We’ve been at Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam for a couple weeks now, and have finally started to feel settled in. The village is a small community, about halfway between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, and just about on the border of the West Bank. Given our backgrounds–Palestinian on one side of the family for me, and Jewish for Bonnie–Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam seemed like the perfect place for us to settle down for a while. That’s because it’s an intentional community where Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs live and work together, and it’s been really great to see evidence of how well that can work out on a daily basis. There’s also a primary school with classes in both Hebrew and Arabic, and regular programs and retreats conducted at the village’s hotel. As people keep reminding me, though, the rest of Israel and the West Bank aren’t always the same as here….
We’re sharing a space with two other volunteers and two interns–we each get a bedroom (Bonnie and I are the first couple to come, so we share a room with twin beds pushed together) that surrounds a courtyard, and there’s a common area with a nice kitchen. This is also the first place we’ve found while traveling abroad that’s similar to the WWOOFing we so enjoy at home, wherein you trade your work for room and board–as opposed to other “volunteer” opportunities we found throughout Asia that wanted us to pay to work. So in that vein, each volunteer and intern gets a share to spend at a grocery store once a week in nearby Modi’in, and we trade off who cooks dinner each night; we also get to borrow the village car every once in a while, say, for seeing a movie on an evening or for a daytrip around Israel. We’re also excited to go into the West Bank and see where my mom grew up! We’ll need to use public transportation for that, but luckily we can get around by bus and train, although it’s a bit of a trick to work around Saturdays, when most of Israel shuts down.
Two of the volunteers work in the hotel, cleaning rooms mainly, and the interns work in the village’s administrative offices doing a number of administrative tasks. We, however, work in the Garden. While there is actual gardening involved, what it really entails is all of the village’s landscaping, trash, recycling, sewage, infrastructure, and more (including, possibly, gravedigging!). We very much enjoy it! It’s a great to be outside all day, and we love working with plants, and even the more onerous tasks (eg, work involving the sewage plant that I won’t describe for the sake of sensitive stomachs) is pretty educational. Also, I get to ride around on the side of a tractor and basically get my exercise for the day in hopping off periodically to lift and drag whatever our boss points at–Bonnie seems to appreciate the effect it’s had on my muscles (and vice versa for me with all the squatting and lifting…mmhmm).
Other bonuses include dance and movie nights we haven’t yet been able to attend, and Hebrew lessons! There are also Arabic lessons, but they’re unfortunately way above our current levels in the language (aka, nil), so we’ll keep looking into that.