Saturday, July 5, 2014

Do You Wanna Build A Sandcastle?

After the rough start to the week, we were all a little nervous for our educational day on Tuesday. The plan was to go to the Negev and visit some different places. As you may or may not know, all day Monday there were rockets being fired from Gaza into parts of the Negev. After hearing that news, many of us were a little concerned about our safety the next day. Lior reassured us that everything was fine and let us know if we needed to talk to him further we could.

So Tuesday morning at 7:20am we departed for the Negev on THE NICEST BUS! Not only did it have USB ports to charge your phone, it also had wifi! This made the two hour drive much nicer. Our first destination was Naot Farm, a goat farm in the middle of the desert. The farm is run by a husband and wife, and a few employees who work to pay for school. They have goats which they sell for meat and they also make cheese which we had the opportunity to try! They also run a restaurant which is open on the weekends and looked great! When we asked her if their restaurant gets much business, she laughed, "You never know if it is going to be six people or sixty!" She took us around the farm to see all of the goats and sheep, and we got to pet the baby goats!

 The woman also spoke to us about how there even came to be a goat farm in the middle of the desert. She told us that several years ago the Israeli government created the Ramat-Negev Farming Project. This project was intended to keep Bedouins from settling on that land. In order to do this, the government gave 23 families land to build farms to produce whatever they chose. Now this was technically illegal so there has been a lot of legal trouble for the farmers, and they could have left the Negev to return to their previous homes. Instead, they have chosen to fight the legal battles and want to stay in the middle of the desert. It was very interesting to hear the woman's take on this, and her thoughts on Bedouin settlers. After hearing the woman speak, touring the farm, trying cheese, and some people purchasing some cheese (because the best bus ever had a refrigerator!) we moved on to our next location.

Aaron was very excited for cheese
When we arrived at The Shanti House, we were not sure where we were. It was like a mirage. It is a beautiful compound in the middle of the desert that serves as a home for youth at risk. There are trees and fountains, and as we started walking toward the Welcome Building, we began to hear music blasting out of it. We all laughed and joked that we were going to a party, but we actually kind of were. When we entered the building (which was actually more of a tent that had been decorated with a Moroccan style) a young man was waiting for us and dancing to the music. Once the music stopped things got more serious.

We watched a video about The Shanti House and the dancing guy answered our questions. Basically, The Shanti House is a home where youth at risk can go and stay until they are 21. Each resident has a bed with pillows and blankets, and are able to participate in tons of extracurricular activities, as well as school. The guy who spoke to us is now a counselor at The Shanti House, but he was once a resident himself. He is Ethiopian and had a rough childhood, and one day he chose to leave with some of his friends. They flew from Ethiopia to Egypt and from there walked to Israel. The Bedouins helped smuggle the group over the boarder. He told us some other stories of kids who have come to The Shanti House, and told us they do not turn anyone away.

After hearing him speak we took a tour of the compound. It was absolutely beautiful! We then went back in the tent to wait for our lunch to arrive. While we waited he played more music and some dance battles went down. Jake was his first opponent! We all really enjoyed our time there.

From there we drove about thirty minutes to Be'er Sheva. We met with a representative from a group which helps Bedouins in the area. The intent was for him to explain to us what the organization does, and then answer our questions, but we were very interested in asking some deeper questions. We talked a lot about the issues between the Bedouin community and Israeli government, and what exactly the Bedouins want. Pretty much they want to have all of the benefits that Israeli citizens have. The problem is that most of them do not have jobs or contribute to society at all. It was a very interesting discussion. The man compared the Bedouins to the Haredi (ultra-orthodox Jews) which made a lot of sense. They are similar in their levels of contribution to society, but there are other differences. It was a good conversation and debate for us to have, although I do not think the man was prepared for it. That portion of our day ended quickly and we returned home to Tel Aviv!

The rest of the work week was relatively uneventful, but we all enjoyed spending time with each other. On Thursday night a large group of us took some bottles of wine to the beach and just hung out. I still can't believe that we are living here, and that it is so easy for us to have a night all together on the Mediterranean.

Friday was the 4th of July! About half the group went to a water fight in the middle of town, and went exploring, and the rest of us went on a "Red, White, and Booze Cruise." Can I say that on here? Well I did, and that is where we went. The boat left from Jaffa Port, which is a beautiful area. We all boarded the boat, and the DJ was playing music.....and I almost immediately felt seasick. While everyone else was dancing around and jumping in the water, I was sitting with my head down on the table telling myself not to throw up. Luckily, all of my friends are amazing and made sure I was okay. They brought me water and found motion sickness medicine for me to take.

I thought I was the only one feeling bad, but suddenly they made an announcement that we were returning to port to drop off everyone who was sick. I looked around me and tons of people were doing the same thing I was! I heard it was even worse down in the bottom level. The water was just so choppy it made it hard to even walk on the boat. Although I felt sick the whole time, I still got to see a beautiful sunset at the port.

Sunset at Jaffa Port

-I apparently look Israeli now, because people stop me on the street everyday to ask me for directions in Hebrew!
-Emily and I had the BEST gelato at the Jaffa Port.
-Shout out to Justin and Eli for getting the craziest sunburns at the beach today. (Don't worry moms, they are fine!)
-A big hooray to everyone who got unlimited bus passes for the month! BEST DECISION EVER!
-Shout out to all of the sand in my apartment that will never ever leave.
-Emily, Jeremy, and Tessa had a nice little massage train going on Friday night.
Emily, Jeremy, and Tessa
-We turned Emily's room into a mini spa this evening with massages (Thanks Nikki Fisher!) and nails!

Jeremy painting Emily's nails



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