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Warning: Home under Construction

Rhona Lewis

In Israel, building is a fact of life. Either you build yourself, learning to live and thrive in an apartment with a single bathroom (tip: get up before your teenage girls) and multiple trundle beds to trip over ... or you take the plunge and add a room or two or three to your existing home.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

toolsWhen our family had outgrown our apartment, my husband and I decided to take what appeared to be the easy way out: instead of trying to learn how to thrive in such cramped conditions, we would simply build an extra room.

Decision made, I was ready to decide how this new room, which was to be our bedroom, would look. My husband was not. “We need to ask the neighbors,” he said on the evening that I had set aside to begin this project.

“Ask them what?” I said, reaching for the pad of yellow paper and the pencil I had sharpened that morning in anticipation.

“Ask if they mind us building,” my husband enlightened me.

In keeping with good Israeli tradition, at least 10 of our 18 neighbors have built over the last 15 years. Not one of them asked if I minded or not. Not one of them gave me advance notice. The news usually hit at 7 a.m., when I awoke to the deafening noise of a hammer drill. But I know my husband, so I put my pen and paper away.

Two weeks later, having secured the approval of every one of our 17 neighbors, we met with our architect. A few days later, Shimshon, a contractor recommended by the architect, came to survey our home. He walked in, spun around, and walked out. That night, he gave us a quote, which we accepted on the spot. I worried whether Shimshon’s reasonable fee had come about simply because he had not studied the architect’s plans, or because he hadn’t read the contract thoroughly.

Three weeks later, at seven o’clock in the morning, we heard banging on our bedroom window. There stood three Arabs — our new bedroom builders. They asked for an extension cord to boil water for coffee. My husband got dressed and hurried out to give it to them. Then they asked for a kettle, coffee, and sugar. For the next six weeks, we never set an alarm—we relied on our workers to jump over the fence and bang on our window.

Our workers, Adjoorie, Hussein, and Abdullah, worked hard from seven in the morning until seven in the evening. They took a break at twelve o’clock to eat bread, tuna, and on a few occasions, a sliced tomato. They drank numerous cups of thick, sweet Turkish coffee. When the kettle we had given them broke, I became chief coffee maker. After my first attempt, I found three Styrofoam cups filled almost to the brim with cold coffee. Adjoorie was elected by the others to be my coffee-making teacher. I learned to fill the little cups a third of the way up with coffee, add three spoons of sugar, and stir vigorously while pouring in the hot water.


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