32 – Desert at the right time

Desert at the right time  because the weather in my new January-February home in Israel’s desert has January temps of 65′ days and 40′ nights, a far cry from summers’ 103′ days!  More about the Arava and this new region, later.

Like the Grand Canyon…amazing…like Mars…I want to stay to do all these hikes…who knew(this was here)?…breathtaking…no one told me. . .

After map-studying and internet research I visited Timna Park. What I found rendered me muttering aloud “like the Grand Canyon…amazing…like Mars…I want to stay to do all these hikes…who knew?!…breathtaking…no one told me. . .  over and over, all day.

My photos don’t do it justice, but I’m sorry to say that were you to fly here for a full 2-week tour, you’d likely not make it this far. Most don’t.

Copper was first mined here at Timna when Egypt’s Empire was at its strength – probably before 1500BCE.  The above “holes” are natural, due to erosion. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timna_Valley

the Mushroom below is also from erosion!The 15,000 acre park is filled with a variety of rock formations of truly salmony-pink sand and rock.

It is laid out so visitors see the main sights by driving from one to the next, in/out of the car to walk short distances to the vista, cave carvings, or whatever.

The dry sand in some areas so deep that I was reminded of the extra effort of each step while walking through Southern California’s far-from-the-water, deep, dry beach sand .  But here at Timna, right beside the deep loose sand is hard stone or a thin layer of dirty-sand scattered with rocks. This desert’s absolute mix of texture and line and color lends drama and beauty.


The following 3 photos of the worship site are the only man-made items in these photos from Timna. (Besides the 2 children in one photo and handrails in another)

And here is the view  from above – a good climb, although this is the highest view of it that I could get, about 1/2 way up.

My ascent continued and the following photos are the view from the TOP.

An Israeli around my age concurred with my muttered exclamations of awe and we had a conversation. Although he was born here, this was his first visit(!), bringing his mother on an outing. Besides them, a few families, a few sweethearts, and a mini-tour-bus of well-behaved tourists, I had the park to myself.

Can you see the camel nursing her calf on the ancient etching, below?

or the people standing below, on the left, then someone beside a table. Are his/her arms raised?  What might he/she be doing?

P.S. After spending the day resisting the gorgeous hiking trails’ that beckoned to me, my plan is to return when the weather cools next Autumn for a devoted 4 days of glorious hikes. I’m already looking forward to it.  Fortunately, lodging is available nearby, since I’m way, way, way past camping outdoors.  I’ve paid my dues with all that effort and discomfort.

I’m now staying in the center of the Arava – that means I’ve left the north to learn-live in the south-eastern region.  The Arava is the eastern region of Israel’s desert, bordered by Jordan and extending south of the Dead Sea all the way to Eilat, a beach city at the southern tip. The above described excursion to Timna Park was 1 1/2 hour desert drive south, nearly to Eilat.

All places within 2 1/2 hours of this current home are a desert drive.  Pay attention to the gas level, bring water and food. Hydrate, but not too much unless you’re nearing facilities!

A simple map:  http://www.aicat-arava.com/86748.html  This is website of the University in which I’m volunteering with North Vietnam students.  13 nations come here to learn Israeli agriculture techniques!

website about the region https://www.facebook.com/centralarava     Also, the videos at the bottom of this website are a fun view of the what I’m seeing every day (albeit the singing by students from the Agriculture University program in which I’m tutoring is not for the musically inclined)

More about the University’s students that you might find of interest: http://www.thetower.org/3358-thousands-of-african-asian-students-study-agriculture-at-israeli-institute/  and more at http://www.jnf.org/byachad/winter-2015-byachad-articles/spotlight-aicat_p5.pdf

And here are more maps, in case you’re struggling to envision Israel in relation to our neighboring countries:  https://images.search.yahoo.com/yhs/search?p=arava+israel+map+today&fr=sgm&hspart=SGMedia&hsimp=yhs-sgm_fb&imgurl=http%3A%2F%2Fisraelproject.kolemeth.org%2Fimg%2Fmap.png#id=22&iurl=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.elciudadano.cl%2Fwp-content%2Fuploads%2F2012%2F01%2Fisrael.jpg&action=click



This move means I’ve traded Lebanon and Syria as neighbors for Jordan.  There is no fence on Israel’s 307 km (191 miles) eastern border with Jordan.  I’m told the IDF has it under control, which means the security process is in place but not made public, as is appropriate.  Also, the Jordanians have benefited from keeping the border peaceful since 1994’s agreement; nowadays they are also motivated to keep our shared border (as well as all of Jordan) free of ISIS and their lot. 

