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

Dailyat al-Karmel

Druze five-color flag representing their five prophets.

Druze five-color flag representing their five prophets.

Frequently I hear reference to the “Druze village” on Mount Carmel, which summons a bunch of quaint huts in which the Druze peacefully paint pottery and bake their distinctive flatbread, which they serve topped with lebaneh (like sour cream cheese), tart zatar spice mix, olive oil, and fresh parsley. Driving through the sprawling “village” with its endless modern concrete apartments and houses, I realized my concept of a village didn’t quite match reality. We got off on the commercial strip, surrounded by souvenir shops and restaurants.

Dailyat al-Karmel is a town situated at the top of Mount Carmel, populated by Druze people. The Druze are a group that broke off from Islam over a thousand years ago to form their own syncretic religion. One of their tenets is obedience to and respect of the government wherever they reside, explaining why the Druze have fully participated in Israeli society, including serving in the military in the various wars. They are also known for their hospitality, which we experienced firsthand.

After walking up the commercial street, where you can find colorful textiles sold beside tacky statues (most notably a figurine of a seductively posed alien), we wandered onto a side street and found ourselves in front of a massive concrete domed structure. What was this place–a bomb shelter? A religious structure? No, it was a basketball court, as explained by the maintenance man who appeared to either guide us or shoo us off the property. Beside this odd dome were several tanks, apparently part of a war memorial. Sergey found this to be a romantic photo op.

Tanks near the giant dome

Tanks near the giant dome

Continuing our wanderings, I spotted a sign advertising Arabic coffee and we approached the building. To our surprise, rather than a café, we seemed to have stepped into someone’s living room. Sundry chairs stood around a large room, including stiff-backed chairs, armchairs, and couches. “Do you serve coffee?” we asked the man at the door, whose name was Zeedan. “Yes, yes,” he said, ushering us in. We sat down in some wicker armchairs and he poured us coffee in the usual miniature paper cups. Next came strawberries (in Israel, winter is strawberry season), and then baklava. Then he sat down beside us. This was unusual restaurant behavior, but he seemed to want to greet and talk to us. Unfortunately, the language barrier made conversation difficult beyond communicating where we were from, but at least we were able to write our names and notes in the gigantic guestbook he handed us, which had the notes of people from all over the world. It was strange to think that this sleepy town would be a crossroads for so many travelers, but nevertheless, the photographs cluttering the walls evidenced the acclaim of this town and this restaurant. One showed the president of Israel shaking Zeedan’s hand.

After some time chatting among ourselves, we decided to depart. When we asked for the bill, we were told it was all on the house. How very strange we felt not paying for our snack, and how charmed to be hosted so graciously, strangers as we were to Zeedan and his family! I guess that is wherein lies the secret to why this town can still be dubbed a “village”–despite the SUVs wending through its narrow lanes and the modernity all around, it retains a neighborly, hospitable culture.


Dearly beloved

I just had to share with you my latest and most hilarious bout of “lost in translation.”  I had told a friend about some flower shops in the commercial district, and he called me to ask about them.  Here is the conversation I thought we were having:

Sergey: Hello Layli, how are you doing?

Me: Good, good.  What’s up?

Sergey: [in his usual blithe tone] Well, I found out today that my uncle is dying, and I need to get some flowers–then maybe he will survive.

Me:  Oh!  I’m so sorry!

Him:  I remember you told me you knew some flower shops…

So I gave him directions in my most condoling manner.  Strange, I thought, that he hoped to remedy his uncle’s demise with flowers… Also, he sounded so nonchalant.  But cultural sensitivity is my aim, so I didn’t question this odd mourning/offering custom.

Later I realized that when I heard “uncle,” he was saying “anthurium.”  According to my investigations, that’s a flowering ornamental plant, not the brother of Sergey’s parent.  You know, sometimes context clues just don’t cut it.

