It didn't really sink in until the evening of July 11 when the flight attendant switched from English into Hebrew for the perfunctory announcements before take off. This was really happening. My family and I were on our way to Israel! My sons instantly beamed when they heard Hebrew over the cabin intercom like it was some kind of inside joke. For the past year, Hebrew was an abstraction for them in which funny sounding words occasionally made their way into dinnertime conversation. Now this language, and whole new life for that matter, suddenly became very real. I hope this "ah-ha" moment remains fondly etched in our memories.
Just with hearing Hebrew on the plane for the first time, I think it has taken a few days for the whole family (myself included) to process our new surroundings. After arriving to a spacious three-bedroom townhouse and a fridge stocked with plenty of comfort food (thanks to our awesome community sponsor), we are slowly adjusting to life on our own. So far, we've managed to take care of a few necessities like grocery shopping, service requests and administrative check in. There is still much to learn though.
Since J will begin work at the embassy at the end of August, one of our top priorities is to find a nanny to watch our kids after school. Our search so far has offered an interesting glimpse into the informal, and oftentimes underground, work sector in Israel. Most available nannies are from the Phillipines or South Asia and are looking for employers to sponsor them so they can work legally in Israel. Needles to say, this system has created a highly mobile and motivated supply of workers who are eager to maintain their livelihood and residency status. Word of mouth is aparenty the key to tapping into this network. One local Israeli even advised scouting out local parks for nannies and approaching them on the spot. Propositioning strangers about scoring some "high-grade nanny" may sound a little sketchy at the moment but it may become our go-to strategy. We do have a few leads and hope someone will pan out before too long.
Our other introduction to Tel Aviv has been the summertime weather. I've had the distinct displeasure of experiencing one heat wave after another over the past month. From Denver to D.C. to Tel Aviv, the weather has been hot, hotter and hottest. Although the temperature usually hovers in the 90s for most of the summer in Tel Aviv (unlike other parts of the Middle East), the humidity can be downright oppressive, even at nighttime. The weather cooled down over this past weekend but I've been told that the heat lasts throughout August and September. I guess I shouldn't complain about heat when we live just a five minute drive from beautiful Mediterreanean beaches.
In fact, the highlight of our stay so far was an evening out with our host family. It began with dinner after work at a seaside restaurant perfectly positioned to watch the sunset over the Mediterranean and the flickering nighttime lights of Tel Aviv. Afterwards we treated ourselves to some tasty gelato followed by an evening stroll through the old port town of Jaffa. A path up a hill led us to an old Crusader fort with an even more picturesque vista of the bustling city below. Abandoning all plans for a sensible bedtime, we allowed our kids to frolick in the central plaza and then wind their way down a maze of descending cobblestone paths to the harbor. We definitely plan to return for many more visits in the two years to come.
Don't get the idea that life in Tel Aviv is all play and no work. My first week in the office definitely showed that my job will be demanding and anything but dull. I just happened to arrive on the eve of an official visit from a bevy of high ranking U.S. officials including Secretary Clinton herself. It was pretty much all hands on deck for the logistics of her visit. I didn't get roped in this time but there will be many more visits in my future that I will help coordinate. I'll definitely need to be attentive to detail for those.
To be honest, my biggest insecurity is that it's been a number of years since I've worked in an office and it will take take for me to get reacclimated the pace and lingo. The wonderous yet sinfully addictive BlackBerry has helped me to keep up so far but I also need to work on my communcation skills both inside and outside the office. I'd like to think that I'm a little more articulate than Milton from Office Space but at times I'll probably sound like Paul Rudd in this scene from "I Love You, Man" which, by the way, is one of the funniest movies I have ever seen and should be a cult classic IMHO.
All in all though, I feel it's been a relatievly smooth landing and transition into my first assignment in the Foreign Service. Entering one of the most important U.S. missions in the world and already knee-deep in a range of substantive issues, I need to pinch myself every now and then. It's already too late to return tray tables to their upright and locked position. I've landed.