West Bank Swank

Thursday night is a pleasant evening of goodbyes and promises to visit (Vienna).  By the time we wake up Friday everyone is already at work and I set to packing.  I’m full of nostalgia already and each time I walk to the dining hall, or the packing house, or the minimart I’m filled with “this is my last”s.  At lunch Aviv comes to say goodbye and asks us about our plans.  When she finds out Boris and I are planning on visiting Ramalla and Bethlehem she—likes all Israelis—looks aghast.  She warns me to be very careful and not to tell anyone I’m Jewish and advises me not to go.  Every time I apply reason to the situation and come to the conclusion that it is perfectly safe an Israeli instills a fresh wave of fear in me.  Israelis have been brought up to fear Palestine—and for good reason because as an Israeli citizen they surely would not be welcome—but they vastly overestimate the daily dangers and misunderstand average Palestinians.  Its these kinds of stereotypes and misunderstandings that enable generations of conflict and otherization and why I feel so strongly that I need to see the “other side”.  But still, it’s hard not to be a little nervous when people are telling me lynching stories and they genuinely believe it.

I figured we’d be heading down to the central bus station around 1 or 1:30 for our 2:15 bus but Boris tells me that last time he went to Jerusalem he caught the 444 bus right outside the kibbutz.  I’m a little weary of this plan because I have my doubts that it will actually stop for us on the side of the road but he assures me it will.  At 2 we’re standing on the the side of the road with our big bags on and trying not to sweat too much.  As the 444 approaches we enthusiastically wave it down and to my short lasting relief it pulls over only to inform us that there’s no room.  Great.  Now we have to wait for the 5 bus and we won’t get in til 10 or so.  I’m a little annoyed with Boris and can’t help but feel like it’s a total waste of a day and of a night’s hostel fee but I know it’s not his fault because I— even if reluctantly— consented to both the 2 oclock and the waiting by the roadside plan.  

We debate between going back to the kibbutz for an hour or two or just heading straight to the bus station.  We decide that going back would feel too weird and we’d rather move forward even if slowly.  We catch a cab to the central bus station and once we get there the lady adds on another 20 shekel for the fact that we have bags in the trunk but we’re too tired and annoyed to protest.  While in line to get tickets Boris has the idea to get the 3:30 bus to Tel Aviv and then catch a bus from there to Jerusalem.  It will cost about 10 shekel more but might save us 30 minutes or an hour, and most of all, it will get us on the road faster.

We get into Jerusalem at 930, check into our hostel, and head out for a walk.  We end up at Jersualem’s nicest beer bar—Glen Bar— which has 10 or so beers on tap, and none of them Goldstar.  It’s far too expensive but I need to have at least one real Israeli beer while I’m here and I end up picking a porter brewed in the Negev.  Halfway through a goofy guy dressed in a cowboy costume waddles up to us and asks us which one of us ordered the Negev.  He then tells us that he’s a rep from the brewery and that I’ve just earned myself a free beer for my good decision making before plopping down a bottle of amber ale on the bar.  It’s nice to have one’s good choices recognized and rewarded.

I’m up at 9 for breakfast but Boris isn’t ready to leave until 11:30.  He takes a long time getting ready for anything and enjoys lounding around in the mornings.  Normally I’m the same but when I’m traveling I hate wasting time.  We spend the whole day in the Old City, walking aimlessly down the narrow streets, through the Arab shuk, past patrols of soldiers armed for riots.  We see Dome on the Rock, The Holy Sepulcher, the Western Wall, and this really cool abbey called the Dormition Abbey.  

It’s very hot out and after a day of walking in the sun we both really need a break.  We return to the hostel and spend a couple hours doing our own thing.  I read A Storm of Swords on the rooftop while Boris uses his computer.  We head back out just after sundown and are corralled into a bar along the main Jaffa drag.  Normally I hate when bar promoters aggressively grab you off the street and refuse out of principle but this guy’s offer was too good.  15 shekels for a pint of Goldstar and free nargilah thrown in.  We stick around for a pint before heading off again.  After a bit of wondering we end up back at Glen Bar and this time I go for an IPA.  While we sit outside and people watch an older orthodox Jew asks if he can share our table.  We get to talking.  Aaron is a professor of psychology at a medical school in Bristol, UK and he spends his summers with his family in Jerusalem.  By the time he leaves we’ve covered mid-east politics, spirituality, and the meaning of life.  Talking to him has been one of our favorite experiences in Jerusalem so far.  We end the night with a few more episodes of Community before calling it quits around 2.

We checkout at 10:30 and leave our big backpacks in the hostel’s storage room before heading back into the Old City.  First stop of the day is the Tower of David which I really enjoy because it’s the first place we’ve been that actually explains some of the history of the city (and the view isn’t bad either).  We’ve got a lot of time to kill and we’re kind of done with old churches so I drop in for a haircut from an arab barber in the old city, straight razor and everything before headed to a coffee shop for some air conditioning.  At 5 we head out the Damascus gate and emerge into East Jerusalem the Muslim side of town.  

