So I am at the moshav, a small development in Sedot Micah, in the Judean mountains near Bet Shemesh. I had felt a little stressed being in Tel Aviv, from the alien sense of a Middle Eastern city and little sleep plus not being able to communicate immediately with everyone around me. As I got further from the urban life I felt more and more relaxed and by the time my taxi arrived at the farm I was feeling quite positive.
The farm is run by Marc, a well-travelled and highly educated man originally from Morroco. His plan (and his reason for being in Israel) is to build a museum of Morrocan Jewry which will house sights and sounds from his land, including recorded poetry and music. There are now five volunteers: Josh, who is German, Benjamin, who is Hungarian, Jonas, who is Swedish and Tucker, who is - can you guess from the name? - American. There is a nice atmosphere here and the routine is hard but very nice. We breakfast at 7, by which time the sun is well up and heating the air, then start work. This includes levelling the site and constructing the tire-mud walls, as well as planting trees which will provide shade. It's hard work and by 9 I was already aching so the short break for coffee and snack was welcome. We work again until 12, when we take lunch and siesta until 3, then it is back to work until sundown at 5. Then we cook and eat together before having the evening to relax. We each have a room, which I'm impressed by, though three sleep in an outhouse. Yosh and I have rooms in the house - my own is huge though lacking glass on the door (it is currently covered with a blanket which enables privacy though does little to stop sound).
These are the buildings which will house the museum.
I feel sort of bad because we are involved somewhat in a war against ants, who have their own development plans in the grounds. These are some impressive ants, and but I suspect the humans will win in the end. This does not stop them attacking us with their pincers however. It seems once they bite they cannot let go, and if pulled will be decapitated rather than surrender.
There follow some pictures of these creatures which I think are fascinating but readers may find creepy.
A short reprieve in the form of a more pleasant insect:
Probably not the biggest beetle I've seen but definitely the biggest one I've held.
There are clearly several ranks in the ant community, including tiny civilian serve-ants, soldiers (some entirely black, some with red heads), flying ants, and these huge fast-running ants almost as big as my thumb which I first mistook for spiders. These seem to be scouts.
Flying ant who liked my hat.
Part of the worksite and sunset.
Jonas mixing the mud-concrete-manure mixture which we apply over the recycled tires to make the walls.
The outhouse where the others sleep.
Tire-mud wall in progress. This morning we entered the site and found half of it collapsed. This was unfortunate as it is time-consuming and hard work to rebuild.
A soldier ant. Look at those jaws!
Josh found this baby praying mantis. It is the second he has seen.
Soldier ant fighting a woodlouse.
Josh at the ready.
The other guys are all nice. They have all spent time at other kibbutzim around Israel, and are here for varying periods of 1 week to 4. I think I will stay the longest and am not sure whether new volunteers will join us later. It feels surprisingly not-odd to be in overwelmingly male company, considering most of my friends in Lancaster were female. I like the fact that there is no pressure to be laddish in the way there often is with English guys. In the evening most people hang out in the lounge but there is no big social thing going on - people are reading or surfing, or talking to friends and family. It's nice to be able to have company while getting some internal space.
I realise that I like the way foreign people speak English - the lack of absolute proficiency leads to unusual but intuitive grammar which I find satisfying. I have found, also in the past, that my own expression adopts this sense of frankness without the buffering or semantic prevarication I use around other native speakers. In order to make oneself understood I tend to mimic the inflections of the listener. It made me think today about the trouble I have in communicating verbally, and why I have to plan sentences before I say them - and I tend to speak in the same way I write for this reason. An example: I was going to write "I'm going to give this more thought". But if I was speaking here to someone, especially one of the non-Americans, I'd just say "About this, I will think more." It communicates the same thing but the order of the concepts is different, and simpler I think. I've thought previously that one of the problems the English language faces is the vastness of its vocabulary and amount of different ways the same thing can be said - or, very similar things can be articulated precisely. This leads to a very precise language where meaning is parsed definitely and subtlety is pinned down with specific solid terms. The comparative lack of flexibility in other languages' expression (especially something like Hebrew) allows (or demands) a direct frankness which I like.
I was slightly worried about food; that I would not have enough of the right things to eat here. This is not the case! We eat very well, and are free to take what we like from the kitchen. The staple is tahini (sesame seed paste), which Marc has infinite methods of combination both sweet and savoury: with carob, with lemon juice and parsley, yoghurt, cinnamon, as a drink, a spread or a dip. Yesterday we made an unusual humus with onions, parsley and several other ingredients. The main meals have also been very tasty, usually a variety of plates to help ourselves to rather than a single pot. Yesterday Marc made Borsht, a soup of vegetables and beetroot which was very good.
Tomorrow Marc is taking us on a trip: we go to a nearby site of interest which I think involves caves and stalagtites. It is also Benjamin's birthday and Yosh's on Saturday so we will celebrate tomorrow night. Every Friday and Saturday we have off, as is the custom in Israel - Sabbath begins sundown on Friday until sundown Saturday. For those unaware, traditionally days begin at sundown for Jews: meaning that in Genesis the 7 "days" go from evening till evening, not morning till morning. This makes sense, as darkness precedes light, the first creation.
More tomorrow or Saturday, depending on how busy/drunk we are.