In The Footsteps of Others

As I wander through my days here in the desert, on this Kibbutz, and this country that is both new and ancient, I am struck by constant reminders of the past, of the history here.

Here in the south there is almost no vegetation to hide the story told by the mountains. I can read about the oceans that once lived here in the rocks and fossils that litter the ground. And I see the huge valley created by the continental rift – a giant crack in the land.

And there are more recent, but still ancient stories, too. The carvings of water, and floods: astonishingly beautiful canyons winnowed through the flat, tan land; looking as if the water could come rushing back through any minute. And the wind, which works tirelessly, coming from the north day after day, and year after year blasting amazing shapes in the soft, sandy rock, and pushing around enormous sand dunes.

And, layered on top of all that, there are the traces of the people – ancient and modern. For thousands of years people have been traveling though, and living in this hot, dry, unforgiving place. The so-called spice route went through here, on which people traveled from Egypt to the ancient cities north and east of here, and to the Mediterranean sea. It feels so desolate driving in my car on the highway, I find it almost impossible to imagine what it must have been like in a caravan walking though all that heat and sand – so alone.

And then they discovered copper in the mountains near here, and they mined it. You can hike there today and crawl around in small holes dug 5 thousand years ago by some slave or laborer. You can still see the green copper seams in the sandstone. When you crawl in with your flash light, you can turn the light off for just a second to imagine what it must have been like – dark, and silent. And when the Egyptians discovered there was copper to be had here they came and took over and harvested the copper. And although you can’t touch it, you can come stare at their hieroglyphs, and wonder how and why they carved them into the giant rock canyons.

When I hike here I am struck by the thought that people have been here for so long. When I am sitting alone resting on the rocks, or wandering through a canyon, running my fingers along the smooth water-carved walls, tracing the layers of rock, I feel so alone. There are no sounds except the wind, no trace of anyone else (except the ubiquitous litter, every where!), but I know that there have been people here for thousands of years, and they rested on these rocks, and they traced their fingers along this canyon wall. And did they marvel at the colors and shapes like I do? Here in Israel, I am always walking in the the footsteps of others.

As we travel throughout the country – the Galilee, and Tel Aviv, and Jerusalem, and Qumram, and Masada, and even right here near my own Kibbutz – there are so many traces of ancient society. The Nabateans, The Egyptians, the Greeks, the Romans, the Byzantines, the Crusaders, the Otomans, the British – they were all there. And of course the Arabs, and the Bedoins too. They all built amazing palaces, and temples, and great cities, and small villages, and castles, and dug wells, and cleared roads. They all fought, and farmed, and lived here. And they just kept building on top of the cities and temples and roads that were already there. You can walk around and look at it all, layer upon layer. Just south of the kibbutz, next to the highway, there are the ruins of an old Ottoman police station. The British used it after the Ottomans. Several years ago, while repairing a water pipe, some workmen turned over a stone and found an ancient roman inscription at the that very same building.

And layered on top of all that, there are the reminders that people still fight, and farm, and live here. The kibbutz is built on top of bomb shelters, hidden mostly underground, with their air vents tucked discreetly into bushes, or behind other buildings. And the kibbutz is surrounded by trenches, dug into the side of the hill to defend the people in case of attack from the neighboring countries. Its come before, and they desperately hope every day to prevent it from coming again…

But the bomb shelters are unused, and the trenches have filled in over time. They are shallow because of all the sand that has blown in. And the fences have fallen down, or been re-purposed, and the loops of barbed wire are bent and rusted, deflecting none but the most casual of intruders. But its here, left as a daily reminder of the history of this place.

And the mountains surrounding us, with all their folds and crevices exposed, remind me of the weight and the size of the history of this place.

And every morning, when I wake up to the sound of the construction on the house next door – I am reminded that we’re still here, still fighting, and farming, and living, and leaving our footsteps, for others to walk in.

Arches in Timna park carved by wind over thousands of years
Ruins of a Byzantine home in Avdat
Ruins of two temples: Nabatean and Roman in Avdat
The view of the mountains in Jordan from Kibbutz Grofit

The Story of the Furniture

A few months before we moved to Israel, my parents-in-law were shopping in Eilat and saw some inexpensive furniture which they purchased for us. A couch, love seat, a bed frame and a mattress. They paid half on credit with the other half to be paid in cash upon delivery of the furniture. It was agreed that the furniture dealer would hold the items for a few months, as we didn’t know exactly when we would be able to move in to our apartment.

