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ECO 7: Zionists, Green Freaks and Hasidic HippiesMemoirs from a Middle Eastern Commune
By Michael Robertson
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2012 Michael Robertson
All right reserved.
Chapter OneWelcome to the Sandbox
9/3: So far so good! I'm on the plane to New York right now, and we haven't crashed ... yet. I nearly missed this one, too; like every other flight in recent memory. This is a very bad habit that I must try to break.
I'm on the plane to Tel Aviv now after a two-hour layover in Newark International. It's easy to find the gate for Israel, just look for the closed-off one in the back with extra security. Security was actually not as heavy as I had expected. Maybe they're saving that for when you're in country. Somehow, my seat is in the deluxe front aisle, chance has graced me with some extra leg room. I must try to sleep some; I have only had about three hours in the last thirty-six.
Even though airports are the only true international territory, they still reflect their locations. The feel of the Newark Airport reflects New York—a veneer of polish over grime.
9/4: I managed to doze on the plane a bit and discovered a few things about international flights. Airline food lives down to its reputation, you get to know your seatmates very well, and jet lag is a creeping malady. They let me walk right through security and customs. All I had to deal with were some G-men asking general questions about my travel plans. I was met at the airport by my cousin, Maria, and am now at my cousin Linn's place in Rehovot for the night.
What I've seen so far is ... interesting, truly a land of contrasts. Most things are kosher, so that means meat and dairy are not mixed. The air quality, for now at least, is terrible, almost as bad as LA. Most of this city I've seen so far is tract apartment complexes from various eras with massive construction underway everywhere else. Hopefully, things will be better in the rural areas. Cities are not my environment. Sleep and a shower, manna from heaven!
Linn's son, Jude, is here. He flew in from Thailand this morning; a big shot tennis player, number one in the country. Another cousin named Bill came over, and we all spent the night talking. I didn't know just how bad the cost-of-living situation is over here. Compared to the Bay Area even, everything is two to three times more expensive, a third the size, and all on half the pay people get in the United States. Not as bad as Iceland, but still ... living here is already looking unlikely.
9/5: It was a good first day, even though I only slept till 2a.m. and then dozed till dawn. I was picked up by Bill, who took me all the way to the farm. It's still hot here, about high eighties with high humidity. I'm prepared to be sticky for the next two months until it cools down. The vibe is very friendly and laid back; things are slower and calmer, a nice contrast from the city.
I was right in assessing my tribemates from their bios. It's very much a mixed bag. Most are Americans, and half are from California but included are a Swede, a Brazilian, and a Canadian named Dave, my roommate. The total number is fifteen students and four regular teachers.
My home is now a yurt about twenty feet wide by twelve feet high, basic bedding and shelving included. I cleverly chose the north side of the dome for my bed, hoping it will be a few degrees cooler. There are at least a half dozen guitars here; five of their owners, I and my roommate included, are still learning to play. I'm thinking it would have been nice to have my banjo for contrast, but it would have been a pain to get here.
I haven't mixed yet with the volunteer staff. I'll wait a few days more. It looks like I have the highest level of formal medical training, not counting energy healers and herbalists, as well as the most outdoor survival experience and martial arts background. Most of the tribe are coming from cities and are still a bit timid toward their new environment, which is quite entertaining. It is about9p.m.right now, and people are still jamming; however, it's normal to be up late on the first night. The day formally starts at 7a.m. here, so a little Tai Chi (a Chinese system of moving mediation) and then bed for me.
9/6: It's up and off to a running start at 5a.m. There's no place for sleeping in here. Between my bed facing the open eastern door of the yurt, the roosters, and my meditation-addicted roommate, it's going to be easy to keep honest hours. Modi'in is just over the hill to the west, and the light pollution is so bad I don't need a flashlight at night. Jerusalem is thirty miles east, so we must be getting some from there, too.
This whole week is orientation, so we just got the grand tour of the farm. The entire place is small, eight acres, but feels big because of how compact everything is. The Eco program is based on the eastside or "upstairs" because it's on higher ground. The rest of it is "downstairs." Chickens, donkeys, assigned farm plots, the library, volunteer dorms, offices, and more are down there. Both sides have their own kitchens and bathrooms. There's an entire building devoted to secondhand stuff, anything consigned or abandoned; people seem to take great liberties with unclaimed or left-out things around here. My side of the dome seems to be no cooler, so much for being clever. It was ninety degrees with high humidity, but it's getting drier now thanks to a light breeze.
The farm is in a small valley right next to a side road, with a dry creek bed bordering the other side. The hills to the north are artificially forested with pine. The south hills still have their scrubby native shrubs and trees, none of which I know the names for yet.
