It seems only fitting that while the world around me goes mad, I should remind myself of the reason I am here in the first place. Love. Yeah you can scoff, but as life ticks on its worth remembering, as da Vinci said, ‘Life without love is no life at all’.
Fifteen years ago in the Australian outback I met an Israeli boy. He had long curly hair, a beard and a name we couldn’t pronounce. I must admit when I first saw him I was not impressed. I was waiting at the end of an airstrip in Borraloola in Northern Queensland and he was in the small 2-seater plane I was waiting for, he was sitting in my seat. I sat in the rack with the vegetables for the hour flight back to the cattle station in the Northern Territory where I lived at the time. I was not impressed. He was very quiet on the flight back, in fact I am not sure he said a word, he just kept taking photos of the brown veined land below us. Turns out he has terrible motion sickness.
True to form the ageing pilot and owner of the cattle station had a sleep at the controls and I also dozed off. After dodging the bush fire licking the end of the airstrip, we pulled the plane to its tin shack and got in the ute for the ride back to the homestead. The next few days were tense as the fire threatened to encroach on the house and outbuildings and the Israeli boy spent much of his time outside bashing the sun burnt grass with the other farmhands. He used to come into the big kitchen with the others, faces caked with soot, big white teeth smiling and twinkling blue eyes. Danger averted we went back to our unusual form of normal and I discovered he had come to replace me as the cattle station cook.
I’d been at the station for a couple of months at this stage and wanted to continue my travels around Oz. I was the station cook, which in itself is laughable because at this point I was just about capable of rustling up a spag bol. Still, I was out for an adventure so had ended up in an area as big as Wales with nothing on it but a lot of dust, a cattle station, 40,000 head of cattle, an old fella and a few jackaroos (Ozzie cowboys). Turned out this Israeli had thought the same, fancied an experience and with zero knowledge of how to cook – there are no pittas in the outback – had answered an ad in a backpackers to come out to nowheresville.
For a week we worked together, I showed him how to make Anzac biscuits and lemon meringue. He showed me how to recognize the body parts in the briny bucket of offal we kept in the walk in fridge – brains anyone? He also peeled the tongue for me for which I will be eternally grateful. He told me a bit about where he was from, his family and the army service he had just completed. I was totally uneducated about Israel; I knew nothing. A few days later and with a plan to meet at a later date and possibly travel together – he was planning to buy a car with a friend – I left.
It took me 4 days to get back to civilization as I had left via an upturned crate in the aisle of an OAP’s 4 wheel drive tour bus. It was not a comfortable ride but to be honest I was just happy to be setting out on my next adventure. At our first overnight stop he called the roadhouse to check I was OK. Which was nice of him, if a little over friendly.
By the time I arrived in Cairns I was sporting a large lump on my arm. The pensioners on the bus had all had a good prod at it and had come to the conclusion it was a spider bite and I should get it looked at. Eventually, a week later in the rainforest, when my arm was swelling, I had a fever and red stripes on my arms did I go to a hospital. I won’t go into gruesome details suffice to say they cut it out, stitched me up and I put my backpack back on and staggered to the nearest B & B to recover. Before sleeping for 18 hours I called the cattle station to tell my new friend that I wouldn’t be in Cairns the following week as we’d tentatively agreed.
To be honest the whole arm thing was a bit troubling, I didn’t feel terribly well, I had my arm in a sling, I needed to get another job to get some more money together – the pittance I had earned at the cattle station had been all but spent by the unscheduled medical emergency. All plans to travel anywhere were on hold until I had recovered and earned some more money. One afternoon on returning from the job hunt to the backpacker’s hostel in Port Douglas, the guy on reception told me I had a visitor, and there he was; the wooly Israeli in his foreign looking sandals, eyes twinkling and white teeth smiling.
On hearing I was in the hospital he had left his job and persuaded a couple of pig hunters, who had stopped at the station to give him a ride as far as Normanton where they were headed. At Normanton he got stuck for a day and a half as no-one would give him a ride apart from the local policeman; hitch hiking was not encouraged in those parts. He eventually took a ride with a guy who took care of the remote railway lines. The distances we are talking are quite unfathomable; it’s about 1200km from the cattle station to Port Douglas, where we met again. Just to give you an idea that’s like driving from London to Barcelona, New York to Chicago but with more than half the way on dirt roads and it’s only in the last few hundred kilometres that you are back in civilization. He’d been hitch-hiking for 5 days. For me.
Fifteen years, three children and three countries later here we are; hearing the booms, watching the news, reassuring friends and family overseas, trying to act as if everything is normal. It’s not normal, not in my understanding of the word, but much of our life together has not been normal either. I chose to come to Israel for love. I’m not sure if at any point did I fully understand the implications of the decision, I still don’t. I do however believe I am one of the lucky ones who has a life blessed with a really great, true love.