Shalom to all,
I realize that I've been in Israel almost three weeks, and two and a half of those weeks here at Kibbutz Lotan, and have not put a posting on my blog for all that time, so now I should make up for that and tell you all what's been going on.
It's been an incredible time of discovery and I've seen and experienced so many new things in these few days since I've arrived, I hardly know where to start!
Firstly, Lotan is set in the middle of the Arava desert, far from any 'civilized' urban environment. The area is remote, very hot as can be expected from a desert, full of sand and dust. Sound good? Plus the kibbutz is surrounded by barbed wire and you can only get in via a gate which is guarded night and day. Sound better? I'm emphasizing this on purpose as a joke kind of, because while it is true that we are 'closed' in, you don't get the feeling of being closed in at all. It's just a normal requirement and all the kibbutzim in the area (and there are quite a few) have the same set-up.
One of the first things they tell you when you get here, on top of the normal tour of the kibbutz is, don't walk east. Cross the barbed wire, walk a couple of hundred meters and there you are in Jordan. There is peace with Jordan and it is not risky as such, but sensitive nevertheless, there have been incidents and the army patrols so.....keep to the west end of the kibbutz!
Kibbutz Lotan is a relatively young kibbutz, created in 1984 by members of the Reform Movement. They produce milk and cheese from cows and goats. All the produce is sold to the outside. It is still one of the more traditional kibbutzim where all the 'wealth' goes to the kibbutz, all the money people make on the outside goes straight into the kibbutz accounts. Because they don't have many members (55 adults plus about 60 kids) and some aspiring members, it is not a rich kibbutz, so they do rely a bit on tourism.
They are very well known in the region and further beyond as well for their knowledge of and dedication to sustainable living, and everything here, and I mean everything, is recycled. Natural products are used for their buildings (mud mostly, which provides for good insulation) and everything is composted, included the toilets, which for the most part are dry (not as bad as it sounds actually). They run Apprenticeship programs which go for 5 months or one year and take volunteers such as myself for one week up to whatever, to learn techniques relating to mud building, sustainable gardening and so forth.
Which is what I've been doing and while it was a little challenging at first, I now have got the hang of it and am contributing to the kibbutz by my hard work. And it is hard work. Up at 6AM when we do stretching and tai-chi movements together in a circle at the end of which we all hold hands and welcome the new day together (this is the holistic aspect of Lotan) and then we go off to our various duties until breakfast at 8:30 until 9:30 and then back to work until 2:30PM. So in actual fact, almost 8 hour days in the hot sun (does wonder for my tan and yes, I do wear sunscreen and a hat for those who would be tempted to question it;-). I have done a lot of mud working, and gardening, weeding, collecting seeds, preparing our ecological centre for visiting groups of kids.
I have also been joining in the various other activities on offer. On the occasion of Yom Hazikaron (Remembrance Day) and Yom Ha'atzmaut (Independence Day), there were special little ceremonies I attended. There is of course the weekly Friday evening dinner with a little singing, which is nice. This coming Sunday there is the feast of Lag Ba'omer (not sure what it is, google it...) but it has something to do with bonfires, so that is what we are doing in the evening in an area outside of the kibbutz. I am also taking a couple of hebrew lessons every week (not easy, but I am making progress!) and of course I hear hebrew here all the time, so that helps in picking up a few words or phrases. And I'm continuing diligently my Veterinary Assistant online course, so my brain is frying a bit with all this new wealth of information!
I've been fortunate to befriend the lifeguard of the pool here, who is a french woman who made aliyah a few years ago. She and I will be spending a night and day at the Dead Sea next week, so that will be a nice change as well. Rolling around in the mud (again!) as it were, and rinsing off in the salty waters of the dead sea...I'm looking forward to that!
I have to add that people here are incredibly kind and welcoming and that is something I am not entirely used to. Surely it has to do with the nature of the kibbutz. Yesterday, the woman in charge of the eco volunteers who left for the States the day after I arrived, asked me if everything was alright and what could they do to make my stay more pleasant...I mean WOW! I was so taken aback that she should even think of asking me....nobody on my other projects had even considered that I might be wanting or lacking anything.
What else can I say? This part of the country is so remote and one can't say that being here in Lotan is really being in Israel. It is a very protected environment and while events are happening in other parts of the country, such as what happened in the Golan the other day, here life goes on as usual. When I asked one of the long term kibbutz members about that, he said, it's not that they are not interested, they are, but here in Israel, they take it one day at a time, and if they don't happen to turn on the news, they just don't know what's going on. And that applies to everywhere in Israel, not just here in the South. What we perceive as a huge occurrence for them is part of their daily life. They know it's happening but they go on with their life because there is nothing exceptional about a bomb going off in a bus in Jerusalem, for example. Not long ago, I met this Israeli woman, when I was in South Africa, and I asked her how people felt about that bomb that went off in the bus and she replied “which one?” And it's not that she didn't know, it's that it happens and they take it in their stride. Another man was telling me about Gaza and about when he was in the army. He was dressed in full combat uniform, like the Ninja turtle. He would cross the border into Gaza and would be like all the soldiers you see on TV and in the movies, and then he would cross back and go home or to the base and he would lead a normal Israeli life again. Just part of a day at work...Fascinating.....
Well, I'll leave you now with a few photos and hopefully my next posting will be sooner that this one has been.
Lehitraot, yom tov! (See ya and have a good day!)
Me and one of our LED lamps in the Bustan neighbourhood where we live in our mud made domes...