Wednesday, May 23, 2007


The ever changing nature of time is a very noticeable thing on kibbutz. Matt a Yank who works in the dining room with me, says that when he knows he is going to finish at three he is far happier and time goes much faster then when he is finishing at four. For me time goes a lot faster when I am cleaning the toilets and it practically grinds to a halt when I am on the machine (a big industrial dishwasher from which all sorts of items must be removed and placed in the proper position.) On Kibbutz we measure time by when we drink, although drinking is not limited to any particular day there are certain nights when alcohol consumption is more common than others, these are generally pub nights. Pub is usually Thursday night and Saturday night on Ketura and Friday night somewhere else, as we work a six day week this time frame is optimistically seen as the weekend.

So last week the weekend came early. Pub night befell on Wednesday and I dont think many people were aware of the change and so it was pretty empty but we still managed to knock back a few. The reason why pub was on Wednesday was because on Thursday there was a wedding. A wedding is understandably a big thing on kibbutz. I had never seen the bride and groom around before but apparently the bride was a child of the kibbutz, and the groom had met her while he was on the garin, oddly enough staying in our appartment, this explained why on the dedication presentation they had to the happy couple there was a picture of our room. As wedding preparations were going on around us the dining room were trying to do their job as quickly as possible without being burdened with any unwanted tasks.

The entire kibbutz was invited to the wedding which was scheduled to arrive around five. So us British volunteers donned smart casual attire and made our way to the chuppa (canopy where the wedding takes place). We were unsurprsingly overdressed, some people were very smart they were either getting married, or were guests of those getting married. Most of the kibbutznics had turned up in their workclothes, this was a typical Israeli wedding. Of course the service didnt actually start at five, but no-one really minded as there was nice music and free Sangria to keep everyone entertained. The wedding was a lovely affair, they usually are. Dinner for all non-guests was served outside but the food was great and the free wine kept flowing. For desert there was a giant cake bar which kept me occupied for some time. After dinner there was a play but as it was in Hebrew I didnt bother with it. But from then until the small hours in the morning there was a big disco with a free bar.

The next day we had to wake up at six, and spent the first few hours at work in a zombie like state. It took three coffees to wake me up, and so I went from utterly exhausted to somewhat hyper which culminated in me throwing milk all over Annabel and then rolling on the floor in hysterics for five minutes. After work I tried to go to sleep, which I failed to manage, and then I tried to go to sleep after dinner but I failed at that as well.

Unfortunately my attempts at sleep were abruptly finished at midnight when a chorus of happy birthday rang out across the appartment. That birthday was mine. All who know me know that I am not the worlds biggest fans of birthdays, especially when they are my own, so I try to keep it relatively low key. I failed. I was nagged out of bed and into some clothes and then down to the mini-bus where we took a cab to Kibbutz Grofit, for the pub night. On arrival I was offered drinks by several of my friends, and I was managing to keep relatively sober until Oli from Hanoar forced me to down two double Jaggermeister shots (a sort of liquorice drink) and the next thing I remember was waking up with a splitting headache. This continued untill about Saturday lunch time when I found Annabel's Ibuprofen. The rest of Satursday was spent by the pool until the evening. In the evening I spent most of my time writing my blog but as I tried to leave the room Richard shouted at me to get back inside. Admittedly my suspiscions had been aroused for some time but this completely gave away, nevertheless I went back inside and feigned ignorance.

Finally I was lead outside where I was greeted by a large group of people gathered around looking rather civilised. It had turned out this was a smores party (a smore is an American sandwich which invovles biscuits, chocolate and marshmallows) and everyone was sitting around eating smores and drinking punch. What was really lovely was that they had taken a bedsheet and everyone written birthday wishes on it. Eventually I went to sleep rather early, but it had been one of the most enjoyable birthdays in a long time.

P.S. This post had been written along time ago, but it got deleted when it was meant to be published, so this is a watered down and belated version. For that I apologise. I'm not sure when I will next be able to write and it may not be until I get back home.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

A weekend away

Last weekend had always had a big mark on the calendar as the one weekend where I was always going to get away from the Kibbutz. This was down to a triple birthday occuring of the weekend as over a space of two days Richard, Ruthie and Sara (from AJ6) all had their birthdays. The general plan had always been to try and get off work early on Friday and go up to Tel Aviv until Saturday night, an incredibly short space of time. However, as good fortune would have it we were to have more of a break than we thought. For on Thursday there was to be a MASA event and we were all being sent up to Jerusalem for the day.

