Finally we arrived at Haifa and I was allowed to disembark.
I caught the first bus to Tel-Aviv, and the next bus to the desert outpost of Beersheeba. I looked at my map a few times and found my way to a branch in the road which was signed as Talmei Yosef, a Moshav (farm) in the middle of the Negev desert, where my friends, Julie and Nikki were working. I was ( in Hebrew ) ushered off the bus in the middle of the night, in a middle eastern desert and had no idea of which way to turn or go. Using an uncanny sense of direction I wandered in the direction of some aggressively barking dogs and, through sheer luck made out the sound of music in the distance… Hendrix..
There was a concrete bunker, a real bunker I mean, built to withstand shelling from the Jordanians or Palestinians, which was lit with gas lamps and full of the same smiles I had gotten used to smiling at during the last years of my travels. Jimi, as I said, was singing from a Small Stereo, everyone was smoking and drinking and dancing and just smiling , here in the middle of a pitch black desert, under an unfeasible brightly starred sky. I found my friends with whom I had danced in Athens and I found myself again, we were at the edge, on the edge and happy.
The next day I slept whilst all those around me went to work. We drank in the bar again that night. The following morning at some 6am the desert emanated cold from its very heart and I was dragged from my sleep by the sound of a heavy tractor and Julie calling me to go to work.
Work consisted of practically crawling through tomato fields in a constant stoop, pulling up tomatoes and placing them in large tubs for subsequent sorting. I had been warned that every now and then you would get a nasty tomato which would burst in you and coat your hand in a substance which must have been tomato juice but quickly turned into a black varnish covering your hands. About 3 minutes into my picking a large sidewinder slithered from underneath my hand. I shouted to bloody fucking Jesus ( suitable considering our location) and Ahmet, our co worker from just over in the Gaza Strip swiftly beat the offending serpent to death. Ahmet has other qualities which included working very hard and bringing us A grade hashish from Palestine on a daily basis. It was not uncommon, indeed, to be woken up with a ready rolled and lit pure grass joint already in your lips and a smiling Arab in your face. Anyway, by early afternoon we would have a truckload of tomatoes which would then go to the sorting and packaging area ( we did this also ). The tomatoes, quite simply had to be fed into a conveyor, any tomatoes too small would fallout of the line and be taken aside for later. The winning tommies were packed into cardboard crates 3 deep and were collected at 5 each day.
Quite the most beauteous of my memories from this period were the days when I did the Ketchup run with Jasper ( a Dane). Any tomatoes which were no good for sale, but had any sort of reddishness t them would be :”ketchup tomatoes”. The Ketchup factory was maybe only 3 or 4 miles away, but as the tractor went at little above walking pace it was an hour each way across the desert sands. Jasper and I would laze on the tractor, taking it in turns to drive as we chugged over the Negev. There was an unspoken understanding between us not to mention the purpose of our trip as it was this unspoken thread which shone a serene light upon our actions. Here we were, two young, educated and intelligent young northern Europeans driving a shoddy tractor across the fucking Negev desert ( who’s heard of that even??) to deliver tomatoes to the Israeli ketchup factory….
I stayed there with my friends living there in the desert, eating not much more than tomatoes ( we did barter with some other English who worked on a Sweet Potato farm occasionally). We visited, upon occasion the guys at Sde Nitzan, Adam, John the Hat, and others. We smoked, drank, worked ( fuck we worked ) and after a while I left. I left to look a wee further around the Holy Lands and to get something decent to eat…