The home of the spider

There is a flâneur inside all of us.  If I recall my art history classes well enough, once Paris was Haussmanized–many of the charming little streets were converted into wide, orderly boulevards–a new species of pedestrian emerged: the flâneur.  The flâneur was a window shopper, an idler, an urban vagrant who did not necessarily set out with a destination in mind; he walked around to see the city and maybe stop for a croissant every once in a while.

My flâneurism (which sounds like a dangerous combination of flan and aneurysm) manifested in some exploration of the Hadar, a commercial and residential district which, according to the map, my street borders.  I can’t tell you how much time I’ve spent examining maps of Haifa in a fairly futile attempt to commit the general layout of the city to memory.  There’s the tourist map I keep in my purse at all times, and the one on my bulletin board at home, and there’s even one up in the office.   So I had my route planned out, and I successfully found the main shopping street with its endless noisy clothing stores and the department store wherein I found this happy couple.  Please take a moment to note his rakishly angled spectacles and her receding hairline.  Aren’t they cozy.

They do say love is blind...

They do say love is blind…

And this–jeans as art, or maybe the dryer broke:

Artist's house

Artists’ house

Once I had procured some houseplants and a muffin tin, I decided to retrace my route.  If I could accomplish that, I figured that would mean I actually knew the Hadar.

I did not accomplish that.

I suppose I was distracted by the unusually cool weather, the streets damp with rain, or maybe it was the dead cat in the street.  Anyway, I forget to take a turn and found myself in an unfamiliar area.  Unwisely, I decided to keep walking.  I suppose I hoped my “intuition” would lead me aright and my apartment building would suddenly appear in front of me.  Eventually, I swallowed my pride and found the friendliest looking person around (not a particularly easy task–Haifans are not the smiliest bunch) and asked for help.

“English?” I asked.  Over the course of the morning, I had gotten accustomed to the answer to this question being a shake of the head.  But it turned out she spoke very good English.  After she explained where I needed to go, she pointed at my map and asked, “Does it help?”  Good question.  As soon as I pull it out, I mark myself as an outsider, a foreigner.  But when I try to navigate without it, I end up seeing more of Haifa than intended.  Perhaps trying to make me feel better about my orienteering failure, she said, “The streets in Haifa are like the home of a spider.”  A very messy spider, I might add, the kind who eschews neat webs in favor of tangled nests where he stores his victims, including young women carrying Tourist Board maps.


I was told that on Yom Kippur, the streets would be absolutely desolate.  The Day of Atonement is a very solemn Holy Day for Jews, who keep a 25 hour fast.  Yet, a few cars pass by.  Kids shriek as they play on their bikes and toy cars.  And there are a lot of firecrackers.  When I first arrived, I was unsure what to make of the sounds of explosions that punctuated the evening.  I mean, it didn’t exactly reassure me about the security situation here.  It turns out that the people here use a lot of fireworks to celebrate engagements, which, given how many fireworks get set off, means that there must be hordes of fiances filling this city.  But Yom Kippur and fireworks don’t go together so well.  Two theories were circulating about why the day was so noisy.  (1) The Arabs were trying to annoy the Jews or (2) the Jews were celebrating their atonement.  Somehow I find the latter a bit less likely…


Even though I spend most of my time under fluorescent lights in an air conditioned office, I can tell the air is changing.  I no longer fully thaw out on my walk home.  The highs are only in the low eighties.  Yesterday, some clouds hung over Mount Carmel, promising rain with their gray underbellies.  Nothing yet.  When I was walking across the Arc at sunset, I paused to take in the thunderheads poised above the bay, edged with pink.  I wasn’t the only one impressed; I passed two others who pulled out their camera phones to record the sky.  I gave up on using the camera in my phone as it blurs everything, so I try to capture the vista in my mind.

