Month: October 2017

In the desert

It’s sunny every day here. In the Netherlands I check the weather report all the time, weather changes from day to day, from morning to evening, sometimes from hour to hour, varying in temperature, rain or sunshine. In Neot Semadar, in the desert, the sun shines and the skies are blue every day, and the temperature gets to about 25 degrees in the shade.

It stands out to me that some of the people are wearing scarves and long sleeves. I guess for them it’s cool now, compared to the heat of the summer months. Funny how their winter days are hotter than our hottest summer days. Everything is relative.

This has been one of the recurring themes since I’m here, that everything is relative.

On my third or fourth day I found it absolutely unacceptable and unbearable that, just as everyone else, I also need to wake up between 5 and 6 a.m. – six days a week, and work eight to ten hours every day. Saturday is the only free day. I felt revolted and seriously considered asking for a couple of mornings off, if not for a full day. Now, a week later, I find it doable. As I said earlier to a friend, “I made my peace with the fucking schedule”.

I find it difficult to be here. The schedule leaves not much time and not much energy for yourself. Everyone works really, really, really, really hard. Last week I seriously considered leaving and started looking for other options of volunteering in Israel. But then I noticed the people I was working with that day – their eyes were shining, they were friendly, warm and kind. They had an inner calm that I so, so longed for.

Neot Semadar was founded as a school for those that want to learn about themselves. So called “conditions” are put on life, limits, edges, things that will squeeze you and make you uncomfortable and then you can learn about yourself. Because you can only learn about your edges by touching them. Some questions that I have asked myself so far: Could I feel free despite this draconic schedule? Is it possible to feel happy regardless of my circumstances? What actually causes my feeling bad – is it what I have to do (the outside) or is it something in me?Ā  Reflecting is much encouraged here, in this school of the self. The invitation is to say yes, to let go, to be flexible, to look at yourself, to push your limits, to stay mindful. Every day around noon work-teams have a longer break of about 30 minutes when they sit together and share, reflecting on whatever is alive, either situations that arose during work or more personal issues. Work-teams also sometimes choose a week-long focus (for example, the focus of the kitchen team this week is being warm, welcoming hosts and being mindful of the difference between meaningful conversation and unnecessary chatter).

So far my time here has been a roller coaster, a constant alternation between the ups – nice days, nice moments of meeting lovely people, of feeling relaxed and calm, of enjoying the sunshine, the dates, the amazing landscape (I am, after all, in a lush, abundant oasis in the middle of the desert), the swimming in the lake, the picking olives and the general peace and quiet which comes with a place like this (which is also starting to reflect in myself) – and the downs, intense feelings of frustration, loneliness (sometimes people speak in Hebrew and don’t translate, which can feel quite isolating), tiredness, annoyance, wishing to go away, criticising this place, criticising myself, eating all the chocolate I brought with me (only two bars, luckily and sadly at the same time šŸ™‚ ) in an attempt to gain some extra energy and/or some emotional comfort.

I do feel that I’m learning. I do feel that something in me is relaxing and healing.

I think it would be easier to accept the ‘conditions’Ā  if this was called an ashram and the work was called karma yoga- because that’s really what it is.

So Iā€™m willing to give it a try for these two months. I am already surprised to see that I have surrendered to this crazy schedule which now seems normal, that I have started to enjoy my days and that I even have some extra energy in my free time.

Welcome to Neot Semadar

I took a train for one stop and walked 400 meters to the bus station. The bus station? A six story building, a labyrinth of shops. I asked where to find the busses and was told they were on the sixth floor. On the sixth floor it was also anything but straightforward. I wondered around a bit before finding the platforms and then another while before finding the ticket booth. I finally bought a ticket and then had to wait an hour and a half until the next bus. I sat down and observed the people around. Something in the general atmosphere reminded me of Romania. What was very new and strange for me were the many young soldiers, young girls and boys around 20 years old who were walking around with their big bags and (some of them) big weapons.

