I went to a coffee date this week intended for “newcomers to Jerusalem.” I walked in and was greeted by an acquaintance from my book group: “Hilary! You’re not new here anymore!” I swear that I was invited. I wasn’t just there for free coffee and cake. I do still feel new to this city and way of life; I am still often physically and psychologically lost.
It’s true that I am not as shiny and new as some. One woman arrived on Tuesday, another last week. I was incredibly impressed that they were awake, out and about and meeting people already. They also made me feel nostalgic, with their questions (where to find non-kosher cheese?) and their idealism (daily life does not have to focus on the conflict).
On the other hand, I’m not like the coffee hour hosts, self-identified veterans of the Jerusalem scene (one after 18 months…time moves fast when you’re an expatriate). These woman – also lovely and generous – were vocal, overt in their readiness to leave this place that seems so normal on the surface and is so oppressive and claustrophobic one layer beneath. This hasn’t necessarily been my experience, but is a common thread for many NGO/diplomatic worker and spouse we know.
Hmmm. The true newcomers got a healthy dose of reality and conflict with their coffee. And I got questions about what exactly it means to be in the middle of the story. Five months down, five months to go (plus a couple of weeks of travel, if we are lucky).
I told my coffeeklatch: “when you’re here for just a year, you go for broke. Every experience is a now-or-never opportunity. And it’s easier to let hassles roll off you.” It makes a great line but I am not sure I’m walking the talk. In some ways I feel like I’ve plateaued a bit since the thrill and novelty of the early weeks. But I don’t yet have the confidence that comes from experience. And I find myself thinking I have nothing to show for the five months I’ve spent here. Clearly this is rubbish from a logical point of view – I have tons of photos, memories, friends, not to mention a husband and children who are happy, productive, settled. But on some level I feel unfulfilled and find myself drawing unhelpful comparisons (Unlike X, I haven’t learned a new language. Unlike Y, I’m not hammering away at a thesis. Unlike Z, I’m not in the best shape of my life). In this mood, I’m not sure exactly what I thought I should or would have accomplished by now, just that I have not.
Truth be told, I feel a little aimless right now, even to the point of being uncertain whether I should kick things up a notch or calm down, chill out, and accept that the aim of this year is not to have an aim.