How much longer?
I texted Bond, James from the Israeli phone my cousin gave me to use at Neot S’madar…
6 minutes. He texted back.
OMG! I jumped on Tessa’s bike and raced the half mile from my hut to meet him at the front gate of the Kibbutz . . . my inner voice laughing… “will he even ‘get’ this place?”
Because I do . . . these brilliant students of behavioral science eco-living in the middle of a desert . . . I know what they’re all about and I really like them.
It’d been six weeks since Bond, James and I had kiss-off’d at the airport in Johannesburg, and I was determined that he experience Neot S’madar for himself during his four-day stay, without me giving away the plot . . . their raisin d’être that I finally got — Because, of course, their belief system allows for each of us to take away whatever we take away, i.e., if you’re there, you’re supposed to be there (there are no accidents . . . and whenever you leave, you’re supposed to (leave).
I knew my experience this year would be different from last year’s — and sure ’nuff, from the moment of re-entry, I could feel the shift. It looked the same . . . everything was where I remembered and it was unbelievably heartwarming to see the people I knew again — But they lose and gain an average of 30% of their population each year, and some of the missing faces surprised me (as much as some of the new faces seemed odd). They moved houses and jobs in the year I’d been away too . . . so daytime and free time, no one was where they were before –which was disorienting. I was assigned to a new hut (single mattress on the floor in a shared room –with a wonderful 22-year old Israeli from Jerusalem, fresh out of the Army, who told me I was the most interesting roommate she’s ever had . . . Really? At 22 . . . ) in a new enclave (on the far edge of the colony) — and had to adjust to a different dynamic in the various work stations I was assigned to: new teams were in charge.
It was busy — productivity was up and spare moments were limited. Afternoon shifts that were optional last year, we’re obligatory this year. Somewhat hilariously, my tasks were more of the same: washing floors, waitressing and labeling jam, with the occasional setting tables (dining room), preparing sandwiches (restaurant) and actually fixing the label machine (food processing). — I was living the life of a factory worker and loving it. Exhausting (for me) and seemingly important (to them), all that work and no play allowed for less time with them and more time for me with me. The simple tasks were easy and the voice in my head (I eventually named Chatty Cathy) grew louder in the silence of performing them. She became my constant companion, my buddy, my guide . . . reminding me what to do and in what order to do them . . . My inner voice found the humor in performing the menial tasks as I do most things: in earnest.
And maybe because those menial tasks became comfortable, routine and even meaningful after a short time, we could joke about it, she and me. I mean, seriously ?? if my ex (who used to make a show of introducing me to the vacuum cleaner because he claimed he never saw me use one) knew I’d flown half way around the world to mop floors, label jam and wait on tables, he’d never believe it. But that’s exactly what I did.
There’s something about this place that makes you want to — and then makes you feel good that you did. I wasn’t the only washer-woman with a college degree — the Kibbutzniks were brilliant and many of the volunteers were on their way to graduate programs . . . High achievers, and happy to get their hands dirty. And then there was Reuben. A Mexican-European and second timer like me, a wee bit older, semi-retired and as enamored with all the bits and pieces at Neot S’madar as I was — and even more importantly, slyishly willing to raid the fridge with me after hours for our favorite combo of whole-wheat-sour-dough bread, apricot jam and goat cheese: aka, the “Neot S’madar dessert.” He gets it too!
I didn’t need a flashlight this time (although I had it handy in an iPhone app); I knew where I was. Sure there were people I would have loved to have spent more time with and new foot trails I could have explored — but I slowly began to realize that there was really nothing more precious than the quality time I got to spend with me.
Getting to know that voice inside that inspires and/or conspires was awesome . . . either way, “chatty Cathy” never abandoned me, always understood and enjoyed hanging out with me. We might have spent six months traveling together last year, but this year, we really bonded. We didn’t always agree, but arguing with her, I learned, was a great way to process — and move forward. And that’s the key to everything. Scientists that they are, the original pioneers at Neot S’madar set up a system that allows them to maximize the amount of time they can spend with their inner voice . . . listen to their inner thoughts, learn, grow – explore what makes us who we are, invite and create change, shifts in our programming. Get it?
So after six weeks of SKYPE-ing and e-mailing . . . Long distance good nights and good mornings, I hopped off my bike, ran to the front gate and lip locked with the man who flew an awfully long way to pick me up and sample a different kind of living that happens to float my boat. We settled in to a neighbor’s house with a queen-sized bed (a gift for the weekend), dressed in white for the Sabbath dinner (as they all do) and spent the next day off meeting and greeting friends and neighbors. On his two workdays, he woke up at 5 a.m., joined us for the morning ritual of sitting together for 20 minutes in silence and headed off with a buddy of mine to tend to the goats (his work assignment). We caught up hours later and I laughed watching his eyes widen like saucers telling me how great that ‘salad for breakfast’ tasted after working two hours in the field -- he loved it.
Sooooo, we left Neot S’madar on a high note on a Tuesday morning and drove up to Jerusalem for dinner with Reuben and his family. The next day, we walked the Jewish, the Christian and the Muslim sectors of the Old City before driving to my cousins’ on the outskirts of Tel-Aviv. Thursday, we rented electric bikes downtown and peddle-peddled-zoom-zoomed up to Jaffa for a look-see of the Arab market — and tasted the best olives, ever. We visited friends “up north” for lunch on another day, slipped in a performance of the first Israeli production of Cabaret (which was heart wrenching) — and finally, celebrated Passover in the Holy Land, sharing the fruit of the vine with four generations of my family, who happened to settle there instead of here.
Bond,James loved it all.
Hey! . . . I’m not single anymore.
NOTE TO SELF: high five, chatty Cathy.