Thursday, November 5, 2009

Four months to realize the desert is the Promised Land!

No-one could understand why I’d chosen the desert to make my “soft landing” in Israel. Actually, I wasn’t sure myself. But I’m slowly starting to realize that it was the best place for me to be. When I arrived, I looked at my living quarters (a little bigger than my study at home) and took in the view outside the Kibbutz and thought: “What on earth have I done?” Then I thought: “If I can get through six months of this, I can get through anything!!!” Well, four months down the line, I’m thinking: “Hey, I could get used to this!!!” And no-one could possibly be more surprised than I am!

The desert is definitely an amazing place! Truly, the more time I spend here, the more I love it. I’m not sure when this started to happen, and I’m still surprised by the way I’m feeling, but my appreciation for my “first home in the homeland” (Bayit Rishon B’Moledet) grows deeper every day. I’ve experienced intense, dry (a good thing compared to humid) heat I’ve known only a few times in my life. But air-conditioners are a wonderful invention and rooms become escape havens when the heat gets too much.

Stark and lifeless in places, with desert oases dotted around the area, this place has an attraction I would never have understood had I not lived here. I walk around the Kibbutz at least four times a week, taking different routes to avoid the mundane, sometimes venturing out of the gates to explore other areas. I came across the Kibbutz cemetery recently. Small, but well-kept and serene, with trees and bougainvillea throughout the area, it’s almost calming to be there. The differences in the view – look right, you see sand, look left, you see trees – it is all very captivating.

Lately, I’ve been swimming laps to help strengthen my back. Yes… swimming… laps… me!! Not only have I discovered a relaxing, tranquil way to exercise, but I also look up from the water and see palm trees and sand instead of treadmills and weights. During winter, the pool is heated and enclosed, and I don’t have to get on a bus or in a car to get to it. And the gym is free and available, if I want to use it. A friend of mine on the Kibbutz likened it to a country club. Everything is here, in one place. This is why I chose a kibbutz to start my life in Israel. Yes, it has had its negatives, but I’m going to avoid those right now.

Even the gardens are unique here. As in every desert, you have cacti and desert-hardy plants that survive well without rain, but on this kibbutz (and I haven’t been to many to compare), the
gardeners are pretty creative. Chairs and tables, braai (barbecue) equipment, old farming equipment and other interesting “containers” have been used as home to a variety of plants.

There’s even a “look-out” point where “royalty and the watchers” sit and contemplate the land. A place where peace and serenity are the order of the day.

A thunderstorm in the desert is truly surreal. Rain, lightening, thunder, hail – it evokes the most magnificent images. Rainbows are clearer and the colours are brighter here, if that’s possible. Even the mud is different… and once the sun dries it up, art is created. If you can imagine paint peeling from a wall in perfectly shaped pieces – that is what the mud looks like as it dries. It curls up around itself, revealing spaces where it once lay flat.

The date palms and cacti bristling with prickly pears surround the kibbutz, casting a jungle effect over certain areas. Fruit trees are in abundance – pomegranates, guavas, lemons, pomelos (look like oversized grapefruits, but sweeter – the smaller ones are called ‘sweeties’), dates, figs, and more – and even carob trees can be found.

Yes, I could get used to this space, the freedom, the lack of petrol fumes and smog, but sadly, there are more reasons to leave than to stay. No matter… I’ve survived the desert. I’ve bridged the gap between my previous life in South Africa, the place that nurtured me and prepared me for this springboard into my new life. And I’m ready – almost – to move on. Once I’m assured of where I’m going, I’ll be able to put where I’ve been into the memory bank and move forward… upwards… north of the desert, continuing my steps through the Promised Land!

Less than two weeks after writing this article about my feelings for the desert, I had reason to re-evaluate my decision to move to the city. Armed with more information about the pros and cons of staying on the Kibbutz, I weighed up the choices and made up my mind – to stay put.

So, it looks like I’ll be spending another six months in the stark, but magnificent Negev desert, staying on Kibbutz Mashabe Sade for the duration. I'll be able to continue walking in the clean desert air, away from cars, buses and petrol fumes, and will carry on ambling down to the pool to maintain my new, refreshing (if not exhausting) exercise routine.

And of course, it’ll give me more time to get to know the Kibbutzniks with whom I’ve become friendly in the past few months – and allow me to meet more of them in the extended time I have left.

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