Food, fruit, and small things

The last few days of staying in the Hebrew University dorms mostly involved wandering around Jerusalem in search of last-minute souvenirs and procrastinating on packing up our apartments. Ben and Alex invited the students to join us for dinner one evening, so with six or so students in tow we headed off along Jaffa Street in search of a meal. We stumbled across a Chinese restaurant (the Mandarin) and proceeded to teach several of our students how to eat with chopsticks. The menu was in both Hebrew and English, with one very bad pun.

Mein Course

Eugene ordered entirely in Chinese, resulting in some dishes that I’d never seen before (chicken with candied pecans and vegetables in a flour shell?). After mandating that all of our students speak in English all summer, it was fascinating to watch our pupils’ expressions as someone carried on a conversation in a language they could not understand at all.

The final night in the dorms, Anna and I decided to create a feast of our remaining foods. We had both stoves in two apartments going, and wound up with Moroccan lentils, corn fritters, garlic Swiss chard, polenta, pasta sauce, pasta, sauteed onions, sauteed mushrooms, and fresh dates with quiona for desert. Yum!

MEET: The Last Supper

The next morning, I woke up early and made omelets for my fellow instructors who were also awake and packing. We managed to get everything out of the dorms on time, then we packed up the vans and dropped off at the MEET office armloads of linens and kitchen supplies. Thank you MEET for giving us things to sleep on and cook with (though not at the same time!).

I spent the next three days near Jerusalem visiting with the parents of a friend from MIT. First off, it’s incredible that you can pick up any one of seven cell phone carriers from three different territories/countries.

Which carrier would you like today?

Despite it being a very hot August, the grape arbors, and loquat, olive, and pomegranate trees were very verdant and some were burgeoning with fruit.

Verdant garden


Grape arbor

The chili peppers were also beginning to ripen.


The figs here are incredible. As soon as they begin to split their skin, you know they are ripe. Oh, to have a fig.

Fruits from the vine

We visited one home that had an early copy of the Communist Manifesto in Arabic.

Communist Manifesto in Arabic

I then went to Mishmar Ayalon to stay with my cousins on a moshav, a small agricultural community with a little less of a socialist streak than the kibbutzim: land is owned individually, and not everyone is involved with agriculture. They too had a fig tree which was readily climbable. Oh, glorious figs. (Their passion fruit tree was just starting to mature, resulting in slightly tart fruit.)

My cousin then took me to Mini Israel, which is like a model village but has miniature versions of major landmarks of the region. Some favorites included the Baha’i Gardens, complete with the staircases and red-roofed houses of the surrounding German Quarter of Haifa.

Mini Bahá'í Gardens

The gardener is a nephew of my cousin, and had studied in Holland how to grow bonsai trees. When the nephew tried to introduce the Dutch techniques to the Middle East, the trees wound up growing too big due to the abundance of sunlight! He was eventually successful in growing tiny plants at Mini Israel: a tiny pomegranate tree had perfectly small fruits and flowers.

Bonsai Pomegranate

The Basilica of the Annunciation had the architectural details down, but didn’t have the wonderful murals and mosaics of the original.

Mini Basilica of the Annunciation

The Dome of the Rock was very impressive, and even had a small Mount of Olives behind it.

Mini Dome of the Rock

At the Western Wall (Kotel), you could leave notes and someone would transport them to the actual wall.

Mini Western Wall

There was even a small version of the ruins at Caesarea.

Mini Caesarea

MEET did a great job of showing us the area from north to south in six weeks, and it was wonderful to see a concise summary of our travels in one place.

And so ends my updates about MEET. I loved exploring the Middle East both gastronomically and geographically, but I especially loved teaching the brilliant, creative, and very adult students that compose the program. Thank you to everyone who made this summer incredible!

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!