However, the residents of the Arava talk of “when” not “if” conflict arises from Jordan’s border.  It is doubtful that Jordan has the strength to resist ISIS, plus 70% of Jordan’s population consider themselves refugees – Palestinians – (although now 3 or more generations removed from the actual refugees) and are easily manipulated by the “push the Jews back into the ocean” dogma of Palestinian leaders and as preached in many mosques.  In addition to that, Jordan’s king does not have the support of the people that his father enjoyed.  It seems only a matter of time.

The road east, towards Jordan’s mountains

Driving to explore, I’ve seen landmines-warning signs around fields (remember the landmines in the Golan?).  I rest peacefully, knowing the IDF has set in place whatever other defense measures are warranted, without posted signs or fences.

If there isn’t enough danger from landmines or terrorism or war, this region is challenged with flash floods.  Earthquakes (California) and blizzards (Colorado) are the limit of my dangerous natural phenomenon experience. I’ve learned that don’t need to experience something to want to stay clear of it:  films of floods have left me with respect enough for their strength.

Wikipedia translates the Arava as “dry and desolate” although I’ve not heard those words from the residents.  They love their lives here in Arava’s central area, where around 3,700 residents live and work in 7 (mostly farming) communities.  These pioneer-spirited folks appreciate what they have:

  • One supermarket,
  • 3 gas stations,
  • 1 school for all 800 students,
  • 6 restaurants that are open 2 or more days each week… most of the time,
  • A Mobile phone/computer shop,
  • A Medical clinic,
  • Assorted artists and entrepreneurs (soaps, candles, massage, etc),
  • Tourism specialties (lodging that ranges from Bedouin-like tents to pricey-romantic get-aways)

What to do on day off?  Family outings for hiking or support local entrepreneurs:  jeep rides, crocodile farm, bird watching, guided treks….

A visit to the hospital, buying clothing , vitamins, large appliances, furniture and most everything else means a drive of 1 ½ hours to Beer Sheva or Eilat.

Many of the area farmers employ short-term or long-term laborers from poorer countries (Thailand, Nepal, Philippines, India,…) and so have built simple housing for them on the farm property.  Some have also built guest-housing for vacationers to rent for weekends or special events in the area.  My guess is that the nearest hotel is 1 1/2 hour drive elsewhere.  I’m renting a perfect little studio apt on farm property.  This weekend the 3 other guest houses on our property are full as well, as there was a big bicycle race in one of our communities.

Whoa! this is my backyard? what happened?!  I’m a city-girl!!!

I spent my childhood in San Francisco!  And then many years in the hustle, bustle of Southern California and the 2 largest cities in Colorado, and 5 years in NYC. My reservation for 6 weeks on a farm in this tiny community would be a first!

Turning from the highway towards my next home, my first thought was “oh no.” It looked too barren!!!

The gated entry is not like prestigious like “The Gates” of high-end property. Instead, these gates surround most small Jewish communities throughout the nation. Schedules vary, based on terror risk, but most are closed every night, and the communities’ emergency plans include them closing against terrorists.  So the gate didn’t bother me at all, and I was encouraged to see a few trees.

and then delighted with the oasis-feel!  It’s lovely, and an I’ve since discovered each of these communities of the Arava to be oases.

Walking my neighborhood these days, multiple senses are startled by horses and goats and chickens in neighbor’s yards, laborers driving noisy farm equipment, huge packing houses on most everyone’s property filled with produce from today’s harvest, and greenhouses on fields in every direction from the community filled with …GREEN.

Here are a few sights around town:

My hosts, an open-hearted couple, met almost 40 years ago as young adults on a kibbutz, when he immigrated from Zimbabwe. Note the well-worn stuffed character adorning the front of my ever-cheerful host’s tractor

Every few days I find just-picked tomatoes, red peppers, onions and/or eggplants at my door.  Fresh is wonderful! The only thing better would be if they prepared the meal for me as well, or raised chocolate.

