My back hurts. BIG TIME. I packed 5 pounds of left over pharma from my bathroom shelf for this trip and the only ADVIL I can find are 2 little green tablets in the small bottle of mostly non-aspirin aspirin I’ve had in my purse since the good ole days with the 8-year-on-again-off-again BF (who suffered from back pain) –I am so hoping they work here, now. I’ve been bottling olives and olive oil, made a vat of apricot jam and boxed up jars of same, planted lettuce, pruned pear trees, roasted almonds, labeled sweet sherry and packaged herb teas for retail. It’s only been 2 days and my muscles are kvetching.
My housing is a shabby 3-room caravan without a hint of chic far enough away from the main buildings to be impossible to find without a map and a flashlight. I picked up bed linen from a bin in the laundry… clean but almost as old as me. My couch is one 3-inch foam mattress on top of another — I haven’t sat down yet, except on the toilet, where there’s everyone’s favorite (not): 1-ply. No TV, no radio.
Find the joy, Shaz … even in an alcohol-free zone.
In the spirit of Rome and the Romans … I took off my rings on Day 1, didn’t bother with earrings on Day 2, and today, in a really brave move: no make-up. Shaving armpits, yes; legs, no. My Brazilian is growing in and with the nearest salon 60 miles away, I’m going to let it. Jealous much?
This was not my idea. My cousins happened by the Kibbutz’s restaurant on a weekend getaway last fall. Impressed with the food (vegetarian, organic), they chatted up one of the Kibbutzniks and thought it might be a great place for me to work during my 2-month stay. Why not? I didn’t research it, I didn’t memorize the name or the location ...Bond,James pinned a dot of green, 60 miles north of Eilat, on his I-phone… if anyone asked, I referred them to him.
Now, here I am, a Volunteer on a kibbutz in the middle of the dessert. My friends don’t get it. They’re using words like “trying to find yourself” or “it’s good for you,” (as if they know), trying to understand how I could do what I’m doing, be where I am. There must be a reason . . .
To call it “God’s country” is redundant … There’s a planetarium in the sky at night and a Hollywood-made-terrain for Arabian Nights visible by day. Hysterically odd, rising up from the dessert, the landmark structure on the Kibbutz is the Arts & Craft Center. Built to inspire creativity, it evokes either the Taj Mahal or an illustration from Dr. Seuss –the colors and shapes eye candy for the imagination. It’s also the only spot for WIFI.
There are 100 kibbutzniks, 50 children — and 40 volunteers, mostly Israeli. Every other Thursday evening, there’s a meeting for the non-Hebrew speakers. Surprisingly, it’s not a “Meet & Greet” with information exchanged on where we’re from, what we do back home, etc., but rather an opportunity to share thoughts about “being present.” Sipping herb tea, we sit barefoot, yoga style, on floor pillows in a circular room on the upper level of the Arts & Crafts Center. Last night someone commented on a string that simply hangs down, centered, from the domed ceiling. Ronnie, the Kibbutznik in charge, explained that whenever they have an issue to discuss, they attach it to the string so they can examine it from all sides. I couldn’t tell if he was kidding…
We work Sunday through Friday afternoons. We sit together in silence at 5:45am, work begins at 6:15 and breaks at 8:30 for breakfast. We eat meals together, at long rows of tables, taking the next available seat on either side. Meals are served family style and eaten in silence. When finished, we clear our plate and head out into a courtyard just outside the dining room, to sit, relax, meet up with friends and chat for a few minutes. Work begins again, leisurely, before 10 –until lunch at 1:30, with a 1/2 break at 11:30, where each workstation meets in a circle around a pitcher of herb tea to sit again in silence, or share an existential thought. (The “break” is exactly that –under no circumstances are we to ask questions or talk about “work.”)
Lunch is the main meal of the day and, like breakfast, we sit in the next available seat, eat in silence & relax afterwards in the courtyard. We gather again in the dining room at 2:30, when anyone not pre-assigned to an afternoon job is asked to volunteer where help is needed to complete the day’s chores in various work stations. Dinner (always soup) is at 7pm, again, filling in the empty chairs in sequence –and eating in silence. Children are welcomed on Friday night and Saturday meals when families sit together… THEN there’s noise -and wine.
Who are these people? Rina, who’s in charge of the volunteers, warned me humorously, that they “look normal, but we’re not normal,” she laughed… “It would be better if we looked different, then it wouldn’t be such a surprise when you find out we are!”
I watch their faces for clues… I find them particularly handsome, healthy, smart… Although I don’t understand the language, there’s obviously humor, laughter… they’re busy, but laid back…courteous, patient as they explain what needs to be done in English, breaking it down, giving me fairly simple tasks.
Our chores can change daily; they’re posted on a work sheet available just before the evening meal. Today I was assigned to the kitchen. I learned how to peel a cucumber. Sha’ron is in charge and she demonstrated. I tried to mimic what she did but it wasn’t working so I did it my way, 1/2 at a time, short hacking strokes, 200 cucumbers. When I was close to finishing, she came over to see how I was doing… moving closer, she showed me again. She used long strokes, removing each layer with her thumb as it peeled off. “Slowly,” she whispered, “be patient… with time you’ll get faster.” I tried it again. Light, even strokes, not too deep…un-peeling it as it rotated in my hand. Slowly. I noticed the contrast in the shades of green between the skin and the raw veggie underneath –and I was actually moved… It looked clean, almost pretty. I looked at it from all sides, reminded of the string.
“To’da” I mouthed softly across the room, catching Sha’ron’s eye (“thank you”). She nodded and smiled, knowingly.
There’s a history and a mystique to this place I’m only beginning to understand — and I’m starting to like it. A lot.
NOTE TO SELF: Karen says “real growth begins with pain.”