Everyone on the farm had name games and dinner together tonight. Besides us and the volunteers (who are putting in a year of community service before the army), there's a group from South America that has already been here for two weeks. After that, we had an initiation ritual as a tribe—drums, sage incense, a spirit gathering in a cave hidden under a fig tree. At the end, we planted a new pomegranate tree and put a jar under it with our hopes for the program inside and then had a prayer circle. Yep, all that shamanistic, hippie-dippie, new-age stuff.
The land here reminds me of the Arizona high desert. It's dry and rocky with low trees, shrubs, and dry grasses; the boulders are limestone instead of sandstone though. It has just enough of the hills of home it ...
9/7: Today was another day of orientation. We have all been shown the basic maintenance tasks of the place and been assigned rotating work tasks. Mine, for now, is keeping the showers and solar panels clean. We met with the rest of the staff here this morning and have started eating lunches with the rest of the farm's students. It's only the third day, and this tribe is already coming together with a minimum of screaming.
We've gotten the course outline/schedule, and we'll be taking a field trip about once per month. Proposed activities and improvements are flying thick. I may be doing self-defense/martial art courses soon. I'm also looking into starting a choir.
9/8: It was hot today, though it's been getting cooler at night. We were shown the trail to a shopping center called Ishburow to the east, the actual cause of our light pollution in that direction. It looks like it will be easier to walk there and take the train from that station than walking on the roads into Modi'in. There are ruins every five feet it seems, mostly old lime furnaces. Note to self: five-finger shoes don't mix with thorny desert plants. Besides the small personal garden plots next to each dome, we can choose to take over a communal plot; I've chosen an herb circle for tea plants and perhaps a sunflower circle. We'll be having Shabbat on the farm for the first and last weekends of the course, so I'm going to be rebuilding this shitty excuse for a solar oven they have here tomorrow. We need to make the meals for the weekend in advance so we won't be doing any work on the day of rest. At least my internal clock is mostly adjusted now. I can finally sleep the night through.
We had a very hippie-dippie group discussion on community dynamics and conflict resolution. After a separate, animated, two-hour discussion about what Shabbat is, I am more confused than ever. At least when I didn't know what it was, I could ignore it ... not an option now. From what I've picked up Shabbat/ Sabbath/Shabbis all refer to the same thing, the day of rest from Friday evening to Saturday night. Because of divine decree, no work may be done during this time period. We have a local Judaic expert in Josef, who is hoping to be a rabbi. Totally astral dude, head in the clouds, and feet not on the ground. It's not surprising that I'm the most squared-away person here.
9/9: All of today was spent preparing for Shabbat. Most everyone else is cooking the five meals to last us the next day; most of it for me was taken up by rebuilding our solar oven. (It's still a piece of shit.) I don't know who made that thing, but they didn't know their ass from their elbow. The three added reflector panels and the better seal will help, but it would have been better to have just made a new one.
Everyone not working has been maintaining a music circle. I have the best voice in the Eco tribe, but there's a soprano downstairs who is quite respectable. My roommate, Dave, aspires to sing, play, and write songs. He can do none of them and doesn't know it.
There was a seed exchange this morning downstairs. People were coming from all over the country. They were bringing food as well as plants, so there were some opportunities for scrounging.
Today was hot and the night chilly. I've heard this was a cool year, though. There haven't been many mosquitoes, not enough to put up the net, even though I've been getting a few bites.
I'm concerned about tribemate James. He came here with a raging flu and hasn't been acclimating well. He's looked like he has one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel all week and has missed most of the classes and meals. He's not comfortable here, and time will tell whether he'll stay at all. All the volunteers and staff who had to stay on the farm are coming for dinner tonight. Should be fun.
9/10: Pros and cons about Shabbat: It's a great excuse to sleep in and do nothing. It also makes the day last a long time when there's nothing to do, especially here. Just for good measure, the wireless connection in the library is down, and I've discovered that the Steam server is blocked by their network, so there goes my primary communications link. Hot and humid right now, the flies and mosquitoes are out in force.
We're on a strictly vegetarian diet here—no meat allowed on the farm at all. I have plenty of energy from all the carbs, but I can feel the lack of serious fats and proteins. When I hit town, first things first: meat!
I'm discovering that my tribemates are mostly a bunch of losers who have come here lacking any other direction, who, back home, had experience in nothing but drinking and smoking weed while waiting for their lives to start. This has been awake-up call for quite a few of them already. Time will tell, though. Strange how quickly this first week has passed. It feels like I've been here a month already.
We had a fun evening. Saul, one of our teachers, is a master of every dexterity-based children's toy ever made. We also learned a little Capoeira, which is a martial art from Brazil that originated with African slaves. There was actual chocolate being passed around (mmm ... processed sugar)!
