Yesterday I spent 2 1/2 hours in the waiting room of an ENT (that’s the doctor who specializes in problems of the ear, nose, and throat —not the ancient, forest-dwelling walking tree that lives in Tolkien’s Middle Earth). That in and of itself was interesting, because I’ve never waited more than 20 minutes for an appointment at the doctor’s office. Usually you make an appointment, go to the office, check that your name is on the list outside the doctor’s door, ask who has the appointment 15 minutes before yours (so you can spot them when they walk into the doctor’s office) and then wait for them to exit so you can pounce at the door before someone tries to cut in front of you.). I suppose I had to wait so long because he was a specialist and regular appointments weren’t available until more than a month from now. I’ve been dealing with the flu and sinusitis for over a month now, and finally my regular doctor agreed it was time to see someone else (3 doses of antibiotics and I’m still sick).
But that’s not the point. The point is that during the 2 1/2 hours, I had the opportunity to have several discussions with many different people who came and went while I waited. Those 2 1/2 hours represented a microcosm of Israeli society, and I wish I could have filmed and shared them with you. But this blog is the best I can do.
I had conversations with the woman who spoke Russian (but she spoke Hebrew to me). She asked if I was the English teacher with the big black dog. I guess I have a bit of a reputation here in Afula. She and I had the same appointment (6:30). I had been there since 5:30 in case there were any earlier openings. No such luck. Anyway, we had a lovely conversation, that was soon joined by the Hebrew-speaking Parisian who was sitting across from me. He was sitting in between an old Arab gentleman (who I had seen earlier at my primary care physician’s office) and another Arab couple with 3 little boys. A handsome Ethiopian man, who turned out to be a policeman in Afula, completed the group.
Of course, the ever-present question: “What made you leave the US and come to Afula,” is the first on the list. More interesting questions ensue. Isn’t life better in the US? What do you think of Obama? Is he good? Is he better than Bush? Obama doesn’t want war, right? It’s cheaper to live in the US, isn’t it? Are you happier here in Israel? Did you come alone? Where do you work? Do they pay you? (I love this last question.) But perhaps the best question came from the mother of the 3 little boys. When we discussed that the economy in the US is having trouble now, she asked, wisely, “What does the US give so much money to other countries when there are still problems with its own people?” I had to think before I answered that. Not just because of the lack of sufficient words. But because I needed to find the right answer in my head first. I could only think to answer that the situation is like a scale that is trying to find its balance. But try saying that with limited Hebrew! I attempted to mime a scale with my hands as I spoke. If you would have tied my hands during this conversation, it would have been totally impossible to communicate, regardless of how many languages we were all trying to use.
What I want to stress is that it wasn’t just the atmosphere in the waiting room. It was the sense of community. The Russian woman was religious, as was the elder Arab man and the wife of the three little boys. The rest were secular. We cobbled together words in French, Hebrew, Russian (and sometimes the Arabs talked within themselves to see if they could come up with the word in Hebrew, then translate to English), and other than the fact that it was such a long wait, I rather enjoyed the conversations. All that was missing was some tea and cookies.
This is really what goes on in Israel. At least in Afula and the area around it. It’s just daily life. It’s mothers and fathers being indulgent with their kids while they make too much noise in a crowded waiting room. It’s letting you kids lay on the dirty floor and pile upon each other, occasionally coming to me and grabbing my foot to see if I’d smile at them. It’s being hot so you turn on the A/C and then having another come in and shiver from the cold so you shut it off and swelter for a few minutes before someone gets up and begins the routine all over again. Within that 5 x 8-foot space, crowded with chairs and mangled newspapers, posters of smiling white-haired, European-looking male doctors reminding you to get your free flu shot, that a slice of Israeli life was acted out. And it was probably one of the most interesting 2 1/2 hours I’ve spent in quite a while.
Oh, and the doctor? Dr. Mushkovitz (how’s that for a name?)” He tried to create an atmosphere of calm in his over-crowded little office—a big candle burning in the corner, classical music playing on his CD player, and a warm smile and strong handshake at the ready. I’ll be seeing him tomorrow again as we Xray and delve into the space (or lack of) that defines my sinuses and is most probably the cause of a month-long distress. If I may borrow from Gene Rodenberry, I hope that this will be the “final frontier” and we will discover which alien community is wrecking havoc. At its conclusion, I hope to “boldly go” back to my lovely, quiet life here in Afula, where people get along together, regardless, or in spite of, their obvious differences.
Oh, what I wouldn’t do for a bowl of my mom’s chicken soup and kneidlach, regardless of the fact that I’m a vegetarian. That’s really the medicine I crave.