Luckily shalom means both hello and goodbye in Hebrew because it’s a week of both departing and returning. Today we discussed the “reverse culture-shock” that comes with going home, and it finally sunk in that this amazing semester is over. I feel so fortunate to have lived and learned here at Kibbutz Lotan, and as I sorted through my several thousand photos from the past four months in preparation for our closing ceremony I hardly recognized myself from August – I am not the same person that I was in August. Packing my suitcase felt almost silly because the few souvenirs I got are not even close to a reflection of the experiences I’ve had, people I’ve met, and knowledge I’ve gained during the program. While for me this is not a goodbye, more a lehitraot (until we meet again) for Israel, since I’ll be coming back in two weeks, the weight of leaving the Kibbutz is overwhelming.
That I won’t be able to describe, or even know where to start explaining the realities of the last four months might be the scariest part of this transition. My memories will stay with me forever, but what are memories if you can’t share them? So…now…I go home and people ask, “How was it?” “What was it like?” “What was your favorite part?” Am I supposed to summarize four months of my life in a few sentences? Forty seconds and then the conversation changes direction? Here are a few of my favorite memories:
The most important thing I learned this semester is to be present. That doesn’t mean to take everything you’re given and accept it; it means to fully experience every moment. Ask questions. Develop an opinion. Challenge yourself. Learn something new. Be spontaneous, reflect on and value every mistake and every success.
I’m incredibly unique and alone,
with a set of problems no other soul could possibly share
I’m reclusive, a bear in a cave that gnaws his bone
or am i just one in an army of drones
I’ll tell you my thoughts
they are my own.
my burden- i wouldn’t put my sack on anyone else’s shoulders
because i like to carry a lot,
i carry boulders
i pick up rocks that i think are neat
and i never look at them again
i just slide them into my pocket
where they lay
weighing me down- i cant loose my rocks though
memory’s not good enough.
So I keep adding more
I fill my life with stuff and at the same time rebel against that very idea.
but I’m a consumer of a different sort
rocks is just a metaphor, it can be anything
I’d like to say we all do it, but i haven’t talked to all of us
Rocks is all I know
and I have a lot of those.
It’s been awhile blog-
One usually doesn’t associate pneumonia with living in a hot sandy dessert. I usually try not to associate with pneumonia at all. Sometimes though, you just can’t hide from it. This last week I’ve been recovering from pneumonia. This may be the first time I’ve ever been convinced to go to the Doctors before an illness has had me struggling miserably through the day. I started to feel weak and my nose started running last Thursday. After a visit to Neot Smadar, a near by kibbutz, where we were looking at the social aspect of their kibbutz and was organized, i took the rest of the day off. Leah, My fabulous permaculture teacher came to talk to me that night about going to the doctors the next day to see if i could get on antibiotics. I was resistant at first but seeing as it would be Friday, Leah argued that if i didn’t go in the morning it would be a long weekend and i could get a two day head start on antibiotics. I didn’t think i had much more than the common cold but i agreed. It’s a good thing i did as well.
Friday morning came around and I went to the clinic with another student and with our teacher Leah. The Nurses at the clinic were all on strike and the doctor was not taking walking appointments so our trip got extended. Now we were headed to Eilat. We first went to the grocery store there- we all wanted to grab a few snacks for the hospital- and then we navigated through the city to the hospital. First time using the Travel insurance! After getting a chest X-ray and talking to the doctor i was prescribed pneumonia medication. We were all in pretty good spirits despite the diagnosis and spent the ride home making jokes about the difficulties of driving in a city. After getting back from Eilat I pretty much slept for 3 days straight (and finished a jar of nuetella). I Just took my last pill this morning. I still have a cough and i have a follow up appointment scheduled to see if we got rid of the disease put all in all i feel amazingly better. I really don’t enjoy being sick and so i think i’ll just pretend i’m not until it is actually the case.
So that’s what’s up in my life- Mystery Reader, how are you.
also- I pronounce it Living R-outs none of this roots thingamajig.
