Your New Resident Director Hits the Ground Running!
I cannot describe my excitement when I found out this summer that I was to start my new position as the Resident Director of the CIEE Study Center in Haifa. When is my start date? "Immediately, you say?" But that was not really possible with a family reunion in Seattle underway for the next three weeks and quite a few house maintenance projects to be completed before my Seattle house can be back on the rental market. My scheduled departure to Haifa was already set for September 29 and the earliest I could start my new position was October 1st. The plane took off from Seattle at 7:15 p.m. with one stop scheduled in London and an arrival time in Tel Aviv of 11:45 p.m. on September 30. By the time I arrived at my home in Haifa and placed my head on the pillow it was 3:00 a.m. on October 1st. After six hours of deep and restful sleep I woke up at 9:00 a.m. ready to start my first day at work. With the University closed for the Sukkot holidays there was no way I could get the key to the CIEE office on campus and this was the perfect excuse to stay in my pajamas and get to work immediately.
Nothing more than a cup of coffee was needed to start reading the emails that had already piled up in my newly established CIEE email account. I had one week to plan a meaningful orientation for Fall incoming students and the next few days were a blurry flurry of phone calls and preparation activities.
Our three day orientation started with a pick up at the airport and it was lucky that all the students arrived within 45 minutes of each other; we were ready to start our orientation by 1:00 p.m. that same day. During the three days we explored four types of public transportation in Haifa: the Carmelit, the Metronit, Egged buses and Shirut (van service). We ate falafel sandwiches at the local favorite Falafel HaNasi’ in the Carmel Center and we ate hummus at the legendary Abu Maroun down town. We took a day trip to Rosh Hanikra – Ras al Nakoura to experience how close Lebanon was and we continued to the Sea of Galilee to visit Capernum and Tabgha and then to Akko for a shawermah lunch. The three days also included an afternoon at the beach with dinner at the famous Camel Café and a night time walking tour of downtown Haifa. Most importantly, the orientation involved a formal session to discuss culture, expectations, policies and safety and security.
On Sunday, after the University of Haifa International School’s (UHIS) campus tour we took a trip to the biggest and cheapest supermarket in the nearby Druze village of Issifya, a ten minute bus ride away where we stocked up on food and some necessary kitchen items. By Monday morning everyone was ready and eager to start the term and in the next sections I will share highlights from our CIEE activities during this semester. It was a pleasure to spend time with and to get to know our Fall 2015 CIEE cohort and I LOVE my new job!
Maha completed her Ph.D. at the University of Washington in the Interdisciplinary Near and Middle East program in 2008 and received a Post-Doctoral Fellowship at Hebrew University’s political science department in 2009/2010. She is an adjunct lecturer at Haifa University’s International School and a regular lecturer for the overseas programs at the Galilee Institute of International Management. She facilitated Compassionate Listening workshops for international students at the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies between 2004 and 2008 and continues to facilitate these workshops for various youth groups including the newly opened Eastern Mediterranean International School and the Creativity for Peace, Young Leaders program. She is a Program Leader with the Mastery Foundation where she facilitates leadership empowerment workshops for grassroots leaders from various non-profit organizations in Israel.
An Authentic Olive Harvest
October and November are the months for the olive harvest and it all depends on the when the rain comes. The harvest usually starts after the first heavy rain when the olives are washed and plump. Our students had the opportunity to participate in a genuine olive harvest with the Daghash family, originally from the village of Dir Hannah and owning olive groves between the village of Dir Hannah and the village of Eilaboun where they now live. The olive harvest for the Arab-Palestinian Israelis who own olive groves is truly a family affair. Cousins who live in Akko and grandchildren who live in Haifa come to help and some bring their foreign friends to share in this experience.
What is special about this experience is being out in nature in the beauty of the Galilean rolling hills and seeing miles of olive groves. There is something very satisfying and a sense of accomplishment as you tie closed one full burlap sack and then another. I particularly like harvesting by hand straight from the tree and although it is a very slow process it is rhythmic and calming. Harvesting is physically very demanding and the best part comes when it is time for the lunch break. A sheet or blanket is spread under one of the trees and old and young gather to eat the traditional mjaddara lunch with yogurt and salad. Mjaddara, made of lentils and coarse bulgar, is considered a laborer’s food because it fills you up and the protein gives you energy…..and back to work you go.
At the end of the day, usually not too late as days are short this time of year, the sacks are counted with pride and then taken to the local olive press to be turned into olive oil.
This excursion gave us the opportunity to get a broader and deeper experience of the Middle East. The difference in the culture, socio-economic conditions, geographic terrain and infrastructure are apparent as soon as you cross the Northern Sheikh Hussein Bridge. We were in amazingly good and experienced hands with our guide Abu Yazan who has been working with CIEE in Jordan for well over a decade.
Our first stop was at the Sharhabeel Bin Hassneh Eco Park, ten minutes away from the border crossing. We started with very informative talk about the benefits and challenges of creating and maintaining such a conservation area and then took a hike up through beautiful scenery to see the water reservoir.
