Friday, 13 November 2015

Holy Land: Secular Pilgrimage: Part VIII: The Volunteers

world-map israel


At the moment I’m feeling all DPRK after starting to write up my trip to North Korea earlier in the year. Although I only spoke a week in the country itself, (although the entire trip was just under three weeks), there is so much to write and talk about that I somehow suspect that this will be one of my longest travelogues.

As part of those preparations, I’ve read another book dealing withe the DPRK, Bruce Cummings’ North Korea: Another Country.


Recommended to me by a UK member of the Juche Study Group, (a pro-DPRK group), as being more balanced and less sensationalistic than most accounts, (not hard), I have to say that I agree with him. At around 220 pages its not long and not a hard read although one thing that did annoy me was the author’s very US perspective, (everything was compared with the States as if nowhere else in the world exists and there were no metric measurements), and, perhaps connected to this former point, a lengthy and frankly rather dull chapter on nuclear weapons. The other book that I read on the DPRK by an American author, Victor Cha’s ‘An Impossible State’ was similarly obsessed with this issue which perhaps interests Stateside readers greatly but me not one bit. Whether Pyongyang gets the bomb or not, (it probably already has it anyway), is of little consequence just the same as it didn’t matter much that the Soviet Union had it. What matters is the real life and economic situation in the country and if I were to recommend anything to Mr. Cummings, it be that in the future, he stick to that. Nonetheless, ‘North Korea: Another Country’ is a good read for anyone thinking of heading that way or, on a more immediate note, to my lecture about it in Hove next Thursday.

North Korea: Orwellian Nightmare or Socialist Paradise?

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is one of the most talked about and least understood countries on earth. Matt Pointon draws on his studies and travels in the DPRK to present the country in a new light; which may surprise and will definitely inform. Join us for an evening of exploration into the peculiarities of the DPRK, one of the most fascinating countries on the planet.

Hosted by Enrico Tortolano & Laura Shewan

With Guest Speaker Matt Pointon

Café Salvage 84 Western Road, Hove

Thursday 16th November 7.15 – 9pm

Keep travelling!

Uncle Travelling Matt

Flickr album of this trip

Flickr album of my 1997 trip

Links to other parts of the travelogue:

Sacred Pilgrimage

Part 1: Tel Aviv

Part 2: Ash Wednesday in Jerusalem

Part 3: Bethlehem with a Baby

Part 4: Exploring the Old City

Part 5: Hebron

Part 6: The Armenian Quarter

Part 7: Up the Mount of Olives

Part 8: Further explorations of Jerusalem

Part 9: The Lord’s Day

Secular Pilgrimage

Part 1: A Bus to Beersheva

Part 2: An Introduction to Kibbutz Living

Part 3: A Pioneering Vision

Part 4: The Silence of the Desert

Part 5: Living for the Moment

Part 6: Tearing down the Wall!

Part 7: Beautiful (?) Beersheva

Part 8: The Volunteers

Part 9: Reminders of Troubled Times

Part 10: The Chicken Kings

Part 11: Two Tombs


When Tom and Chris left after a month to travel around Egypt, (Chris spent most of his time stoned on Dahab beach in Sinai), I moved in with Simon, our other workmate from the chicken farm and another eccentric. To start with, Simon was not even his real name; that was Robert, but he didn’t use it as he was on the run, not from the law, but worse, from his wife.

Simon’s problem was that he loved women too much. All women, all of the time. He was either happy because he’d slept with a girl on the kibbutz or morose because he hadn’t. He’d spent the majority of his forty-odd years on earth either chasing women or running away from them after the event, for the one thing that Simon could not cope with was commitment. Any commitment. Take his latest wife for example: one day he hadn’t been able to handle being “caged” any longer so he’d told her that he was going to the shop for a packet of fags. He never went back. She was a Welsh ballet dancer he told me, absolutely gorgeous, fantastic in bed, the only downside was that her tits were too small. Big tits get in the way of ballet he’d explained like a wise guru imparting his life-learnt wisdom to a devoted disciple. He still missed her in some ways, he confided, but those ways were all purely connected with sex, not the relationship side of things. Simon’s idea of paradise was a place full of beautiful women, ballet dancers but with bigger breasts perhaps, eager for sex with him but not wishing to stick around afterwards. That’s why he’d ridden his motorbike across Europe and settled in Kavos, the party resort on Corfu. It was close to perfect for him; he could sit around all day tinkering with bikes, (he worked in a moped rental place), and drinking frappé whilst at night he screwed horny tourists who then left after a fortnight. Even this paradise though, had its imperfections for Simon; he’d got involved with a Greek girl which had caused him to have to leave town for a while when her brothers and cousins found out and then he’d got entangled with a holiday rep who, rather annoyingly, stuck around. What’s more, the season ended in October, after which there was neither work nor women to be found. And that is why he was on the kibbutz.

And there was another thing about Simon: he hated religion. He liked Israel because they didn’t celebrate Christmas there. However, for a man who wanted to escape the Almighty, he had one massive problem: with his long brown hair and beard, he was the spit of Jesus Christ. He was continually accosted by people pointing out that he looked like that famous Galilean carpenter. And being in the desert wilderness of the Holy Land only exacerbated matters. Perhaps the scariest moment of my life came when, after a night of drinking around the bonfire and in the disco, I woke up in the dead of night in my room to a sight that caused me to reach for the Rosary. In my half-compos state I realised that there I was in the Holy Land and there in the next bed to me, fast asleep, was the Messiah! Please God, forgive me! I’ve not been that bad, honest! Of course it was only a second or two before I realised that it was actually Simon not Saviour snoring away, but by God, they were the most terrifying seconds of my life!