By now several weeks have passed since we spent 7 days at the Bedouin village of Qasr a Sir, about 10 km from Dimona, in Israel’s Negev region. We spent the week working with an aid organization called Bustan. Bustan has a camp set up in the village and does various projects there, the most successful projects so far are a women’s catering business that they are helping to establish and an educational tour of Bedouin settlements in the Negev that they run called the “Negev unplugged tour”. In particular we were helping with some earth plaster construction of an eco-tourism site that Bustan and some of the villagers are trying to create. We lived on the site of this future tourism area together with a few of Bustan’s interns for the week.
We spent the week working; learning about Bedouin history and culture; getting to know some of the villagers; and drinking a lot of very sweet tea. One of the most consistent things about all of our interactions with the Bedouin over the course of the week was what everyone said at the end of any formal conversation with our group. Every single time we finished a conversation about culture or politics or history we were told, “Thank you for coming to visit us, we are so glad that you are here. Please tell people about our lives, about who we are, about how we live and what we are going through.” So, friends and family, I write these pages to you in an attempt to do just that—to describe for you these wonderful people that I spent a week with, and to share with you a little slice of the enormous human tapestry of this world that you might not know of otherwise. Below I give you a very brief glimpse into just a few of the people who became our friends last week.
Tanwa is a woman who lives just up the hill from where we stayed; we went to her house several times to watch her make fresh pitta bread. She adds the water very slowly to the flour and kneads it for a long time until the dough is very elastic. Then she twists the balls of dough like a pizza maker until it is nearly paper-thin and cooks it on a steaming hot metal oven called a saj. Whenever we went she fed us fresh hot pitta, and then we bought a few to take back to our place to eat later.
Anwar is a young man, just married a few years ago with two children. We did not meet his wife but throughout the week Anwar was our main connection to the village. He came by often, helped us get things that we might need like tools and other supplies, he figured out why our drinking water had been disconnected at one point and took care of that too. Anwar took us on a tour of the village a few days after we arrived and besides giving us a history of the village (which dates back at least 300 years, in this exact spot), and pointing out the ancient spice route which runs right through the middle of the village, he also told us why he is so glad that we are here. “I am a man of peace,” he said. “I believe that we will make the peace, the simple people, not the men who wear the ties. When you come here, when people come here, and we sit together and we talk, we are learning about each other. Tell our story when you leave here. Tell people about our lives here in the village. This is what will bring peace one day. And if I come to America I will visit you, and I will learn about your lives, and I will be making peace too.”
Atia is an elder of the section of the village where Bustan has its base. The village is made up of one extended family, and is organized into neighborhoods by smaller branches of that family tree. They can trace back 300 years to a common ancestor and most of the people here know exactly how they are related to everyone else. If is confusing for us to understand, however, because when the men have multiple wives the distinctions between brother and cousin get blurred. Everyone there has the same last name. Our second night in the village we had a small bonfire and one of the other visiting Israelis had a guitar. We were singing a combination of Hebrew and English songs, when someone asked for a Bedouin song. At first the men were very reluctant to sing for us but then Atia said that he would sing, if one of my students, Laura, played with him. They were already sitting next to each other and so he told Laura to watch him and somehow he managed to teach her the song with music as the only common language between them. Watching her play with him was one of the sweetest moments of the week for me.
After about 5 days in the village I left my students in the hands of the wonderful staff of Bustan for a few hours and went into Beer Sheva to make some connections for the coming spring semester. I came “home” to the village to the news that the girls had been invited to a birthday party. Shaima was turning 23. This made her not too much older than the students themselves, about the age of their older sisters. We met Shaima a few times already over the course of our week. Her Hebrew was very good and I talked with her a lot one day about her experiences since leaving school and before getting married. Shaima is the second wife to Atia, they were married about a year and a half ago and have a baby who I about six months old.
When we were getting ready to go I thought that we were going to a traditional Bedouin party, and I was very excited. I hadn’t brought any skirts, and was hoping that I wouldn’t offend anyone in my jeans. We arrived at Shaima’s house and were welcomed into her guest living room. This is a separate room from the rest of the house; it had a large television even though they don’t have any electricity. I asked about this and was told that it just “looks good”. The room was lit with candles and there were plates of food on tables—the kinds of things that I would expect to find at any birthday party—pretzels, cookies, nuts, other snacks. Shaima was wearing jeans and a tight fitting shirt, and she was showing her hair—this was very very different from the last times I had seen her with her traditional loose black dress and her head covering. The other surprising thing was that we were the only guests. I asked about this. It turns out that Bedouin adults don’t have birthday parties, but she had been to one of the international volunteer’s birthdays a few weeks ago and really wanted to have one. So this was our present to Shaima—we were throwing her a birthday party. Well, we quickly organized some party games—we played “broken telephone” in 5 languages such that no phrase ever made it around the circle. We played “keep the balloon up in the air”; we danced; we took photos of each other with our cell phones and then looked at them; and then we lit candles and sang happy birthday in Arabic, Hebrew, and English.
