Blood, Sweat and Peers {Sar-El ๐Ÿ‡ฎ๐Ÿ‡ฑ Day #12}

Blood, Sweat and Peers {Sar-El ๐Ÿ‡ฎ๐Ÿ‡ฑ Day #12} | Thursday 21st July 2016 |

If you know me well, you’ll be aware that I’m extremely needle-phobic. So when we were asked if we wanted to donate blood this morning, I was the first to say no. I think it’s amazing that about half the group decided to do this, though- I really admire them for it whether they genuinely wanted to give blood or just wanted to escape work for the morning!

I went to work and packaged 600 pieces of something, not that I have any idea what they were. They looked like a cross between train tracks and Lego pieces. We didn’t even do half a day of work, only 1.5 hours. 

We got a while to freshen up and eat some lunch before leaving the base for Tel Aviv. My Pennsylvanian friend was feeling really ill because she wasn’t too well but donated blood anyway, so she didn’t get off the coach when we had a short field trip to Neve Tzedek (the first Jewish neighbourhood built outside Yafo back in the day). Our madricha took us on a short tour of the neighbourhood, including some famous dance schools and the old train station. Then half of the group was dropped off at the military hostel before the rest of us departed at our usual drop off point. It was really sad that we had to say goodbye to 2 of our lovely room mates, the Coloradan and Pennsylvanian girls. We will definitely miss them over the next week, but I guess they’re off to do more exciting things now…

There are four of us staying in the same hotel that I stayed in last weekend. I am sharing a room with my New Yorkan and Canadian friends, whilst the Australian boy has his own place. 

We went to Aroma (the Israeli Starbucks equivalent) for iced drinks (I had the iced cookie cream drink, which was delicious) and the barista almost bought an outdated 10NIS note from me because he was so excited to see old money. We then spent a while on the beach, messing around in the sea and catching waves. 

Dinner at sunset was really cool. We found a lovely Kosher milky restaurant at the port (I tried a chai latte for the first time) and then we went to an amazing ice cream shop where I almost made myself sick with dulce de leche, creme brรปlรฉe and marshmallow ice cream (probably the best flavour I’ve ever had). We sat outside overlooking the port, with our towers of ice cream melting all over our hands and legs. There was an amazing water and light show: fountains sprayed water in all directions in time to a music mashup, with neon LEDs making patterns and words on a display board behind. It was a really cool thing to watch and I wish I could have evenings like this all the time. 

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Special Sorting Role {Sar-El ๐Ÿ‡ฎ๐Ÿ‡ฑ Day #11}

Special Sorting Role | {Sar-El ๐Ÿ‡ฎ๐Ÿ‡ฑ Day #11} | Wednesday 20th July 2016 |

I’ve come to realise that I’m a lucky volunteer. One of the managers of the warehouse favours me and only lets me work for him*. That means I’m always guaranteed a constant flow of packing jobs and I don’t have to go outside to wash boxes. Sometimes I get small orders of a couple of random parts that need bags or stickers but sometimes I spend hours on the same job. *I tried to help two of the German boys with a job where about 50 parts needed individual stickers and the bags needed repairing, but I was told off and called back to doing more jobs on my own for the manager. 

Everyone kind of has their own manager now. The Coloradan girl always has to do paperwork, the French boys usually help the sweet man who doesn’t speak any English, the girl from Calgary has her own special sorting role, the new Czechs get orders to wash boxes, the Australian and Canadian boy do something outside like lifting or sorting, and the rest of the group do random jobs but mostly packaging. 

Although the parts I package are sometimes mysterious and interesting (the coolest thing I have done so far was packing bags for machine gun stands) there isn’t much variety any more. I’m sorry there isn’t much to report for our day work; I was hoping we would get to change warehouse or work with guns or tanks etc, but this is where they need the work so this is what we have to do. I am enjoying it a lot more now because the group has definitely become closer so we can chat or visit each other at our different work stations when we get bored. I also love blasting the radio and jamming to the random mix of songs they play on Galatz (including popular English and Israeli music). 

In the evening, we learned about Israeli music. We were given the lyrics to some famous anthems and the madrichot gave us some background information about the songs/artists after we listened to each one. I only knew “Yerushalayim Shel Zahav” but it was cool to learn new ones and find out the meaning behind them. 

Now that our group is closer, we stay up later hanging out. We stay in the “mohadon” (club) and mess around, play cards, play random games anyone comes up with (like the “bowl game”), watch TV and eat a load of pastries. As much as I love rogalach, I won’t be able to face them after this trip!

Weird Army Games {Sar-El ๐Ÿ‡ฎ๐Ÿ‡ฑ Day #10}

Weird Army Games {Sar-El ๐Ÿ‡ฎ๐Ÿ‡ฑ Day #10} | Tuesday 19th July 2016 |

It was a typical morning in the warehouse, packing vehicle parts and sitting next to a fan drinking an awfully sugary grape cordial. I had to show the new girls how to wash the crates outside but thankfully I didn’t have to do the job myself. Instead, I got to help the French boys with labelling, moving boxes and some other tasks set by a very friendly manager who only spoke Hebrew. He was so sweet because he let us take breaks and brought us food. I also realised that my Canadian friend was by herself and needed some help packaging 4000 screws, so I did that and then cut plastic bags to package random items whilst singing “High School Musical” songs with my friends, which wasn’t the worst job in the world! 