Yesterday I stood on grass for the first time in a while.  It was a small patch of lawn in front of an apartment building.  I rarely have the opportunity to leave the pavement or the gravel paths I take through the gardens to my office.  I need to find a quiet city park and just lie in the grass for a while like I sometimes do, close to the dirt and the bugs and the earth.  Humility, from humus, soil.  Getting close to the soil.  Walt Whitman knew the sanctity of those leaves underfoot:

A child said, What is the grass? fetching it to me with full hands;
How could I answer the child?. . . .I do not know what it is any more than he.
I guess it must be the flag of my disposition, out of hopeful green stuff woven.
Or I guess it is the handkerchief of the Lord,
A scented gift and remembrancer designedly dropped,
Bearing the owner’s name someway in the corners, that we may see and remark, and say Whose?
Or I guess the grass is itself a child. . . .the produced babe of the vegetation.
Or I guess it is a uniform hieroglyphic…
Read more!

Taking candy.

After lunch, I bump into two of my friends, Isabelle and Diana.  I love these eighteen-year-olds, who exude energy even when they’re clearly exhausted.  One of them, Isabelle, who is from Eastern Europe, offers me a hard candy.  I don’t really like hard candy–while my sweet tooth is tusk-sized, it prefers dark chocolate and homemade baked goods (preferably involving chocolate)–but I accept.  It’s a Mentos, one of those fruity flavors that tastes nothing like fruit.

Isabelle watches me chew on the candy.  “What do you think of the–” she pauses, contemplates, then mimes sucking on a candy by pushing her tongue into her cheek.

“Mm, it’s nice,” I say.

She doesn’t seem satisfied, and turns to my other friend.  “How do you say–” Then she points to her tooth.

Great.   I must have some embarrassingly giant herb wedged between my teeth.  I need to start carrying floss.

“Um, is there something in my teeth?”

“No no no!”  She says something to Diana, who is attempting to translate.

“An ulcer?” Diana offers.

No.  Please no.  I arrived in Israel with two open cold sores on my lips, which didn’t help with my natural self-consciousness.  I felt like I should have worn leper bells.  Had they recurred already?

“I have an ulcer on my face???” I ask.

“No no no!”  After another moment of consultation, she arrives at the word: flavor.

“Do you like the flavor?”  she asks.

“Mm, it’s nice,” I say.  Then I head out to check my teeth/cold sore situation.



A very friendly woman asked me to get lunch with her, and I’m hoping (still on the friend hunt) to make a good impression.  We set our trays down on a table and she notices there is no salt shaker.

“I’m going to get one from another table,” she says.

I smile, and somehow manage to come up with an impossible tongue twister in response.  What I wanted to say was, “There seems to be salt shaker shortage.”  What I actually say is more like, “There seems to be a shalt saker sortage–shalt shake–salt sake sort–”

She remains unruffled, smiling through my stumbling, and agrees that there was indeed a shortage.  Despite my tongue being in a hopeless twist of sibilance, our lunch goes well after that.


I’m in a study group that meets once a week to discuss the Kitáb-i-Iqán, the Book of Certitude, which is one of the most holy books for Bahá’ís.  For whatever reason, the majority of the group is IT guys.  It’s a funny group.  I have to confess that my stereotype of programmers involves social awkwardness and thick glasses.  While there are some thick glasses in our party (mine), these guys are surprisingly chatty and even constantly wisecracking.  Like, constantly.  And with computer science allusions galore.  The facilitator studied computer science so she picks up on their references.  Me, on the other hand–I know a few HTML <b>codes</b>, but when it comes to real programming, I haven’t got a clue.  I console myself by thinking that if these men were to find themselves seated in a college English seminar, they’d be as lost as I usually am with them.

This particular day, we’re discussing progressive revelation, which Bahá’u’lláh explains with an analogy involving the sun.  There’s the concept that all the Manifestations (Abraham, Jesus, Moses, Muhammad, Krishna, etc) are the same, yet distinct.  He explains that it’s like the sun–I could say that today’s sun is the same as yesterday’s, or I could say it’s different.  Either statement would be true.  The sun is fundamentally the same sun, but it’s undergone changes since yesterday, so it’s also new.

“It’s kind of like object oriented programming,” one of the guys says.  Everyone laughs and agrees–“That’s a great comparison!  Progressive revelation and object oriented programming!”–while I lean back in my chair.  Well that clarifies things, I think, letting my mind wander back towards the humanities.


