Find Me in Indonesia

Hey, if you’re still subscribed to this blog, I just want to give you the heads up that I’ll be blogging about my big move for the year to Indonesia here. Thanks for reading about what I’ve been through in Morocco & Israel. Keep it real and keep in touch.



Desert Archaeology, Sustainable Agriculture, & Carbon-free Energy Future-oh my

Last Monday I had to turn over the keys to my rocket cart and put the ankle to the test, which I must say was bittersweet. I finally got over the humiliation of driving the cart everywhere and started to enjoy the convenience, the thrill of driving, and appreciated resting the ankle. On the other hand, without the cart I was happy not to be as handicapped by the ankle and enjoyed my newfound ability to walk places and ride a horse.

Excavation site of an ancient reservoir in the Arava Valley

The paradigm for the first few days of the program last week comprised of: checking out a sustainability issue up close and personal in the morning, lecture with the professor at the Arava Institute of that field in the afternoon, followed by a variety of eating, napping, hanging at the pool, and reading. The issue lineup was archaeology, sustainable agriculture, and renewable energy.

Accordingly, Sunday began with an early morning field trip to an ancient farming archaeological site. My dreams of becoming the next Indiana Jones and tearing it up in the field of archaeology were pretty short-lived in my adult life, lasting only for a few months during freshmen year. I got to revisit the field of archaeology and my old dream a little on this trip and full disclosure: the climbing down a tunnel into a system of underground water tunnels was intriguing and it was a great opportunity to marvel at ancient technologies and water management methods. What I was less intrigued by, however, was a three-hour lecture with a number of slides of local ancient art that contained phallic or vulva depictions. How much have people really changed from then to now?

For sustainable agriculture we got to check out Ketura’s experimental orchards.  The key question/objective of the kibbutz’s efforts out in the orchards: can we find a sustainable way of doing permaculture here? Any answer to this question needs to address the Negev’s biggest constraint—water.

Our orchards tour started with one of the kibbutz’s oldest and biggest industries: date palms. Other highlights included seeing the revival of biblical plants like frankincense and myrrh (sorry no gold plant!) and argan trees. This tree is worth mentioning because first it’s in my shampoo, and second, it grows naturally only in Morocco and is they type of tree that the goats are famous for climbing and hanging out in. Argan trees can survive with very small amounts of water, has delicious oil, and can be used for a variety of purposes including medicinal and cosmetics. Morocco seems to follow me everywhere.

Argan tree in Ifrane, Morocco with goats

kibbutz greenhouse containing a variety of desert agriculture

enticing pomegranate

Our renewable energy-dedicated day included a tour of the Arava Institute’s renewable energy experiments—a tour we had previously received the week before but this time with much more in depth and interesting information. The theme of the day was Carbon-Free Energy Future. One of the projects going on here is developing a way to tap in to hydrogen power through oxidation.

Overall, last week was a blend of hands-on learning and lectures. You can’t beat learning outside and using your hands, but the value of the lectures lied in giving a more academic presentation and putting things into perspective.  The two teaching methods together proved a very interesting learning experience and was a refreshing way to shake things up. After all, that was a large part of the draw in coming here.

double-sided solar panel experiment

Desert Camping & Shabbat on the Kibbutz

Getting sidelined is never fun, but I still managed to enjoy the group’s camping trip to Sasgon Valley, located not too far down the street from the kibbutz.

Our campsite: just a few mats to sleep on and a fire

The agenda: hiking, setting up camp, making pita bread and then s’mores over the campfire, then chilling, talking about constellations under the desert sky, chatting into the night with group members, enjoying a surround-sound symphony of snoring, sleeping under the naked sky, and waking up at the crack of dawn for coffee and a desert poetry discussion.