At breakfast today my friend opened the newspaper and saw a picture of someone she knew standing in front of a tank. The sidebar for every page, she could not escape the disturbing image. While I’ve been trying to keep up with the headlines – 3 Killed in Kiryat Malachi, Woman Wounded in Ashkelon, One Third of Palestinian Casualties are Civilians – this is my experience with the war. Here on Kibbutz Lotan, a tiny and distant place that most Israelis have never even heard of, there is no threat of violence; the “floods” yesterday were more dangerous for us than the war, but that does not mean we aren’t experiencing it. My connection to the operation feels like much more than surreal headlines, as I watch my friends get called for reserve duty in the IDF, recognize their friends in the paper, or even wait in anticipation as they dread their call-to-the-army this fall.
I spent the last week in a Bedouin village (Qsar aSir, near Dimona, was recently recognized, with a population of almost 4,000). When discussing the plight of this minority – a significant portion of the Negev numbering over 200,000 – one man said to me “Being a Bedouin is not a nationality; it is a way of life.” I asked him what this way of life has meant in the past, and what it means today, and he told me that being a Bedouin means not fearing: not fearing to stay on your land, not fearing to defend your family’s right to security, not fearing to stick-it-out until the end. As we heard booms in the distance and read that one might have landed in Dimona (about a 10 minute drive away), I couldn’t help but think how fearless these people are – sticking it out here, without electricity or even a bomb shelter. Unfortunately, their fear is less about war with Hamas and more about their human rights under the Israeli Government.
As I continue to consider making Aaliyah – moving to Israel at some point in the next year or two and serving in the IDF – my war is the decision. Do I want to commit to and defend a country that is constantly in conflict with its neighbors? Do I want to live in a country where I see human rights, such as those of the Bedouins, being blatantly ignored? How can I face disturbing headlines every day, and worry about my friends across the country? My gut tells me yes, do it, but I don’t want to make ignorant excuses for this country I love so much – I want to have an informed opinion on “self-defense” and “social justice issues” within the country, and work to make it a more peaceful place. I want to be a little more Bedouin – not by joining a tribe, but by sticking with the country as it fights for better circumstances.
I heard the sirens as I left the library, thinking I would go find somewhere to get coffee. On the Ben Gurion University campus in Beer Sheva students started moving briskly towards the stairwell down to the safe room – I was alone, so I followed the traffic without question. It wasn’t scary, almost exciting, as we all crammed into a small basement which was occupied by some religious men praying. The students around me didn’t seem bothered in the slightest, and after two minutes they returned to their daily activities… it didn’t even seem as if anyone was talking about what happened. I heard the missile go off in the air as Israel’s Iron Dome defense system prevented it from hitting the city. However, some students on campus didn’t even know anything happened – one even asked me if it was a drill in the library, because she didn’t hear any sirens.
The night before I stayed with a friend in Beer Sheva. Before going to bed she showed me where the safe room in her house is. If the sirens go off it means we have exactly one minute to get to the safe room. Nothing happened that night, but tonight is a whole different story. Things are escalating in Gaza and rockets are going back and forth from both sides. We are no longer in Beer Sheva, and are totally safe here in the Bedouin village, but calling all our friends and updating the Haaretz news site every few minutes to follow what seems to be a serious situation. It feels very real, for the first time, and the complexity of the situation is so frustrating that I feel helpless. A Hamas leader said on television tonight that “tonight a rain of rockets will fall over Beer Sheva.” I don’t feel any danger will come my way during the program – we have even switched our plans for tomorrow to make sure we are extra safe going back to Lotan, but being here and feeling the heaviness that comes with the rockets really makes me feel connected to Israel. We commented this afternoon on how many airplanes were flying so low over where we are… little did we know that many of them were going to Gaza.
