I have been going through piles and piles of old writing and trying to categorize it all, and I recently came across the 10 or so chapters I had written on my return from Israel in 2004. I was planning on writing a novel about all of my experiences at the time, but too much got in the way, and the years went by… I thought I could maybe use parts of it for the novel that I am writing right now, but it just won’t fit – the writing is still me, but it’s not in exactly the same vein that I am currently writing in. So I shall just post random chapters here every now and again… Keep in mind, this one ends abruptly and I am not going to change that. It was written 8 years ago, a few months after I got back from my year in Israel.
Arrival in Israel & Hatzeva
How do you imagine the desert to be? Miles and miles of wind-rolled sand, a camel here and there? Yellow and brown, the occasional tree or dry bush? Hot sun burning down relentlessly on you? I think that anyone who hasn’t actually ever been to the desert has their own image of it, as did I. The thing is, there isn’t just ONE desert in the world, is there? In the US, in Africa, in the Middle East… So anyway, I had never been to the desert before and had many different ideas of what it could look and feel like.
When I’m unhappy, feeling down or frustrated and stressed I just close my eyes and imagine myself walking barefoot along the dusty roads of the moshav, dressed in a long wraparound skirt and a tank top, with two dogs by my side. This image calms me down, reminds me that I can be happy, that I can feel fulfilled and that I should always remember that my dreams can be obtainable.
So what are my dreams? Eighteen months ago I had no idea what I wanted from my life. I was so mixed up and depressed and only felt safe when I was at home at my mother’s house. My bedroom there was like a little haven, with the most comfortable bed in the world that I always had trouble getting out of, my little cat and all of my belongings. I would panic if I had to go out and leave the little haven I had created. It was as if I had no control over my body, the idea of going out made me start shaking and I would feel all weak inside. I did force myself out a few times, although I would feel so nauseous and thought I would puke my guts up at any given moment. I wouldn’t drink any alcohol, but at the end of the evening I would feel relieved and would realize that I had actually had a good time. But then I would just forget all about that the next day and would curl right back up into my little safe haven.
What sort of life was that? I couldn’t work in the US without a green card and I had to leave the country every 3 months because my visa waiver would expire. I couldn’t even get a tourist visa on the grounds that I had too many ties in the US and not enough anywhere else in the world. It was so discouraging, I felt displaced and homeless, rootless with too many roots in too many places. So I decided to go to Israel. Lifelong dream and all that, and besides that, my aunt could do with some help with her little children. It was an easy decision to make once I had thought of it. Where else could I go to get away from everything without feeling like I was running away into the unknown?
I can honestly say that it was the best decision I had ever made in my life. One year in Israel taught me a lot more about myself than anything else ever had.
I left Mum and Dylan outside the hotel that we were staying in near Heathrow one early morning in July. They were leaving to go back to California and I was off on my way towards Terminal 4 in a taxi. Tel Aviv is just over 4 hours from London by plane, and I was lucky because there were clear skies all the way there. I’ve travelled a lot, but I had never flown over the Greek Islands before, and although I had an aisle seat, the lady next to me kept pointing everything out to me, and the views from above were just stunning. When we started to land in Israel I couldn’t believe the view. Miles and miles of different shades of brown, with spots of green here and there, and a big city on the shoreline. I stepped off the plane into the hot air and the first thing I thought was “I’m home”.
I got through immigration extremely fast. I should probably explain something that gradually dawned on me during my first few months in Israel: with my dark eyes and hair, and my skin that tans very fast I can look very Israeli. So many times I would be out and about with other foreigners, and Israelis would automatically talk to the others in English and then turn around and talk to me in Hebrew. It was quite funny, especially when their faces registered surprise when I told them I didn’t understand much Hebrew. While I waited in the queue for Immigration I chatted to the lady who had been next to me on the plane and to another man, and they both thought I was Jewish without really asking. I didn’t say anything to make them think different either.