As with my last “home”, in the Druze Village, there are no addresses here, although homes here are numbered.  Not street names, but numbers at least help to ask for directions.   A woman I met was one of the first families here 40something years ago.  She is still living in the same home, albiet modified over the decades.

In those days it was a Mosh-butz.  Kibbutz communal organizational strategies were used to begin the community, with intention of it growing into an independent, entrepreneurial community, which it has done.  Somewhat like an HOA (Home Owners Association), the Moshav committees maintain shared areas/facilities and addresses shared concerns that arise.

Did you know that the pioneering-Israel Kibbutz of the first 1/2 of the 20th-Century fully embraced socialist values and structure? However, in the past 20 years most have undergone re-organization for privatized ownership  and hence are called a “Moshav” (small community/town) instead.  I believe the Kibbutz model of communal care for the children and shared facilities was the only way to begin efficiently from scratch.  There still remain a small number of true Kibbutz as well, whose members are devoted participants to the communal idealism of the original model – except children now live with their parents rather than in Children’s Houses.

More about how a Kibbutz functions: http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Society_&_Culture/kibbutz.html

Some other Israel desert “words” you’ve probably heard:    

Negev – is the southern ½ of Israel – desert – of which the Arava is the eastern region,   

Sinai, is south of Israel – desert in Egypt – that Israel won when attacked in 1967, and then gave back to Egypt in keeping with the 1979 peace treaty with Egypt. 



I’ve learned the desert takes shape in countless ways.  Some places like Utah, others Las Vegas, and still others a movie set for the Sahara Desert.

Driving my Kia Picanto here feels like driving a toy car in a sandbox.  I see the Mountains-Hills-Rocks surrounding me as though the sand was poured and scooped and patted to create unique shapes as far as the eye can see.  My perspective is that of a toy soldier in a sandbox. Except I KNOW that the hills I drive between are solid, even though some appear to be poured sand with a peak that could blow away.

This past Saturday I sat atop a mountain,

or hill,

or hill-rock covered with sand and dirt and more rocks. . . Mountain feels too “Colorado”; Hill too inconsequential and soft, Rock is too small. What should I call these?

Whether mountain-hill-rock-sand, I sat on it for a very long time and it was very hard.  Its beauty, quiet, its big-ness, the peace was the best “Sabbath” for my soul. Prayer for me is conversation with God, rather than read or recited prayers of others.  We talked about issues inside and out, and I left the mountain-hill-rock-sand with Perspective and Peace accompanying me on the descent and return “home.”  As always, I thought about you –  and so wish I could give you what I received – soul-to-soul.

Throughout my stay in the Arava, several times each week, I’m helping Israeli children with their English, plus a group of North Vietnamese Master’s Degree university students use English in their classroom.  Logically, English is the universal language for education of multinationals and I was asked to help the Vietnamese students. Exceptional with reading/writing, they seemed less confident verbally.

I’ve discovered they are up against a huge cultural issue: “Good students” in Vietnam do not ask questions or offer ideas, and there is no class discussion.  Consequently, they are not only challenged with the pronunciation and vocabulary and grammar issues of communicating regarding course content with the professor, but even more significantly, out of respect and conformity, they have spent their lives as students not speaking in class.

We’ve discussed culture at length, and adaptation to learning/living among others with very different ways of doing things.  I’ve challenged them to adopt the mantle that they have earned – to intentionally shift from being “Vietnamese children in school” into “International Graduate Students (with a voice).”  As they are freed-up in the classroom, we’ll use our time together to improve their pronunciation.

I thought there would be a downside, that these English tutoring gigs would not be Hebrew-learning opportunities for me.  But I’m surrounded by Hebrew at the children’s school.  I even understand the teachers and children better than last year’s classroom gig.  Hallelujah!  More about the kids in the next blog.

The 7 Vietnamese students are so loving and warm that our sessions feel like friendship.  Also, their group is a simple, short-lived revisiting of my professional skills.  Given the many times each day that I make mistakes with Hebrew – although I know better, my heart still defines those mistakes as “failure” –  I’ve really enjoyed being in a “zone” in which I feel competent, even if only for these weeks.

Otherwise, as during my stays elsewhere, I spend time visiting places and hoping to make friends.


I was warned that not everyone is “made” for this desert. The colors and serenity, and the quiet, as far as the eye can see.  Stark. Troubling? Depressing?

