Michelle will be over in the States this summer, so you'll see her around my blog then, too. For now, enjoy this post, check out the first if you missed it, visit her blog, and let me (and her) know if you have any questions. All the pictures in the post are ones Michelle has taken in Israel. It looks like a gorgeous country!
Where is Be'ersheva? What is the city like?
Beersheva is located in the south of Israel, quite close to the Palestinian border. This city is the biggest in the southern area, and it's mostly known for it's students and the Ben Gurion University. Climactically this place is a hot spot. Because Beersheva is located in the desert, the temperature varies a lot just between day and night. Winters here are cold, but it's a different cold than in Finland. The cold here is dry and it get's to your bones, and due to nonexisting heating in the houses, you can pick between freezing outside or freezing inside.
But summers here are completely the opposite. It's pretty much sizzling hot the entire summer and temperatures can rise up to 45C. I've also experienced a sand storm or two by now. During one of them I learned that one should never walk in a sand storm with an open mouth. Live and learn.
What kind of volunteer work are you doing?
I work in a hostel for autistic people, or "friends" as they are referred to here. In my hostel there are 9 friends, between the ages of 17 to 32. My job is to help around and make their dailylife as normal as possible. The friends need help in clothing themselves, eating, going for walks, doing sporting activities and art etc. Autistics need a lot of routine, so my days at work are somewhat the same every day, although they never are. If that makes any sense.
I work 5 days a week, and my working days can include a morning shift from 6:30-8 and an evening shift from 3:30-10. The friends go to school or a work shop for the day, so there are no in between shifts during the week days. Fridays and Saturdays are different because of Shabbat, when everything is closed and the friends stay at the hostel for the whole day. The week here in Israel starts on Sunday, so my perception of time has changed to Israeli time.
What is life like there? Daily routine? Living arrangements?
For now I live with two roommates in an apartment building quite close to the hostel. One of my roommates is from Germany and the other is from CA, USA. It's been a great time with these two women, and I've become very close with them both. We're supposed to get some more volunteers in a couple of weeks, and when our new accomodation facilities open there will be 14 volunteers in total staying and working with the friends.
(Since Michelle wrote this, two men from Korea have moved into the apartment, making it five people in two bedrooms. But that, maybe, is a whole post by itself.)
What's been the best part of the experience?
Learning new things about myself through autistic people. I know I'm here to give them a whole lot of things, but the work has given me back more than I imagined or expected it would. I'm so happy that I took this time out of my "normal life" to come here and experience something unique.
What's been the hardest thing so far?
The Israeli mentality is sometimes frustrating. They do things backwards around here. I was also warned before I came here that although Israelis are friendly people, it can be hard to become close to them and feel accepted as "one of the gang". It doesn't really help that volunteers don't speak Hebrew and some workers find communicating in English hard. Life as a volunteer here requires just A LOT of patience. And luckily one can always learn Hebrew!
Recently, you've had first had experience with being in a war zone (more or less--what exactly would you call it??). What is it like? How does it affect daily life?
The conflict between Israel and Gaza flames up once and a while, and the Israelis have to deal with aggressive consequences when it happens. Most of the cities in the south get rocket fire when Hamas (the terrorist organization operating from Gaza) and the IDF (the Israeli Defense Force) start another fight. I obviously put everything in very simple terms here, and the issue is way bigger and more complicated than I ever could describe it. But to everyone else it basically means that once in a while the air raid siren will go off and you'll have to find the closest shelter when that happens.
A few weekends ago we had more than a dozen times when the siren went off and missiles threatened the safety of the citizens of Beersheva. Over 100 missiles were fired at southern Israel from Gaza just last weekend. Schools were closed for two days because of the rocket fire (luckily because one missile hit a school here in Beersheva). In our apartment building we do not have a bomb shelter, so we have to go down to the stair well and stay there until the siren goes off and there are one or two blasts.
The Israelis have a very effective protection systmen called the Iron Dome. Basically it catches and destroys most missiles before they hit anything, but unfortunately it doesn't work with 100% accuracy. This experience has definitely been the scariest in my life so far, and it's humbling to think that this is the normal life of people in Israel.
Just as a conclusion I'd like to say that volunteering is one of the best ways to gain new experiences: to meet new people, to learn new skills and to see what life is like in another culture. You can also volunteer in your own community in one way or another if you're not up to traveling far, so I definitely recommend to everone to have a try at it!