: Jasmine

One of our discoveries on Mount Nittany: a slug moth larva, resplendently leaf-like. Someday it will metamorphose into a rather boring moth. Photo credit: Jasmine.

After a day of recovery, we went on a jaunt to historical Bellefonte, which boasts a variety of Victorian buildings, some dilapidated, looking ready to serve as haunted houses for Halloween, others sprightly and brightly painted. From the small downtown, we walked to the central park, which is charmingly duck-infested. Somewhere around there, a historical railroad operates a few times a year, providing a quaint ride through the colorful hills in fall–on my Centre County bucket list for sure. We continued our wandering, down streets lined with big Victorians and old trees, and then we went for a literal Sunday drive through the picturesque hills, near little towns with names like Snowshoe and Yarnell, and past lanes like Swamp Poodle Road. I kid you not! In some places, we drove above valleys where mist hung, a romantic Pennsylvanian panorama.

Well, it is time for me to hit the books again, or more precisely, to let the books hit me. Next time you hear from me, I’ll probably have grown a long beard and found a gnarled walking stick, real hermit style.

Back to school

I have now been in State College for a few weeks. The first week was a whirl of getting the apartment stocked and shopping for furniture. I also ventured onto campus for the first time; my previous tour had been a virtual one online while I was in Israel. Penn State’s campus forms a large rectangle; at its south end is the downtown. Campus has two major attractions: Old Main and the Nittany Lion Shrine. The Shrine is apparently the second most photographed place in Pennsylvania, after the Liberty Bell. I have yet to pay homage to the Nittany Lion, but I have nearly circumambulated Old Main, which is a handsome replica of the university’s first building. A lawn stretches from Old Main to downtown, and I found that a flock of ducks likes to dawdle on the very edge of campus, near people waiting at the bus stop. (One day I was sitting at the bus stop and a lame duck—yes, a literal lame duck, not a congressperson—was quacking behind me. I wish I had a crutch to give it, but I’m no doctor, just a quack.) I would add a third attraction, which is the popular Berkey Creamery, serving locally produced ice cream and dairy products.

Week two was orientation, which involved the fearful task of meeting new people and trying to make friends. I did try to push myself in that regard. I have attended a grand total of four grad events requiring mingling, at which I’ve been able to show off both my lack of mingling prowess and my teetotalism. The first event was bowling night. It had probably been over a decade since I last stepped foot in a bowling alley. While I remembered the important aspects of the game—pick up ball, release ball, knock down pins—putting it into practice proved difficult. I was invited to join a team (alas, unfortunate team to recruit me). On my first few turns I managed to knock down nothing besides my self-esteem, but eventually, by developing my own method of tossing the ball, I managed to knock down a decent number. I think I might have even gotten a spare! While initially, I was thinking that it was unfortunate for the older grad students’ first impression of me to be my terrible hand-eye coordination, I realized the next evening that bowling had given me the opportunity to engage in short conversations with fellow bowlers with the option of watching the action when we reached a lull.

At dinner the next evening, there were no distractions. People broke into groups, impenetrable to a shy person, so I found myself frequently pouring myself cups of Coke to look like I was occupied. And I missed out on an apparently popular conversation topic sparked by the presence of lots of bottles of wine and beer, namely, alcohol. One acquaintance asked me what drink I would recommend…well, soda, of course. I have made one friend in the program thus far, and afterward, she told me I look very elegant even when standing alone awkwardly. (She didn’t say “awkwardly,” but it’s the truth.)

As an act of divine mercy, I was struck with a cold that weekend, which excused me from yet another mingling event, a party involving pizza and…a keg. The invitation said to bring your own drink if you didn’t want beer, and so I had anxious visions of myself clinging to my water bottle and hiding in a corner, the only sober partygoer. Instead, I had a quiet evening alone with my box of tissues.

This weekend, I again confronted my distaste for alcohol-centered events. My friend invited me to join the cohort (the group of first-year English MA students, of which there are seventeen) at a bar—we could get soda. And soda we did get, ginger ale in fact, in a very noisy bar where I could only hear the person next to me speak. My friend, who is from Taiwan, asked why people in America enjoy going to bars. “You are asking the wrong person!” I replied.

Finally, I attended a gathering of English MA students. This involved a brief bout of horseshoe throwing (before I gave up) and several hours of attempted mingling. Also, I made the mistake of assuming dinner would be ready when I arrived and showing up hungry. It was ready about two hours later, so in the meantime, I dominated a bowl of kale chips that happened to be in front of me.

Besides stabs at socializing with grad students, I have actually started grad school! While Mount Holyoke prepared me well for the academics, I’m still getting used to having all my classes in the three-hour, once per week seminar format, and spacing out the heaps of reading properly. Plus trying to learn Russian on the side in preparation for Cold War 2 (jk, just trying to get in touch with my husband’s roots).

