by James Mostert, 6 Oct 2003
In a moment of nostalgia I'm reading over the last few pages of my travel diary: "July 29th 2001 - in less than an hour I'll really be leaving my kibbutz. All my stuff is packed and after a fantastic time I have to return to The Netherlands. I'll see my family again, start my study and get back to the Western reality. I've truly had a great time here and it's a pity that it's over already. What an unreal feeling to be leaving.. Of course it's gonna be nice to see my family again, but I already know that I'm gonna miss this life terribly. The past seven months have flown by."
By now it's almost a year ago that I departed from the 'holy land'. Still I often think back with pleasure about that time, which left me a lot of great memories. For example, one of the things I wo'nt forget easily is my first kibbutz Hefzi-Ba, where I first experienced kibbutz life.
I'd just been a day in the land where I'd be spending the next seven months and had absolutely no idea what lay ahead and what I was supposed to think about life as a volunteer. In the Tel Aviv kibbutz volunteer centre I got directed to a kibbutz south of the lake of Tiberias: Hefzi-Ba. According to the employees a fun kibbutz where I'd have an unforgettable time with the circa 25, mostly Dutch, volunteers. How true that remark was, got pretty clear to me already on the very first night.
After the long bus trip I'd barely been able to put down my backpack, before I got dragged along to the communal room, where all the volunteers had already gathered around the table. On top of it was a gigantic tub, filled to the top with a mix of vodka and juice. In reaction to my surprised face somebody yelled "the kings drinking game!" to me, while I sat down at the table. A short explanation of this drinking game followed. The principle was simple: a playing card was drawn and depending on the card, a number of sips had to be divided among the players. "Let's learn the new guy how to drink" the motto appeared to be; about every sip that could be given away, was for me. And so, as the game and evening progressed, the mix kept on getting tastier and the atmosphere kept on getting better. But alas, that stage passed, since the sips of the strong vodka mix just kept on coming my way. After a while I was drunk like never before, I'd completely forgotten the names I just learned and I didn't see much more than a spinning mist. At that point I decided to leave the game and walked - as well as I could - to my room. And just before I emptied my stomach into the toilet, I mumbled to myself: "is this how things always go on a kibbutz?"
What a contrast with my home country. I just came from secondary school, ready for university. I however decided to take a year out first. Eventually I chose to go to Israel, and after that first night in Hefzi-Ba I knew I had made the right choice. In the next 2 months I learnt all about kibbutz life. Naturally work was one of the main aspects of a standard day. I got a job in the local water clock factory, the main source of income for the kibbutz. There I busied myself with taking apart worn-out water clocks, so that the parts could be recycled. I admit, the work was simple and not very mind stimulating, but it was always a lot of fun with Igor, the boss. Igor was an immigrated Russian, who would talk a lot in a ususally unintelligable mixture of English, Hebrew, Russian, German and hand gestures about the loves of his life: Pink Floyd, soccer and women.
But of course the work wasn't what kibbutz life was really about. The most fun part was simply living in a group of young people with international backgrounds and partying together. And parties there were plenty of. Several times a week kibbutz Hefzi-Ba and surrounding kibbutzim organized pub and disco nights. And in our 'free' evenings, we simply enjoyed us by ourselves. Since the Israeli vodka was ridiculously cheap, the amount of money we got from the kibbutz for our work was more than enough for events like those. I definitely learnt how to drink in Israel!! In short, life as a volunteer was busy and night's rest was scarce, but I had a lot of fun. Another thing I can remember vividly is Purim, the dress-up party which was celebrated with a loooot of alcohol. We had so much fun that evening.. The trips through Israel were cool too. Once in every while the kibbutz organized trips for us, they were always 'off the beaten track' and brought us to the still untouched beauties of this country; we could easily visit the normal tourist attractions on our own, which we did regularly on our days off. Through such trips I learned a lot about the rich history of this country and got a great deal more insight in the ancient and current situation.
After Hefzi-Ba I went on a trip to Egypt with a group of 5 fellow volunteers. Visiting that country had always been a dream of mine, and to actually be there was of course fantastic. The gigantic remains of the Old Egyptian culture and the ingenuity that hides behind it were very impressive. Since my visa ran out, I went back to Israel after a month, after spending a few days in the amazing Petra in Jordan. For a while I thought about going back to the comforts of Hefzi-Ba, but eventually I decided to try out another kibbutz. I ended up in kibbutz Dalia, about 30 kilometres under Haifa.
I spent the next months in Dalia, where kibbutz life was even more excessive and crazy. My new kibbutz was a lot wealthier than Hefzi-Ba, which showed itself in many ways, like the quality of the food - which definitely wasn't all that in Hefzi-Ba - and the many extras available for the volunteers. Also the nationalities of the volunteers were a lot more diverse, I was only one of a few Dutch people there, which was nice for a change. I worked in dishwash, where I cleaned the dishes from the kitchen. Of course this work wasn't very interesting either, but it was well manageable thanks to the many water fights and a nicely disturbed boss. There were wonderful luxuruous trips and wild parties for the volunteers, yet in my eyes the simple things were the best moments: sitting around a campfire with all the volunteers, enjoying a beer and a hookah.. In short, the starting summer made the party atmosphere even better, and it became a time to never forget.
But all good things come to an end, so for me too the inevitable day came when my adventures in Israel had come to an end. It was time to leave this dream and return to reality, where my study was waiting for me. All in all my time in the Middle-East was quite an experience: seen a lot, done a lot, made a lot of friends and most of all had a lot of fun. I still often look back on my adventures in and outside of kibbutz life and realize that I've been infected with the travel bug for good.
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