Friday, October 16, 2009

Another Crazy Week

***This post is from Saturday, October 3 through Saturday, October 10. There will be another post from Sunday, October 10 soon.

By now, I’ve pretty much settled in and gotten used to daily life here. But that does not mean things have gotten boring. There are stretches of time when I get a little bored, but every day this week, there has been something new and exciting. I’m not going to waste time with an intro, so I’ll get right into the good stuff.

About ten minutes after I published my last post, I went to a Seed-Sucking Festival. I had no idea what that meant, but people said it would be interesting. It was interesting to say the least. The location of this festival was Yair’s (יאיר) house, which is less than a minute’s walk from the caravans. Yair is a hippie/rasta kibbutznik who got out of the army about 7 years ago. He wanted to turn his small front yard into a garden using a concept called biodynamics. The idea is that if you love and care for your plants, the energy that you put in helps the plants grow larger and healthier. We went through these elaborate rituals, being “smudged” with incense, chanting “ohms,” sucking seeds, and sprinkling “diamond water” on the new seedlings.

We were up early the next morning for a tour of Elaine Solowey’s experimental orchard. Elaine is one of the professors at the Arava Institute. She teaches a class called Sustainable Agriculture in addition to maintaining a vast orchard. As we walked through her orchard, we learned about different species of plants and trees that Elaine has been growing, studying, and domesticating for the last 30 years. Her main objective is to find plants and trees that can survive and thrive in the Arava desert. Obviously, date palms are well-suited for the Arava, and dates are very lucrative. Elaine was here 30 years ago to plant and domesticate the first date palms on Kibbutz Ketura. Many people (including myself before this tour) don’t realize that fruit trees can’t just be planted, grown, and harvested. It often takes 4-5 generations of careful observation, fertilization, and pollination to grow trees that are ready for harvest. For many trees, a single generation is 5 years, so it is easy to see how long this project is. Elaine claims that if she can domesticate 5 species of plants that can survive in the Arava, that are marketable, and profitable, she will be satisfied with her work for the last 30 years. From what I can see, she is doing pretty well. Currently, there are two trees that seem to have a good future: the argania and the marula. For the argania, Elaine traveled to Morocco to find seeds that she could use for her orchard. After years of observation, research and pollination, the arganias are producing many kilos of nuts to be turned into a very profitable type of oil. In addition, they only require 12 cubic meters of water every year. Elaine found the marula tree in South Africa. By a similar process, Elaine is now harvesting a huge amount of delicious, tangy, yellow fruits. Recently, she struck a deal with Vaniglia to make marula ice cream. She has also figured out how to make rum with marulas. These are just two examples of species that Elaine is working with. She also grows medicinal and ornamental species. It took us over 4 hours to tour her orchard and we didn’t even get through all of it.

Later that night, I had a great chance to practice my Hebrew. The week of Sukot is celebratory, and the kibbutz hosts a different musical event every night. Sunday night was designated for kibbutz members to give presentations about their favorite musicians and bands. I went with Benjamin, whose Hebrew is pretty elementary, so I translated for him. After the presentation, we were in the mood to play some music, so we headed over to the music shack. We played for a long time, and the volunteers made a big bonfire outside.

Monday was our Eilat daytrip. I was pretty excited to see the only big city within a few hours from the kibbutz. In actuality, Eilat isn’t that big, but it feels good to be in a city after spending so much time on the kibbutz. We arrived in Eilat around 11, wandered around for an hour, had some lunch, and went snorkeling. Snorkeling was incredible! There were tons and tons of beautiful fish. There were some really big ones and schools of tiny ones. At one point, I swam with a school of thousands of small fish. Every time I swam left or right, the entire school would do the same thing! I want to get an underwater case for my camera to go snorkeling with.

After snorkeling, we did some shopping and eating. I got a big shawarma which was delicious after weeks of kibbutz food. I also bought some tennis balls, bandanas, and a hat. After dinner, a bunch of people went back to the kibbutz, but 4 of us went on a quest to find this beer festival that we heard about a few days before. It took us forever to find it, but finally we arrived. On the way, we bumped into Yuval, a post-army garin/kibbutznik. It was the opening night, and we were required to buy the 3-day pass for 45 NIS (about $12). Once inside, there was a band playing and an assortment of about 50 beers. With one of my beers, I got a free cigar. I wasn’t planning on smoking it, but I was convinced that it would be fun for the 4 of us to share it. We all got some funny pictures with the cigar, but it was nasty. I don’t think I’ll be doing that again. We caught the 1 AM bus back to the kibbutz and went to bed around 2.