I’m sure not all readers will understand, but I’ll take a risk and share it anyway: By the end of my first week here, I was troubled.  The only word for how I felt was Lost, and it took a couple of days to sort out why.  I was feeling the desert, and “LOST” is my heart’s response to it, this desert.  I’m not lost, but the desert resonates within me as that.

This is absolutely the time to be here! Days are around 68’ and nights 44’.  August averages are 103’ day and 80’ night.  Ughhhhhhhhhhhh  My friend who lives here concurs it’s just too hot, but not too hot to drive her and her farmer-husband and 3 year old to leave this land they love.  They’re raising their family in this community, plus being a part of building this community’s resources for future generations.


My darling dancing buddy and friend, Richard, asked about my first trip to Israel.  The photos impossibly faded, negatives long ago lost in countless moves, I’ll do my best to paint the pictures with words.

In the spring of 1974, I called my father to tell him that I’d decided upon a major I thought would be a good fit (Speech and Language Therapy), that it required graduate degree, and then took a huge leap to add that I’d decided what I wanted for college graduation, years away: a trip to Israel!  I’d been studying the Bible for several years and yearned to visit – where it all happened.  It was a far-reaching impulse, a dream, to so boldly ask for a generous college graduation gift I was certain he’d never consider.

However, he called me weeks later and said to put together a plan with costs for a summer visit to Israel.  “You betcha!” I got right on it and sure enough, found myself trekking Europe enroute to Israel that June.

I shudder now to think of how unprepared I was, doing it alone at 19… for almost 2 months. Really all I had were flight reservations and a pre-purchased Eurail-pass for 90 days.  I met a woman on the plane to Copenhagen who showed me where to begin – getting around, find a room to rent in a home, etc.   Three days in Copenhagen was my first experience adjusting to language/culture challenges of transportation, food, tourism, etc.  I took the train south, sleeping on the dreadful, upright seat through Switzerland, chewing on bits of bread and cheese.

As the train made it’s trek south through Italy, I talked at length with an “older” man – he must have been 40!! – from San Marino, a tiny country within Italy. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/San_Marino  Horrified that I was seeing none of his region except what daylight allowed through train windows, he persuaded me to leave the train with him for the afternoon.

I went! 

I know. I know!! Who does that?? And lives to tell the story?

He was the perfect gentleman, honorable and kind and charming.  Without agenda!

He took me to a lovely restaurant for one of the best meals of my summer. I remember tasting mineral water for the first time, at his urging, but my youthful palate thought it a poor substitute for sugary or artificially sweetened soda; now I love it!

He took me to the beach, sand hardly visible under large umbrellas filling the expanse like a silly puzzle.  I thought, “how absurd” to use umbrellas, since the point of the beach was to get as brown as possible.  Now I invest in and use quality sunblock products, wide-brimmed hats and scarves, and have wished many times to be sheltered under a massive umbrella like those that day, so long ago.

I wish, oh how I wish, I could tell you his name, but alas, it’s gone.  I’ll always remember his face.  After the most amazing afternoon, he took me back to the train station. I can’t recall whether we even exchanged contact information.  He was a gift to me on my journey, as have been so many others.

The next overnight was transit in another uncomfortable seat on the ferry from Brindisi, Italy to Greece, followed by a few nights on an awful upper bunk in Athens’ noisy, co-ed hostel, and then a late night flight to Tel Aviv.  It was a student flight and there were more of us than seats on the plane.  I remember sitting on the floor of the aisle of the plane with a number of others, certain this would not be allowed in the U.S.

The first few days in Israel I stayed with 2nd cousins in Tel Aviv and Haifa, although in those days I was really not at all clear how we were related.  They seemed so far away, their family here since before Israel was a nation, I didn’t put together that our grandfathers were brothers until years later.  I guess the language, culture, and national differences in a family that was already confusing to me, besides being fragmented, rendered me incapable of sorting out the family tree.  They graciously hosted me several nights, did a much needed load of laundry, introduced me to humus – which years later became an acquired taste and favorite – and off I went to explore the land.