Got to participate in everything except the hike and the work of setting up the camp. I guess you win some, you lose some. While I had a mild case of missing out syndrome while the group was off hitting the mountain and I was back at ‘base camp’ I realized sometimes it’s okay to take it easy to prevent further injury. Besides, I needed the ankle to be fresh for two days of walking around Jerusalem and any future hikes and outdoor activity. And once in awhile it’s cool to let everyone else do all the work…

I was pretty jealous about not being able to run down the giant sand slope

Talking poetry during the trip was a surprising highlight for me. I must have short-term memory or something, because I did forget how much I used to enjoy English classes in high school and taking a work, reading it, analyzing it, and discussing it in a group. For this girl, poetry, along with literature is among the finer things in life.

I’m taking this camping trip as a reminder to slow down when I need to, enjoy my surroundings, and keep my mind fresh and happy with poetry and literature. Plus I learned how to make pita bread, which was delicious with homemade tahini sauce.

Watching the hike from down below

Upon arriving back on the ranch (or the kibbutz) from the camping trip, I got to experience my first Shabbat in Israel. Coming from a pretty secular yet Christian-dominated society and then spending a year in an Islamic one, I was curious to see how this would compare.

The program arranged for us to meet with a member of the kibbutz to discuss Shabbat traditions and practices on the kibbutz. This was followed by a visit to a kibbutz member’s house to have tea and shoot the breeze/ask about Ketura life, then Shabbat services at the synagogue, and finally Shabbat dinner. Shabbat dinner was probably the best meal I’ve had on the kibbutz and there was wine and really delicious challah bread.

Other than a multi-cultural Passover Seder at Dickinson a couple of years back and a friend’s family’s Hanukah party, my contact with Jewish tradition has been pretty minimal. I never went to a bar or bah mitzvah, though I did have morning bagels at Dickinson’s Hillel house a couple of times. Frankly speaking, there weren’t very many Jews in my life until Dickinson. Yes, I had some contact with the American Jewish community through entertainment; I watched the Cohen family in The O.C. and read Chaim Potok’s The Chosen and others like The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay and Everything is Illuminated.
But, predictably, it’s something else to experience a religion and a culture rather than just reading or watching a program.

How did I feel during Shabbat services in Ketura’s synagogue, as one of the only gentiles? A bit weird and out of place. Everyone seemed to have seen non-Jews in services before, so there was no discomfort from other people and I didn’t get any weird looks when I just couldn’t seem to keep up with the songs and prayers in the all-Hebrew prayer book in front of me.

However, internally, I felt really out of place. For the most part (or all parts), I had no idea what was going down during the service and I don’t speak a drop of Hebrew so the fact that the whole thing was in Hebrew also made it a bit confusing. Like a kid in a rehearsal who hasn’t learned the dance routine, I just watched what others were doing and imitated. When everyone stood up, I got up from my chair. When everyone started to sit down, I sat. And repeated.

Something I did appreciate was watching how in sync and into the service everyone in the synagogue was. Observing spirituality like that was something special and worthwhile for me, and I think it was felt most during the songs.

Shootin Hoops & Turnin Ankles

Lesson learned from a few days ago and an ankle injury: even if you played ball all throughout elementary school that doesn’t mean that you got game 9+ years later.

Got to get around somehow and keep that ankle elevated.

Really, I’ve got a sprained ankle to back up that argument. After playing junior league basketball the length of my time at Shaffer Elementary (Go Pioneers!), I was maybe a little taken back how by much I couldn’t play, but then I remembered the sport wasn’t exactly my strong suit at the time. I was all about the speed and assists but that was pretty much the extent of my skills at the time.

I sampled so many sports in my childhood other than basketball: skiing, gymnastics, dance (tap and ballet), soccer, volleyball, swimming, tennis, cheerleading, and track & field. This impressive list makes me sound super athletic but I think I kept bouncing around since I never really found the right sport. Years later the only ones I stuck with are tennis and skiing (if you count playing tennis once in awhile).

That’s not to say I didn’t have a super fun time playing b-ball the other day. People in my program played with 16 year-old Israelis who are staying at the kibbutz for basketball camp. Yeah, they were pretty good and the guys in my program had the game down too.

