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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
We visited one home that had an early copy of the 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.
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.
The Basilica of the Annunciation had the architectural details down, but didn’t have the wonderful murals and mosaics of the original.
The Dome of the Rock was very impressive, and even had a small Mount of Olives behind it.
At the Western Wall (Kotel), you could leave notes and someone would transport them to the actual wall.
There was even a small version of the ruins at 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!