When I was an undergraduate at an enormous state university campus with tens of thousands of other students, I used to give tours of the campus to prospective students and their families. It was a job I really loved. When I was guiding a group, I felt like I owned the campus. I knew my way around and it was up to me to help them imagine someday feeling comfortable on campus.
One of the things I always told prospective students is that they should not feel intimidated by the size of the campus, because most students ended up spending the majority of their time in only a handful of buildings. They quickly mastered their little corner of the campus and the rest of it didn't matter because they had no classes and no social obligations on the rest of the campus.
On the bus this morning, it occurred to me that the same thing is true about Israel. There are places, people and nuances here that I'll probably never be exposed to, let alone understand. What kind of life do the Bedouins have here? What do the Yemenites experience? How does it feel to be a Thai worker in Israel? What is life like for people who live in Afula or Hadera? What do 8th generation Yerushalmis think about the American olim, not to mention the perspective of Israeli Arabs. All variations of the larger Israel that I'll probably never understand.
But in my little corner of the country, things are starting to feel familiar. When leaving Ma'ale Adumim, I'm often struck by the rocky terrain. The scenery is so much different than what I saw driving up and down Resisterstown Road, but it is starting to seem decipherable.
But even more, today, when I was waiting for my second bus, I was struck by a feeling of familiarity. I tried to remember ever being conscious of a deep sense of belonging in any of the 20+ years I lived in Baltimore. I couldn't remember feeling that.
It's true that there are still so many things that I don't understand. But every day, I understand a little more. And today, for the first time, standing and waiting for the number 71 bus, I had a visceral sense of belonging.
Until today, shopping required the help of my Hebrew-speaking husband. However, on the way home from ulpan this afternoon, I walked myself to Machane Yehuda (the shuk) to buy produce. Then I took buses from a couple of unfamiliar stops and managed to get myself home, schlepping my bananas, grapes and peppers on the bus, just like a regular Israeli. For me, the newness of the task, and the pride I felt, was enhanced by the fact that I did it all myself. (I know, I sound like a 2 year-old exclaiming, "Do it mysef!")
Every day, I understand more of the language that swirls around me. I figure more things out. For example, I'm getting better at recognizing the numbers the shopkeepers announce when totaling up my purchases. I used to be completely clueless, so I would pay with large bills and hope that was enough money. Now, I can understand the amount their asking for, at least some of the time.
I do ordinary, daily tasks for the second, third and twentieth time.
I'm finding ways to contribute to my community.
I'm feeling more at home in my homeland.
On the last bus home, I was very aware of feeling privileged. It's a privilege to live here, to study here, to shop here and even to take buses here. Some days, like today, I can't believe I get to do all these things.
Today, I imagined, for the first time, not always feeling quite so alien here. Today, some of the awkwardness of being a new immigrant receded.
Now that's progress.