It was great to reconnect with something that was such a large part of my childhood that I had let go such a long time ago—until I came down really hard on my ankle and had to stop playing due to a sharp, shooting pain. Whether to blame the hot desert heat, the skill of the other plays, my out-of-shapeness, or my hiking boots, I’m not sure. The pain subsided for a while after all of ten minutes so I thought was in the clear… until later that evening when I couldn’t put weight on it and the same thing the next morning.

Thank God for health insurance and our res life director who took me to the local clinic. My cure: a supporting bandage, painkillers, rest/keeping weight off the ankle, and a scooter chair that is probably best known as a way for making old people mobile.

Though the scooter is a bit excessive and little embarrassing to drive around on, maybe it’s a little more fun than crutches.

Will this little incident keep me off the basketball court? Probably not since I signed up for the sport as my physical education credit next fall and it was pretty fun the last time around. Got to live it up while in Israel, but the next court I’m planning on hitting is the tennis court.

It’s funny learning these lessons from abroad. They seem so simple and like they could easily be figured out in the U.S., but sometimes it takes changing up the lifestyle to see things.

The Real World vs. Kibbutz World

Yes, I pretty sure that living on a kibbutz qualifies as living in a whole different world, at least from the reality I’m used to in the States and even Morocco.

Algae farm on Kibbutz Ketura, one of the major industries for the kibbutz.

Though I’m just living here for a month, and not as a member, our group has been discussing with members what living on a kibbutz, particularly Kibbutz Ketura, is like.

Kibbutzim are set up in a number of ways, but the basic principle is pretty simple: collective community living, where each member finds his niche, works as much as he can, and gets back what he needs like food and shelter. Kibbutzim can be religious, secular, or of varying degrees of the two. Factors to keep in mind when thinking about what a kibbutz is: income, education, healthcare, food, industry, size of the community, religion, sustainability, etc.

At Kibbutz Ketura, members have residences, work in their jobs (some in the Kibbutz & some outside), and pool their salaries to provide for the community. Members don’t individually pay for meals (all eaten in the mess hall), they don’t have to do laundry, healthcare is 100% covered, education covered up to a bachelor’s degree (students can use the money for university outside of Israel, but the amount is determined by the cost of higher education in Israel), there’s a salon and chiropractor on site, they are allotted an allowance of disposable funds, and they don’t individually pay for electric and water bills. In a community of about 150 members, there are eight cars which are shared and belong to the kibbutz.

Now this is all how Ketura operates, not all kibbutzim handle finances in the same way; in fact, some are even privatized where members keep their own salaries. On the flip side, one of my professors yesterday was telling our group about his kibbutz which is near anarchic. The safe is open and each member is expected to work and contribute what he can and take literally only what he needs. In a community of approximately 100 people, this kibbutz has been successful since 1976. Maybe I’m a cynic, but this was shocking to my American ears that a community set up in this way could sustain for so long. It almost sounds utopian.

Today our group met with one of the Kibbutz’s founders. She gave us the run down of how Ketura was founded in 1973 of a group of young Americans (around age 22 at the time). She sidestepped a lot of the political issues such as what it meant to settle in a country that was previously Palestine and the relation of Zionism to the kibbutz and its founding. What’s the rest of the story?

From this experience, I’ve had to ask myself (and have been asked by others), “Could or would I ever live on a kibbutz?” Almost everyone on the kibbutz who has talked to our group has emphasized the necessity of trust for this lifestyle. To be honest, I’m not sure that I’m at a point in my life where I would be willing to trust a group of people with things like how to handle my finances from my work. The benefits of the society like healthcare and education are to be frank, awesome, but for me, would the costs be worth it? After talking to another girl in my program the answer for now is, “No, not at the moment, but maybe when raising a family or settling down.”

Maybe this is over generalizing and creating too false a dichotomy (still not going to stop me from going for it), but the question has forced me to own up and identify my economic and social values. What’s more enticing, collective community living, which I’m going to categorize (along with many others) as socialism, or free market America?