Even as we wait in line for the 18 bus to Ramalla we’re greeted enthusiastically by some 20 something Palestinians who give us their place in line while chatting with Boris about football.  On the bus we meet a self-described activist from Australia who immediately turns the conversation to Marx and general condemnations of the US.  To get to Ramalla we leave East Jerusalem and pass unchecked through the Qalandia checkpoint under signs that read: “Warning.  It is illegal and dangerous to the health of any Israeli citizen to enter the territories of the Palestinian Authority”.  Ramalla is the most prosperous and liberal city in the West Bank and looks no different than any city in Israel other than that all the signs are in Arabic instead of Hebrew.  There aren’t that many westerners in sight so we stand out pretty plainly.  Calls of “Welcome!” and “Where from?” follow us through the streets.  The city is large and sprawls across hills lit red in the sunset.  Almost all of Ramalla is closed down because Friday is the Muslim day of rest but we wander aimlessly for an hour or so before Boris’ friend Tom gets back in town.  We meet him and a few of his roommates at modern cafe near their apartment called the Jasmine.  They’re all Brits volunteering as English teachers through a British civil service program.  They have a really nice apartment in a nice neighborhood with two couches in the living room for us to crash on.

Tom is very anti-Israel and grills me about why I would possibly want to do free labor on a kibbutz and support Israel’s human rights abuses and what not and although I don’t have that many good answers for the human rights abuses I hold my own and the conversation turns away from the heavy stuff.  They have a wide range of views ranging from avidly anti-Israel to mildly pro-Palestinian.  They’re all good guys though and after we get back to their apartment we spend the night talking mid-east politics, false dichotomies, and especially Syria.  One of his roommates, Moodg, is Muslim and he asks me a lot of questions about Judaism.  He’s a really interesting guy and I enjoy talking with him a lot.  By the end of the night they’ve convinced us not to go to Bethlehem.  Tom wants us to go to Hebron to see the occupation in its full force but we decide to go to Jericho to see the monastery atop Mt. Temptation.

We catch a shared taxi or servise in the morning to Jericho.  A couple of guys on the bus can tell we’re kind of lost as to what to do and show us through an open hand full of shekels how much the bus costs.  Jericho is a pretty poor agricultural town on the northern tip of the Dead Sea.  To get there we drive along the security wall for awhile which is topped with layers of barbed wire and adorned with graffiti murals of Arafat interrupted intermittently by heavily armored guard towers.  It is HOT and the long hot walk up Mt. Temptation doesn’t make it feel any less hot.  Boris is interested in the religious history but I’m in it for the mountain monastery over the palm fields.  We both agree it reminds us of the monastery from Batman Begins.  There’s a cave inside where Jesus was supposedly tempted and by luck one of the monks is opening the gate as we pass and invites us in.  We pass through the main shrine and climb down a small tunnel into an even smaller cave where (Russian) pilgrims have stuffed the walls with prayers like the Western Wall.  There’s also a restaurant on top near the monastery and we pause for a refreshing but insanely overpriced cup of fresh squeezed pomegranate juice before heading back down.

The ride between Jericho and Ramalla is a scene straight out of the bible.  A woman atop a donkey leads a flock of sheep over hills of Canaan.  Back in Ramalla I nap for a couple hours on their couch before Moodg takes us out to his favorite falafel spot.  5 shekel!  Everything here is so much cheaper, it’s about what I thought Israel would cost.  I’m determined to try Palestine’s only locally brewed beer, Taybeh, so Boris and I head out to a bar called Bait Aneeseh—House of Anis.  I’ve got to say it’s better than Goldstar.  The Taybeh brewery isn’t too far and I wish we had though to take a brewery tour at some point.  Bait Aneeseh is a pretty upscale place and could be a hookah lounge anywhere back home.  Most of my West Bank experience has been pretty bougie so on the one hand I’ve gotten a pretty unrepresentative view of Palestine, but on the other hand, it has been very valuable to have my expectations shattered.  What better to remind me how much in common we all have?

In the morning we get a frustratingly slow start and leave with Moog around noon to grab the 18 bus back to Jersualem.  Moog is headed into Jerusalem to buy presents for his family.  He says between all his siblings, nephews, nieces, aunts, uncles, and cousins he has to get 26 gifts!  I got my Dad some toothpaste for his birthday.  Some son I am.  All the brits have warned us about the border crossing at Qalandia.  They say it’s entirely unpredictable.  Sometimes the bus passes right through, other times everyone has to get off and wait for 3 hours.  I’m a little nervous but mostly excited to see what happens.  At Qalandia the young men get off the bus to pass through the security point without being asked, they’ve done this enough times.  The older men and the women and children stay on to see how it goes.  Moodg, Boris, and I stay on too.  When the bus pulls up two heavily armed Israeli soldiers get on.  The one in front looks around and then points at us in turn, “Ahad, steim, shalosh”.  He motions us off the bus, glances as our passports, and then sends us through the security checkpoint on foot.  We pass single file through a metal cage with a turnstyle.  On the other end we feed our bags through a xray machine manned by two Israeli soldiers behind thick bomb-proof plexiglass.  We hold our passports up to the window for the two extremely bored soldiers to scrutinize but they hardly even look at them as they wave us on.  The bus is waiting for us on the other side of the checkpoint and we’re back in the Old City by 1:30.  

We enter the Damascus gate with Moodg and walk with him until we hit a fork.  We say our goodbyes as he heads left while we go right until the Jaffa Gate, leaving the Old City for good.  Back at the hostel we pick up our packs and leave behind our waste before headed to the central bus station.  We’re not on our bus til 3 and while the ride from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem only took 45 minutes, this ride takes over an hour and a half.  Boris and I say our goodbyes at the bus station and I head off to find my bus to Ramat HaSharon.  Somethings different about Tel Aviv this time around, it’s incredibly humid.  I’ve got both my backpacks on, I have no idea what bus I’m looking for or where the stop is, and I’m quickly becoming cranky.  I’m tired and sick of Israel.  It’s hot, and expensive, and I feel so morally ambiguous about being here.  I just want to go home.  Eventually I pick up enough wifi outside of a McDonald’s to double check where I need to be going.  To my surprise I’ve actually navigated myself within a couple of blocks of where I need to be.  When I get to the bus stop I’m afraid I’ve missed my bus when it doesn’t show up on time but 10 minutes later it pulls up and I’m on my way to Ramat HaSharon.