If you cast you minds back to October time, I mentioned being sent to a MASA event and this one was not very different. MASA was a fund established by Ariel Sharon to subsidies and support foreigners in Israel on long term programs, because of this MASA is a very good and worthwhile organisation (Iwould say that being one of the people it benefits), its events however are a total and utter waste of time. They must spend thousands of dollars on these events and the money in the opinion of everyone there is totally wasted. It would be far better spent on providing more financial support to those who need it. Before the actual event there was entertainment from moving statues, a circus etc. and a chance to see friends from other movements.

I was very surprised to see an old friend there, Ben is at Yeshiva in Jerusalem and I have seen him very few times throughout the year, the last time was Pesach and as he had not been at the previous MASA event I had not expected to see him there. He told me that he was here with his Yeshiva but if there was anything that they found against Orthodox Religious ruling the head of their Yeshiva would have everyone leave. When asked what this included he said mixed dancing and women singing, I told him he might as well leave now.

The event itself was to take place in the Sultan's pool an open air theatre in a valley outside the walls of Jerusalem. Inevitably it took ages to start the reason for this was we were waiting for the main speaker to arrive. The main speaker just so happened to be Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. He was greeted with polite applause (the crowd was never exactly enthusiastic) and some booing, but then what do you expect for someone who has a 0% popularity rating. The show consisted of several speakers including the head of the Jewish Agency (this was I think the third time I had heard him speak), the mayor of Jerusalem and Olmert. Olmert spoke in very good English cracked a few jokes (some were almost funny) and told everyone to move to Israel. Other than the speeches there were several musical acts which included rather unsurprisingly mixed dancing and women singing, Ben left (of his own accord most people from his Yeshiva stayed) but then so did many other people. To be honest good taste was a better excuse to leave and I was seriously considering leaving myself. The event finished (thank God) with a fireworks display.

After the event we wandered up to Zion Square in the centre of Jerusalem an assigned meeting place where we were meant to meet lots of other people before we were to all go out drinking together. However, more important things were afoot as blocking up Jaffa Street a main road that runs along side Zion Square was a mass student demonstration. The Israeli student body has been on strike for about six weeks now, because of increases in tuition fees, and so this protest was part of the general disruption caused. It seemed relatively peaceful, even though an entire road was blocked, and then the police and army arrived. They seemed cheerful until they drew ranks and went right into the heart of the protesets. I was among the throngs of spectators on the sidelines, baying for blood in the collisions between the authorities and the people. A few people were dragged out and some were even carried out and although fists were thrown the violence never really escalated. With that excitment over we wondered down to a bar named Sol where we had a few drinks, and then moved on to a club called Underground. Whilst it has a reputation for being one of the seediest clubs in Israel it is one of the favourite haunts of many people in our group. I left there at about three and I went with Richard in a sheroot to Tel Aviv, as we had decided to stay in the MDA flat.

I had assumed that I would be sleeping on the floor, however I was very happy to see that Nir's bed was vacant, and although I felt very bad about sleeping there without his permission I assumed he wouldn't mind and I quickly fell asleep. Nir did arrive at about 7:30 but he left immeadiatley and happily didnt seemed to mind seeing me in his bed. I woke around 11:30 and then did nothing for a couple of hours even though I was meant to be at Reg's flat in Jaffa at about 1. Finally Richard, Yoav and I decided to leave and we were made even later by the bus which of course took ages to come back. Lunch was very pleasant and afterwards I had a relaxing walk back with Yoav. This included going through Nachlamat Binyamin a lovely market very much the Covent Garden of Tel Aviv. Back at the flat we watched High School Musical "Oh the pain the pain, why do I do these things to myself", and then did nothing for a few hours until dinner.

