Sunday, April 22, 2007

Off to work

I mentioned in the post before last that I had put myself down for the role of pool cleaner, a position which I duly received. And so on Sunday morning (this is two weeks ago, I know I am rather behind) I went down to the pool at six in the morning, where, I had been told, I would learn to clean the pool. I spent the following hour and a half sitting outside the pool and debating whether to treat myself to breakfast or not. Eventually as I am finally about to decide to go have breakfast someone comes to let me into the pool, and acts very surprised that a) I came at six and b) I haven't eaten. My boss's name was Susie and she proceeded to show me how to clean the pool. This process was by use of a big under water vacuum cleaner, powered by some sort of domed object, which doesn't entirely look unlike a Dalek.

The Ketora swimming pool is rather large, and so the whole cleaning process takes 2-3 hours, it should probably take less but I was slightly retarded at it. There had been a sandstorm the previous night which in no way made my life any easier, especially as I had to go over the same bit a number of times to clean it completely. My other responsibilities around the pool included general tidying up around the pool, clearig the drains and sweeping the paths. I also had to clean the toilets, admittedly not very thoroughly as all I did was put soap and water in a bucket and throw it over as much as possible, and then clear all the water out.

The next day I was to work alone and so Susie gave me a pool to the swimming pool, essentially making me my own boss. Being ones own boss means having to switch on the Dalek, which means a long and ardouos process where getting rather wet is unavoidable, I started wearing swimming trunks pretty quickly. As the week progressed a number of things became apparent to me 1) That I wasnt very good at my job 2)Its just too damn not to work outside 3) My mp3 player is no substitute for human contact, and so I decided to find someone who wanted to switch with me.

Luckily fate was on my side as Aliza (volunteer supervisor) approached Nick and I on the Wednesday and told us that for the next week we would be cleaning pipes in the Algetech. The Algetech is where the kibbutz Algae grows. I should state that not all kibbutzim grow Algae its just this one as its main industry is exporting Algae which is used in several products including salmon (to give it its colour). We arrived there bright and early on Thursday where our new boss Benny gave us a bucket, hose, detergent and green scrubbing things which for some reason our called scotch's and told us to clean all the refuse pipes in the complex. The refuse pipes are found under all the pipes where the algae grows, and the pipes irrigate into the pipes we were cleaning. This meant getting out all the mud and sand and anything that might decide to visit with just the tools we were given.

And so Nick and I spent the following week with our hands in these pipes scrubbing them and cleaning them and getting ourselves rather wet. Actually Nick usually had the hose and I usually my hand in the pipes, which meant back pains (the pipes tended to be around knee height) and very dry hands. Some days it was rather fun, for instance we timed ourselves on a very short series of pipes with our record being about 3:20 a pipe. Other days it was not quite so fun particularly as we were next to the 'refek (cows) and one day a rather strong was blowing in our direction bringing with it the unforgettable stench of those wretched creatures. Finally on the Tuesday we go find our boss to report that we had finished all the pipes, he congragulates us and then says 'You know there was a sandstorm last night, all the pipes are now dirty, so they all need to be cleaned again.' Hoping for some variation we were livid. Thus over the next couple of days Nick and I decided to limit ourselves to the short and easy pipes and refused to do the huge ones again. Unfortuneatly we did the easy pipes far too quickly and so resorted to many long breaks, luckily being surrounded by pipes no-one could really see what we were /were not doing. Nevertheless on our final day when we went to say goodbye to our boss, he thanked us for doing a great job, and said he would tell Aliza how good we were.

On Friday it was back to the pool for my final day of work, as during the week I had found someone to swap with, which means I shall probably spend the rest of my time on kibbutz working in the dining room, and I will tell you all about that when I know more.

Saturday, April 14, 2007


On Sunday morning I left the Kibbutz early with Richard as we had decided to travel up North together. We took the bus to Beer Sheva and from there the train to Tel Aviv, this was my first time in Israel and much to my horror it was just as slow as it is in England. I arrived in Tel Aviv at lunch time, Richard had gone to Herzelia, and I made my way towards the center of town, as this was the wonderful location of the flat of those in our group doing Magen David Adom (the ambulance service), their flat is a five minute walk away from Dizengoff Square right at the bustlng heart of Tel Aviv. Having visited the flat, which is very small (two of them sleep in the kitchen) but brand new, I went to the Dizengoff center to do some much needed shopping). In the evening I went out for dinner with Richard and Danny a friend from school, and it was very nice to hear tales of the old country again. After dinner I collected my things and left Tel Aviv for Caesarea.