As I walk up to Gundar Avraham 7 and ring the doorbell I feel an immense sense of relief.  Having a welcoming home base is such a luxury.  A shower, clean clothes, and open fridge.  These are the finer things in life.  Unfortunately, Nala the family dog was admitted to the hospital today for kidney failure, so Doreet is in pretty poor spirits.  When Tzafrir and Liat get home we hop in the car and drive the 5 minutes to visit Nala.  She’s a pretty sad sight but she’s definitely glad to see us all and even remembers me (I got her her favorite Buba after all).  One of the vets asks Doreet where we are from.  When Doreet answers Ramat HaSharon the vet is surprised.  I hear the word kibbutz in the conversation and then Liat Tzafrir and Doreet all laugh.  Liat explains to me that the vet thought we were all from a kibbutz because she was from a kibbutz herself and she was sure I was a kibbutznik.  2 months and I’m mistaken for a kibbutznik.

In the morning I hear my Dad’s voice in the kitchen as I head downstairs for breakfast.  It’s good to see him even though he can barely stay awake from his long trip.  We walk around Ramat HaSharon and then take a bus to the Bait Hatfutsot— the Disapora Museum.  The museum chronicles the various routes and developments of Jews around the world originating from the 6th century BCE diaspora from Israel.  From an anthropological perspective it’s very interesting to note the ways in which the Jewish people changed and adapted to the various cultures and countries they settled in and inevitably were expelled from again.  Jews have crisscrossed all over Europe and the Middle East as various rulers have alternated between welcoming, persecuting, tolerating, and expelling them over time.  There were also some really cool models of synagogues from all over the world including from small diaspora groups of Jews in India and China.  My two favorite are the Warsaw synagogue which was destroyed in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising (which I wrote a paper on last term) and the Prague synagogue which is the oldest continuously operating synagogue in Europe.

Back outside the humidity is really taking its toll.  It’s 15 degrees cooler here than in Eilot but I think it’s harder to bare.  My Dad is realizing how hot it really is and is already making plans B and C if hiking for a week proves to be unfeasible.  We’re planning on heading north tomorrow morning to stay at his old kibbutz, Naot Mordechai, for two days before starting our trek.  

The Katz’s treat us to a delicious dinner at a nearby restaurant and then my Dad heads up to bed.  He can’t keep his eyes open any more and to be honest I barely can either but If I don’t finish this blog now I’ll be 10 days behind instead of 5.  The longer I wait to write the worse the post is because I’m just writing lists of events rather than narratives.  So much detail is already missing but I’m too tired to delve in any deeper 

Tomorrow begins yet another chapter of my Israel adventure.



Kibbutz Eilot Season Finale

Thursday; dates.  Each day there’s less food in our sandwiches.  Today was a new low with 3 slices of cucumber, 3 slices of tomato, and a sprinkling of tuna for a foot long sub.  I’m growing more and more restless but I take solace in the fact that the week is basically over.  If all goes well I’ll only work 3 hours tomorrow—until breakfast—and then I’ll have the whole day free.  I want to make it down to Princess for one last day of snorkeling.  That being said, I’m not entirely convinced we’ll be released at breakfast.  We’ll see.

When I see a tray of sandwiches waiting for us at breakfast I know that we’re being kept longer.  Technically I could make a fuss.  We’ve already worked 43 hours this week, and according to our “rights and obligations” they can’t force us to work overtime after that.  I decide to bite my tongue and instead just hope that we’ll actually be paid the 20 shekel/hour overtime that is also detailed in our “rights and obligations”.  This is just under the Israeli minimum wage of 22 shekel / hour but given how things have been going on the Kibbutz lately I have my doubts if I’ll see those 40 shekel.  

At 11 we’re free to go and even though it makes a lot more sense to go to Princess beach today while the buses are still running I don’t have it in me.  I’m annoyed we’ve been made to work overtime and tired from a long week and end up sleeping for the entire afternoon.  After dinner we take our regular walk down to the beach for some wine and a late night dip.  

After breakfast Andy and I take our time getting ready but eventually head out intent on making it to Princess Beach.  There’s no public transport on Saturday (Shabbat) and taxis are even more outrageously expensive so we’re going to try our luck hitchhiking.  Getting a ride to the city is one thing, but as far south as Princess Beach is another.

We catch a ride outside the kibbutz in a few minutes from a middle aged Israeli couple on vacation (we get a lot of these it seems).  They drop us off in the center and we walk 5 or 10 minutes further south until we find a decent place to hitch from.  Car after car passes us with not even a glance until an old beat us VW bus pulls around the corner.  ”That one has hitchhiker written all over it” and even as I’m finishing my prophecy I can make out the driver moving bags from the front seat.  It pulls over and we’re greeted by a tan Dutch carpenter expat smoking a joint.  He’s been living in Eilat for 5 years and is on his way down to Snuba beach which is just minutes from Princess Beach.  Score.

We both spend the first hour or so at the beach just reading and dozing.  It isn’t until Andy asks to borrow my mask that I notice that I’ve lost my snorkel at some point during the journey.  A bummer but better than losing the mask.  We take turns going out and we each see some new fish that we haven’t seen yet.  I especially enjoy the cannonball off the pier into the crystal water.