Finally a group of us went out for a burger before meeting lots of others in a bar down the road. Here we stayed for many hours drinking, talking and catching up. Eventually we decided to move on, unfortuneatly on Friday nights most bars and clubs have a habit of being over 25, and so we spent much of the time wandering aimlessly around Tel Aviv in the small hours of the morning looking for something to do, thus it was just like any other night in Tel Aviv. Finally around three I went back with Richard to the Jaffa Hostel (rated 15th in the Best Budget Places to stay in the world by the Independent). The Hostel is a lovely quaint place to stay, and even though I was on a very shaky and rather uncomfortable top bunk I still had a very nice nights sleep. I woke the next morning and after visiting the famous Jaffa bakery I walked to the old port, a sight I had not visited since Tour, and then I walked leisurely back to the appartment.

After lunch, a bagel one of the few I have had in Israel, I went with a group of about 7 or 8 to see Spiderman 3, dont bother. After the movie I had a quick dinner with Annabel and Richard and then it was time to say goodbye to everyone as we had to catch 8 o'clock bus back. The bus journey was uneventful excpet for the fact that I almost got left behind at a stop as I was on the loo, and everyone had dozed off and so had failed to notice that I was not there. I sprinted out just as the bus was leaving, and sat down rather disgruntled.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007


Something that had always been on my to-do list since I had come to Israel, was to visit the Ancient City of Petra. However, due to the fact that it is Jordan and thus not in Israel, I had never really expected to be able to do it. Even though Israel and Jordan are on friendly terms and it is with ease that one may cross the border between the two crossings, I thought that for someone who was on an organised program in Israel there would be several difficulties. I never envisaged the relative ease of signing off the program, and thus being allowed to leave the country for a day. All that was needed was for my parents to fax written permission saying I was allowed to be signed off the program for today, and that was it. A surprisingly total lack of annoying beauracracy. All that was left was for us to book a tour with a reputable tour company and we were out of the country.

And so on Saturday 5th May I went down to the entrance of the kibbutz at 7am where I waited for the taxi that had been ordered the previous day, and I waited and waited and waited. Waiting with me were Annabel, Richard and Rachel a fellow volunteer from the Kibbutz. The taxi finally arrived at 7:30, given that we were meant to be at the border at 7:45 and the border was about half an hour away we were all rather peeved. Our driver spent the journey telling us in all the years he had been collecting people from the Kibbutz he had never once been late. I wasn't sure if this was boasting or an attempt to annoy us even further.

We arrived at the border at eight, where we were much to my relief greeted by our tour guirde, who told us that that the rest of the group was waiting for us having completed their stint at passport control. One long line and cancelled visa later, we joined the group but not before one woman on our group came to find us and tell us just how long she had been waiting for. And so to the border crossing. As we walked the no-mans land, with the Thankyou for Visiting Israel sign behind us and the Welcome to Jordan sign ahead of us, Richard and Annabel discussed what the insurance company would say if something happened to us there, whilst I tried to guess how many sniper rifles were trained on me at that precise moment in time.

The Jordanian guards welcomed us with big smiley grins and couldnt have seemed happier to have us visit their country, and it was such a pleasant contrast us from the sour faced Israeli guard who saw us off at the other side. On the Jordanian side we met with the tour compay representative on that side, who spent a considerable time sorting out visas. Once that was done it was onto the tour bus and off we went. We found ourselves in a group of fifteen, the others were from Russia, America and Israel. The tour was however conducted in English as the Jordanian Tour Guide spoke fluent English but probably not much of anything else. His name was Abdul and he told us on the journey to Petra, about Jordanian life, politics. etc.

After a two hour journey we arrived at the entrance to Petra. Petra was a city built by the Nabattians in the 2nd-1st centrury BC, the exact origins of the city are unclear, although it is known that it was first built as a city of tombs, and was thus a holy place. The Nabattians who were pagans, would bring their dead to rest there. It was later captured by the Romans who saw it as one of the most beautiful places in their empire and they continued the expansion and building of the city there. Following the fall of the Roman Empire the city was essentially lost, known about only by the local Bedouin population. It was rediscovered and revealled to the rest of the world by a Swiss explorer called Johann Ludwig Burckhardt. In more recent history it was used as the hiding place for the holy grail in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

At the entrance to the site there is a visitiors center where tickets can be purchased and many stalls selling odds and ends. These included the Indiana Jones which quite clearly was trying to cash in on the film, and the tottally out of place Titanic Coffee Shop. Finally we made our way towards the city, which remains hidden from view for a long time as it is hidden between two huge cliffs. We started our journey walking down towards the Siq (shaft), the Siq is a narrow passage between the two mountains and it is the road that leads into Petra. Towards the end of the Siq our guide told us to look back the way we had come to see if we could see an animal in the rock, he told us that if we stepped back we could see it clearer, and as the group was getting more and confused as no-one could see anything he told us to turn around, and lo and behold through a crack in the Siq we could see the large red collonades of the Khazneh.

