Jerusalem Journeys

This summer I’m teaching computer science to Palestinian and Israeli high school students in Jerusalem through an MIT-affiliated program called MEET, which stands for Middle Eastern Education through Technology. My computer science skills are rusty at best (though I do understand the larger concepts of abstraction, modularity, testing, and all that good stuff), so building a prototype of the application we want our students to build is going to be a bit of a stretch for me, but we’re not worrying about that right this minute!

We departed from Boston in the early evening on Monday, and Domo-kun came along for the ride.

All buckled in

Arriving in Philadelphia, we met up with a number of other instructors, grabbed food, and prepared for the 11-hour flight to Tel Aviv. Fortunately, US Airways shows you not only where you are, the locations of various seamounts and shipwrecks, but also how fast you’re going (Mach 0.824!). Good things to know during your flight across seven time zones.

Off into the wild blue yonder
Mach 0.824

Our flight path took us right along the terminator line, the boundary between day and night, so for most of the flight Kim and I admired the (almost) perpetual sunset of orange, green, and Prussian blue, and then the long dawn from the edge of the Arctic Circle.

We 15 or so instructors arrived in Tel Aviv on Tuesday afternoon to find it even more humid and hot than Boston. The road to Jerusalem was lined with olive and cypress trees, and the hills around Jerusalem are all made of a very distinctive white sandstone.  There’s even a city ordinance that all buildings must be made out of the local, cream-colored stone.

Mountains in Jerusalem

The van we’re renting for the summer doesn’t have functioning air conditioning (but it does have an RFID chip that automatically pays for petrol!), so we had a very windy ride up the hill to Jerusalem, which was fortuitously dry, warm (80 or 90˚F, rather than the 115˚F it’d been on Monday), and extremely breezy.

We’re staying in apartment complexes owned by Hebrew University, near Mount Scopus. There are five rooms to a suite, and we all share a kitchen and a bathroom and a half. There are about a dozen buildings in the complex, some with nine floors. Many people have Israeli flags hanging from their windows—would you expect to see anything like that at a university in the US?

Apartment view

The wind rattles the metal window frames in the apartment, making a sound not unlike Jack Wisdom’s writing on a chalkboard. Our rooms are utilitarian, but hey, there’s enough wind so that we don’t have to use the air conditioning, so what more do you need in life?


Clare has some great photographs of what was stocked in the refrigerators when we arrived, and there are some more images of the apartment over here.

We successfully navigated a grocery store last night and returned home with 10 kilos of watermelon (for less than a dollar a pound!), six mangos, and enough chicken and vegetables for a passable stir-fry. The ever wonderful Clare even brought us a cutting board, tupperware, and plastic wrap. Huzzah! Tomorrow might involve raiding the spice vendors’ stalls for something aside from salt to flavor future meals. MEET provides a lot of food for us, but a lot of it is in sandwich form, so I’m going to be doing a ton of cooking. Think I can get quinoa here?

The MEET office is right by the Damascus Gate leading into the Old City, which means cheap (6 NIS; ~3.7 NIS to 1 USD) falafel and all manner of clothes. When I was here in December with Taglit, we went through the more tourist-heavy areas of the Old City, so it’s amazing to see more spice vendors, delis, dress shops, and a larger Arab Muslim population than was near the Zion Gate. One vendor even had a gigantic collection of dried loofah squash! Which reminds me: mom, how is my loofah seedling doing at home?

On that note, here are three questions for you to answer, either via comments or email. Best answers might be featured in the next post!

  1. What’s the strangest/most exciting thing you’ve seen at the market recently?
  2. What’s the lowest price of gas in your neighborhood?
  3. What’s the fastest speed you’ve traveled in the last month?

See you all next time!