So time passed and the appointed move-in day drew near. My father-in-law called to arrange for the furniture to be delivered. Except the dealer now said he was expecting a few hundred more shekels for the trouble of delivering the furniture. After arguing back and forth my father-in-law told him to just bring the furniture. That afternoon, as we waited for the truck, the dealer called and said something about his truck not being available or some similar excuse. He would not be delivering the furniture that day. But, he said, he would deliver it another day next week…That day came and went.

For several days, and then a few weeks, the excuses mounted – something wrong with the truck, something about his hired help, something about not having the items in stock. Several times my father-in-law spoke back and forth with the furniture dealer on the phone. Maybe he will deliver today, oh, no, sorry, actually tomorrow. It would cost this much more, now this much more. Eventually, one Friday morning, the call came that the furniture had been confiscated at the check point coming out of Eilat because my parents-in-law had not paid the appropriate taxes.

A side note: Eilat is a tax free zone, so items purchased in Eilat are 17% cheaper than the rest of the country. However, if you take those items out of Eilat, you are supposed pay the tax and the sales people will provide documentation of this payment. It is important to note, though, that in the rest of the country the tax is added into the price of the items and that is the price displayed on the price tag. If the price tag on a shirt says it costs 100 shekels you only pay 100 shekels, where as in The States the tax is mostly added at the register and the price you pay is higher than what you see on the price tag. So a price tag that says $100 would pay $117 at the register after taxes. )

HOWEVER the sales man – who agreed at the time of purchase to drive out of Eilat to deliver the furniture – never asked my parents-in-law to pay the taxes.

After that, you can imagine, there were many phone discussions about the furniture- he has to get more made, but its Ramadan so the Muslim workers are on their holiday; he might have at least a bed in stock but he never called back to confirm; how about a couch and a chair (on which we would take a hit, because those items are worth less than a couch and a love seat); oh now I have the items, I’ll deliver sometime this afternoon; oh sorry I didn’t deliver yesterday, maybe I can come tomorrow…

In the mean time, for these weeks my husband and I were sleeping on an air mattress, and we had one folding beach chair in our living room, to compliment our already meager furniture for the rest of the house. It was especially hard when my husband left for his first stint in the US. I mostly just went to bed rather than sit in my echo-y living room in a beach chair alone.

One time the furniture dealer actually drove into the kibbutz to deliver the stuff, but demanded even more money when he got here. When my father-in-law wouldn’t give him more he got ready to leave. But then, he claims, he saw me and the children, and he wanted to be nice (!) – unlike my father-in-law, who was mean, he said – and he set up the bed.

But still no couch and love seat.

At this point, I kind of stopped paying attention to the details.

And Then: At last one day, more than a month into this ordeal, my father-in-law showed up late to dinner smiling. He said the last of the furniture had finally been delivered (and I found out later, all of the extra demands for money had been met), and I could arrange it any way I want.

BUT there was one pillow missing.

And its true, there was one large cushion missing from the love seat. But don’t worry, it would be delivered soon.

The following week, my sister-in-law, who was visiting from Tel Aviv, was in Eilat to do some shopping. She stopped by the furniture shop to get the pillow. As she descried it, she called the dealer from her phone because he wouldn’t answer the door, and he told he her would be out in 5 minutes with the pillow. After a half an hour waiting outside (remember this is Eilat in August, temperatures top 100 degrees Fahrenheit every day) she called again from her phone, but the man didn’t answer. Finally she called from my father-in-law’s phone, which she had in the car with her. The man not only answered but came out with a pillow. It was dirty and dusty, but since its pleather (plastic that looks like leather), it didn’t matter.

At long last my furniture set would be complete!

When I got that pillow home and washed, it was the wrong size, and the wrong color. Fortunately its not too much wrong that it really matters.

A few days later my mother-in-law came over to see the furniture set up. And she asked if I like it, and I said yes, and thank you very much, it makes our apartment feel like a home now.

And she said, you know, this is not the color I ordered.

The Bed, complete with bedding provided by my mother-in-law (more on Israeli bedding later)
The Couch
The Love Seat with mismatched pillow