We start to head back as the sun starts dipping over the Sinai.  We walk while thumbing for 15 minutes before catching a ride halfway back to the city.  From there it’s the same story until we catch another ride back into the city proper.  Once in the city we have to walk a bit north, past the last roundabout after the airport, and then we catch one more ride all the way back to the kibbutz.  It’s taken us 5 different connections but we’ve successfully hitchhiked to Princess Beach and back.

Sunday is more dates. Harry is getting awful close to the end of his journey.  He’s already found one horcrux and protagonists are dying left and right.

After another 8 hours of date packing on Monday Elly taps my shoulder:  ”Nate, go see Aviv.  She has” he mimes a package “for you”.  My face lights up.  ”Really?  My mom sent that a month ago!”  I speed through lunch in anticipation of my package.  When I tear it open I find a letter, Sees suckers, inserts for my work shoes, coffee grounds, a disposable underwater camera, and gummy worms.  It’s exciting to get all that stuff but disappointing because it’s too late to use almost all of it and it’s all stuff I would’ve loved to have these past couple months.  At least the gummy worms are still useful and maybe I can use the soles during my trek with my Dad.

5:30 is darker than ever on Tuesday but It’s my last conscious dawn.  It feels fitting for Harry to wrap up his saga as I do mine.  I even get a little bit choked up when Perch comes back and when George, Tonks, and Lupin all die.  After work Elly comes up to me and shakes my hand, thanking me for my work and telling me to drop by tomorrow morning for a box of dates.  At lunch Hadas hands me my 500 shekel for the month and I feel kind of like I’ve finished a race or something.  I made it.  I’m elated and already nostalgic, but it’s time to move on.

Boris and I debate whether to take the 10:00 or the 2:30 bus to Jerusalem tomorrow.  I want to take the 10 but I don’t put up much of a fight because the idea of sleeping in and lazily packing my bag doesn’t sound too bad to me really.  People are talking about a “going away” thing tonight but since they all have to be up tomorrow I doubt it will be anything different than the usual beer around the fire, which is fine with me.

Between listening to so much Harry Potter and living with two brits I’ve unwittingly started using some British language such as “piss poor” and “fancy”.  So, cheers Eilot.



Dates, cont’d.

Two Ecuadorian girls from Quito are escorted into the Oasis by Hadas while Chung, Andy, and I prepare for our pizza “party”.  Chung’s bought 3 pizzas at the minimart and we’re busy adorning them with onions, hotdogs, peppers, and garlic.  We cook 2 in the toaster ovens in the kitchen and one on the fire in tin foil.  They come out great except for the one on the fire which is so burnt underneath that it tastes like charcoal.  Oh well.

Boris and I start into season 2 of Community and so far it’s hilarious.  It just keeps getting better, every episode a genre satire of some sort of movie or tv show or another.  I manage my first good night’s sleep in awhile, meaning, I get into bed at 11, fall straight asleep, and stay asleep until 5:30.  Funny how relative things like “a good night’s sleep” are.

The date imaging machine breaks down at 11:15 and we’re all told to come back at 1:30.  In some ways this is nice because it’s an unexpected 2 hour break but really it means we’ll be working 2 more hours and without a lunch break inbetween.  I’d rather just keep working and get it over with.  I intend on taking a nap for those two hours but only manage a 30 minute nap between adding Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince to my phone and talking to my sister online.

I finish up The Order of the Phoenix and move right on to The Half Blood Prince so I guess it was a good thing we got that break otherwise i’d be working without any distraction for the rest of the day.  Elly doesn’t stop us working til 5 and then we have to clean for half an hour so I’ve woken up at 5:30 am and returned home from work at 5:30 pm.  Fun day.

Back at the Oasis I start back on the Kafka stories.  Reading has REALLY hit a wall lately.  I only read once every 3-4 days now as opposed to 3-4 hours or so a day.

The next morning at work Elly keeps reprimanding me: “Nate, a little bit faster. This is too slow”.  I can’t reasonably go any faster and I know I’ll be replaced by the end of the day.  Sure enough, Elly comes by to tell me to go faster and to let me know that Andy will replace me after breakfast.  I let my temper go on Elly a little bit next time he tells me to go faster.  I ask him how I can go faster and he makes his point by loading 5 pallets in at super speed.  I scoff and say that I’d like to see him do that for 8 hours (with a little bit more scorn than I should have) and he scowls at me before leaving.

M new job is weighing 5 kilos of dates into their final boxes and picking out bad ones as they come through.  Wet and squishy go to the left, dry and stiff go to the right.  We have to sit on stools and lean over scales which really hurts my back so I alternate between sitting and standing every few boxes.

Chloe comes through midday with order to cut all our pockets away. Because of this I cant keep my ipod on me unless I’m sitting down, so in some ways it’s good that I had to switch spots, but the new job is definitely a downgrade and like i said before, my back ACHES.  We finish up at 2:30 and decline Elly’s offer for extra hours after lunch by laughing loudly and shaking my head.  

Back at camp a Guatemalan girl has arrived.  I think Spanish speakers are now officially the majority.  A 2 hour nap leaves me feeling really groggy and tired and I only get out of bed to make it to the market before it closes at 6.  They’re out of the italian brand pasta sauce so I go for the Israeli one which ends up being far too sweet and pasty so I hardly eat any of my dinner at all before putting away the left overs.