The troublemaker of the group actually left this afternoon. He was given several warnings (about his behaviour and lack of completed work, wearing his civilian clothes and not turning up to flag raising on time). So he’s been kicked out now! It won’t be the same without him because he’s such an animated and hilarious character. 

In the evening, we learned about Israeli inventions, including: cherry tomatoes, Waze, the epilator, Ola Mundo, UMOOVE, the Iron Dome, the pill camera and ICQ. I already knew that Israel is one of the leading countries in technology but finding out that Israelis invented and discovered these things is amazing. We got into groups and had to make a commercial for one of the inventions, and our group presented Waze but lost the competition! To be fair, we were all tired and lacked energy to put in an effort. Watching everyone else’s, however, was really fun. 

Later in the evening, after a good few rounds of “Heads Up”, we played games outside with the other soldiers. It was stuff like hide and seek, grandmother’s footsteps and long jump. One of the new Czech girls was amazing at the long jump game because she has really long legs, and we found out she does proper long jump so she was bound to be the best anyway! But still, it was really random doing all this stuff and felt like being a child again playing these weird army games. 

The Perks Of Being Israeli {Sar-El ๐Ÿ‡ฎ๐Ÿ‡ฑ Day #9}

The Perks Of Being Israeli {Sar-El ๐Ÿ‡ฎ๐Ÿ‡ฑ Day #9} | Monday 18th July 2016 |

Today we were taken on a surprise trip to a water park! We didn’t have to go to work at all- we just joined soldiers from the base and had a fun day out together.

We spent about 4 hours there going on water slides, relaxing in a wave simulation pool and eating a delicious packed lunch. We spent most of the time in queues for the slides, but it was 100 times less tedious than some of the work we have to do at the base. 

In the afternoon/evening we had loads of free time to shower and relax before dinner, so it really was a chilled day. 

For dinner, it’s a mad rush to get there at the start because if you want chocolate milk or the good chocolate yoghurts, you have to be first in line. Now that we all have a strategy, the competition is fierce! 

For our evening activity, we discussed what it means to be Israeli. We all drew pictures of what we imagine the typical Israeli to look like and then explained our pictures to the group. The Canadian boy drew the troublemaker of the group, who is originally from Israel and helps translate Hebrew for us when we’re confused. One of the new Czech girls just drew a stickman with no details, to show the diversity in Israel (which I thought was a really clever idea when she elaborated in her explanation). Our madrichot (another one joined us when the new group of volunteers came) told us what Israeli culture and art used to be like and how they’ve changed over time. For example, when the state gained its independence, everyone had to forget their pre-existing identity and assimilate into Israeli culture to obtain a new identity. So new immigrants had to change their names, the movies were only about Jewish life in Israel, and the music was only Israeli (later on, the styles mixed with more Middle Eastern sounding music). We listened to a song called “More Israel”, which describes all the typical things you’d find in Israel (it’s actually really funny if you know the stereotypes and are familiar with the culture). So far, all of the activities have been educational but also really fascinating. 

Giant Ants {Sar-El ๐Ÿ‡ฎ๐Ÿ‡ฑ Day #8}

Giant Ants {Sar-El ๐Ÿ‡ฎ๐Ÿ‡ฑ Day #8} | Sunday 17th July 2016 |

The whole group met at our original drop-off point at 9am so we could go back to the base. The Australian pranked our madricha saying that he had only just woken up, when he was actually arriving at the meeting point. We were also introduced to a new cohort of volunteers who would be joining us. There are 3 new girls and 5 new boys, from the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Germany. I guessed they’d be from Mexico, so I lost the bet I made with the French girls. 

When we returned to the base we were lucky to get a couple of hours to unpack and rest before lunch and work in the afternoon. Our dorm of 4 became 7, which is annoying because even though we get our New Yorker friend with us now, we hardly get any space. I moved beds to the one directly next to the air-con, which is both the best and worst place to be. Plus, there’s no ladder so for about 20 minutes we were all crowding round the bed in hysterics as I tried to clamber onto the top bunk. I was crying and laughing simultaneously from the struggle! I don’t know how I’m going to to this every day! 

On a serious note, we heard that there was an attempted terrorist attack happened on the light rail in Jerusalem, just half an hour after a few of our friends had left the city from that area. Luckily, the police had spotted suspicious behaviour and caught the man about to board the light rail before it was too late. Being here when these things happen makes you realise how important the IDF is and how the soldiers risk their lives everyday for the safety of Israel and its people. Later on, we found out that a grenade had accidentally detonated in the Golan Heights, killing two people. It’s absolutely tragic. 

