Tikkun Olam Does The Desert

Hi all! Hope everyone had a fabulous few days. It’s been a little cold and rainy here in TLV, but nothing we can’t handle. I mean, it’s in the 50s. I can’t really complain about that!

On Thursday, I went to my placement at the Therapeutic Horseback Riding Center in Ramat Gan. Unfortunately, it wasn’t exactly the best experience. To start, my day began at 6:00am when I rolled out of bed to get ready. Ramat Gan takes about an hour and 15 minutes to get to once I actually step foot out of my house, so I had to be ready early. At 6:45 I hoofed it to the bus station, hopped on the number 35 (after a lot of searching/anxiously speaking in my poor Ivrit/running), and got off 20 minutes later when some nice person riding the bus told me to.

After that I got lost walking through the National Park to the riding center (it was down pouring at this point)–I was one drenched Alana when I finally made it to the stable! But I was still in fairly high spirits, because hey, I was about to play with horses.

Unfortunately, in the first few minutes it was made clear that working with horses/kids would not be something I’d get to do. Apparently, not only are there no therapy lessons on Thursdays, but I also wouldn’t get to work with the actual horses. I brushed one horse and then spent the next 4 hours of my life cleaning bridles and saddles outside in rain. Essentially, I was cleaning those bridles and saddles for the kids who were paying for dressage/jumping lessons at the center. Not exactly what I wanted to do.

Needless to say, I will be switching my placements, I’m just not sure exactly what I’ll be changing to…I’ll keep you all posted 🙂 Hopefully something both helpful and fun! This was a good learning experience though and at least I got to see an Israeli horse farm in action!

This weekend marked our first group trip around Israel! Once a month we go on weekend camping trips through various regions. This weekend we drove down to the Negev (A huuuuge desert in southern Israel) for some hiking and farm tours. The Negev actually makes up about 50% of Israel’s land area, yet only 10% of the population lives there. I always joke that Storrs is smack dab in the middle of nowhere, but where we went seriously was in the middle of nowhere. It’s not a place I’d like to live necessarily, but it was really peaceful and relaxing. Seeing miles and miles of pure sand and shrub will do that to ya!

After a 2+ hour drive into the desert we found ourselves at an Alpaca farm down south.

We learned all about the little critters and got to feed them too!

A face only a mother could love.

Animals everywhere…I was in my glory!

After learning about Alpacas (not to be confused with llamas…the farmer made that very clear) we took off for yet another farm tour. This time we found ourselves at a “Lone Farm” a few minutes south of the first farm.

A Lone Farm is owned by one family in the middle of the Negev. There are quite a few lone farms in the area, which provides a nice community for trading, selling, etc…There is also quite a bit of tourism at Lone Farms, which is how these “middle of nowhere” vegetable/animal establishments survive.

The farm we arrived at was a goat farm, so of course we had to do a cheese and yogurt tasting.

Holy delicious, Batman.

I’ve never had such great yogurt in my life!

After that we learned more about the farm and why the farmer chose to live out in the Negev. He loves his life out here and I think it’s very cool that he gets to wake up every morning and see this:

Miles and miles of land. His own little piece of the world.

The goats were fun too (if you know me, you know my obsession with these fierce little guys). We had a great time messing around, playing on farm equipment, and making friends with the animals.

Even the desert is a wonderful place to be 🙂

Afterwards, we took off for Bedouin campgrounds in the area. We were off to spend a night in the great outdoors!

The Bedouins are a nomadic Arab tribe that have lived in the desert for thousands of years. They generally work with livestock, but in the past few years that way of life has become increasingly more difficult. This is due to the tightening of zoning laws, the rise in Urban areas, land ownership rights, etc.

We arrived at the Bedouin camp and immediately set up our sleeping area. It was a little touristy, but still fun.

I apologize for the crappiness of the picture. I had no idea my camera was this dirty when I took it.

We also drank some amazing tea that they were passing out at the camp.

The man on the right was the one providing the tea. After I finished my first glass I really wanted another so I went up to him and said, “Od-pa’am Bvachasha.” He looked at me kind of funny and my friends all laughed because I had said, “Another time, please.” In order to defend myself I turned back to him and said, “Ani ivrit lo tov.” This time he looked at me like I was seriously an idiot because I had said “I am Hebrew, not good.” After a few moments of contemplation I finally said it correctly (Ivrit sheli lo tov) and we had a good chuckle at my poor language skills.

For the rest of our time at the camp the tea guy would randomly approach me, ask if I wanted tea and then giggle as he walked away. Oh Saraf, you silly little jokester.

Though embarassing, I personally take no shame in this moment! Despite my lack of language knowledge I’ve totally put myself out there for the past few weeks. I say the words with confidence even if I don’t necessarily know that I’m correct. I may not always be right, but everything is a learning experience. One way or another I will figure out this wacky language!