Stepping outside, The Oasis is hardly recognizable.  Between the 2 americans, 2 brits, 3 turks, 1 austrian, 2 south africans, 1 german, 7 colombians, 2 ecuadorians, the guatemalan, and the 4 israelis living here there’s always people outside milling around making international phone calls, channel surfing tv they can’t understand, or waiting to use one of 3 hot plates in the kitchen.  I pass the short evening in the usual way: shisha, music, Breaking Bad, and Community.  I’m in bed by 11 but I have a rough time falling asleep and an even rougher time staying there.

I wake up each morning miserable and counting how many more 5:30 wake ups I have while dressing in the dark so as not to wake up Will or Boris.  Only 5 more after this one.

The 40 something Israeli sitting next to me at work keeps trying to talk to me but I really just want to listen to Harry Potter and I can’t stop to go back or pause so each time she asks me questions I miss the story.  At first I’m polite but i’m sick of small talk and questions about what I studied so I’m answering her questions of “Is it good to live in America?” “Is there problems between whites and blacks in america?” and “but what job can you do with this?” with shorter and shorter replies to stave off further conversation.

I’m also getting annoyed with Harry.  Half the problems in the books arise from his selfishness and shortsightedness.  He really is egotistical and arrogant, and it is his fault Sirius died among other tragedies.

I’m writing now to keep myself awake.  I’m trying very hard not to nap today so that I can sleep better tonight, but the bed right next to me is awful tempting.

I’ve made it a few stories in to my Kafka collection and I must admit I was hoping to like him more than I do.  There’s moments i really like but also stuff that i find kind of tedious and unnecessary.  I think i was hoping to like him more because of my affinity for the surreal and because he was a Jew in Prague as I too shall soon be.

My back is really bothering me, I spend all day trying to correct my posture but no matter what it aches.  Maybe this will help keep me up, but I need to find something other than reading in bed if I’m trying not to fall asleep.




Andy and I set out with backpacks full of water and sunflower seeds towards the bird reserve.  He thinks we should take a right, walk south down the highway until the roundabout, and then follow the road off to the bird reserve.  I think we should just hop the highway barrier and walk straight towards the bird reserve.  We end up going my way.  It’s pretty nice.  There’s a couple shallow salt lakes with little hideouts to watch the birds from.  Apparently it’s an important stop for birds migrating between Europe and Africa?  There’s also supposed to be some Egyptian Dragons but we don’t spot any.  As nice as sitting on the little island in the “lake” is, it’s too hot.  Today is surprisingly hazy and humid for some reason.  The most it’s been sine I’ve been down here and the difference it makes is tangible.  We head back home after an hour or so which is really only a 15 or 20 minute walk.

Not long after we get back I start up a cooking fire and within an hour I’m contentedly munching on my pita stuffed with mustard, fried onions, peppers, and garlic, and hot dogs.  It’s a quiet night of a beer around the fire with lots of faces including a handful of the new Israeli seasonal workers who have moved in next door.  I head in to sleep at 10:30 because I have a 5:30 wake up tomorrow but I have no luck getting to bed early with 2 others in the room.  Boris stays up late on his computer and even though he isn’t listening to music or anything the glow and arrhythmic tapping and clicking keeps me up.  I’m not a sensitive sleeper once I’m asleep but I’m awful at getting to sleep.

It’s darker out than I thought it’d be at 5:30.  Nearly total dark but with a hint of light coming up over Jordan.  At the packing house Elly starts pointing us to our various roles.  I’m assigned to the first job on the conveyor belt.  It’s my job to load the dates into the whole system.  It wouldn’t be so bad if my headphones weren’t as crippled as they are.  They only work if I find a sweet spot and leave it exactly still, so maybe if I had a job at the scales where I could sit still and leave it off to the side they would work but my job requires a lot of moving, pivoting, and lifting so no music or books for me.

They make me start out loading the dates very slow so the sorters can get the feel of it.  Everyone past them has almost nothing to do because of how slow the dates are coming through.  The dates get sorted, vetoed, and resorted at such a high rate that it takes kilos and kilos of dates in my end to make one fully wrapped and sealed 5 kilo box to ship.

We break at 9 for a breakfast of tuna sandwiches at the packing house.  I sit next to an Israeli who asks me where I’m from.  ”Ah California, I was just there.  Like literally 2 days ago” “No, not vacation, I was working at a summer camp in Malibu”.  I venture a long shot, “Hess Kramer?” His eyes widen “No!  How did you know?”  Turns out he used to go to Hilltop and this summer he worked as a counselor at Kramer where I used to go as a kid.  I remember having 20 something Israeli summer counselors and thinking they were so cool.  He loves working there because they party all night after the kids go to sleep, and, the California girls.  Roy said something to the same effect about working as a counselor at Tawonga.

After breakfast Karden lets me use her headphones and the job goes really quickly.  We work til 11 and then we’re done for the day.  At 12 Andy, Leah, and I head into Eilat.  We catch a ride before we’ve even left the kibbutz halfway to Eilat.  A minute later we catch another ride to the center.  Within 30 seconds of getting to the bus stop the 15 shows up.  Perfect hitching luck.  Things are going our way.

After the bus Leah heads off to a pay-beach she wants to go to and Andy and I try our luck at getting back into the Observatory.  Technically our tickets are expired but we enter with no resistance and even run into Chai who arranges a free ride for us in the glass bottomed boat fashioned after the Yellow Submarine, known more affectionately as, the Coral 2000.

We catch a ride with Chai back into Eilat at 3 and stick around to swim for a couple hours on the beach.  Leah meets back up with us and we all head up the highway to hitchhike north to Eilot.  We get a ride from some young girls fairly quickly and we’re home by 5:45.  I’ve been up since 5:30 and had a full long day without spending a single shekel.

