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.
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?