He’s on a ladder in the women’s restroom, and I am peering up at him.  I’m the contact person for problems in the building, including this case of the restroom door shutting too loudly.  It really is quite thunderous, but that’s mostly due to the acoustics of marble floors and bare walls.

So this young repairman/engineer is here.  I let him in and explained the issue to him, and now he’s set up to work on the hinges.

“Is there anything else I can do for you?” I ask.

“I need you to get out,” he says flatly.

I stare for a moment, my friendly admin smile still on my face, wondering why my presence is so obnoxious to this friendly guy.  Then I realize: “I need you to get out” means “I need you to help me get out.”  My building has limited access and lots of locked doors.  I laughed, explained my interpretation, we laughed together, and then there was nothing left to do–I got out.


Warning: Not designed for twenty-somethings.

Warning: Not designed for twenty-somethings.

Once again, I have forgotten the cardinal rule of life without a car: gradual grocery shopping. I find myself expanded to twice my normal width, with my two reusable shopping bags (one of them features Big Bird’s grinning face) hanging off my shoulders, clutching a 32-pack of toilet paper.  I think it’s the toilet paper that convinces me I will never be a cool urbanite.  No one else on the bus which I’ve just waddled onto has so much toilet paper, or actually any at all.  Nor do the Israelis seem to bring a carryon bag stuffed with dirty laundry as I do every two weeks.

It is at times like this when I, the plodding commuter, feel like the most mundane creature in the world.

But then, as I shlep my laundry toward the machines, I look up and see the Seat of the Universal House of Justice, majestic white columns shooting upward, or I look ahead to see the dome of the Shrine, or I look across the bright blue bay toward Akko.  And it’s so dissonant: my mundane self, this holy place.

I think it’s time for some etymology.  You all know how I love my words.  Once an English major, always an English major.*

When it comes to describing the daily grind, mundane, pedestrian, and prosaic are close contenders.  “Mundane,” from the Latin mundus or world, in its astrological sense means of the earthly world rather than the heavenly one, more than applicable to my situation.  “Prosaic”–I usually dwell in a house of prose, infrequently one of poetry.  “Pedestrian” as an adjective evokes its noun counterpart, the unglamorous person in T-shirt, jeans, and sneakers waiting at the crosswalk.  And it’s fun to be a pedestrian pedestrian.  For the word-snobs among us, “quotidian” works as well, stemming from the same root as the Spanish cotidiana, meaning everyday.  Funny, all these terms are latinate.  A professor renowned as the strictest faculty member in the English Department taught me that English is a bifurcated language, pulling its vocabulary both from the sophisticated palate of Latin and from the earthy mouth of Germanic.   It would seem better to go Germanic to express the commonplace.

Even “commuter” finds its roots in Latin: com=together + mute=change.  Changing together.

Nice, isn’t it?  Six days a week, I change along with my fellow passengers.  Now that’s poetical.

*Thank your lucky stars that since graduating from Mount Holyoke I no longer have access to the Oxford English Dictionary online, or this post would be thrice as long.

Lost in translation

The world is governed by competing forces. There is the force of construction and there is the force of destruction. And then there is the force of confusion.

I. Constructive force

Annie is lying unconscious on the ground, and I’m supposed to revive her. First I call her name, then I squeeze her shoulders. No response. I unfasten her shirt and start chest compressions, counting to thirty. Then it is time for the breath. I pause from my frantic work to unwrap my mouth shield. Once secured over Annie’s inert features, I tilt her head back to extend her windpipe, hold her nostrils shut, and breathe. Nothing happens. Adjustments are made. I’m not squeezing the nose properly. I try again; still her lungs fail to fill with my air. I blow harder. Nope. I tilt her head back more, surprised at the flexibility of her vertebrae. Finally her chest rises, once, twice.

This is my first CPR training, and although both the dummies and the instructors are admirably patient with me, I can’t help but think that multiple redo’s would be less than desirable with a real victim. I picture myself pausing in the midst of a rescue to try to remember the mnemonic, DR CAB, or asking  Annie to just hang on, I’ll get the breaths right this time around.