A hostel in the Old City of Jerusalem became my home there many weeks, and I found a 10-day student tour to visit north and south regions that were impossible to access alone. The previous autumn, Israel had been invaded by Egyptian and Syrian forces on Yom Kippur – the holiest day of all – and miraculously conquered the Golan Heights from Syria, and nearly Damascus as well. http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3621090,00.html

Our tour bus passed countless tanks in the hilly battlegrounds of the Golan, still “parked” from the war 9 months ago.  In days long before iphones, we marveled at elaborate TV antennas on Bedouin tents in the south, in the Sinai Desert.  As is mandatory on all Israel tours, we floated and then shmeared our bodies with mud from the Dead Sea, the area far more rustic then, and the Sea much larger in mass than it is today.  http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/israel-dead-sea-shrinking-hundreds-sinkholes-are-opening-its-shores-photos-1513207

My heart was alive here in ways I’d never known, especially so in Jerusalem. Seeing the places about which I’d read, learning more of the history and archaeology was a dream come true.  The city of Jericho, caves in which David hid from jealous Saul, the Mount of Olives . . .

I yearned to stay, but that seemed a fantasy.  One day noticed a clerk about my age working in a local market, and realized I couldn’t even get a job because I didn’t speak the language, that I stood no chance surviving here.  I see now that I had absolutely no confidence to even consider studying the language, much less the international move.

Vision for a career path that felt like a good fit, for which I must have –  amazingly! – had  the confidence (“faith”), offered a more viable future. Looking today at the girl I was vs the woman I became, I see I had much to learn through career and life to be able to do what I do these days.

While the successes are more fun, I’ve learned far more from the failures and disappointments.

The trip wrapped with returning through Athens, and then more trains into Spain.  My destination was a small village where some other cousin-y person was somehow the queen of the summer’s fiesta.  I never did sort out how there was “family” in Spain. I’m painfully aware how disconnected I was in youth, so unable to ask for clarification of important things, feeling shame for not knowing so many things magically . . .

The train brought me to Barcelona just before midnight.  I’d been sitting beside a Catholic nun, and using my High School Spanish to ask without asking (why not ask?!) whether they had room for me to stay overnight at her convent.  She didn’t understand or didn’t want to… so I exited the train at midnight with no bed for the night.  The station’s resource desks were closed.

A man appeared, inviting those of us who had lingered in the station to follow him because he knew of hotels with rooms available.  Winding through dark streets of Barcelona, I did what I still do when talking with others: not pay attention to the direction and completely lose my way. The hotel in question had no rooms and the group dispersed.  Alone I stood on the empty street.  The dark, empty street somewhere in Barcelona, Spain after midnight.

I began walking towards what I thought was retracing steps and quickly realized I had no clue.  High school Spanish gave me some ability, but there was no one to ask and even then I knew enough to hesitate to reveal that I was lost and alone.  Praying “though I walk through the valley of death You are with me and You guide me and …” I found myself at the train station.  Locked.  And Dark. Several others and myself “slept” (somewhat) on the steps of the Barcelona train station that night.

The next morning I found my way to the looooooooooong un-airconditioned bus ride through August’s hot oh-so-hot country terrain of Spain to the tiny village for the festival.  I stayed in the home of an old woman who I think was a relative of the relative… it’s still a blur and I don’t know who I could ask now.  The large, old home had an outdoor toilet.  She had no refrigerator, but walked every day to the village’s shops for fresh milk, produce and meat. The paella was amazing!

From seedling to tree

Writing this forces upon me the girl of then.  And the journey to the woman of now.  Unrecognizable, and yet so familiar.

During that trip I discovered museums in Athens and Israel surprisingly appealing:  clay pots for storage, pouring vessels, jewelry, tools, and weapons of ancient civilizations.  Museums, years later in England, New York, Austria, Germany, Kansas City had the same allure . . .

I came to understand they anchored me in a way.  Immersing myself in a people long passed, likely working much harder towards physical survival that I’ve ever imagined, settled an unsettledness within.  Their lives put a perspective on my struggles that complimented my practice of thankfulness to God for my blessings as well as the disappointments.

It’s not the same now.  I’m in a different space and those areas of a museum don’t pull like a magnet.  In hindsight, I see that my soul resonated there.  I needed to rest my life with theirs as part of a vast continuum – same though different.  It helped me feel less alone.  I don’t know how to define it any better, but please write to tell me how this resonates with you.

If it’s not apparent, one of the many reasons I write is with the hope to stir your heart, and your curiosity. I love hearing what you’re thinking on these or other matters that come to mind.

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