After a typical army lunch (lots of potatoes!) we went to the same warehouse as last week (we all complained but there’s nothing we can do to change our work). We started off by sorting through the cardboard recycling because so much plastic and other junk had been mixed in there too. Imagine a huge fenced area full to the brim with cardboard boxes. We had to clear the whole area, flatten the boxes, chuck out the rubbish and stack the flat cardboard nearly. It took 2 hours in the baking sun (“sous le caniard”). Then I went inside and helped to sticker label some vehicle seal parts. Luckily, we only worked for 3 hours. The new people worked so hard and barely took any breaks; they also stayed on longer than the rest of us just because they wanted to!

In my free time I only had time to do my laundry. It took 2 hours and more effort than the work from earlier! At least now everything will be a lot cleaner – unless my clothes get infested with ants when they hang up. There are ants everywhere here- in the toilets, in the showers, on the floor… there’s no escaping them! Oh, and some of them are giant jumping ones that look like spiders (urghh)!

So for the activity, we learned the values of the IDF and had to use this knowledge to problem-solve different dilemmas. For example, if there’s a pregnant woman trying to cross the West Bank border into Israel, should you check properly or let her rush to hospital to give birth? Our madricha told us some interesting stories about real events that happened, which she based the dilemmas on. Also, I read one of the dilemmas out loud and the Canadian boy was somewhat mesmerised by my British accent (he now gets me to repeat what I say so he can mock me, which I think is hilarious). 

A Dorito A Day {Sar-El ๐Ÿ‡ฎ๐Ÿ‡ฑ Day #7}

A Dorito A Day {Sar-El ๐Ÿ‡ฎ๐Ÿ‡ฑ Day #7} | Saturday 16th July 2016 |

It’s really strange coming from a programme like Genesis, where Shabbat is such a special time, to being left on your own in Israel with no “family” to sing, dance and schmooze with. 

Today was a proper day of rest. I relaxed by the hotel pool pretty much all day, reading, napping and taking in the awesome 360 view of the Tel Aviv skyline. 

My room mate was in the room all day but we reconvened as Shabbat ended and then headed out to find food. All the Kosher restaurants were still closed or just about opening, so we just went to grab some snacks from the supermarket. It’s hard not to get distracted by all the Kosher chocolates, sweets, crisps and ice creams that aren’t suitable or available in the UK (especially Doritos, which I have been eating every day- I’m going to end up looking like Phineas from “Phineas and Ferb” if I continue like this…)

My room mate went out with her aunt for a real dinner and I joined the French volunteers on the beach for some ice cream. We messed around on the beach taking photos on giant chairs, playing on the exercise machines and watching hench guys show off with back flips and dance moves. I had a really enjoyable evening and I felt so happy to have made such nice friends already. 

Shabbat Sunset {Sar-El ๐Ÿ‡ฎ๐Ÿ‡ฑ Day #6}

Shabbat Sunset {Sar-El ๐Ÿ‡ฎ๐Ÿ‡ฑ Day #6}  | Friday 15th July 2016 |

Israeli breakfasts are the best. Fact. Our hotel had a huge buffet with cereals, a deli counter, an egg making station, a pastry corner, a make-your-own-soup table and an area for all the typical Israeli dishes like “shakshuka”. We ate so much food that we couldn’t get up for a while…
We headed to Nahalat Binyamin, the artists’ market, but ended up wandering through Shuk Ha Carmel first. It’s a very crowded half-covered market that sells everything from flip flops to Shabbat candles to fresh smoothies to mini canvas prints… It’s a really fun, buzzing place to be, but Friday mornings are hectic because everyone goes shopping there before Shabbat, when everything closes. I bought some fire pants, a skirt and a Magen David necklace. 

Exhausted from the hustle and bustle of the shuk (and from walking 20 minutes to find a pharmacy and supermarket), we started meandering through the artists’ market. I absolutely loved looking at the craftsmen’s handmade work. There were some really lovely pieces of unique jewellery and quirky sculptures made from wire, wood and ceramics. It was interesting talking to the artists and finding out how they make their work. I didn’t realise how big the market was- next week we are planning to return so we can go to the end and buy some bits and pieces. 

After a dip in the pool, we headed to the beach opposite our hotel. (We almost went into the men-only beach by accident!) We were in the sea for about 1.5 hours (time flew by so quickly) and left just as the sun was setting (in time for Shabbat). The airport is really close so every few minutes we had planes flying directly above us when we were in the sea. Like I said yesterday, the sunsets here are absolutely beautiful; the colours are so vibrant and it just makes me happy when I experience nature in this way. I love that you can go to the coast and just walk onto the beach at any time you want. It was so relaxing wading in the water, and we had so much fun jumping around in the waves. Thankfully we didn’t get stung by jellyfish! 

Shabbat dinner was delicious! Just like at breakfast, we stuffed ourselves with food from every buffet station. I had chicken soup, challah, beef stew, cous cous, schnitzel, sausages and meat strudel, followed by some chocolate and passion fruit cake slices for dessert. I’m normally disciplined when it comes to food but when you’re eating potatoes 24/7 at the base, it’s hard not to go a bit overboard when you have so much choice. As you can tell, I’m quite passionate about food…