Religion & Beliefs

Birth Writing: Ancient Secrets Of The Negev Desert

You know it had to be a good night in Israel when it starts off with “We had woken that morning in Tel Aviv, bleary eyed and hung-over.” Read More

By / March 15, 2011
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January 5th – 9:18pm in Israel. I was running blind in the staggering darkness of the Negev desert. We had been there six days. The stars were my only company as my feet pounded the cracked earth, my lungs burned and still I kept running. Only when I truly began to fear for my ability to find my way back, I stopped, my breath heavy, my brow soaked, my heart beating strong and true in my chest. Here all alone, a speck of dust on a speck of dust under an endless starry night, I‘d let myself fall hard on my back, my favorite jacket (now dirty with the earth of this beautiful country) spreading out beneath me. In the distance, from the murky east, I hear the sound of shuffling rocks as a figure approaches.

We had woken that morning in Tel Aviv, bleary eyed and hung-over and rushed, and piled onto our bus to head off into the country side, our bus driver Alex pulling impossible maneuvers as the many-wheeled behemoth wound its way into the rolling hills of the Israeli desert. Our destination was a Bedouin tent where we were to spend the night, with fire and physical familiarity for warmth and carefully folded sweatshirts and towels for comfort.

We pulled up along rows of camels lashed together, who regard our sputtering bus with what I can only assume is typical camel-like apathy. Among them, Bedouins (just like in the movies!) smoke hand-rolled cigarettes, the air smelling strongly with acidic tinge of hashish.

We dragged our gear into our tent and, after negotiating the complicated social politics of sleeping arrangements, head back to the camels, where two of us each mounted on the mewling beasts we were led through the desert beneath a brilliant orange sky. We laughed at the sheer absurdity of it all. After a brief circuit, we finally dismount, each sharing captured moments of bliss on LCD screens that never seen to leave our hands.

Soldier Daniel had found an abandoned and under-pumped soccer ball in a trader’s market in port Jaffe that he tirelessly carried with him here for this very moment. We yawped and wooped and lept for joy, a number of us running towards the empty central square. We chose teams – I was skins – and with the desert wind chilling my bare skin, we played what I truly believe was the fiercest, most athletic, acrobatic and intense soccer game in the history of the sport. I’d amazed myself. I scored one of the game’s three goals in a wild roundhouse kick that nearly decapitates my defender. We sweat – we stink – we reeked of camel shit.

Then we ate, four each to an enormous plate of rice and noodles and vegetables, of pita and tahini and some kind of lamb burger and beautifully cooked chicken wings that Zach Hyatt still insists were the greatest things he’s ever tasted.

Our tour guide Yael, an uncannily knowledgeable Israeli who I am ashamed to be mentioning for the first time only in this entry, led us next down a path and into the starry darkness, near (but still, very far from) the patch of earth from which I began this entry. We had been instructed to bring no lights, no cameras – they’d be no use anyway, the ruthlessly necessary flash robbing us of our cultivated night vision.

Yael explained our next activity. We were to come as close as possible to each other, huddling in darkness, and whenever we felt the moment was right, we were to break from the group and go off on our own for personal discoveries.

We obliged. Standing close, arms intertwined, our collective heat radiated through the circle as one by one we broke away and headed off alone. I was exactly where I wanted to be – with all of these people, together. At long last I too broke away.

I climbed a ridge and against the horizon I could see the silhouettes of my friends, some already so far out. Wherever they were headed, I decided I would beat them there. I took off running at full tilt, passing all of them, until there is nothing ahead of me besides endless nothing.

Now lying alone on my back, a sound approached and I knew I was not alone. It is Daniel the Soldier. There’s no way he could have followed me here – we were too far and it was too dark and that would have been kind of weird anyway. No, there was deeper magic afoot.

We knew we were to be alone but this was miraculous and we didn’t much care. Without a sound I offered him a cigarette, taking one for myself as well. He sat. I sat. He sprawled. I sprawled. We’d yet to make a sound — and suddenly we found the words. We couldn’t stop talking, but not about the usual bullshit – women, drink or song. This was a new beast, and in this otherwise silent desert we opened our hearts, each telling of the trials of our past years, difficult years in different but curiously similar ways, of families, of dreams and of wishes, of God and of the self. This went on forever, both of us willingly ignoring the constraints of time.

Eventually, on the wind we heard faint singing. We were being called back, we presume (though later we’d learn it was Phillip, a musician, so moved by his own experience that he burst into song.) We ignored it selfishly. Our work here was not done. At one point Daniel told me he wished our children could one day be friends, I can tell that somehow he is my best friend on this planet and I am confident the feeling is mutual. We returned, very late but not really minding.

At camp, we built a fire and I assembled, for the first time, my nargila, a two and a half foot fiery red hookah purchased early that morning.  There is much to celebrate, as if we needed any excuse. I produced from the depths of my wonderful coat two small bottles of hooch, which we passed around in time with the hookah as songs break out around the campfire.

We are all the best versions of ourselves, myself tenfold.