On our recent Passover trip to the desert we stayed in a campsite. It was not the kind of campsite I am used to staying in, it was what I would term ‘glamping’ (glamour camping). No we didn’t all don high heels and dressed for dinner (only the boys), but because the tents were huge domed affairs with tiled floors, mattresses and duvets and although we had communal bathrooms they were cleaner and way more spacious than my bathroom at home. The real treat of this place was the view. Perched on the edge of a canyon it overlooked the valley below and out towards the mountains of the Negev.
On our first evening, weary from a long car trip with small childers we all sat and watched as dusk fell and the light changed the canyon walls from pale yellow to pink. From down the valley we saw a line of camels walking past. Stopping occasionally to check out the sparse greenery they followed each other until they were out of sight. Lagging behind somewhat came a second line, moving slower and in less order than their predecessors these camels had one leg bent at the knee and bound with bandages. At first we thought the leader was injured but as more went by, we realised that these camels must be the runners as they were all tied, presumably to stop them escaping. Bringing up the rear was a man with a stick. Where they were going is unclear as they were moving away from the tiny village, perhaps they liked to sleep al fresco, far from man’s encroachment on their desert dwelling.
Apparently this is called hobbling and is not just to keep the camels from moving too far from their owner but is also used for the more aggressive camels to keep them in order and if need be, to attend to them when they are injured. They were moving slowly but they didn’t seem too bothered by their hindrance, perhaps because they didn’t have a choice but to get on with it. To our eyes it looked terribly cruel but the bedouins and the ancient tribes have been using this method throughout the centuries to train and control their camels.
The camels became a symbol of our holiday for me. Holidaying as we always do with a group of good friends and their children I often feel that I too am hobbled. No, nobody ties me up (except the childers as they all demand simultaneous carrying, cuddling, play fighting), my hobble is due to my inability to fully speak the language. Always one second (or 10 minutes) behind the conversation as my rusty computer whirrs the translation to English I find myself becoming more mute as time passes. Sometimes it’s just too hard to keep up. All our friends are amazing I should add and speak to me in English, they don’t ever intentionally ostracize me but the chat is obviously in their mother tongue and when plans are being made, decisions being mulled I rely on my ever patient husband to translate when I lose the thread and oftentimes I stay out of it. This is a big mistake and I fully accept that it is a problem of my making. If you are in my situation you probably already know this, and if you don’t, take it from me, make sure you are involved as ignorance is certainly not bliss and inclusion as an expat is always the goal, in every situation.
It is easy to fall into the trap of being hobbled in everyday life in a foreign country. When you are not used to the customs and culture or religion, when newspapers, magazines, even signs are either illegible or take perseverance, when you don’t get the jokes and can’t join in the chat about pop culture because watching local TV and listening to local radio requires effort, remaining ignorant and therefore disabled in the short-term is the easiest option. This however is a slippery slope and in the long run leads to isolation, frustration and eventually self-confidence takes a nose dive.
Like the camels we learn to live with it. Like most situations in life, human beings have the ability to adapt and acclimate to just about anything. The question has to be though, when does it stop being so difficult, when does the penny finally drop and full absorption take place? If it doesn’t, does that mean it’s time to pack up and go back to where we can fully understand the humour, the nuances, the slang? I liked walking with 4 legs and when 1 is tied at the knee it’s hard sometimes not to just get tired and fall down.
We stayed at a wonderful place called Lev Ha Midbar (Heart of the Desert) http://www.levhamidbar.co.il/ in Tzukim about 90 minutes north of Eilat.