Throughout my life and in my classes, I’ve been hearing about Soviet Russia, Chairman Mao’s China, and other socialist or communist societies that collapse deep into the pits of corruption, but here are these kibbutzim throughout Israel that somehow work with the same concepts. From where I’m standing it looks like, yes, trust is an essential variable in the collective community living, and there needs to be a common or at least unifying culture with a small population. I think many of us can agree, that the Ketura way would never succeed in America.

An update on the ‘bug’ situation from yesterday for the traps that my class laid in the dunes near our kibbutz: my partner and I caught a ton of ants, two beetles, and a baby scorpion. Not bad since we weren’t expecting to catch much, but we were a little envious of the group that managed to rake in a gecko and giant scorpion along with many other beetles.

Wouldn't want to find this in my room. The biggest scorpion of the group.

Skink trail. The critter alternates between crawling and slithering in the sand.

Learning Renewable Energy & Desert Ecology in Sunny Israel

Man it's hot out here. Jordan's Edom mountains in the back.

My second full day in Israel and already it feels like a week has passed. We’ve done so much in our short time here and the seven other strangers in the program are becoming more and more familiar.

Today didn’t begin with an intense hike (the sand dune climbing came later), but instead with a tour of Arava’s Renewable Energy Park in the Kibbutz. The Institute had some impressive and interesting projects including three different research projects for solar panels that Arava is acting as the field site, biogas digestors, cultivating a seed dating back to biblical times and finally the solar panel field.

My background’s not exactly in renewable energy but I found the projects to be very interesting. This was true especially the work with the biogas digestor, since the project has the power to impact small developing communities in a positive way by making energy possible for unnamed places off the grid (for example, there’s a project running in a village in Palestine), helping these places tap into their own resources, and working with willing communities towards a sustainable method. I love interdisciplinary environmental studies can be and how knowledge of the environment and being resourceful is literally translated into power.

Kibbutz Ketura's solar field

Biogas digestors, a project at Arava Institute

This afternoon I had flashbacks of my time in AP Biology class in high school. We had an introductory lecture on ecology, desert ecology, and biodiversity in the Negev. It’s funny how you can remember learning everything after the professor says it, but when he asks a question, you can’t really find the best answer—at least this was my situation in ecology and desert ecology. I can’t believe I’ve been out of high school for three years now, not only does that make me feel old and like time is whizzing by me, but also more understanding of the whole “use it or lose it” thought. I found myself surprised at how interested and engaged I was during the lengthy lecture but then remembered, “Oh I did enter Dickinson with the intention of being a sci (neuroscience) major for a reason.” The field still does hold a fascination for me, just not in the ways I expected back in the high school years.

In the afternoon in the scorching sun, our Ecology professor took us to sand dunes that were even closer to the Jordanian border today. And I need to add a sidenote/correction to yesterday’s post: there was a fence, but it was really small and not very intimidating looking. With partners we set 20 traps in the dunes with the hopes of catching some nocturnal wildlife (mainly beetles), and will return tomorrow morning at 5 am (gah!) to check if we caught anything. I enjoyed being outside doing hands-on work. Really a preferable way of learning and in my opinion a necessary way to stay connected with what you’re studying. Guess I just need to be able to find a career with this same style.

Traps that we dug to id critters in the region. Looks like a game of dune mini golf.

I also tried Israeli beer this evening. Tasty.

Barukh haba to Israel

A group of white oryx at Israel's Yotvata Hai-Bar Nature Reserve with Jordan's red Edom mountains in the back.

