Four hours after passing out, Lori and I wake up at 6:30am. She’s going to work, her last day of work, while I’m heading to Ayalim. I have no clue where it is, or where to go when I get there, but I do have a phone number to call. Luckily, and somewhat miraculously, Lori knows exactly where to go, and when I get there, I call the number, and someone calls another number, and someone walks out of a trailer to greet me. Danny introduces me to a few people, puts my stuff in a room, and asks if I’m ready to begin. He introduces me to Omer, whose arms are covered in mud and say’s I’ll be working with him through lunch. Omer sticks out his hand to shake mine, I pause briefly and say to myself “GAME ON” and grab his mud covered hand in a firm shake. For the next 2 hours, I’m dunking my hands into buckets of mud, and plastering mud mixture 2 onto an outer wall with Omer, Liat and Michal. The purpose of Ayalim is to gentrify the unused land, building houses for people who don’t have any, and also providing housing and scholarships for students who need them. The students build these houses while at school and there are Ayalim campuses all over Israel. At this time, since school had not started, all of the volunteers were at this one location. We were building a large mud building for birthright and other volunteers to come and help out for a few days at a time. I thanked g-d at 9am when breakfast was called because I hadn’t eaten, knew these kids had, and was thinking that I wouldn’t eat until 1pm. After breakfast I met Mor, the water fascist, who pretty much made sure all 70 kids stayed hydrated. Michal, Liat and I moved inside to keep cooler and start a new “wall” project. I spoke English with them to keep from their extreme boredom. Apparently, when you’ve been playing in mud for 5 days, as they had, you create a considerable amount of inside jokes that weren’t really funny to outsiders. I filled the time with stories about my rules, stories about how sarcasm has a tough time overcoming language barriers and of course, WHAT I WAS ACTUALLY DOING THERE. "Where are you from? How did you hear about Ayalim? Are you a student? How long are you in Israel for?" I must have gotten these questions 20 times during my two days at Ayalim. The answer to “Where are you from?” started as “I’m from New York” and changed to “New York City” before finally morphing into “Manhattan.” The biggest shock to most was when I said I was in Israel until Sunday… they at least expected I was there for a few months if I was doing something like playing in mud.
Lunch was surprisingly good, with pita and breads and lunch meats and humus. Unfortunately, as much as they push drinks on you during the day, there was almost nothing to drink during meal times. At lunch, I discovered that there were 2 groups of people at Ayalim, half were kids who just graduated HS and wanted to take a year off volunteering before they entered the army, and half were students in college, who’d finished the army and were volunteering so that Ayalim would pay for their educations. I was the only person who wasn’t in either of these two groups, and I was 3 years older than the older kids. The “teens” slept in the “tent” which was a tennis court sized mud hut w/canvas walls and a straw roof, while the rest were scattered around in various sleeping arrangements, including platforms with no coverings at all. This is where I chose to sleep, under the stars and armed with only a sleeping bag my aunt gave me. While this would seem to be a tough decision, after lunch every day the kids were given a break from working until 4pm, so that no one was in the dessert sun when it was hottest, and I ventured into the kids tent to read. It was a bit of a mad house w/music and smoking and silliness and I realized quite quickly that I didn’t really fit in there. I was ready to get back to work well before our “nap time” was over because A) I started 2 hours after everyone else and B) I had not been there for 4 days. Considering my finger nails were absolutely destroyed by small pieces of straw pushing under them a little further each time I dug my hand into the mud bucket (I wish I had a picture), I was looking for a way out of mudwork in the afternoon. Luckily, one of the older guys pulled me aside and we built window sills in most of the windows of the mud building. I was much better at woodwork and construction than mudwork, so I ditched the ladies and spent the evening building a coffin sized container with double doors for storage.
Dinner was yummy as well, and after scrubbing my hands for 15 minutes, and showering in an outdoor shower of sorts, I had hot dogs and chicken and humus and pita (but no dessert). The founder of Ayalim, who every girl swooned over, gave his second 15 minute speech of the day. When I asked someone to translate for me, she said “we’re up at 5:15 for 5:30 breakfast and done at 1. There will be a bus then to take us to Beer Sheba.” Somehow, in 13 seconds, she translated 15 minutes of talk. I learned later that much of it was political about populating the land and crap like that. Of course, I had to pretend like I was listening (This is a skill I have yet to master). After dinner, since there really weren’t lights in the whole complex, we hung out in our respective platforms where everyone checked Facebook from my blackberry, and went to bed around 11.
Rules for Building a Mud Hut: After the wood frame is completed, start with hay bales for the walls, stacked one on top of the other and cover them with mud mixture 1 (a sloppy mud that will fill into the hay bales pretty easily, filling the cracks. To make this mud, you need to sift through drums filled w/mud (and water to keep it wets) so that there are no rocks in the mud and bring it to the mud mixers. The mud mixers make the mud solutions when these buckets of mud are pored into their bins and they mix it all up with their feet. When that dries, you move to mud solution 2, which is heavier and thicker and has straw mixed into it. Don’t forget to wet mixture 1 before you apply 2 so they stick together. As you finish an area, put a light coating of water on it and smooth the mud. This will show you the areas you missed, will make the wall look nicer, and the next layer will stick better. HERE is part of the wall I worked on (top half), after mud solution 2 was applied. I didn't stick around for mud solution 3, but I'm sure it was fantastic.