The following is somewhat representative of the transition to life as a commuter grad student. One of my classes runs from 6:30-9:30, so around 5:45, I went to wait for the bus. As I was heading out, I heard some thunder, so I grabbed my umbrella. Then I was waiting by the bus stop…and waiting…the air was growing thick and hazy with the expectation of rain. And then it started to sprinkle. And then the heavens emptied themselves! I ran under a tree with my umbrella, but my legs and feet were immediately soaked, as was my poor backpack. I thought I saw my bus in the distance, but then I looked back, and it was gone. At this point I figured it would be difficult to attend class in my drowned rat condition, so I ran back to my apartment, changed, zipped up my raincoat, ran to my car, tried to figure out the windshield wipers, which I have never used in this car, and then drove downtown through the deluge to a parking garage, from whence I walked to campus as fast as I could. Somehow I made it only about a minute late! I think I disappointed my professor by my timeliness, because I had emailed an apology for being late after my bus fiasco. He actually arrived a few minutes after I did, and when he saw me, he said, “You’re here! I saw your email and I thought ‘good, I won’t be the latest one to class because of the rain.’”

Next time, I shall stick to my word and be late!

Anniversary #1

Spot the bunny!

Spot the bunny!

Today marks one year since Sergey and I started our journey as a married couple together! We celebrated yesterday by taking a stroll around the House of Worship in Wilmette, Illinois, the location of our wedding, utilizing Janine’s iPhone so he could be there virtually. On the stroll, we saw a special one-eared baby bunny happily munching on blossoms in a flowerbed, which I’m sure is a good omen for our coming years of connubial life. My mom also found a special omen there: a quartz heart-shaped fragment embedded in a concrete panel in the new visitor’s center.

And now spot the quartz heart!

And now spot the quartz heart!

Speaking of the visitor’s center, it was my first visit to the House of Worship where we didn’t head downstairs beneath the main auditorium to go to the bookstore and visit the cornerstone placed by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá over a century ago. This time, from the parking lot, we entered the low, prairie-style building. Inside, the top floor affords a view of the majestic white dome of the Mother Temple of the West and opens onto a quiet courtyard. Browsing through the informational signs posted on the walls, I learned a few new things about the construction of the temple, which was a great decades-long undertaking by the young American Bahá’í community. For example, Louis Bourgeois, the architect, had for years dreamt of building a temple to the Truth—and then he became Bahá’í, enabling him to wed his personal ambition to the Bahá’í community’s goal of building a Mashriqu’l-Adhkár. When he designed the complex motifs that cover the temple, he laid out 70-foot long sheets of paper on his studio floor and drew them full size. Pretty impressive!

View of the visitor's center from the courtyard

View of the visitor’s center from the courtyard


Our second year of marriage now begins with setting up a household. Let me say, I have reviewed roughly several thousand comforter options, several hundred shower curtain and dinnerware possibilities, and dozens of towel and sheet color permutations. I even spent some time considering shower curtain hooks. (For the first months, there might only be two fully outfitted rooms in the apartment: the bathrooms. After all, the furniture in there is already installed.) Sergey has done his part helping me choose these goods and others, among them a coffeemaker, which provoked much soul-searching about what exactly we want from our coffee. All in all, I am hoping that our careful research will ensure our goods last for many years so we don’t have to go shopping again for a long time!

It is hard to believe a full year has gone by since the day we said our vows—but time flies by when you are having fun!

Fish love:

Fish love: “kissing” koi at the Anderson Japanese Garden in Rockford, Illinois

Looking back…and forward


Sculpey hearts I gave to World Centre friends upon my departure.

I gave these polymer clay hearts to friends upon my departure. (No, they are not edible!)

While I prepared for my departure from the BWC for months, it still felt strange to leave. I realized that up until now, graduations have marked the endings and beginnings in my work–saying farewell to fair Verona to go to Mount Holyoke, four years later leaving Mount Holyoke to fly to Israel. With those commencements, I shared the ritual of departure with hundreds of others. But of course, in real, non-academic life, there aren’t usually huge ceremonies to mark goodbyes. So leaving despite work bustling along as usual felt kind of like stepping out of a room thrumming with people–and then flying 6,000 miles away.

In those final two weeks, I was asked a few times about my experiences over the past two years. What had I learned? I found it hard to articulate, though marriage obviously topped the list. My relationship with Sergey defines my memories. Indeed, I re-read all my posts here, and stories of Sergey started to dominate in November 2013, a few months after we met.

Through experience in my office, I have also learned about–and hopefully improved–certain qualities. Humility and self-discipline proved indispensable in my daily work, and I found excellent exemplars of those qualities in my colleagues.

As I sought to connect my experience with my upcoming studies in rhetoric and composition, I realized that I actually was almost constantly writing in my office. Sure, I wasn’t composing beautiful works of prose analyzing Shakespeare or Dickinson–I was doing “transactional” composition, writing letters, emails, instructions, and memos to accomplish tasks. I suspect that my firsthand experience with business and technical writing will benefit me as I start teaching college composition (in a few weeks!). I’ll have a grasp of what awaits students destined for white collar careers. Further, I think I’ve learned to clarify and simplify my writing, knowing that many coworkers in our super-diverse organization were not native English speakers.