Just when I thought I was home for the summer in colorful Colorado, an opportunity came up to do a month-long course in Israel. The focus of the program is the environment and development challenges that face the local Southern Arava region, Israel, and the larger region. Basically, we’ll be looking at natural history, sustainable development, and the environment in Southern Israel. The program is a partnership with my college and the Arava Institute, which is located on Kibbutz Ketura, literally on the Jordanian border. The Institute encourages a dialogue across borders on how to move forward sustainably and tries to have in house a third Israelis, a third from the Arab world (I think mainly Palestine and Jordan), and a third from English speaking countries the U.S., U.K., Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. After just arriving yesterday I can tell this will be an intense month with a lot of lessons (not just academic), adventure, surprises, and fun.

Here’s the deal with my first full day:

We kicked off our first day in Israel like champions by summiting a rocky cliff during a 6:30 am “backyard hike”. Talk about getting the day going. The hike was up what felt like an ever-sliding pile of rocks on top of a really large chain of rocks. It was a bit challenging at first, but the Colorado blood in me kicked in and I enjoyed the exercise and not to mention beautiful view. Directly across from our hike and from the kibbutz lies the Jordanian border and some of the reddest mountains I’ve ever seen. As the Jordanian-Israeli frontier is a peaceful border, there is no wall, fence, or intense security at all. Apparently there is border patrol, but that is reserved for the “less in shape” soldiers.

Definitely harder than it looks

View of Kibbutz Ketura from the top of the hike, Jordan in the background

I remain amazed at how close we are to Jordan. It wouldn’t be hard to accidentally wander over and cross the border unknowingly. I feel like there’s such an emphasis on borders and divisions but I guess when it comes to Israel and Jordan where I’m located, it’s just a line in the sand. I am curious, however, what Israel’s less peaceful borders look like and how they operate. From growing up in the States I’ve had this image of Israel in my head of checkpoints, guns, soldiers, guards, and fences that may not necessarily match the reality. As I learned this year in Morocco, reading an article or watching the news is one thing, experiencing a place firsthand is something else.

Today is the United States’ Independence Day. We did an exercise in my Peace-building and Environmental Leadership seminar with my group of eight students, Professor Key, and the program staff where we were faced with the questions, “Are you proud of where you’re from?” and “Are you worried about the direction of your country?” The answers were mixed, with most generally being middle of the road. Mine: supportive of the country but aware of its many imperfections and challenges and skeptical/unhappy of where the nation is headed. That pretty well sums up where I’m at. I do believe in the basic principles that this country was founded on: liberty, independence, equal rights and opportunity, and justice. Do I believe that these values are reflected everyday back home in the actions of American citizens, policies, and the government? Not always, but they’re there. My concerns for the country’s path, especially after working on a political campaign this summer are radicalism extending even further and reaching prominence, a major unwillingness to compromise, and even worse, a cynical attitude that I don’t believe is out to achieve the best for the U.S. and the global community we live in. I must add though, I am really proud to be from Colorado/do have a lot of state pride in where I grew up. For one, the natural environment is beautiful, but also people are laidback, the skiing is great, and we are one of the healthiest states in the Union.

Ostriches are really aggressive animals. I learned this fact this evening when my group headed out to Yotvata Hai-Bar Nature Reserve for a twilight safari and a viewing of the keeper feeding the predators. The reserve was established to form breeding groups of animals mentioned in the Bible and to protect other threatened species. Among a string of animals we saw in the “Safari” (drive through the nature reserve with an informative CD detailing each species) the ostrich was the only familiar animal. The other biblical creatures included: the Somali wild ass, white oryx, addix, and onager (looks much like the Somali wild ass). There were several incidents where our vehicle and the other vehicles in the caravan were approached by ostriches that aggressively pecked at our windows, so hard that they left marks on the glass. I felt like I was in Jurassic Park when they’re in the car being attacked but instead of dinosaurs, it was ostriches. Lesson learned: you may think you know an animal or are familiar with one, but seeing it in its habitat is a different story and I learned from the educational CD that it’s a common misconception that ostriches hide their heads in the sand when they feel threatened.  There’s a lot of misinformation out in the world, even related to ostriches, but how would we know otherwise without seeing for ourselves?

Face to face with our aggressor, separated by the car window