Oh yes, and one more fact about Simon. He could belch like a real man. Deep throaty belches on demand. He could belch “Yabadabadoo malaka!”[1] in one go. Trust me, for a guy that is an achievement to be remembered by.

016Simon and I in the dining room, a year after and he was back to miss another Christmas

The other volunteers were a similarly disparate lot with more than a few eccentrics amongst them. There were, of course, too many to list individually, but here are a few of the more interesting/important ones:

Elton and Adrienne. Revivim was unusual in that it was one of only two kibbutzim in the country that took in volunteers over the age of 35. Elton and Adrienne fell into that category. They were a Kiwi couple in their fifties who had spent the previous year travelling around Europe in a big red camper van. They stuck around longer than most and because of their age and amicability, integrated more with the kibbutzniks than the other volunteers. After I returned to the UK they rolled up one day and I showed them the highlights of North Staffordshire. Several years later I rolled up in New Zealand and they returned the favour. We are still in contact.

1914208_1212622242487_4751140_nLeft to right: Me, Elton, Adrienne, Bela and Simeon

Heather from Bury was assumed by everyone to be about twenty because of how she looked and acted, but in fact she was a full six years older, (which is a lot when you’re in your twenties). She’d settled down young with a guy and a mortgage but then found that such a life really wasn’t for her so she’d become a Eurocamp rep in France and then gone kibbutz volunteering. When I later went to live in Leeds she became a regular drinking buddy. We are still in touch.

Jacob and Christina were a young Danish couple who were extremely friendly and polite. If all Danish women look like Christina, then I want to live there. We are still in touch but they are no longer together.

Hank was a rather strange American Jew who was obsessed with all things military. He had wanted to join the US Army but they’d declared him unfit so he’d moved to Israel to join the IDF. They didn’t want him either. After careful analysis, he’d worked out that the Syrians were going to attack the Golan Heights that spring and he wanted to be there for “a piece of the action”. He was thrown off the kibbutz for getting into a fight with some Russians after he’d called them “Evil Commie Bastards”. The Syrians never attacked.

Long John Silver was a tall Englishman named John who would get into long, deep conversations with people and then stop mid-sentence and leave. More disconcerting however, was when he would then resume the same conversation, mid-sentence, several weeks later.

clip_image006clip_image008Long John Silver (left) and Diane

Diane was a Kiwi in her forties who was friendly with Simon. She was easy-going and chatty and it was all good until the inevitable happened regards Simon and women. After that he couldn’t cope with the fact that she still liked him and was sticking around, and being his roommate it got to be a pain.

George was a young Mancunian who had been diagnosed as an alcoholic and had gone to Israel to get over his drink problem. Gaby roomed him with the two biggest drinkers on the kibbutz and several weeks later he was thrown off the kibbutz for drinking to excess. Last I heard of him was in 1999 when Heather visited him in a mental hospital near Rochdale.

Carol was English and miserable. She’d volunteered on Revivim several years previously and it had been brilliant. Now it just wasn’t the same. She propped up the bar with Simon every Friday night.

10399517_1213164656047_1967622_nIn the Moadon. Left to right: Finnish guy, De, Unknown, Heather, Jacob, Carol, Maja, Nikki, Michael (South African)

Monica was Swiss and a real traveller. We were all far too young and fake; she was the real deal. She was also extremely arrogant and never shaved her legs because, “Those hairs are a part of me.” Not that she’d have been attractive if she had mind.

Andrew was another real traveller but he didn’t wear that on his shoulder. He was serious and Kiwi and had come to Israel after several months dishwashing in London and then traipsing across Central Africa. I went to visit him in Auckland in 2001 but lost contact after that.

clip_image012clip_image014Andrew (in New Zealand) and Weird Sam (in her own little world)

Weird Sam was, as her name suggests, weird. She came one day and all the male volunteers thought, ‘Hmm, when she showers, combs her hair and puts on some clean clothes, she’ll be hot.’ Problem was, for an entire month she never did any of the above. Also she was a hard-core Evangelical Christian. Wrong place, love.

Victor and Maria were a lovely young Swedish couple who, with black hair and tanned skin, looked distinctly un-Swedish. He had an excuse; he had Moroccan heritage, but she was wholly Swede, so dunno how that happened. Victor’s claim to fame was that he’d once gone to a party in a posh house in Stockholm and got so drunk that he’d thrown up in the toilet. Looking up he saw a picture of the Queen of Sweden on the wall. “Who on earth has a picture of the queen in their toilet?” he’d asked out loud. “I do,” replied the prince whose house it was.

revivim25Victor and Maria in the Date Palms

Ulrich was a German who always wore a shirt even when shovelling shit in the chicken sheds. He also continually apologised for the Holocaust to anyone who’d listen. No one did listen though, so he apologised all the more.

Nikki and De were two English girls who arrived with Heather. Nikki never spoke much, just jogged around a lot in lycra outfits which was good since she had a nice figure. De also had a nice figure but she jogged less and, unlike Nikki, was not weird and you could have a decent conversation with her. We kept in touch and went camping once in Shropshire with Heather and some mates of mine from school.

Philippe was German Swiss and a drinker. Gaby roomed him with George. He sported a moustache that made him look like a real Musketeer.

10399517_1222212802245_7406004_nParty in Beverly Hills. Left to right: Michael, Philippe, Unknown, Heather, De, Ulrich

Next part: Reminders of Troubled Times

[1] ‘Malaka’, the Greek term for someone who enjoys masturbation.

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