Mediterranean Sea

We drove down the hill to Tel Aviv-Yafo on Friday morning, leaving behind the dry heat of Jerusalem and our first week of teaching for a weekend of humidity along the coast.

South from Old Jaffa

Jaffa/Jappo/Yafo/Yaffa has been around since at least the time of the Ancient Greeks: it’s where Perseus rescued Andromeda from the jaws of a sea monster. Even the Egyptians had a gate on the hill dedicated to one of their pharaohs.

Ramses Gate

The Ottoman Empire built fortresses in the city overlooking the transparent ocean, as well as fountains for caravans with elaborate inscriptions in Arabic.

Watering hole

On a clear day you can see to the snow-capped mountains of the north and the Gaza Strip to the south; alas, Friday proved hazy.

Tel Aviv from Jaffa/Yafo

The most incredible part of the tour was a citrus tree suspended in air growing out of an egg. Seriously.

Floating tree

Citrus in egg

We found the flea market in Jaffa, next to which a pickup truck was overloaded with watermelon. At 1 NIS/kilo, these things are incredibly cheap and tasty.

Watermelon truck

We had a lovely tour through Old Jaffa with a hilarious tour guide recommended by the American Embassy, then headed to the beach in Tel Aviv. Warm, decadent water. Big waves. Lots of wind. Random catamarans and paddle boarders bobbed by as we played in the surf.

Catamaran navigating the waves

More photos here.

Saturday morning I rolled out of bed at the youth hostel and ate the breakfast provided by the hostel (yay, free food; boo, kosher dairy meals), then went back to our room to take a nap. I woke up to find out that several of the other instructors had gone out to get brunch at a place with gluten-free bread. And didn’t bring me any. Oh, the injustice of it all. Woe.

We drove over to a beach north of the power plant in Tel Aviv for the afternoon where I spent as much time as possible swimming in the incredibly clear water. Eric and Shin got stung by jellyfish, and I still have water in my ear four days later, but it was incredible to be somewhere with no deadlines, no computers, and just sunlight, sand, and water.

In other news, teaching is going pretty well: the year 2 students adore Domo-kun, and only 24 hours after being introduced to the idea of interfaces I was able to convince an anti-interface student that this concept is awesome. Labs are occasionally a bit chaotic (big balagan), but I think for the most part our students are getting the ideas we want to convey. Hopefully week two will prove to be even better.

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!