Maybe someday I will be in a position to save someone’s life. I hope not.

2. Destructive force

Do you remember the gentle animal lover who has been making posts on this blog? She’s gone.

The transformation happened on the third day that, while standing shod in my flip-flops at the kitchen sink, I felt a tickle pass over my toe. Then another. Ants were once again exploring my feet, and they were also mapping the entire kitchen floor. Now, I have allowed all sorts of bugs to crawl on me. I remember one summer day, reclining on the swing in the backyard, I watched with fascination as a honeybee landed on my elevated foot and wove its body between my toes, perhaps assessing the crevices’ resemblance to a honeycomb. Then I went inside and wrote a poem about it. Spiders, roly-polys, gnats, ladybugs, lightning bugs, the rare butterfly–all have been my playmates. Darwin practiced entomology as a hobby, and I like to think that I do too.

Yet I find myself spraying some K1000 poison onto these ants, feeling little remorse. The ants are discomfited by the chemical shower, but generally scatter and survive. It’s the wrong kind of poison, of course, but the intention was there, and I will not be thwarted. I sweep, then I mop with a cleaning fluid that supposedly kills cockroaches. I am hoping it also works for ants.

That former animal lover is still here, don’t worry. I observe a pigeon outside the window and coo at it in the way Dianne showed me. It cocks its head. I coo again, then set some chunks of stale bread on the windowsill, an offering to the animal kingdom at large.

3. Confustive farce

Maybe I have that disorder Chuck Close has where he can’t recognize people’s faces. Except unlike him, I haven’t been making any brilliant art lately. I found out that I’ve been calling one coworker by the wrong name for a week now. I was calling him Jamal…perhaps he simply dismissed my mistake as a flattering nickname, as Jamal means beauty. In any case, he didn’t correct me. Yesterday I encountered an acquaintance on the staircase, smiled at him, and said, “Hey Jake.” Except it wasn’t Jake; it was a stranger who bemusedly smiled back. At least I’ve gotten assertive when it comes to my own name. No longer will I accept “Layla,” “Lali,” or other variations. My soft (mumbly) voice makes things difficult, though–upon first introduction, I become Haile or most recently Nelly, anglicized beyond repair.

Then, once introductions are past, there is the actual conversation. The wonderful diversity at the World Center means that English is spoken with every imaginable accent. In theory, I believe that responsibility for communication lies with both the (nonnative English) speaker and the (native English) listener. The latter needs to learn to recognize unfamiliar inflections and pronunciations and understand nonstandard constructions, just as the former learns the new language. In practice, I’m decent at understanding most accents, but add in a noisy background or multiple speakers, and I become an echo: What? Sorry, what? What?

It’s lunchtime, and this guy is telling me about some upcoming plans to go to the American consulate. I’m not entirely sure what happens at a consulate…maybe passports? Consuling? I ask him why he’s going, but don’t understand his answer. “So, where is the consulate?” “It’s in Tel Aviv,” he says. Eventually I discover that he’s going to “a metal concert,” where I’m sure he’ll get his passport issue worked out.

Even my friend the written word poses problems. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m surrounded by two alphabets I can’t read, Hebrew and Farsi. So I joined a Farsi class as a latecomer. I studied a few letters on my own beforehand. After the other students had settled in, I realized they spoke at least basic Farsi. It would seem the teacher took me as a charity case into a class intended to teach Farsi speakers how to write. As I struggled to sound out words, my head felt a little cold, like it wanted a dunce cap. I needed to remind myself that it had been many years since I had last learned a new alphabet (the English one), and that was back when my brain was young and agile. So please, if you say anything in Farsi, don’t be surprised when I respond invariably with “Esme man Layli ast” (My name is Layli).

Coming in for landing

The view from my room on the thirteenth floor. Good thing I don't have triskaidekaphobia.