We could see a Bedouin encampment in the distance and were told about the efforts to enroll the Bedouins into cooperating with the goals of the ecological park and the mutually beneficial agreements that ensure the respect of the park’s boundaries.
After the hike and a tour of the cabins where groups come to spend a night or more we were ready for a makloubeh lunch and a nap on the hour and a half trip into Amman.
That evening we had another gastronomical cultural experience at Beit Sitti in Jabal Al Weibdeh neighborhood of Amman.
We donned aprons and learned how to chop cucumber and garlic for the cucumber salad, how to cut the roasted eggplant into tiny pieces for the mutabbal (babaghanouj) and how to make and roll the dough for tiny pitas. We chopped lots of onions for the traditional musakhan (onions cooked in oil and sumac and spread over flat bread then topped with roasted chicken) and the trick we learned for chopping without tears did not work for all of us.
The end product was scrumptious including the white orange blossom "coffee" we were served after the meal.
The next morning we were off to meet 12 CIEE students from the Jordan program and to join them for a volunteer project at a Latin Patriarchate School in Amman. The school yard’s walls were in need of brightening up and with several buckets of paint and rollers, with long arms like I had never seen before, we went to work.
We were rewarded with a delicious mansaf!….a big mistake as all you want to do after eating mansaf is to take a nap. We really enjoyed talking to the Jordan CIEE students and learning about their experience there but we had to go and explore Amman with Abu Yazan, and so we did.
He took us on a tour of the Roman Citadel (Al Kal’ah), the Roman Theater (Al Mudarraj) and the souk by foot.
We made it to the Balad Theatre in time to attend a panel presentation (with earphones for simultaneous English translation) on the topic or the Syrian Refugees in Jordan. We listened to Daud Kuttab, Director of AmmanNet website and Al-Balad Radio and to Mr. Yusuf Mansur, Deputy Chief Commissioner of Aqaba Special Economic Zone Authority.
The panel was to discuss the newly published Alternative Voices on The Syrian Refugee Crisis in Jordan which challenged the mainstream thinking that the Syrian refugees were a burden on Jordan and contributed to a rising poverty, unemployment and traffic jams. The main thesis of the panel was that the Syrian refugees brought with them invaluable social and economic contributions as did their Iraqi predecessors.
After the panel we went to dinner the landmark Amman Jafra restaurant and then took a walk down Rainbow Street with its popular cafés and hangouts. We learned that watching soccer games in local cafés was a popular activity for men and women alike. That night Barcelona was playing Real Madrid and all the rainbow street cafes were filled with patrons.
The next morning we visited UNRWA’s Jordan Field Office in Bayadir Wadi al Seer. Maha al Rantisi, Chief of Field Relief and Social Services Program greeted us and gave us a presentation about the status of Palestinian Refugees in Jordan. Dr. Ishtawi Abu Zayed, the Chief of the Field Health Program followed with a thorough power point presentation about the services provided and the challenges and facing the organization and the refugees. This was followed by another presentation about the specific needs and challenges of UNRWA refugees coming from Syria.
From there we travelled to Jarash, the ancient Greco-Roman city, some 48 Kilometers north of Amman before heading back to the border crossing and to Haifa.
Our Overnight Trip to Nazareth just before Christmas
We stayed at the Fauzi Azar Inn, took a guided tour of the Old City, visited the Church of the Annunciation at night and had dinner at Tishreen Restaurant.
The next day we had a lecture by Dr. Mahmoud Yazbak, a resident of Nazareth and the Head of the Department of Middle Eastern History in the Faculty of Humanities at the University of Haifa. Professor Yazbak talked about the various historical narratives accompanying the creation of the state of Israel and addressed questions about why Nazareth survived as a big Arab city when many other Palestinian cities did not.
On this cold but beautiful sunny day we meandered through the Christmas market and enjoyed many artisan booths during the market’s last weekend. We visited the Greek Orthodox Church and returned to the Church of Annunciation to see it again during daylight.
Before returning to Haifa we took a short trip to Mount Precipice, the cliff where it is believed that an angry mob tried to throw Jesus off after his proclamation in a Nazareth Synagogue. What captures you is the 360 degree view of the area overlooking the Jezreel Valley and all the way to Mount Tabor in the distance.
We had an afternoon/evening trip to Tel Aviv where we received a very informative talk and discussion about Israel in the larger context of the Middle East and Global politics. The lecturer is my very favorite Professor Joel Migdal who is the Robert F. Philip Professor of International Studies in the University of Washington's Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies. He is the author of many books and an expert on State and Society relations and Comparative Politics. We were lucky to meet with him as he is here on sabbatical.
We visited the Halissa Community Center and Beit Magentsa Community Centers, both are branches of the Neve Yossef Community in Haifa. The Halissa Community Center serves the Arab population in Israel while Beit Magentsa services a majority of Russian and Ethiopian immigrants. Both serve a low socio economic population in Haifa and we learned about each center’s specific challenges. This trip helped us broaden our understanding of the mosaic that Israeli society is made of.