Interesting that our month of “social justice” ends with a real escalation. It feels nice to be returning “home” to Kibbutz Lotan tomorrow. I have learned so much this last month, and tonight makes me recognize that while I know SO MUCH more than I knew before (about the situation in Israel), the more I know the more complicated it becomes.
1. When you are staying in a Bedouin village in Israel and one of your hosts speaks to you, in which language do you respond?
A) Arabic: your host’s language, which you cannot speak
B) Hebrew: the common language between you and your host, native to neither, which you barely speak, or
C) English: your native tongue, which your host does not speak.
You: Ahlan. Qe fa hel?
Host: (Very well, and you? in Arabic)
And by this I mean to say that you are producing and comprehending English, Arabic, and Hebrew all at the same time and you don’t even speak Arabic, and your host doesn’t speak English, and suddenly Hebrew is no longer a foreign tongue, but a common language for you.
2. When you come across a young Bedouin woman at the bus stop from the village where you are staying, on her way to Ben Gurion University to study, and when you speak this much Arabic and she this much English, when you are communicating with each other mostly in Hebrew, well–what a thrill!
3. When three languages are buzzing around in your head, one of which you do not speak, one of which you are beginning to speak and is the common language between you and your hosts, and one of which is your native tongue, hardly a word of which your hosts are speaking, and when a fourth language bubbles on your tongue when you are hearing it on the bus and in the street (two semesters of college Russian shunted to the periphery by Hebrew)–when a fifth language is thrown your way, a parlance from which you have endured a four-year estrangement (the Ben Gurion librarian speaking to you not in Hebrw, not in English, but in French!), well–how thoroughly exciting!
4. When you order coffee with soymilk in this land of Israel, and they give you a delicious cappuccino, you might as well drink it.
After hitting 4 cities in 4 days on our hofesh (break), it is exciting to be able to call Jerusalem “home” tonight as we return to our apartment in Bet Shmuel. Of course stopping for fresh vegetables from the shuk on the way from the Central Bus Station, we cooked a nice dinner and are taking a much needed break from our vacation – we are all very tired. We’ve been going around to visit various friends from the Green Apprenticeship in their homes around Israel. Friday we took a long bus ride up to Metula, then the next day to Haifa, followed by Tel Aviv and Rishon LeZion. It is really interesting to see the reverse culture shock that comes with leaving the program – while we’re still studying with Living Routes, the GA participants are returning to their lives and it seems very scary.
It’s really a wake up call to witness “normal life” after living in the Bustan for 7 weeks. While many of our friends are starting compost piles and backyard gardens, and finding ways to apply the lessons to their daily routines, it seems like everyone is struggling to adjust. We, too, feel guilty when we flush 10 liters of water down the toilet (instead of our compost toilets). It is hard to re-enter the world when you can recognize how much more wasteful you are than you want to be. However, we have been trying our best in the Jerusalem apartment to continue being resourceful and responsible. We’ve produced several huge bags of compostable food scraps, which we bring to the community gardens where we volunteer, and we’ve actually been doing a great job of not cooking too much food. There are so many simple things that make a difference – like bringing your own bag to buy groceries, and using a rag instead of paper towels. Yet, so much needs to be done on a larger scale in order to live sustainably.
Unfortunately, neither of our candidates propose truly good environmental policies. It’s hard to accept that the better of the two “clean” energy policies involves increasing oil, coal, and natural gas production. I understand the economic benefits of localizing production of these fuels, but looking long term (although, not that long) the environmental impacts of these are in no way a sustainable or practical solution. I support Obama’s current efforts in increasing solar and other renewable energy sources, but it very much disturbs me that “energy” and “environment” are two completely separate issues to his campaign (as separated on this site)… they are completely related, and looking to solve the problems separately will only create deeper negative effects.
