Today was always going to be a long day. I knew that going in. What I didn’t realise going in was that this was comfortably going to be the worst day so far.
This day’s mission objectives were get to the bank for 9, collect everything I needed, swing past the photography studio for my staff photo, pick up the forms from the office for the visa extension, drop off said forms, grab lunch if there’s time, present at the group meeting.
What actually happened was the Indian housemate was awake and showering at 5 this morning next to my bedroom. Not only was this a freakishly long shower, but it was amazingly loud. After which he set about making, what I can only conclude is the loudest balti ever constructed. In the process filling the entire apartment with chilli fumes sufficiently potent to induce coughing my bed.
When I eventually surrendered to the notion of not getting any further sleep I was pleasantly surprised to find that I looked like I’ve contracted some form of pox. You see, upon closer inspection last night after excessive traffic noise, I realised that my one wall does not really meet all that well with the ceiling. Which, at the right angle, gives you a lovely view of the stars. My left hand has no less than 6 mosquito bites across the knuckles that were not there last night. Better still are the 5 bites across my face, including one upon my top lip. Which isnt inconvenient at all!
With a shower and breakfast taken, it was all guns blazing to the bank. Well I say all guns blazing, after a week I’ve worked out that I have to slow my stride rate such that I dont look as if I’ve stumbled in from a monsoon at the other end.
Exactly a week before I had gone to the bank on campus with all my forms and letters and guarantees from the institute and had asked very carefully and clearly for 4 things:
- I’d like to open an account
- I’d like a credit card
- I’d like the credit card to work outside of Israel (such that I can buy international flights)
- I need a cheque book
Clear. Good. I repeated these things many times. I even had a letter, in Hebrew, from the institute saying that I needed these things. Particularly the cheque book for getting a house. “yes, yes, yes, no problem. These things can take up to 5 days to come through so come back next week”.
Upon getting to the bank, I go to the teller and say that I am expecting to pick up some cards and a cheque book. She asks for my passport, she taps away at her computer, seemingly her job entails only pressing the “Enter” key repeatedly. After about 30 Enter presses she runs off. Leaving me to stand like an idiot for 5 minutes in an otherwise empty bank (cos who else gets there when the bank opens). But compared to Israeli security, 5 minutes is nothing. Upon her return she opens the first packet in her hand, whilst passing me a form in Hebrew to sign. Presumably some receipt acknowledging the handing over. Again, this is Israel, so another 5 forms follow because why waste an opportunity for repetitive strain injury. All of them look the same as the first to me.
She smiles, “ok, goodbye”.
The single card she has handed me says “Visa Electron” and “Only for electronic use” and “Only for use in Israel” upon it. So this is a debit card. Where’s the credit card? Blank looks, this is all there is. Well maybe with credit checks or whatever credit cards can take longer.
Where’s the cheque book? I really need this. I’ve already had to rearrange signing the housing contract with the landlord because I dont have a cheque book yet. She cheques her system, “you want cheque book?”. Prolific mashing of the “Enter” key begins again. “No, you order no cheque book.”
I’ve had enough of this, I thank her in Hebrew and move over to a proper bank desk jockey. First I ask, why a debit card that I cant use outside of Israel would be useful to an international? Apparently, this is easy. I have no credit history here. So, no credit card will be issued until they see I’ve been paid by the institute, despite guarantee letters from the institute which are good enough for the paranoid government to let me in the country. Even then, what they do is take a 1000 NIS (£175) each month and put it into a little “credit card trust”, like a savings account that guarantees anything I buy on the credit card. Which doesnt sound like a credit card at all. But it’s ok cos they’ll only give me 500 NIS credit at the start and when I leave the country I can claim it back.
Content in the fact that she thinks her job is done I question the cheque book. She confirms that no cheque book was ordered. Another desk jockey comes over and discuss in great length in Hebrew presumably what a idiot I am. Everybody wants to know when I ordered it, despite it clearly not being recorded on the system.
I ask what am I supposed to do. Later I supposed to be handing over 12 pre-dated cheques as required my landlords in this country. The answer a simple “dont pay, pay later”. IT DOESNT WORK LIKE THAT. I ask if it is possible for the bank to print me a cheque to at least cover the first month. No, not possible.
The bank suggests I find somewhere else to live.
This doesn’t even solve the problem. For any other place, I’d still require 12 blinking cheques. ARGHHH!
Ready to have a nervous break down I leave the bank and go to the office. I phone the institute housing advisor and ask if she can speak to the landlord, because I dont have the Hebrew to explain the bank being so terribly awful. I suggest that I might be able to find the cash to pay the first month rent and deposit – but I dont know if culturally this is acceptable, first to handle in cash or deliberately break the agreed in advance contract.
The woman from the institute first rings the bank manager and has a full on shouting match at the guy. Turns out that because I didnt deposit any money in the account when I opened it they wont issue a cheque book. Because, obviously, what’s the point of writing cheques when you have a zero balance. Idiots! Ignore the fact I’m going to be paid on the first, like the letter says!
Mercifully, the landlord is a reasonable guy and is happy to accept cash. He says that he’ll be at the flat between 11 and 1 today as he has to be there for them to activate the internet. Excellent!
Wait. Is it?
