Monday, September 29, 2008

On the Edge

I'm finding myself counting the weeks and days here.

On Saturday evening, Chris Rock was on TV, and he said that some people have careers, and some people have jobs. If you have a career, you never have enough hours in a day. If you have a job, you find yourself having way too many hours in a day. You begin your day by counting down the hours until the day is over. And you start your week by counting the days until the weekend comes.

Chris Rock has a career.

I start my internship by counting down the weeks. I'm on week three. Day 11. It's Monday 29 September, and I have until 14 November at the UN. Until 18 November in my new apartment.

That's seven weeks left here. Tomorrow is a UN holiday (we don't follow US holidays, but have our very own, and tomorrow is off because it's Eid el Fitr--the end of Ramadan), so that leaves three and a half days this week, plus the coming 6 weeks, which gives me 33.5 days in total. Or approximately 268 hours. The exact days and hours in the apartment isn't calculable, though, because my evenings and weekends aren't all pre-planned. All I know is that tonight, I'm invited to Uncle Ron's mom's place for Rosh HaShana Eve dinner (the Jewish New Year); tomorrow, Auntie Toni and I are going shopping, and then we'll meet up with Step-Grandmother Marianne who is here in New York for a few days; this Friday, I'm staying over at Toni's place, because we're leaving early Saturday morning for the easternmost tip of Long Island, Montauk, where we will stay until Sunday evening... so it's all a bit unclear exactly how many days and hours I will stay in my new apartment.

My new apartment. Uncle Ron drove me up there yesterday afternoon with all my things plus some more. Auntie Toni saw too it that I got clean sheets, a pillow and a blanket; her fat free blueberry and apple muffins; all-bran cereal; a pair of slippers and a candle... so that I will feel a little more at home. Then she went shopping with me so I could get some fruit, hempseed milk (I'm so looking forward to trying that), paper towels and soap and some other things.

My new apartment is on the third floor in a walk-up building on Columbus Avenue. The stone steps are worn by all the feet that have walked up and down for years and years and there are pigeons outside the windows. My room is closest to the front door, away from the other rooms and the kitchen and living room, but close to the bathroom. There's a bed, a desk, a closet, a dresser, and a window.

My new roomies seem nice enough. David works in advertising, Brian is a bass player. I didn't see Galia yet, but she's a singer songwriter. They seem to be keeping to themselves most of the time, which, I suppose, is a good thing when all is said and done.

But still, I count the weeks. Mostly because there are other people's hairs in the sink and the bath tub, and other people's crumbs on the kitchen table. And because I feel like I'm spending my days always on the edge of my comfort zone. It's not bad, but not where I want to be.

And this morning I almost got lost on my way to the subway, and then again getting off it on 42nd Street that wasn't Times Square where I was supposed to take the shuttle to Grand Central (all trains go to 42nd, but apparently one of them doesn't stop at Times Square on 42nd, and that was the one I had to take). Luckily, I have a good memory and a sense of the Manhattan map in my head to make up for my crappy sense of direction, so I could find my way to Fifth Avenue and from there make my way to the UN.

Neale Donald Walsch (a writer and a philosopher) says that life begins at the end of your comfort zone. And I know it does. If you never upset your routine, you will never grow. But living on the edge is. Well, it's just not comfortable, and if it weren't for the fact that it's going to look good on my CV with a UN Headquarters internship, I'm not so sure I'd think it was worth it.

And also, I'm not so sure that you necessarily have to live on the edge of your comfort zone at all times in order to grow as a person, and truly experience life. Take this summer. I did find myself out there on the edge several times, but all in all, I knew that this was exactly where I wanted to be. On the West Bank. Working with Fair Trade and sustainable development. Going to Ramallah on Thursday afternoons to spend my Fridays with Mahran swimming in Jericho, or loitering in the shade, or eating fatoush at Ziryab on Rukab Street in Ramallah.

The only time I felt really, really uncomfortable, was when I decided I needed to see Israel too to get a better idea of things, and went to Haifa on my own. If I hadn't learned from the time I went to Alexandria on my own, I got the message this time: Ruby don't do single traveling well.

After I had pushed myself to stay on the edge for three days, I packed my things and took the first bus after the Shabat back to Jerusalem. As the landscape changed back to the dry, stony, hilly, cypress lined, ancient ruin dotted, olive tree fielded beauty that seems to belong better in the region than the irrigated lush flower beds and Eastern European styled houses and buildings of Israel, my blood rushed back and I'm sure my cheeks were flushed as I ran up from Damascus Gate to the Arab Bus Station, and jumped over the fence, lost my sun glasses, and caught the last bus to Ramallah just as it was pulling out from the station.

I cried as I sat there in the back and looked out the window.

The sweet notes of Arabic song sounded from the speakers. It was dark outside, women with headscarves and men with lots and lots of hair gel sat around me. Some were standing. We were driving through the dark evening streets of East Jerusalem, stopping when people wanted to get off or climb on, regardless of whether there were bus stops or not. I felt as if I had come home again from long and arduous travels to distant shores, and finally felt safe. These were tears of surrender as I sank into the comfort of being where I wanted to be.

This is the comfort I'm longing for now. When I'm not busy talking to Toni and I forget to think about the feeling that keeps coming back to me: as if I'm constantly tiptoeing on the edge of my comfort zone. It's not that I don't like it here, it's just... maybe I don't belong in this place.

I don't know whether I will sink back into the comfort of being where I want to be until I get my butt on a plane and fly back to the Middle East.

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