I'm getting a routine down now. I can squeeze in a half hour of stretching and workout in the morning, and a fifteen—to twenty-minute workout after dinner; rising at 5a.m. and sleeping by 10p.m. I'll have to see if this lasts. We start actual work tomorrow. I heard that it gets cold in the winter here ... cold as in fifty degrees cold—whoopee. There's an absolutely bomber salvage shelter at the far end of upstairs that might be vacant soon. I'm wondering if there's a way for me to snag it.
Chapter TwoBeware of Teapots
9/11: Most of the tribe went out on the town for pizza last night and staggered in at about 2a.m. because of bad directions. It's a good thing we start late on Sundays. Our final tribemate has arrived, after being detained by a wedding in Johannesburg. Why is it that all the Connies I know are of dwarflike stature?
We have three work sections, which will rotate every two weeks: trees, fields, and construction. I'm on trees for now. Being able to graze while harvesting is fine, but I'm waiting for that building section to roll around. Looks like I'm ahead of the game in the plant department at least. Thanks, Mom!
We started some seedlings this afternoon, and I've been assigned a planter of white cabbage.
Apparently, God thinks I've been having too much fun. At dinner earlier, a table tipped and spilled a pot of boiling hot tea all over me. Thinking quickly and cursing quicker, I ran to the showers and turned the cold on full bore. Everyone said it was a marvelous act to see; I managed to save all of me from being scalded but my left foot. I'm currently immobile, and the weakness is leaving my foot at an incredible rate. (Because pain is only weakness leaving the body after all.) I'll have to wait and see if I saved it from being blistered.
9/12: The foot survived with minimal swelling and no blisters ... yet. It'll be tender for a few days. Just have to remember to take it slow and keep out of the sun. Our first actual permaculture lesson was this morning—not really what I was expecting. They take a holistic approach here: construction, agriculture, community, finance, health, green tech, and everything in between (See Lecture 1.) Each one of those could take a year alone. It's going to be busy. We had our lecture on farm safety, too. In the event of rockets, gunmen, or earthquakes, "take cover!" We're also going to be standing watch at night, one person from midnight to five. At least I know where the medical equipment is now.
After lunch, we were shown the fire equipment and got some nozzle practice using the three-inch line. It felt good. There are fire boxes with hoses, sand buckets, and rubber slapping mops all around the farm. We're being taught about this because the place was nearly destroyed several years ago by a wildfire. The fire department was very slow to respond until the winds changed and the fire started to move toward town. Then they were somehow there instantly. Every person in the place was out on the line, trying to keep it away from the fence. That's how close it was.
For the afternoon work shift, I got light duty on account of the foot, so I spent two hours transplanting seedlings. I tried some sunscreen on it instead of the aloe vera, and it made a major difference. Other than one blister, it'll be almost mended by tomorrow.
I was feeling somewhat antisocial this evening, so I took a tip from our bubby (grandmother) Liz and headed off into the hills until sundown. Liz may only be twenty-eight, but she's acquired enough wisdom in her gloriously misspent life to qualify as a grandmother. I was late for dinner because of it, but people here seem to understand these things. I need a reality check. It's too easy to get sucked into all the hippie-dippie stuff around here.
9/13: My foot has progressed to the blistering stage—not as painful but harder to care for. I had to get up earlier this morning for kitchen detail. They ate the oatmeal, so it must not have been too bad; but then again, we'll eat anything that doesn't run too fast. My sense of every meal here is this: I don't know what that is, but it's probably delicious. For morning work, I was transplanting again. I'm getting quite good at it by now. One of the big wheels at the MASA program came to visit and give the official welcome speech. We were promised free backpacks, but I haven't seen any yet.
We had a sharing circle that lasted a good two plus hours. Many personal issues were brought to the surface, and two points were made clear: (1) Everyone here is searching for something, and (2) I really am the most stable personality here.
After that, we had a short language game where we had to write and act out a skit entirely in Hebrew. Tonight was supposed to be movie night, but it turns out that almost all they have are documentaries and the equipment doesn't work. Internet is also down at the moment. Homesickness is setting in, and I'm feeling a little low. It seems like that's where everyone's at right now.
Weird as my tribemates are, I've been hearing stories that make us low key compared to previous groups. Eco five was a group known for nude sunbathing and skin days. Maybe all it takes is time ...
9/14: I was able to get out and work in the field today, a big improvement. My work group has been weeding, mulching, and fixing the drip systems around the fruit trees for the last few days. After that, we had two permaculture classes back to back with lunch separating them. One of them was just watching a movie by Bill Mollison, the founder of modern permaculture. They're gradually leading us through the basic theories and methods of the subject. (See Lecture 1.) We just got through a lecturing from our staff "mom," Renee, about how we need to tighten up our domestic act, especially in the kitchen.
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