Before, coming to Israel I got a fair chunk of cash in shekels, just in case I had to do a couple of weeks before I got paid. But obviously, I’ve eaten for a week out of that and bought health insurance. What’s the chances that I have effectively over £550 in cash on my person. Non-existent. I’m something to the tune of £320 short, and I still need to eat this week.
Here comes the fun part, let’s go to an ATM and see how much money I can withdraw from my UK cards before I run out of money or hit the maximum withdrawal for the day.
I ask for the full £320ish. Denied. “Insufficient funds available”.
In the end with some creative juggling of cards, I get £260. After the I pay for the apartment that will leave me with approximately £20. Hopefully, I can make that last otherwise I’m going to have to hit an ATM again at what I can presume to be a terrible conversion rate. Note to self, in the future split wealth such that there is the maximum cash withdrawal on each card.
I now have the cash. An uncomfortable amount of cash. An amount I really dont like walking around with.
With all of this time has slipped away, so I now have to phone the landlord again to say that I’ll be running a bit late. Not that it matters, as he was about to phone me saying he was running late. He just needs half an hour, but will phone me when he gets there. Sorted.
Half an hour goes by.
Then an hour.
It gets to very nearly two o’clock and I’m chatting to a German saying that he’ll probably phone any minute now as I’m due to be presenting at half past. With that, the phone rings, bang on cue, “Can you make two and thirty?” Turns out he’s only in the area for a flying visit.
What other choice do I have? I agree. I immediately go to the boss on hands and knees, and beg forgiveness. Fortunately, she understands, she says that it’s better to get this all sorted and then concentrate properly later, and waves me on.
In the end, the contract is signed, although somewhat dubiously in his car as I pass across piles of cash.
On the way back, I stop off at the housing office – mainly because I want a SIM card, but also to say I’ve signed off and to address the apology email for the accommodation.
The Israeli phone contract is by far the easiest thing I’ve done out here. But maybe because it’s actually an American company.
The main lady of the accommodation is genuinely apologetic and down right embarrassed from everything I said. I make it plain, that it was not my intention that I was attacking her efforts, it was mainly a case of ass covering, as I sure as hell aint gonna get billed for it. But as I pull the phone from my pocket and show her photos, she has no idea just how bad it is. But you have to wonder what kind of ship they’re running if they dont inspect the properties after people move out. I also have to question all of those that came before and hadn’t said anything. I know different countries have different standards and all, but my mosquito hole must have surely got someone wet at some point.
The good news however, is that the apartment has now been condemned and no one else will be moving in until it is renovated. The flip side to that is that obviously it does nothing for me. But, come Monday I’ll be in my new flat. Maybe sooner, but the landlord wants to make sure that he has a day or two with his 2 guys to deep clean everything and make sure everything works.
After all of that, I get back to the office around 4. Mercifully, the group have taken pity on me and got me a pita (think kebab lined with hummus with lots of veg and chicken schnitzel at the bottom) wrapped in foil.
With that the boss walks in. Good news! She’d like a full report of everything so far and the plan ahead on Wednesday morning. Strewth!
At this point, I’m completely fried. And as I’m packing up for the day I notice that the phone contract charges immediately, not on the first of the month or something like a normal direct debit. Immediate charge. On the card that I got this morning. The one that doesn’t have enough funds in it to get a cheque book. That one.
Buddha give me strength! I’ve got to go back to the bank and deposit enough, just in case to cover the first charge on the phone. The one piece of luck here is that it is the bank’s one late opening day. So I deposit enough to cover it, plus take the opportunity to get rid of all the stupidly small change I’ve accumulated.
This seems to confuse the bank teller, the same one from this morning. Apparently, I need ID to deposit money. I still have my passport on me at least. So begins data entry into the computer, which upon observation I’m pretty sure she was doing through Morse code on the Enter key. Alas, no luck. She cant quite get the sequence right, so after 10 minutes I have the bank manager joining in. The bank manager shows me the problem. Apparently the UK doesnt seem to be a valid country since this morning. That is until I notice the box above the country list. For some reason they had selected non-UN countries, which I think is probably the least intuitive way of dividing countries I’ve come across in a long time. Oh no, dont use continent. Use UN status. Why stop there? Why not use average population per square kilometer, or school leaving age, or GDP, or attitudes towards cheese?
In my weakened state this was all becoming a bit too much.
I just cant believe that people are actively paid to do a job can be so bad at it. People that I’m supposed to trust with all of my money for a year or more. The only source of comfort came from the German earlier in the day when he did his best not to say “I told you it would be like this”. Oh how little comfort it is to be told by housing advisers and work colleagues that this is sadly perfectly normal here.
Still at least I had somewhere nice to come home to…. oh wait…. no I didnt. Just getting back to the apartment was an ordeal.
Just completely overwhelmed with the world, I get in, lock the door and collapse on the bed. Completely overwhelmed and full of hatred. Hatred to the bank. Disdain to the housing. I was angry at myself for allowing myself to be bothered by it all and by not just sucking it up and getting on with it. But most of all what with housing contracts, with phone contracts, everything got very permanent today. I’m definitely here for 12 months and that, in that moment, became the scariest thing in the world.
In a world full of change, it feels like you’re at sea in a storm and anything to anchor yourself to will desperately be clutched at. Without that, well, you’re just adrift at sea. The lucky ones find America, the unlucky ones drown. In this case, there is no harbour, there is no anchor. There is only braving the storm.