Be’er Milka, Shirat Hamidbar. באר מילכה. שירת המדבר
I came to the desert Sunday. My cousin and I left Ramot Saturday for Jerusalem, taking the back roads to avoid tolls on the highway. Spent three hours with an atlas of Israel in my lap and New York Jew kvetching at the wheel. We stopped in Nazareth briefly, driving through some Arab villages to get there. Incredibly different feeling than what I’d seen so far.
Nazareth was quite visibly touristy and also it’s primarily Arab. Jewish residents are living next door, in Nazareth Illit (yes, like elite – although it means something else). Saw some swastika graffiti and “free Palestine”.
So Sunday I came from Jerusalem to meet the head volunteer at the Be’er Sheva bus station. I’ll always have this memory of coming in and seeing a huge smiling face on a chair and knowing instantly it was her. I’ll call her Leaf. And nearly a year later, we’re still friends. What a special soul.
From Be’er Sheva we took another bus, the 44, to a junction outside of Be’er Milka. BM is an agricultural settlement close to the Egyptian border. Not much else around except other farms, army bases, and solar fields. We hitched with a couple people to get through the moshav and into the farmlands.
Shirat Hambidbar – or, Song of the Desert – is a medicinal herb farm. Thyme, mint, sage, rosemary, lemongrass, lemon verbena, oregano … and more. All different herbs grown and harvested for essential oils. There are also fruit trees in an area called the “Bustan” – basically like a fruit garden.
The work here so far has been weeding in the argan field and cutting herbs.. We take breaks every few hours and have a siesta in the heat of the day. It’s nice like this. Waking up with the sun, resting when it’s blazing rays and picking up the rest of the morning’s work at the end of the day. The farm is owned by a super sweet family. I think they’ve got 3 or 4 kids. And it’s a real mix of volunteers. Leaf has been here almost 3 months, along with another Israeli and an American guy. Another American girl showed up last week with a young Israeli-pre-army.
One of the neighboring farms is owned by the host’s brother. A pomegranate farm. I’ve met some of their volunteers too. Incredible people. A Japanese girl, Yuki. Last year, an Israeli who left his orthodox community came to volunteer and ended up moving here after another year or so. He works on a neighboring farm with another resident of the moshav, managing the Thai workers. Thai people can come to Israel and work in agriculture for a couple years with a special visa.
Today Yuki called me “manly” or masculine, in describing my speech and voice and maybe something else? It was interesting to see her try and find an English equivalent to whatever she thought of in Japanese. Also since she just met me. I don’t commonly hear first impressions so blatantly. It’s refreshing. I think the masculine speaks of American/patriarchy and subculture I’ve grown up with.
So far I like the desert. It’s got a stark, endless beauty to it and the wind talks. A million stars punctuate the sky. Clouds cover in the morning and crystal clear in the day. We often hear the sonic boom of planes or shooting from nearby IDF bases – or Egypt. It’s har d to tell.
It’s incredible all that can be grown in such a desolate place. All the surrounding farms have so much green (I’m sure with pesticides : 😦 . But still. And the community here is something I haven’t experienced much, just a little in New York. Eating meals together, cooking and talking and sitting. A slow, rich way of living simply.
the smell of the desert is like the beach, but without water. Sun-drdied, sand and sweat. Our home base here consists of a small square house with 3 tiny bedrooms and a kitchen, compost showers and toilets and and outdoor covered living room. Everybody eats and hangs out mainly in the living room where there’s a good stereo. Outside the living room is a hammock in front of a small campfire. You could go weeks, months here without seeing the outside world. And that’s what I did for the month I was here.