One of the best things about living in an apartment with five people ages 18-20 is the food. Specifically, it’s what I’ve learned about our abilities to make and eat food. For example, we eat large quantities of beans and rice regularly, partially because it’s cheap and partially because it’s easy to make and hard to mess up. We also stock our own fridge, meaning that apart from the beans and rice, there’s always an interesting kind of cheese (cottage, swiss, smoked gouda), a seemingly impermanent supply of apples, a bottomless bag of raisins, and all the makings of a typical salad. Oh, and pitot, lots and lots of pitot. As a result, we have made some pretty ingenious dinners in addition to our beans and rice. Two nights ago we had a delicious salad with cucumber, apple, raisins, and dried apricots. Last night we made pizzas by shoveling tomato sauce and cheese into a pita pocket and melting it in a Panini maker. Last week I had a breakfast of lentils from two nights ago, chickpeas from the night before, raisins, and cottage cheese…slightly gross, but oddly satisfying.
I’ve also learned an important lesson – that desserts can be made of almost anything. We’ve made so many vegan desserts that I’ve come to believe that dairy and eggs are no longer needed in after-dinner treats. Last night we made oatmeal raisin cookies with sourdough starter and bananas to add texture and bulk. Some of us even have a odd habit of sneaking tehina into many of the desserts. Cinnamon also manages to go into about anything. Crazy cake, as it was in the bustan, is a typical dessert go-to, involving no eggs or dairy and instead vinegar and other odd things (at one point tehina, peanut butter, banana, and chocolate; another apples, cinnamon, and beer). When we bake things, the temperature is either ‘high,’ ‘low,’ or ‘somewhere in the middle.’ If we’re not sure the proper temperature, we just guess and adjust as needed.
It’s amazing, truly, how much I’ve learned about self care. I came in thinking that I could only cook if I actually knew how, that the people who could cook should and the rest of us could do the dishes after. And yet here I am, experimenting with desserts, making salads out of random fruits and veggies, adding odd and questionable spices to beans, putting cottage cheese or sour cream on everything I eat, and realizing that often the best foods are the least thought out. I’ve learned that something amazing and delicious can be made by experimentation and that I don’t have to know all the answers to fix a problem. Teenage hunger or social justice issues or environmental problems, they don’t need an expert every time for a difference to be made.
This past week we began our service work, a portion of which deals with the gender segregation on public buses. For a long time in Israel, Orthodox buses were allowed to be segregated by gender – men in the front, women in the back. Just recently, a law was passed stating that public buses can not legally be segregated for any reason. Coming from the states, it feels so ridiculous that buses would ever be segregated, much less for gender reasons. To be honest, at first I thought it happened only in theory; I thought there were only stories about very Orthodox buses that I would never see, yet on our first bus trip as a group, Laura was asked to sit in the back of the bus.
Over the past few days, I’ve wavered back and forth about the issue. At first I felt awkward making other people feel uncomfortable. Orthodox men and women segregate for modesty reasons – men are not supposed to look at women and women are supposed to cover themselves from men. Sitting in the front of the bus, I felt I was making Orthodox men uncomfortable, disrespecting their personal and religious beliefs about modesty. Yet what if it was a question of race? What if I was supposed to sit in the back because I was black and I made the other white people uncomfortable? No one would stand for that, it would be completely absurd to ask someone to move because of personal discomfort. There is no way that it can be in any respect acceptable to ask an individual to move because of who they are.
And yet, knowing I was on the right side of the argument didn’t make sitting in the front surrounded by religious men any less awkward or intimidating. The namesake of our program, the Freedom Riders, traveled together (men and women, black and white) on buses into seriously racist areas of the southern United States in the 1960s. They were harassed, beaten, threatened, and arrested. For their bravery, the US changed significantly in its acceptance of racism and use of public buses. Our service work today is nothing near as extreme as what the original Freedom Riders faced. The extent of our confrontations with Orthodox individuals has been people asking us to move to the back. Often, it’s simply awkward to be the only women sitting in the front and given a wide three-seat girth around which I am alone and no men will sit.
Though I am documenting my bus rides, I still at times feel the work is slightly futile. Even if I am the first to board a bus and I sit in the front, the other women who board later will always move to the back, regardless of the fact that I have clearly attempted to desegregate it. I believe, to them, I look like an outsider, who doesn’t need to follow the customs of their more orthodox culture while they must. I don’t know if the very orthodox buses can be desegregated by women like me, I think it must come from inside the community, from women who want change. It’s awkward and often horribly uncomfortable to go against family and community values, and for these women I hope that me sitting on the bus is at least reminding them that there are alternatives to constantly sitting in the back.
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