Shabbat dinner is followed by a farewell party for Leah who is leaving to travel with her parents tomorrow.  The highlight of the night are the Tango lessons the Colombians attempt to give us.  I’m awful at it.

Today is Saturday, August 17th.  Which is to say, I’ve been in Israel 2 months.

I spend the whole day inside playing sudoku on my phone.  I don’t feel like going to the beach, and other than that, there’s not much to do.  The best news of the whole day is that Breaking Bad is back!  I immediately download the latest episode when I find out and watch it with Andy who also keeps up with Breaking Bad.  I can’t wait for the final Scarface showdown that is inevitable.  I also watch season 1 finale of Community with Boris.  He’s gotten me into it and we’ve slowly been making our way through the season.  

We hop into bed early again around 10:45 and even though I feel tired I can’t sleep at all.  Maybe it’s because I haven’t moved all day, or because I’ve napped, or because there’s 3 people in the room, or I don’t know why but I just can’t sleep. Sometime late I finally drift off into fitful sleep, waking up throughout the night.

5:30 wake up and back to the same spot on the assembly line at 6.  Today I’m armed with Boris’ earbuds which helps immensely.  I spend 8 hours picking up a black crate (remember those from July?) of dates, turning/walking over to the beginning of the conveyor belt, and slowly dumping the dates in so that they’res a single layer of dates entering the wash.  Then I stack the empty crate on another pallet, and begin again.  Every now and again I snag a date, you know, for quality control.

It’s a bizarre workout.  I’m only lifting 4 or 5 pounds at a time but I do over a thousand reps and my arms are pretty sore by the end of the day.

I nap for a few hours after work and then head up to the minimart to get some onions, peppers, and salami.  It’s Chung’s last day today and he’s spent the rest of his minimart money on pizza and beer for us so I’m just grabbing some toppings for the pizzas. 

I haven’t told Hadas yet that I’m leaving on the 28th which I really need to do because it’s going to creep up on me before I know it.  In fact, that’s only 10 days. Hard to believe I’ll be leaving here in 10 days, but Israel in a month.  Definitely mixed emotions about leaving and staying.  If I came here to figure anything out than by all means it was a failure, but if I came here to meet people from all over the world, to work hard, and for a novel experience then it definitely was a success.  Of course a lot could happen in 10 days so I don’t want to write as if it’s the end yet.

I’ll update in a couple days but don’t expect much new news.  It’ll just be dates from here on out.



A lot to process.

Another late night visit from Udi and another day off!  That makes half days Sunday and Monday and days of Tuesday and Wednesday.  By far the least work I’ve done since I’ve been here. 

Breakfast is painstakingly absent of fresh fruit, yogurt, and whole grains.  I’m pretty bummed because breakfast was by far my favorite meal (and also where I crammed in the most calories) but now it’s just wonder bread and eggs.  Andy and I plan to go back to the Observatory after lunch since we have return tickets and a day off.  I begin my collection of Kafka stories with The Metamorphosis which I read a long time ago but could definitely use a refresher on, watch some Starcraft, and take care of some calls my Dad asked me to make in regards to finding a campsite for Rosh Hashana.

After lunch Andy, Chung, and I head out to the highway to hitchhike.  It takes us a while but we eventually catch a half ride to Eilat and walk the rest to the 15 bus stop.  The 15 pulls away just as we get in sight and we settle down for a bit of a wait.  We’re pretty sure the next one will come in 20 minutes although I don’t dismiss the possibility that it could be a full hour.

After 40 minutes or so Chung is feeling very sick from something he ate so he takes a taxi back home.  A 15 bus heads right towards us and then takes a sudden left at the traffic circle which incites yells from tourists and Israelis alike.  It’s been well over an hour now.  An Indian-Israeli guy starts up conversation with me and Andy and the bus stop and wants us to split a taxi with him to the southern beaches which is where we’re headed.  We consider it but it’s already 4:15 and we’re no longer sure we’ll even be let in the Observatory so we decide to change our plans and salvage what’s left of the day on North Beach instead.

At 6 Andy leaves to get a haircut and I start trying to hitchhike home.  After 15 or 20 minutes I catch a ride from a kibbutznik in her late 50s or early 60s.  I’ve found that to get a ride north you have to walk up to the very farthest north traffic circle in Eilat which is already a good chunk of the walk back.

Chung and I have picked up dogs and mustard to grill tonight so I get a fire going early so that it will have time to get plenty hot and then die down so that we can grill over it.  

While it’s burning away Boris gives me an ultimatum about our potential Palestine travels.  He’s been asking me for a week or so now if I want to leave the kibbutz with him on the 28th and spend a night or two in Jerusalem and then a night or two in Palestine.  He has a friend in Ramalla and also wants to visit Hebron and Bethlehem.  I’ve been putting it off and telling him I’ll think about it but he needs to know tonight.  I’m very torn.  I want to go, and more than that, I feel like I really should go.  I’ve had so much Israel propaganda stuffed down my throat this summer that I really don’t feel good about not at least getting a glimpse of the other side of the story.  How can I even expect to form opinions on issues that have been nagging at my conscious the entire time I’ve been here if I only see and smell and taste Israel.  I write my Dad for advice and although first cautioning me not to, later concedes that I should do what I feel is right.  I decide to go although I tell Boris that I don’t want to go to Hebron because I don’t feel entirely comfortable there.  I’m also going to keep a close eye on peace talks that just started between Israel and Palestine because that could affect the situation.

We roast the dogs on a metal grate balanced on some bricks over the hot coals and I fry up peppers, onions, and garlic to stuff the pita with.  Absolutely delicious. 