The train from Tel Aviv to Caesarea was a double decker one, and the journey was only about forty minutes. However, I did not arrive at the train station until about eleven. Now I had assumed that the train station would be relatively close to the area and so the lateness of the hour could be solved by a short walk to the hotel. However, the Caesarea Pardes Hanna station is in the middle of an industrial estate about 10 kilometers outside Caesarea, and of course there were no taxis. I waited for a considerable amount of time, called two taxi companies and even tried cab sharing but to no avail. About half an hour later my aunt Katy whom I was to be stayiny with called to ask where I was. When I informed her of my predicament she immediately asked the hotel to send a taxi, and so after another twenty minute wait a taxi finally arrived. It of course without saying that so did a couple of other taxis, but thats life.

My Pesach (Passover, Jewish holiday with the crap food) was to be spent with my family in the Dan Hotel in Caesarea. Caesarea is one of the most desirable areas in Israel, site of an ancient Roman city and now Israel's only golf course. It is not actually a town but an area with several built up yet unconnected (except by road) blocks. This is why that there is actually nothing to do in the area, except for playing golf, which I dont.

I was staying with my family, by family I mean everyone apart from by parents and siblings. I was sharing a room with my 15 year old cousin Michael, and on my arrival he and his sisters Tammy 13 and Eliana 10 (I'm sure I've got those completely wrong, the ages is that is not the names, I'm fairly certain of those), updated me on all the jokes they had learnt since I had been gone. Following this undeserved torture I had a bath, and went to bed, a comfortable bed (one that was so comfortable when I got back to my bed on Kibbutz my back was hurting all night as it was so hard in comparrison).

The following day was pretty much the same as the rest of the week i.e. time was spent reading, chatting to relativies who I had not the privelege of seeing since my departure, and general sunbathing or lounging around by the pool. That evening was seder night, that long and boring service which begins each and every pesach (see link for fuller explanation We had our own room with several family friends making it about twenty of us who were sat down to dinner. I would like to thank my uncle Maurice for deciding to do most of the meal in English and not forcing upon all that were gathered the same seder in two languages.

It is customary during the course of the seder to drink four cups of wine at designated point in the meal. Michael decided to drink these four cups in earnest and then several others whilst no-one was watching, thus drinking around six or seven glasses of strong red wine during the night. What I found particulalry amusing was that he claimed he was pretending and that he was stone cold sober, and what was even funnier was his sister's saying he was putting it on, right up until he collapsed on the balcony in our room. I was up till two listening to the sounds of druken vomiting as Michael emptied his stomach in and around the toilet. I suppose its a right of passage that all self-respecting teenagers must pass through, but it sort of looses its all coolness when you do it in front of your mother.

I had intended to keep shtum (quiet) about it the following day but as everyone knew by breakfast anyway I thought why bother, and so if you are reading this Michael may this be the final nail in the coffin of the belief that you can with any dignity hold your alcohol. That day was spent like all the others just described and so I shall not bore you with the minutiae of the week. Highlights included smashing Michael at table tennis (and then suffering the same fate at the hands of Maurice), deciding to take part in the big game of football in which the young compete with the middle and old aged men in a battle of pure catharcic testorone competition (oh dear God I've become a feminist), and an awful lot of eating.

On one day I cant remember which, Michael and I cycled down to the old city of Caesarea where an ancient Roman city once stood and where the ruins indeed still stand. Having spent the first half an hour there getting frustrated over what to do with the bikes (we ditched them with a security guard), we went to see one of those films which the Israeli's love so much. After that we went to look at the old city, of particular interest was the ampitheatre and the hippodrome both with parts well preserved. It was around this time that I came down with a cold and so my activities became far more limited, not that I was doing much to start with.

I had prepared for a week of abject boredom but luckily I was able to keep myself entertained for the duration of my week there, thanks in part down to my grandparents who are always wonderful to talk to, and the fact that Michael had brought a portable DVD player with several films and TV series and so the evenings were never dull. I was glad to return to Kibbutz but it was sad to say goodbye especially after such a pleasant and relaxing week.

