Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Settling in...

Well, I've settled into a routine somewhat here in Birzeit. I have class every day except Friday and Sunday (the two holidays in the Palestinian territories, to recognize the Muslim and Christian holy days.) Every morning I walk about 10 minutes to the main circle of Birzeit, take the bus to the University, which only costs a shekel and a half. Palestine uses three currencies: shekels, Jordanian dinars, and dollars, but shekels are by far the most widely used. I've heard many complain that they're not allowed their own currency, but that will happen if the two-state plan comes into effect, I'm sure. It's very ironic that Palestinians are using money stamped with menorahs and Jewish leaders. Anyway, I digress.

The University is packed with students. It's only about 6,000 but it's a tiny campus so the effect in the cafeteria or in the main gathering area is one of a mob of students. I'm continually intrigued with the two different types of girls on campus. There are largely two extremes: those that do not wear a headscarf and have skin tight shirt and jeans, high heels, and lots of make-up; and those that have the headscarf and an overcoat falling all the way to the ground that hides any body outline. These two groups rarely, if ever mingle with each other. In fact, there are even different cafeterias on campus, one which is known as the more Islamic one and one that is the more liberal one. Of course, there are exceptions, those girls who wear a headscarf but Western style clothes and those that are in Western style clothes but not skin-tight. And there are groups which include girls that are covered and uncovered, but these are strikingly less. I think it's not healthy to have such extremes, but I haven't observed enough to know in what ways. It's just a feeling I get.

Some other trends...EVERYONE (well, every guy) smokes here, in the halls, in the cafeteria, in the offices, in the restaurants. It is intolerable! We went out the other night to a jazz concert and I had to leave every five minutes because my eyes were streaming tears due to the smoke. I've seen many young boys even smoking. The other day we visited our neighbors and their young son of 10 years old lit up the hookah pipe, which is even stronger than cigarettes.

By the way, I love our neighbors who live across the street. They are about 8, all cramped into a tiny apartment. Nearly every night the young ones come over to get help with their English homework. (The older girls want to but can't come over since there are men who live above us and apparently it's not appropriate to be seen by them after dark.) The kids are so sweet and patient with my Arabic. I realized kids are perfect to practice with because they are so patient and they don't speak English!

On the other hand, the guys who live above us are slightly annoying. They are like bodyguards, tracking who comes over and when and always popping in unannounced. They will not allow us to have male visitors after dark, not even to do homework or hang out. They say it reflects badly on the whole building and one of their sister's lives in the building. Okay, understandable, but still, it gets dark at 6:30, which is often when I get home and start my homework. I guess I should just realize that it is their way of looking out for us as well. At least I feel incredibly safe with them around!

Okay, off to class...

1 comment:

Andres S. said...

J, Interesting to hear the social dress code differences. What do you wear? Have you figured out how to work out?

Glad things are going so well!

-Andy