Judith, Shimon and Eden came to pick me up from Tel Aviv and we set off on the three hour drive to Hatzeva, stopping in Be’er Sheva for coffee at the Kanyon (mall). I love words, but I am at a loss to explain my first impressions of Israel. I want words to explain all of the sights, all of the feeling and emotions I went through, but it just won’t do. All of the bustle, colours, noise and the outlines of the different landscapes we drove through just made me feel at home. The only thing that actually made me feel a bit strange was that I could not read a single thing. Hebrew has a completely different alphabet from English, French, Dutch or Spanish and it quickly dawned on me that I couldn’t read a simple shop name even if I tried. A lot of things are in English thought, and many people speak English. At times I could get away with the little Hebrew I learnt, or if I couldn’t use my English, then my French or Spanish usually worked too. There is no end to the amounts of times and ways that Israel would astound and impress me.
So, anyway, Hatzeva. A moshav in the middle of the Arava desert, halfway between Be’er Sheva and Eilat, a mile off the main road and a mile from the border with Jordan. At night there are a million stars in the sky, you can lie out in the grass and look at them for hours, lost in your own thoughts. The sky seems so much brighter in the desert, and deeper. There is no pollution but there is a lot of dust, and when the wind starts up you can be sure there will be a sandstorm; if you don’t close your windows before one starts you will find piles of sand all around the house, sand that makes it straight through the screens on the windows and doors. The funny thing about Israel is that the southern half is beautiful, but completely barren-looking, and every so often you come across an oasis type area. Moshavim and kibbutzim, built completely by man. Full of trees, palm trees, grass, flowers and fields where many a vegetable grows. It was David Ben Gurion who said that if a flower could grow in a desert then anything could, and he was right. My uncle grows watermelons, melons, peppers, onions, tomatoes… Other farmers grow flowers, mangoes and organic vegetables. There is nothing better than a meal of fresh peppers straight from the fields, with pita, hummus and an apple for dessert. We used to do that with Fernando every evening when he finished working in the fields.
I was in Hatzeva from July until the beginning of September 2003 and then from the last day of Pesach 2004 until the end of the spring in 2004. I did go down there a few times while I was on the kibbutz (Evron) in the north, so I did experience the area a bit in the winter, but I was mostly there during the hot spring and summer months. Hot being the key word. From the moment you wake up until the sun goes down the sun is relentless. I was never one to nap in the afternoon, but I soon learnt that it’s all you want to do when the sun is at its hottest. Even the swimming pool was closed during the hours from Noon to 3, so the only place to keep out of the heat was the air-conditioned houses. I learnt to let myself sleep for a few hours, or at least relax in bed with a book until it was time to take the kids to the pool in the late afternoon.
The Arava is nothing like the Sahara. The Arava is darker brown, the sand more like dried mud than the yellow sand you often find on the beach. There are hills and mountains with the odd drying tree here and there and dried out lakes that fill with water when the rains come. If you take a bike (I often borrowed one of the Thai workers’ bikes when they were out in the fields) and ride a mile outside of the moshav you come across an area that looks like it fell from the moon and landed on earth. Whiteish lunar rock full of craters, somewhat alien to the rest of the surroundings. In the winter the area beneath the lunar rock fills with water after a heavy rain and this water is used to irrigate the land during the hotter months. There are areas in the desert where the rocks of sand are multicoloured in pinks and purples and blues, as if they were dyed by hand thousands of years ago and left to remain there forever.
I would go to the swimming pool every morning to swim and read, and struck up a friendship with the lifeguard who taught me how to make tea from grass and made me laugh with stories about the army and his travels to India. He taught me words in Hebrew and I taught him a few of my own expressions. The girls at the shop were always very friendly, and for the first time in a long time I felt that I could just be myself, let go of all of the barriers I had created around myself, and just live life again. I had nothing to fear or to watch out for, the desert was peaceful and incited more creativity than I had felt in months and months… Poems and stories and even drawings.
My photos from that time can be found HERE
(you can skip over the insane amount of alcohol-fueled party photos)