I hate swimming. In fact, I’m so bloody useless that I look like a total prick in the water. Often, when I do venture into a pool for a quick dip, the lifeguard is throwing me the life preserver from the moment I begin my stroke because I look like I’m drowning. I get seasick just looking at a bath filling up. For years I have avoided cruise vacations, holidays that demand swimming pool recreation and anything remotely connected to getting wet, either by chance or by choice. Fishing? Not me, not unless the fish is wrapped in newspaper and comes with chips. You get the point.
In the middle of the Hazorea complex lay a pool of sorts. It could be more aptly described as a reservoir, and although the water was grey (as it would be in any hole which had been excavated for the storage of drinking water) the kibbutzniks used this pond as their swimming pool. It was about 50 feet long and 20 feet wide with sides that sloped violently towards a V-shaped bottom seemingly 20 feet deep. Those dimensions made it extremely difficult to stand up, feel comfortable, and then kick off into anything resembling a shallow end. This made swimming impossible, at least for me. The fear, from the minute I set eyes on this pond, was too great for me to even attempt the 20-foot crossing, let alone contemplate paddling the 50 feet from end to end. The kibbutzniks laughed, cried, cajoled and enticed, but Alan was not for moving. After four weeks of abuse, Alan would not budge, until…but that’s another part of the story.
After two days, Andrew’s and my time of leisure ended, and we woke to the realization that working on Hazorea was going to be hard. Our work hours were from 3:30 a.m. to 11 a.m., six days a week. After 11 a.m., our time was our own. On this schedule, we both found ourselves pondering—often out loud—things like, “When is party time?” and “What kind of holiday is this going to be?” All the other new volunteers did the same. Those who had been there a while and knew the system prepared us for the hard slog that lay ahead, but the thought of rising at 3 a.m. every day seemed daunting—that is, until my rational brain kicked in and I realized that was the coolest part of each day. Duh!!
From that perspective, it made perfectly good sense to utilize that time for work and not play. Israeli summers are brutal. Often it is more than 90 degrees outside with 100 percent humidity. While 3:30 a.m. was tolerable, 3:30 p.m. was horrible. Bathing was useless, and it just compounded your desire to stay clean, which was impossible.
On that first workday morning, just as my alarm clock rang, the air was still and not too humid. I thought I detected just a little chill, though whether that was nerves I’ll never know. I rose with some vigor in my step, got dressed—the customary working boots, shorts and kibbutz denim shirt—took my hat, sunscreen, and canteen and headed to the dining room to report for duty. Andrew followed, as did most of the volunteers who had also been consigned to similar work. It was pitch dark with just a smidgen of moonlight and the occasional shooting star. The walk was slow and quiet, but once we got through those swinging doors the room was a hive of activity. There seemed to be a real buzz about a new dawn, another new day in their land, this land, the land of Israel.
Andrew made for the fresh veggies and hummus. I made for the water and then for the fresh fruit. Most of the others just sat, smoked and talked about news or sport from the previous evening. We couldn’t understand a word unless they spoke to us in English, but it was nice to be recognized and appreciated. Most of the residents had made a point of coming up and welcoming us all personally before telling us how much they knew we’d sacrificed to be with them. Sacrificed? No way! I was still ready and waiting for all the supposed sex parties, binge drinking, and all the other things one normally does when going on vacation.
A bell sounded, and we were ushered into groups. Andrew and I went with the chicken crowd, but without doing that chicken dance. Outside, we were handed some gloves and a stern warning that this job was going to be tough. Tough? Feeding chickens cannot be tough, I thought, as we walked the short distance to the coops. Don’t you just throw seed on the ground and watch them all eat it up in a frenzy? Think again, oh foolish young man. We were about to enter Hell, our bodies ripped to shreds and our minds destroyed by the stench, horror and disturbing truth of how the world received its chicken. I would soon discover why KFC was always being criticized for the way its chickens are treated before they are cooked to finger-lickin’ perfection.