We walked towards it in awe, and as we emerged out of the Siq the huge red building carved out into the rock towered above us, taking our collective breath away. When you see pictures of Petra that is the building you see. Khazneh means treasury, but this is the name given to it by the local Bedouins who believed that that was where the treasure was kept. Historically however, this building was never the treasury but a temple. After we had spent tiime wondering around and taking photos our guide told us all about it, and then we moved on towards the rest of the city.

The city is littered with tombs, and there are many other interesting structures some built by the Nabbatians and others by the Romans. At one stage took us off the beaten track and after a short climb he revealed to us the ampitheatre from above, a wondeful way of viewing it. At one stage our guide asked if anyone needed the toilet, and that if we did to take our cameras with us as it is the most beautiful toilet in the world. Fearing the recreation of a moment from Trainspotting I held my breath as I went in search for it. Luckily our guide was being deadly serious as the toilet was carved into the rock, and I spent five minutes trying to take a photo of a cubicle and the rock at the sametime.

The tour lasted two hours during which we were taken through the main city of Petra. This was only the main attraction and unfortuneatly our tour was only a day and we would not be able to visit any of the other sites, usually only reachable after long arduous hikes. The tour ended at the other end of the city where we had lunch and we were given a couple of hours to wander back in our own time.

The way was littered with stalls with people selling bric-a-brac usually in an English accent not too far removed from cockney. There were also people offering donkey and camel rides up and and down the track. We were all very amused by one man who upon a small horse was offering a 'taxi, ferrari, air-conditioning' although ot wasnt as funny the second and third time. What wasnt so nice to see was parents hiding in the bushes as they sent their children to sell rocks taken from the city. Also on the way back I went into the Khazeh again where I listened to the the Indiana Jones theme music, sad I know but still utterly neccessary.

I think I slept through most of the drive back, at the end of the drive we had a detour into Aquaba which in my opinion is a far nicer city than Eilat. We experienced no problems leaving Jordan but on the way into Israel I was held up twice once at security and once at passport control, and despite reassuring remarks but Israel customs officials I was wandering what the hell was so suspicious about me. Unfortuneatly we missed our groups bus back into Jerusalem, and so the man from the tour company gave us a lift back to Eilat in his open air jeep. All in all it was an amazing experience and I was delighted I did it.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Kibbutz Misc

There is one big problem about kibbutz life, its makes you unfathomably lazy. Oh dont get me wrong I know I was lazy before hand but life on Kibbutz just takes the biscuit. Daily schedule would go something like this, wake up, go to work, break for breakfast and then later on lunch, finish work, and then either sunbathe or enjoy air-conditioning depending on your temperament (I am clearly one of those who prefers the latter), have dinner, chill out (or go to pub from Thursday-Saturday) sleep. You work hard at work but vegetate the rest of the time. I think many volunteers come to kibbutz with big ideas of what they want to acheive but on the whole I imagine towards the end of their week these have probably been thrown out the window. A typical thought process might go something like this 'I think maybe we should perhaps think about starting to doing something, but maybe not.' This is why I have been rather poor at updating this blog over the past few weeks, because I know I should but to be honest I just cant be bothered. Anyway I finally realised that I have so much to catch up on that I really should, and I know by loving and devoted readers cant wait to hear about my adventures, or total lack of them.

So I ended last time saying that I had just moved into my new job in the dining room, and there for a change I was to remain. The dining room to me had two carrots, it was indoors, and sociable. Unfortuneatly the hours sucked and it doesnt matter how quickly you finish everything you have to do you still have to come back to work during and after lunch. So the earliest one might hope to finish in the dining room is about 2:30. I joined the dining room team in a time of turmoil, the previous boss had just quit and a new boss had come in introduced longer hours, more jobs and has yet to introduce himself to us (about two weeks on). And so into this vacuum Edan stepped in. Edan is a member of the Noam Garin, a group of boys who had spent their army service together and who had started and were now finishing their time on Kibbutz. As he had thus worked on the Kibbutz before Edan saw himself as a the perfect person to take command, unfortunately no-one was quite sure if this was the case, and Edan wasnt quite sure what being boss meant, and so many arguements, meetings, bitchings ensued. I had always thought before I came to the kitchen that he was a lovely guy, he was just the sort of person that turns from lovely guy socially to a total meglomaniac in the work place.