After dinner I check my email to see if there’s any update on my Grandma.  She’s been in very poor health for the past week or so and my Dad has told me he thinks it’s only a matter of days before she passes.  This time I finally see the email I’ve been anxiously checking for every couple hours.  My Grandma Shirley has died.  She was 95 and went peacefully, and as I’ve discussed with my Dad, I think she was ready to go.  She had become more and more withdrawn and really I think all she wanted was to finally rest.  I was hoping by coming home in September I would be able to see her one last time, but I also left in June knowing that I probably wouldn’t see her again.  I don’t really know how to feel about anything, or rather, I know I should feel more grief stricken but right now I don’t feel anything.  Her death is in no way unexpected and I truly believe she had lived a long full life and was entirely ready to go, but still I feel like I should feel more.  More than anything I feel bad for my Dad who has slowly watched her health decline over the past few years and tirelessly taken care of her.

I don’t tell anyone what’s happened and watch Princess Mononoke with Leah and Boris who both love it.  (Coincidentally I’ll find out later in the evening that Hayao Miyazaki is releasing a new movie this year about the inventor of the Mitsubishi Zero.  I’m absolutely intrigued.)  During the movie Udi has payed us another visit and we learn upon leaving the kitchen that we don’t have to start work until 11am tomorrow.  11.  Knowing this there’s no real inventive to sleep and I stay up late around the shisha pipe with Leah, Leah, Chloe, Will, Jonathan, Simon, and Maria.  I’m mostly on Facebook talking to Alec about my Grandma, he’s the only person I’ve told.

Around 1:30 two of the security guards who work at the gate to the Sunrise start yelling down at us.  I assume it’s because we’re playing music very loudly for 1:30 but instead they beckon me over.  They’re standing 20 feet above me leaning over the rail.  They start speaking in hebrew quickly, “Ani lo evrit, schliha” I apologize.” “Deutch?” they ask.  ”English” I answer.  This frustrates them as they’re English isn’t that great but they explain to me that the highway has been closed down by the army, and that there are 2 “terrorists”.  If we see them, we’re to tell them immediately.  ”uh…ok.  tov. And the music?”  ”Music is fine, just a little quiet”. 

Everyone is anxious for me to explain what’s going on but I don’t really know myself.  The best that I could figure out is that there’s two terrorists on the loose and they might be around here?  It all seems kinda silly, like how are we going to see two people at 2 in the morning and be able to identify them as terrorists and then go tell someone?  There’s nothing in the news about it yet so we just have to be content with that.

Either way this signals bedtime.  Lights off at 2 but I’m not tired at all.  I can’t stop thinking about my Grandma, and feeling guilt at my present lack of grief, and feeling sympathy for my Dad, and curiosity about what’s going on outside.  I plug in Harry Potter and after 30 or 40 minutes finally get to sleep.

I wake up at 10 and quickly check the Israeli headlines before hurrying to breakfast.  There was nothing about Eilat or terrorism and plenty of cars seem to be going to and from the highway so whatever was happening last night couldn’t have been too big a deal.  11 gets postponed to 11:30 and even then we wait around the packing house for almost an hour before Elly finds us.  

We’re given some more forms to sign and some new instructions.  From now on we’ll start work at 6 am, we’ll have breakfast at 9 still but we’ll eat it at the packing house.  It will either be tuna or cream cheese sandwiches.  I’m not too excited about either of these things.  The 6 am not only because it’s early but because it cuts one habitable hour from my schedule.  No one leaves their rooms before 7 before its simply too hot, so now if we work until 3 I have 4 hours of sitting in my room and then only 3 hours of socializing before I’ll have to go to bed.  Also, I’ve learned that Boris has asked to be relocated to our room to make space for 2 Turkish volunteers.  With two factory workers who don’t have to wake up until 9 it’s hard to imagine I’ll be getting the sleep I need to wake up at 5:30.  Also, a tuna sandwich for breakfast every morning is going to get old fast.  No fruit?  No juice?  No yogurt?  No pancakes?  No eggs?

Elly also explains what happened last night.  Two people were spotted illegally crossing the Jordan-Israel border.  Everyone assumed the worst first but when they were caught it was found that they were just Turks looking for work.  Following the news update Elly moves down his list of talking points: “I have said already and I say again, don’t eat the cats”.  This sends us into fits of giggles and even Elly can’t help but laugh at himself when we point out the difference between feed and eat.  We get the same tour of the packing house we had on Sunday (or Monday?  I don’t remember) but with more jokes.  Elly even closes us in the fridge and cuts the light to scare us.  We get off at 1:15 and we start for real packing dates at 6 tomorrow morning.  So it has (for real this time I swear) begun.  He also mentions that because of the high holy days there are only 12 work days in all of September.  Goddamn Colombians.

At lunch I’m chastised for taking 4 spring rolls instead of 3.  Where the hell did all these rules come from?  Someone else got yelled at for taking both chicken and fish.  What the fuck?  They used to smile at us with “betayavon” while we helped ourselves and now they scowl and sneak looks over our shoulders to check how much food we’ve taken.  All this over the ourse of two days.  What happened?  Honestly it feels really rude and very un-kibbutz like.  There’s a lot of discontent among the volunteers about it.  I sit with some of the new Israeli workers and talk to a 23 year old named Orr for most of lunch.

Andy and I are planning a hike to the “bird-watching reserve” across the highway in an hour or so.  The date season and all the company makes me wish I was staying on the kibbutz longer but the sleeping situation and the sudden food restrictions make me want to get out of here asap. I’ve been spending a lot of time researching Prague lately, maybe it’s just because it’s not here, but that’s where I want to be right now.  Also I wish I was there so I could enjoy a little Prague before the long gray cruel winter sets in but I suppose that’s just more incentive for me to stay there longer. 