Nothing too eventful happened during the day on Tuesday, but after dinner everyone had “home hospitality night” with a staff from the Arava Institute. Adi and I were assigned to Rabbi Michael and Allison (his wife who also works at the institute). We had a good discussion and some great brownies. After a while, I asked Rabbi Michael if he knew my rabbi, Steve Segar. I have mentioned previously that I enjoy the conversations I have had with Rabbi Michael, and that he reminds me of Rabbi Steve. Well, there is a connection. They went to Rabbinical School together, and have been good friends since.

After leaving Rabbi Michael and Allison’s home, I made a mistake by going back to the beer fest. There were a few more people who wanted to go, and I agreed to go because I had a 3-day pass. Raphi and I tried to hitchhike to Eilat, but with no success. We ended up taking a bus. The beer fest itself was a lot of fun again. My mistake was that I stayed too late, so there were no more buses going north until the next morning. Raphi and I met up with about 5 volunteers at the festival, so we split up into groups to hitchhike back. Unfortunately, my group of three never got picked up, so we slept on the sidewalk at a bus stop until 7 AM. We got back to the kibbutz a little after 8 and I went straight to sleep.

Because I technically don’t have a schedule for ulpan, I had the flexibility to sleep pretty much the entire day on Wednesday. I ended up sleeping through breakfast and lunch, but got to dinner. After dinner, we had a night-hike/camping trip planned with a group of volunteers from Kibbutz Lotan (about 5 minutes away from Ketura). Feeling well-rested and ready for some activity, I was eager to get going, but they left without me! I was told to meet outside at 7:30, but I went outside at 7:30 and everyone had been gone for 10 minutes. I was lucky that Adi adheres to the schedule too, and that he has hiked the trail before. We set out together to find the rest of the group, but we lost the trail pretty quickly in the dark. Instead of hiking on a trail, we were climbing up a rocky mountain. After a lot of perseverance and a couple of cuts, we found the group at the top of the mountain. The view was astonishing—we could see all of the surrounding kibbutzim and all the way to Eilat. From the peak, we hiked some more to our camping site. A few guys got a nice bonfire going, and we all sat around singing and talking. I had another restless night because the blanket I brought was a tad too small for me, and the desert gets pretty cold at night.

Thursday was a day of work. We hiked back pretty early in the morning, so I took a nap until around 10. By this point, I was pretty far behind on my Hebrew studies, so I did some catching up. In the afternoon, I worked straight from around 2 until 7. I started off helping a few kibbutz kids move a heavy cart; then I helped Dane carry some fruits and vegetables up to the caravans; then I mudbuilt for a few hours; then I helped set up for a concert in the Mercaz; then I did some more mudbuilding. Most of that is pretty self-explanatory, but I will explain mudbuilding. Basically, there are not too many building materials available here in the desert, so mudbuilding uses the available resources and takes advantage of very dry heat. Structures and walls are typically built using a combination of sand, dirt, clay, hay, rocks, and water. Mixing some of this stuff together, it gets to be a thick, putty substance. However, the water evaporates very quickly, so the mud/sand/clay hardens into something like concrete. A kibbutznik named Adam designed the project. He wanted to make the camel area into a garden area. His plans are pretty elaborate, and the project still isn’t finished, so I’ll update you on the progress of that.

Friday and Saturday were focused on Simchat Torah. Friday morning, Rabbi Michael led another lesson on the meaning of Simchat Torah and the visual importance of the Torah itself. As usual, it was a very enlightening session. Services Friday night were a lot of fun. The service itself was brief, and the celebration was extensive. Everyone on the kibbutz comes for Simchat Torah to drink, dance, and sing. Dinner was surprisingly good after services. There was a little more partying on Saturday, but for the most part it was calm.

One last note: there were clouds for the first time since I’ve been here.

1 comment:

  1. Gabe, it sounds full of life, with you having such diverse experiences. I'll email later. Much love, Daddy