After getting on the bus, I couldn’t help but falling asleep. The trip was exhausting and the interview (read previous post for more details) for sure added extra stress to my system. I really wanted to see the view but I couldn’t keep my eyes open, so I slept until the first rest-point. When I woke up, for a moment I thought I was in an airplane that was landing. Then I remembered where I was and where I was going.

The rest of the way I stared out the window. Beautiful views of mountainous desert, the kind I’d never seen before. At one point I realised there was wi-fi on the bus – I must say I was quite impressed.

I got off the bus at a junction and was picked up from there by someone from the kibbuts, finally arriving in Neot Semadar around 5pm, roughly 29 hours after leaving Amsterdam.

I had a quick check in filling in some forms and hearing some quick safety rules and then I went with Aluma to her house. Aluma invited me to live with her, so now we’re sharing her beautiful house – I feel super grateful.

soaking up the sun
the wonderful outdoor livingroom
our front door
the kitchen
my room šŸ™‚


Welcome to Israel

After a long journey (it took me 22 hours from Amsterdam to Tel Aviv, with a pit stop in Bucharest where I saw Calin and Sana, played with Ziggy, ate delicious hummus and slept four hours), I landed in Tel Aviv. It was a warm and sunny morning. Ah, warmth. We don’t get this kind of warmth in the Netherlands, relaxing and dry.

Tel Aviv airport

I was a bit nervous about the passport control. I had heard it can be tough going into Israel, so I braced myself for what was to come. There were separate booths for Israeli citizens, with green writing on top, and non-Israelis, with orange writing. I was immediately aware of my usual privilege of being an EU citizen (always going in the fast queues) and how here it was the other way around. Interesting, to experience the other side of the coin.

After answering a few of his questions, where I was from, why I was here, what I did for a living, the passport control officer told me to go to the immigration office where one of his colleagues will give me back my passport. He pointed me the way. With my heart slowly starting to beat faster, I made my way there. My mind started to race. I remembered someone I met a few years ago who had told me he had come to Israel and been sent back. I starting imagining what would happen if I was sent back, everything I would have to arrange… I stopped myself. This was not helpful, this mind-rant around the worst case scenario. I told myself that if this does happen, I will worry about that bridge when I get to it. Right now it was important to stay present and calm, so I sat down and focused on my breath. I considered writing to someone, anyone on WhatsApp. But there was no use, nobody could help me right now.

As I waited, I enjoyed watching my surroundings, the beautiful light, the blue sky above, the warm air. I was alone in this office and I could watch everyone else passing through to the luggage area. What was going to happen to my luggage?

This is what I saw from the waiting area when I looked up.

Then another woman and a man came. The woman was part of a tourist group and the man was one of the guides. Everyone else had passed because of her, they didn’t know why. Then another two women joined and a couple. I must say it felt a bit better when there were more people waiting.

Then they called my name and I went inside the small office. Behind a desk sat a beautiful blonde woman with a face of stone, and next to her another airport officer (also a woman) who I had already seen walking around. The blonde woman started asking me questions, so fast one after the other that I barely had time to answer. Why are you in Israel? Why are you staying so long? Show me your return flight. How much money do you have with you? Where did you meet this friend? (I told them I’m here to visit my friend Aluma in the kibbuts). How long do you know her? When was she born? (?!?!?!) If you know her for two years, why didn’t you come to visit sooner? What will you do in this kibbuts? I answered everything truthfully. I literally said I’m going to the kibbuts to work with plants, with goats and to watch the stars, to get a break from city life. In the end she asked me for Aluma’s number and called her. I was later told that one of the questions she asked was ‘are you willing to take the responsibility that she will the country after three months?’. Luckily Aluma said yes and the immigration officer was convinced. She gave me my passport back together with a blue sticker, telling me to just go past the security offices and scan the code on the blue sticker to open the gates. Phew! The truth was enough and it was okay.

I went to the baggage belts and looked around for a while until I found my backpack randomly lying somewhere on the floor. “Yay!” I said out loud. Next steps, figuring out how to get to the Tel Aviv central bus station.