Monday, April 09, 2007


The third and flnal part of the program began on the Sunday morning after the match. This part of the program is the options period where we could choose what we wanted to do. Placements included Magen David Adom (ambulance) in Tel Aviv, Yeshiva and work placements in Jerusalem, Marva a mock army program somewhere in the middle of the desert, and Kibbutz also somewhere in the middle of the desert. I as you might have geussed from the title chose the last option for my final two months in Israel.

On Sunday morning we went to the Bayit Vagan Hostel, Jeruslaem to say goodbye to those who were doing Marva, and once that emotional business had been taken care of we were alone. The we of which I speak refers to Annabel, Nick, Richard Smith and myself, from fifteen to four. But the solitude did not last for long as we were joining the minibus of six girls from Israel Journey on our journey down to Kibbutz. Israel Journey is a new five month program for those who are not in a youth movement, I always thought that was FZY.

The journey lasted four hours as Kibbutz Ketora is in the Negev Desert half an hour away from Eilat. On arrival we were greeted by Aliza the volunteer coordinator noticeable by her remarkable resemblance to a sheep. She showed us to our living quarters which include a sort of small bungalow, with two bedrooms, a bathroom and sort of kitchenette. Its pretty squalid but liveable. I'm in a room with Richard and Nick, and Annabel is next door with Rachel a girl from Israel experience. The rest of the day was given over to unpacking, settling in and meeting other volunteers. All the volunteers live together in rows of small appartments, and thus socialising is done predominantly with other volunteers.

The volunteers come from all over the world includ ing the UK, USA, Canada, New Zealand, and Israel. I will talk in far more details about all the volunteers at a later stage, because it will definitely take a whole blog to talk about the assortment of nutters that volunteer on the Kibbutz.

The next day Aliza did all the paperwork with us, asked us which jobs we wanted and then sent us off to work around the swimming pool, where we were cleaning the area for its opening the following week. This included pulling up roots and clearing, twigs and branches. Later in the afternoon we were assigned our jobs. Nick and Annabel were sent to the dining rooms, Richard to the gardens (which is a code word for hard labour with vegetation) and I am cleaning the swimming pool. This has been my second option gardens were my first but being the only one who put down the pool thats what I got. You see when I put down my options I really wanted to be outside, I completely forgot that I was in the Negev Desert, which meant searing heat during the day.

However, I would not be outside just yet as the swimming had yet to open. Instead I spent the next few days decorating volunteer houses, with a Russian Kibbutz member called Sasha. This was rather interesting as he spoke no English and so I was forced to communicate only in Hebrew, I think I did rather well. However, it was made remarkably easier by the fact that his son spoke perfect English and was always there to put an end to all the weird hand signals, especially when I had no idea what the strip the walls meant in Hebrew.

I did this job until Thursday morning, and I was given all of Thursday afternoon (although afternoon work tends to finish fairly early anyway) as I would be working that night helping to Kosher the kitchen in time for pesach. This was to be done with Richard and several of the children from the kibbutz who were on their holidays, and so I was given a scraper and acid and went from 9-12 cleaning an industrial cooker. Once done I went down to the kibbutz pub, well its a bar in a barn, for pubnight which is on every Thursday and Saturday. Owing to the fact it was almost empty I left pretty soon and went to bed.

I had Friday off, owing to work the previous night, and I took the opportunity to do incredibly little. In fact I cant recall a single thing I did that day until dinner, which is attended by the entire kibbutz and is very nice, and is followed several hours later by a large number of volunteers and young kibbutznics trekking down to Lotan a neighbouring kibbutz, as Friday night is there pubnight. I dont actually remember that much as I might have had too much of the goodstuff, except at the end of the night I do seem to recall being outside (at about 3 in the morning) and doing a full-length interpretative dance to Bohemian Rhapsody which involved, taking my shirt off, climbing up poles and jumping on top of people, as I said too much of the good stuff.

Saturday is shabbas and so the entire kibbutz rests, sunbathes, vegetates and the volunteers were keen to do likewise. I was very pleased that I did not have a hangover and so could enjoy the sun, although on the whole it was a bit too hot for me and I found it far more pleasant in the shade. Saturday night was another stint in the kitchen this time Rich and I were assigned to cleaning trays and such, which basically meant putting them into a big industrial washer, like a carwash for plates, and taking them out the otherside. This incredibly dull activity was made slightly less tedious by trying to get eachother wet.

Well thats all for now folks, next time a week witht the family, dont worry it wasnt that painful