Triple Christmas

Well the Colombians are here and a new era has begun.  I haven’t really gotten a chance to get to know any of them yet but they’re all friendly enough and with names like Maria, Simon, Jonathan, Vanessa, and Esteban.  Their English isn’t amazing and so far they’re mostly sticking together but it’s only day 1.

As soon as we get to work we’re informed it will be a half day.  I was expecting to get off a little early because there just isn’t any work left to do except make more boxes but the warehouse is almost out of room for more boxes.  The Colombians drop by for a workplace tour sometime after breakfast and oggle at us while we numbly fold boxes.  Elly comes over around noon to tell us that we’ll work until 1 and then go home.  He also hands us all medical release forms that we have to sign saying we don’t suffer from X and Y diseases except the English translation is poor and it says “I ______ hereby declare that I suffer/have suffered from: X, Y, Z, ….” so that to sign it is to admit to having suffered heart disease, epilepsy, drug addiction and so on.  As we’re cleaning up the work area at the end of the day I get to ride the auto-lift for the first time to take a pallet of recycling outside.  Awesome!  That thing goes surprisingly fast and turns on a dime.  Chung says I should just ride off to Eilat.  I wonder if the batteries would last that far…

I’m not used to finishing so early and I’m not sure what to do with myself.  I debate between going to lunch and going back to camp and I opt to read for awhile to build up my appetite.  I keep almost falling asleep while reading Big Sur (not because it’s boring, on the contrary it may be my favorite Kerouac yet, but just because I’m drowsy) and at 2 head up to the dining hall for falafal day.  There Andy asks if I want to take a hike later and we agree to meet at 4:20 to go to the minimart and 4:45 to head out to the mountain.  I read for a bit then nap until it’s time to meet up.

Chung and Leah end up joining us on the hike and we go up to the same peak as Chung, Andy, and I did before.  It’s definitely worth the revisit.  I have a 360* panorama of Jordan, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt.  I won’t go into too much detail describing the view because I irritated by redundancy but the sweeping view of the desert valley leads right into the Red Sea and behind layers and layers of browns continue off into the Sinai.  My favorite is standing level with thep lanes as they begin their descent into Eilat.

While I’m cooking dinner of pasta, sauce, and chicken Udi gathers everyone around the Oasis for a group talk.  I’ve got stuff in the oven and the frying pan so I decide to say in the kitchen and find out second hand what’s up.  Leah and Will pop their heads in grinning: day off tomorrow for a field trip to the underwater observatory!  Could this week get any better?  2 half-assed days of work and then a field trip.  Rad.

We’ve planned on watching 2001 A Space Odyssey but the tv usb input can only support movies in .avi format and it’s in .mkv so we postpone until we can download a converter.  I spend the rest of the night outside around the fire but head in early to read for awhile before going to bed.  I’m really tired from 2 nights of lackluster sleep and a long hike in the sun.  

Just as I’m drifting off to sleep a low siren like from a World War 2 movie enters my half-dream.  It becomes louder and clearer as I come to consciousness and is punctuated by 2 loud distinct booms.  I consider getting up to find shelter but the air raid siren stops so I just turn over and try and get back to sleep over the Colombian’s anxious chattering outside.

Dad’s already heard about it by the time i wake up.  Two or three rockets were fired from the Sinai at Eilat and the newly installed Iron Dome system got it’s first shot at action intercepting 1 of the rockets.  That makes 2 rocket attacks on Eilat in less than 2 months since I’ve been here.

The morning takes a turn for the worse at breakfast.  It had to happen eventually but I had a glimmer of hope that maybe I would pass by unscathed since I made it this far.  the forbidden table is finally actually forbidden.  There’s a table with all the best food including fruit, yogurt, and bread that isn’t just wonder bread.  We’ve never technically been aloud to eat from there but we’ve been left alone for the past month and a half but this morning we’re scolded and told not to from now on.  I blame the Colombians.

After breakfast 3 vans take us down to a beach just south of the observatory.  I snorkel, read, and talk to Hadas over the next couple hours before heading into the observatory where we get a free (although lackluster) lunch at the cafeteria and then a quick tour from Chai. As he’s showing us a selection of molted lobster shells Chung taps my shoulder and gestures, “In Taiwan, we drink lobster blood” “You drink it?” “Yes,” he nods, “alcohol” and smiles. “You drink alcoholic lobster blood? That’s badass Chung.” “Yes” he nods.

We’re free to go where we please after the tour and I spend most of the time listening to The Life Aquatic sound track and staring out the windows underwater  I could literally do this for hours, I far prefer it to people.  I spend a lot of time thinking about what that means about me.  Does it make me a bad person?  Will I inevitably end up lonely?  I don’t know.  I reposition myself at window with very little coral in the foreground and just enjoy the rays shining through the surf above and the glimmering bursts of light coming off the school of tiny fish in the distance.

Before we leave Chai hands us all little fold up reference guides with pictures and names of common Red Sea fish.  I’m actually really excited about this because people keep asking me about what kind of fish I’ve seen and I feel stupid not being able to answer.  I’ll make a list later.

I’ve just downloaded a converter program and I’m working on converting 2001 A Space Odyssey, The Life Aquatic, and Come and See amongst others into a format supported by our TV.  Hoping for a short day tomorrow although I’m sure we’ll do a lot of cleaning in preparation for Thursday.