Anyway working in the dining room involves amongst other things; cleaning tables, cleaning floors, cleaning bathrooms, taking things off a big industrial conveyor belt washing machine, and cleaning up and koshering after all meals (except dinner). Of course when we think we have finished and we are about to go for our break or leave for the day, Edan finds more things to do. To be honest I rather enjoy working in the dining room, yes the hours suck, but I wouldnt do anything else for the rest of the day so it doesnt really matter. The work is varied and not too hard and best of all there is air conditioning so it is actually bearable to work. I should state that it is currently around 35 degrees and absolutely stiffling. The only time the dining room really sucks in on Fridays as we have to prepare for shabbat, so we have to come in at six and dont tend to leave till about four of five at the earliest. This was particularlay annoying last weekend as the Noam group had come down to visit.

The reason for this was our last shabbat byachad, and this time it was really was a special occassion as we had not been together as a group for several weeks. People started to come down on Thursday night in time for the pub, which was fun as usual. Benefits of the rest of the group being down here, apart of course form seeing them which was a sheer joy in itself and we would not request any other benefits (just covering my back in case any of them are reading this), was that they were staying in the guest house and this meant that as they had free beds we could go and sleep in their rooms with comfortable beds, and then have the breakfast specially reserved for the guest house in the morning. Richard, Nick and Annabel seized the chance of comfort, I unsurprisingly could not be bothered to move, my excuse being that if I switch beds my back will hurt again, however I did relish the chance of a decent breakfast.

On Friday morning we had a talk on a five day hike we are having after the options period finishes, in the afternoon however I had to work to help set up for shabbat. I was working till around 5:30 which meant that our pre-shabbat program had started before I arrived showered yet shattered to join the group. We had a kabbalat service interspersed with demonstrations by everyone of what they had learnt during their time on options. The MDA people illustrated how to put on a bandaged, the Marva people showed us a very tough excercise routine which Nick and I then copied, and us Kibbutznics showed everyone how to dance around like a Kibbutznic, ie. in a way that would probably get you chucked out of most London clubs.

After the service we went to have dinner, and following this we ran an onegg, of which the central part was a game I lead in which groups had to reenact what they thought other groups had been getting up to over the last couple of weeks. This was made somewhat harder by me shouting different styles in which they had to show this such as: BBC News at 10, an episode of Eastenders, Film Noir and many more. Then each group showed what they had actually been up to over the last few weeks, and for some reasons I was convinced to do my Bohemiam Rhapsody dance again, sober.

The next day is usually a lie-in day on Kibbutz, however we rather inevitably had to get up for a morning service followed by a program. After lunch we had a break in which I of course did nothing, and then another program of a reflective nature. After dinner the Marva group ran a program in which they attempted to show us what life in a mock army program is like. They thus shouted at us a lot and made us do press ups. Given the order to march sensible and in silence, it became an excuse to join the Ministry of Silly Walks, thus causing us to stop every five seconds as flustered Marvanics shouted at us, whilst we like little childre utterly failed to control our hysterics. Unfortuneatly that was the last program of the shabbaton and by Sunday lunchtime everyone was gone. It was so nice to see everyone again and it was really amazing to be back together as a group, and it made me realise just how much I had missed them all.

One final thing to report, last night I went down to a beach just outside Eilat, for a drink, concert and football match. Bascially somone had the great idea of putting a big name band at the same time as a big football match, which would be shown on two big screens, and in the process sell a lot of beer. The bands name was Machina, I had only ever heard of them in context of this gig but apparently they were pretty big, however, as the ticket only cost 40 shekels (£5) I thought why not, and I was pleasantly surprised by how good they were. The game was Manchester United versus AC Milan second leg, and a United fan I was rather upset by the result.

I intend to right again soon as I have another big day to report on,