The view from my room on the thirteenth floor. Good thing I don’t have triskaidekaphobia.

It’s been five days since my plane touched down in Israel and I arrived in the hilly peninsula that is Haifa. Since then, it’s been a flurry of visits to the shrines of Bahá’u’lláh and the Báb, special devotions and a Holy Day commemoration, and so many new names to learn. While I’m not immersed enough in Israeli culture to experience culture shock–indeed, the majority of people I’ve met are from North America–there are a few things that will take some getting used to.

1. The heat Haifa is sultry, and not in the attractive way. The highs don’t look terrible–mid-eighties so far–but combined with intense sun and humidity, the climate has me gulping water like a very sweaty fish. Thankfully there’s usually a breeze, and while my apartment doesn’t have central air, fans keep me less than feverish. Apparently August is worse. If I stop posting next month, you’ll know that I’ve found a nice corner with air conditioning where I’m estivating (summer hibernation!) until the city cools down. Lest I sound too whiny, I should say that the warmth stimulates vibrant flowers and fruit, like the oblong berry with milky, super sticky juice that an acquaintance picked off a bush and handed to me. “What is this?” I asked. “No idea,” she said, “but it tastes good.”

2. The language An English speaker can get by in Israel without learning Hebrew–street signs are translated, numbers are in Arabic numerals, and most people know some English. But when it comes to decoding a bread package, an advertisement, or a map that doesn’t cater to tourists, I’m confronted with an entirely unknown alphabet. I’m hoping to learn some conversational Hebrew beyond “Shalom” (hello) and “Toda rabah” (thank you).

3. So many Bahá’ís! They’re everywhere! Perhaps this should be obvious, but hey, I’m coming from a college community of five. (In reality, we comprise less than 0.003% of Haifa’s population.)

4. The wildlife Lizards and stray cats are the squirrels and chipmunks of Israel. I keep seeing lizards sunning themselves on the grounds of the Arc (the Bahá’í buildings on Mount Carmel) and at Bahji in Akka, and I’ve so far done a good job of restraining my instinct of giving chase to examine them, wannabe herpetologist that I am. We’ll see how long I can hold out before coming home with a new pet.

Affectionate guy

As for the cats, on my first day I went to the bus stop, where a cat with bright green eyes was waiting, I think for line 36. He was sitting on the bench and I joined him. He immediately avowed his affections for me by climbing into my lap. Envisioning tiny fleas hopping onto me, I stood up, and he jumped down only to wend between my ankles. But surely the most remarkable stray story thus far happened at Haifa Zoo. I was familiar with this zoo from a lecture by Israeli zoologist Avinoam Lourie, but while I knew the story of its fallow deer population, I did not know about its otter-kitten relations. Picture this: four sleek otters, chirping at the zookeeper as he dumps in their lunch of fish; two scrawny kittens in the exhibit, peeking out from behind some rocks. Tentatively, the kittens approached the fish. The otters and kittens seemed equally afraid of each other, and when the otters backed off a bit, the kittens began to snatch fish, scurry back to their hideout, then return for more. Who knows, maybe the otters will embrace the kittens as their own and become a feature on an “unlikely animal friends” documentary.


5. Late-onset adulthood For the first time, I have to think seriously about budgeting, and cook not just for fun but so that I can eat. Life in Haifa is pricey. For example, a falafel sandwich–the “cheap” food of choice–costs around US$10. As far as cooking goes, using a gas stove is proving tricky. Given my absent-mindedness, I have serious concerns about accidentally leaving the gas on and suffocating my flatmates. While the electric stoves I’m used to have clear numbers marking the heat of each burner, here there are only cryptic drop symbols. Before I try to bake anything, I’ll have to convert temperatures from fahrenheit to celsius to the numbers on the setting dial. Needless to say, it might be a while before I make an unscorched batch of cookies. At least I’m used to cleaning my own space…although my attempt to use the vacuum cleaner, a “Vampyr” model that lacks both fangs and decent suction, required a lengthy struggle just to find the power cord. (It retracts  into the body of the beast.)