After setting up our sleeping bags, a few of us hiked up the dunes to watch the sunset.

We then proceeded to cook up an incredible dinner.

We made Poike (a type of vegetable concoction) and then finished up with chocolate covered bananas and marshmallows.

These homemade fire-baked pitas were also thrown into the mix. Oh my gracious, amazing. (And yes, Mrs. VB and Mrs. Crevier, I helped! All that camping knowledge put to good use!!)

After dinner we all sat around playing guitar, singing songs, and just plain chatting. We all went to bed together in the same tent area as one big happy Tikkun Olam family.

The next morning we woke up bright and early to climb through the Ramon Crater (Mahktesh Ramon). The name “Crater” is actually quite misleading because technically it’s not really a crater (at least in the sense that a meteor did not hit the earth). Now, I’m no science whiz, but from what I understand millions of years ago the ocean sat in this specific area of the Negev. For various reasons the ocean eventually receded leaving behind this large eroded area.

The area is actually very cool, it looks like the Grand Canyon (at least what I imagine the Grand Canyon to look like ;)).

Desert excitement! We proceeded to go on a 6+ hour hike (our toucas’s were on fiyah). We tackled this mountain/overlook, which had a killer view at the top.

This picture does not do that climb justice. It was fairly difficult, but once we got up there the view was out of this world!

Outrageous.

Once we got to the top, we hiked around for a few hours and then made the descent back down. This is where things became a little dicey. The descent was almost entirely vertical and mostly sand/rock. There were a few boulders and footholds along the way, but for the most part it was a panicky trip to the bottom. Somehow I wound up in the front of my section of the pack and figuring everything out without someone helping was hard. When I’m nervous I give myself mini pep-talks, so I just kept saying things like, “This is great! I’m fine! We’re beasting this mountain! We are the alufs (champions!).” Behind me, my friend Davida was just as nervous so she kept laughing every time I fell on my booty/said something ridiculous. The trip down took almost 40 minutes and at the bottom we all kissed the ground with joy.

Afterwards, our guide Benji told us that middle school classes regularly come to do this hike. I don’t know what kind of mountain-goat kids they’re breeding in Israel, but I need to learn these secrets.

After a few more hours of hiking and a trip up another cliff we made our way back to TLV. We all took much needed showers and had a great time relaxing at the house.

I don’t want to go into too much detail about volunteering because it’s not the most exciting, but Sunday I went to Irony Hey and Shapira once again. At Shapira the same 3 girls that I tutored last week requested to work with me again–they may be 13, but it’s still nice to know that they like me! We had a good time getting the homework done, but by the end of the session they had no desire to do any reading in English.

I made a deal with them that if they read a few pages in English I would read an entire page in Hebrew (and they could laugh at my ridiculous language skills). Of course they cheered in joy, quickly read their pages, and then opened up a young adult novel for me to work through. Of course, I sounded absolutely ridiculous, the girls got to laugh hysterically, and even the Israeli college volunteer was stifling giggles. In my defense, this book had no vowels so I essentially had to guess what every vowel would be–these girls loved every second of my pathetic attempts.

What have I learned from this moment? A) Bribery works. Every time. B) The students love tutoring me almost as much as I love tutoring them. It’s nice that we have this symbiotic relationship going…sometimes the student/teacher role will switch and that’s okay. I’ve just gotta go with it!

So today (Monday) we took another trip down to the Negev, this time to visit a few different Bedouin villages. These were way less touristy and gave us a real taste of Bedouin life in Israel. Unfortunately, the Bedouins in Israel are extremely marginalized and often booted off of their land by Israeli officials. The Israel government technically owns all of the land in Israel (you can buy your house, but you cannot buy the land that your house sits on). Because the Bedouins cannot buy the land they are routinely kicked off of the property on which they live. Israel has created “towns” for the Bedouins to live in, but provides no support in the way of economic stability, infrastructure, electricity, running water, etc…These “towns” also destroy Bedouin culture and remove the nomadic/agricultural aspects of Bedouin life. The Bedouin issues run parallel to Native American rights issues in the U.S. The problems on U.S. reservations mirror those same issues found in Bedouin towns (both unrecognized/illegal and recognized/legal). There’s more to it, but I know that I’ve already written a lot in this post and I don’t want it to get too boring.

We visited 3 different Bedouin villages and each had its own unique look/feel.

At each village we were greeted with a customary cup of sweet tea.

I also tried camel milk straight from the camel (it was still warm!). I’m not so sure I ever want to repeat the experience, but hey, you have to try everything once!

Don’t let my smile mislead you. That camel milk was not exactly prime.

Alright, this has quickly become the world’s longest blog post! I’m off to bed! Lyla tov haverim!

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