Speaking of which, one thing I failed to learn was a new language. I started with Farsi, which after a few months became an excuse for getting to know Sergey (we have now given my colleague’s Farsi class a reputation for matchmaking)…and our study habits deteriorated. Then together we thought, well, we couldn’t stick with Farsi, so let’s go for an even more complicated language–Arabic! I wish we could have stayed in the class, but I simply could not muster the energy for the required nightly studying. And what about Hebrew? The class started around the time of our wedding, so I was in no state to participate. Now I am trying to learn Russian, though given my track record…well, for this one I have a special motivation: to make Sergey smile with my clumsy attempts to sound out Russian words.

Needless to say, it is impossible to summarize these years of my life, but luckily, I don’t have to! This blog serves as a depository of my memories, a growing memoir; since memories will continue to be made in the new chapter of my life, I’ve decided to stick with writing it. So, I hope you will stick with reading!

Path at Bahjí

Like a cat in water

Admission: over the last month, I fell woefully behind in writing. There was so much to do before leaving the World Centre–boxes to pack, projects to complete, farewells to bid–that I simply could not make the few hours needed to complete this blog. So, these last entries are being written from within the purple walls of my home in Wisconsin, not from the Holy Land.


It might seem illogical for a couple with little interest in swimming to travel to a swimming hole, but once in a while, it comes time to explore something beyond the confines of our street. So, Sergey and I signed up for a trip to Gan HaShlosha National Park, more commonly known as Sakhne. People flock to HaShlosha from all over to shlosharound–I mean, slosh around–in the unusual turquoise waters of the pools, which are supposedly colored by natural minerals. So, after driving to the eastern edge of Israel, past vast sunflower fields bordered by low purple mountains, we found ourselves idling in a long line of cars, mostly filled with smoking Arab men ready to spend a smoky day with their grills, hookahs, and oh yeah, the crystalline waters.

After what felt like several hours of waiting, we finally made it to the parking lot. 9:00 AM on a Saturday and nearly no open spaces. Israelis take their weekends seriously, whether that means observing Shabbat or finding water to play in. We unfolded a towel and laid it on the dead grass on a hill beside the pool, from which point I surveyed the surroundings. Again, the main denizens of the water were Arab men, who had brought all manner of floating devices, including air mattresses. I had never realized that air mattresses could be seaworthy. The young men frolicked in the water, vying for spots atop the floaties, reminding me of walruses fighting for territory on an iceberg. Sergey remarked on the boyishness of their play–some of the men looking to be in their mid-twenties and above. Maybe the lack of women freed the men from putting on a display of savoir faire. Or maybe their playful jousting was actually for the benefit of the onlookers.

Hey look, an unmanned mattress waiting to be claimed!

Hey look, an unmanned mattress waiting to be colonized!

In almost all parts of the interconnecting pools, the water was over my head, and the shallows had other dangers (dead leaves, dirt, splashing kids). So, I spent most of my time perched midway down the steps into the water, letting my legs float like dead wood in the hopes of attracting the “piranhas,” as Sergey called them. These minnow-like fish enjoy snacking on dead skin, and they seem to get plenty of it from the hordes of swimmers, as it took a while for me to finally attract some. But once they came, they flocked. At the peak feeding time, I had at least fifteen fish giving me a pedicure. Their small beaky mouths tickled, but I stayed strong and still. (I can’t say the same for Sergey, who was reduced to giggling and squirming.) The fish were easily spooked. The slightest movement would scare them away, so keeping my legs immobilized became my mission. Of course, I couldn’t control the rambunctious people around me, who insisted on swimming, disturbing my piscine idyll. The fish seemed to sense even impending impacts–in the time between a boy’s leap and him hitting the water, they would race away from me.

Hungry fish

Just wearing my fashionable fish boot…

After I had my fill of the crowded park and the fish had full tummies, we headed home.

So, what do cats have to do with this story? Well, they also relate to our recreational activities.

When we moved into our apartment last summer, we became acquainted with several adolescent cat siblings, all with the same gray and white spots as their mama. Over the winter, they grew up, got hitched, and come springtime they were all pregnant. After they had their litters, we found a new hobby: kitten-watching. (Lest you scoff at our interest in strays, please remember that Haifa lacks cute rodents to observe–no rabbits, squirrels, or chipmunks…just rats, and once in a blue moon, a mongoose. Also, the feline families served pretty well as a compost solution for excess leftovers.)

One cat mama birthed a brood of three tabbies, and another had three distinct kittens: one completely black, one black and white, and one gray and white. If only she had an all white kitten, she would have covered the whole monochromatic spectrum!

Israeli wildlife

Israeli wildlife

I think the tiny black kitten was my favorite. It looks like a surprised bush baby, all shining eyes.

Feline bush baby

Feline bush baby