Not a Watered-down Romance for This Irrigation Expert

Lauren returns from Paris; a special treat awaits these hikers high in the Kyrgyzstan mountains.

Tomer Appelbaum

Lauren Shlomo, 26, lives in Tel Aviv; Aviram Johnson, 32, lives in Ashdod; Lauren is arriving from Paris

Hello, can I bother you for a minute?

Aviram: Yes.

Lauren: No. I mean, I have to finish a phone call.

We’ll wait. We haven’t seen such a romantic kiss for a long time.

Lauren: Okay, I’m with you.

What did you do in Paris?

I visited my mother, my family. I immigrated to Israel five years ago. I love Israel. There’s sun here, and nice guys.

With the Gaza war, are your parents happy you are here?

Lauren: During the war I spoke with my mother every day – my father lives in Netanya. My mother is happy now; she sees that I’m getting along. When I first got here, I didn’t know why I’d come. It was a bit hard. I visited here every summer, but I didn’t know how I would manage.

Aviram: And now she is studying veterinary medicine in Rehovot.

How do you know each other?

Lauren: We met through my roommate.

Aviram: We saw each other once, before the faculty [of agriculture] party, but she didn’t have time for me then.

Lauren: He called afterward, but I was with someone else.

Aviram: I waited about a month, and called again.

Lauren: In the end I told him okay, fine.

Aviram: We went on a picnic at the Yarkon [River, in Tel Aviv].

It sounds both romantic and French.

Lauren: We ate cheese and drank wine, and even brought bikes.

Aviram: I brought mine all the way from Rehovot.

What are you studying there?

Aviram: I finished an M.A. in environmental quality, more specifically the effect of irrigation with secondary effluents on soil enzymes.

What did you discover?

Aviram: As in other research, we found that there is an influence, and that more investigation is needed. It’s hard to explain. I can tell you more about a visit I made not long ago to Africa via the faculty as part of IsraAid.

What did you do there?

Aviram: I spent three months in a refugee camp, teaching refugees and other local people skills involving managing water resources and handling water. The goal of the project, of course, is to teach them so they can teach others.

What do you mean by handling water?

Aviram: How to filter, how to do a quality check, how to find out if the water is good enough to drink. And also resource management: how to decide which water goes for farming or for the home.

Is there a water shortage in the area you were sent to?

Aviram: I was in the Turkana district, in Kenya. We found very large underground reserves there, and wells are being dug, but not at a fast pace. It’s a very poor district and government investment there is very low. We arrived just after the civil war in South Sudan resumed.

How long has the camp you visited been around? How big is it?

Aviram: The camp has existed for 22 years and has a population of 170,000 people – and, unfortunately, it just keeps growing. It ranges from tents to stone homes with tin roofs and fences made of vegetation. It’s really a very large town. There are refugees from 15 different countries. They are not allowed to move around in Kenya or to work. They can only do business inside the camp.

Such as what?

Aviram: Some people provide services, like buying a generator and selling electricity. The camp itself is not attached to a power grid.

Where did you sleep?

In the volunteers’ compound. The compound is guarded, and volunteers cannot enter after 6 P.M.

Is it dangerous?

Aviram: There’s crime. There were murders. Overall, people are calm and live together, but there are tribal wars in Kenya that can spill over into the camp, and people sometimes settle old scores.

Scary.

Lauren: And I actually encouraged him to go. I thought he would see animals.

Aviram: The number of wild animals I saw is approximately two: a monkey, somewhere in the desert, and a zebra near the airport.

Were you able to keep in touch?

Aviram: I was very lonely there. You could phone only every once in a while, there wasn’t always a line.

Lauren: Skyping wasn’t so simple, either.

Aviram: There was a battle to get Internet with a band broad enough for Skype. You had to butter up someone to give you a password. Only the rich organizations have Wi-Fi.

Liam Shefer, 19, from Kibbutz Mishmar Hasharon; Nitsan Meromi, 20, from Atzmon, a Galilee community; Snir Keidar, 19, from Kibbutz Ein Zivan, Golan Heights; and Omer Sirota, 19, from Kibbutz Ga’ash, south of Netanya; flying to Istanbul

Hello, can I ask where you’re going?

Nitsan: To Kyrgyzstan for a month, via Istanbul.

Why Kyrgyzstan?

Nitsan: We have friends there and saw photos. The nature there is fantastic, everything is more intense. Lakes, ice, vistas. I think Kyrgyzstan is now starting to take off as a place for backpackers and for jeep tours. More and more Israelis are going there. The cost of living is very low.

How will you tour?

Nitsan: On two feet.

Liam: Everything on our backs.

Snir: Tents.

Nitsan: We have plans for treks, partly in the mountains.

What’s the major attraction?

Nitsan: There’s a walnut forest.

Snir: Enough, that’s the most useless thing there is.

Nitsan: At the end of the first trek, high up and in snow, we’ll get to a place where there are hot-water springs. We will also go to Song Kol Lake, a very high, very green place.

Omer: We’ll be on the mountain plateaus, at an altitude of 3,000 meters. There’s a broad meadow around the lake. We’ll circle it on horseback and sleep in homes of local tribes along the way.

How do you organize something like that?

Nitsan: Guys who were there told us to take their picture along and knock on the door. They don’t speak Hebrew or English. But if you knock, they’ll put you up.

Omer: They are very hospitable, like the Bedouin. They’re nomads, they move about with the flocks, Russians with slanted eyes who believe in Allah.

If they’re Muslims, should you fly with a T-shirt in Hebrew?

Snir: We’ll change. Just yesterday we finished a year of volunteer community service.

Congratulations.

Snir: We were on a camel trek, we packed the room up and came here.

Nitsan: We wanted to do something special at the end, before entering the army.

What did you do?

Nitsan: We were in a group in Nitzana [near the Egyptian border] through the kibbutz movement. I was an instructor at a boarding school for Eritrean asylum seekers aged 14 to 18. There are about 17 groups like that. There used to be 50, but some became adults and left to find work; no new ones are arriving since the fence along the Egyptian border was built.

Do they come on their own?

Nitsan: Sometimes they make contact in Israel with people they met along the way, but usually they don’t have family here. In the boarding school there are activities. They learn Hebrew and I tried to learn Tigrinya.

How did it go?

Nitsan: Not well.

Snir: I was a tour guide in the Negev.

Whom did you guide?

Snir: Whoever came to Nitzana [educational youth village], from foreign delegations to high schoolers.

Omer: Me, too. We don’t have much experience compared to an experienced guide, but when 10th-graders show up, the interaction is better.

Snir: A guide can be influential, sow seeds.

Seeds of what?

Snir: Love of the land. Each guide imparts different things, according to his own understanding: friendship, teamwork, respect for nature.

Nitsan: For example, you can talk about the boarding school in the context of how to accept people who are different, without getting into politics.

Omer: At one point, high schoolers on their annual outing are tutored in social involvement, in how to move from thinking to activism.

How does it work?

Omer: The instructor reads out statements on social or ecological subjects, and each student has two small signs: “I care” and “I don’t care.” For example, I read the statement, “Some families don’t have food to eat.” Everyone holds up a sign and starts talking. There are eight statements and two rounds.

What happens in the second?

Omer: They have to vote “Reacting” or “Not reacting.” Generally we find that there are many cases in which people care but don’t react, don’t do anything.Why was it important for you to do a year of volunteer service?

Snir: It’s for the good of the country.

Omer: After 12 years in school, we want to give something back in return. It’s a one-time opportunity to give and also to receive.