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Published: February 1st 2012
I normally consider myself a hippy. I wear flowing, brightly colored clothing; I rarely shower or brush my hair; I give free hugs, and preach peace and love. But, when I’m in the presence of true hippies, it’s easy to see that I’m a different sort of hippy – one that shaves my armpits (even if it’s only once a week). This week, I joined a group of hairy-pitted, bare-footed, patchouli-scented hippies in a trek across northern Israel.
I heard about Wander Gatherers through a CS host and the idea instantly appealed to me. As I understood it, we were to wander through the wilderness for four days with nothing more than water and a sleeping bag, in search of whatever food Mother Nature had to offer. Cameras, phones, watches, and technological advances beyond a butter knife were prohibited. Touring mostly urban areas for the past few months, I looked forward to reconnecting with nature, and to lightening my spirit and my stomach.
As I quickly found out, there is no wilderness in Israel. Everywhere we wandered was no farther than a handful of kilometers from the nearest road. At night, the lights glowed orange from the nearby cities – and, across the river, bluish from the towns of Jordan. I had envisioned walking through the bush, struggling to find sustenance in the middle of winter. Instead, we wandered through orchards and cut fields, gathering fallen grapefruits and corncobs left behind from the harvest. It’s amazing how much food is left to rot. The 16 of us proved that humans are much more efficient reapers than machines.
Although there wasn't much food, I didn’t feel hungry. I even found myself turning down the occasionally proffered milkweed thistle. My body didn’t need it, and I actually listened to it. The little knots that appeared every now and then in my stomach reminded me that I was alive, and they were easily untied with a few white mustard flowers. After less than a day, my taste buds had been reset and everything that passed my lips exploded with flavor. Never had a spinach stem been so sweet, a green onion so spicy. Instead of searching for fulfillment through food, I found satisfaction in the love and beauty surrounding me. I have yet to find literature supporting his statement, but our leader claimed that vitamin B12 can be absorbed through hugs and, as such, part of our daily diet was giving/receiving at least eight hugs. Even if it did nothing for my vitamin levels, it did feel good.
In addition to its food-searching features, the trip also involved many soul-searching, group-building activities. Two months ago, I would’ve been hungry for this type of venture, but I’d just gone through the process of finding myself and I felt a bit silly asking the person next to me, “What separates us?” (Nothing) and, “What connects us?” (Everything). Luckily, I found Anat, or Anat found me – in either case, we found an accomplice in each other. Instead of agonizing over our personal problems, we wondered why there wasn’t any time set aside to listen to nature in silence. While the others sat in tear-jerking self-realization, we joked around and searched for sun-dried olives.
The next day, our wish for silence came true when we were instructed to pass the entire day without speaking. Used to walking alone, my train of thought ran its same, tired course. It made stops at the stations World’s Most Annoying Songs, Chocolate Croissants and Other Fine Pastries, and – my least favorite, but most frequented – Things I Should’ve Said but Didn’t. Lurking on the horizon, I saw the stop Enlightenment, but I couldn’t get the train off its circular track to approach it any nearer. Walking in silence in a group was a new experience for me and it made the laughter we shared all the more genuine.
That night, free to speak again, we completed an exercise on touch. We were instructed to lie together like spaghetti in a bowl, telling people, or moving their hands away, if their touch strayed too near a no-no zone. It neared on the induction ritual of a cult and it was a little too much for me. Like the bad girls in class, Anat and I sat in the corner and played ostrich. With our heads down, we hoped no one would see us in the dark. Occasionally, we’d look up to see a big ball of stroking bodies and blow our cover with a fit of laughter. I thought the picture could only be more complete if everyone was dressed up in big, furry animal outfits. There was something very weird about the whole thing. The next day, and not surprisingly, the leader told us that he was interested in exploring group love. Um, no thanks. When's the next bus outta here? In hindsight, I'm still happy that I went on the trip. It was a rich experience and I left feeling light and happy. But, I was happier to be home (read: Tifzi).
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