Yuval turns up in his beatup, once navy blue Japanese wreck of a car.
Sleeping bags are in the boot and a bottle of water is on the floor. First stop is Modi’in, the music is playing the whole way through his ipod and a pair of speakers. The sun is drenching us in heat as we sail down an empty road towards Israel’s brand spanking new, booming, planned city.
We arrive as families are out on the streets on their way to shul to bring in the shabbos bride. There is green everywhere and suburbia has truly arrived in Israel in the form of a planned city that has a mall, a train station and helluva lot of brand spanking new families looking for their slice of the white picket fence dream that comes straight out of the USA.
Modi’in will always be famous for the fact that it is the home of Haim Goslan, the man who is the reason Yuval and I have delayed our odyssey South. We arrive at his apartment and are greeted by a string of people on their way to shul, again reminding me of the reason that I’ll probably never live here.
Bounding up the stairs Yuval insists that we leave quickly as we’re late though I more forcefully insist that it would be rude to leave without playing at least one song on Guitar Hero. Haim picks up the guitar and I the drum sticks and we start to rock out. An hour later and now it’s Haim on the drums and Yuval on the guitar and we agree it’s probably time to leave. We have an 90 minute journey ahead of us and we’re already 2 hours late to the bachelor party of one Oren Druker of Orev Tzanhanim fame.
The journey begins with the quest for a cash machine in a city that is locked down for Shabbat. Eventually we come across one and we are good to go. I sit in the front passenger seat of Haim’s car grinning from ear to ear that I, along with my 2 best friends, am travelling towards a bachelor party that is being held in a field in the dust that lies at the northern end of the Negev. Haim turns onto route 4 and there isn’t a traffic jam in sight as we spiral ever further South, past Rishon Lezion and on past Yavne towards Yad Mordechai and the Gaza border.
Light turns to dark and lamp posts give way to Cats Eyes as the shiny new subaru owned by Haim carries us further towards our destination which lies near to Moshav Dekel, closer to the Gaza border and is where Druker, the groom and the reason we have made the trip is waiting for us alongside the rest of Orev Paratroopers team August 2002 and another 10 guys, good friends of his coming together in the middle of nowhere to celebrate his last gasp of single life.
The signs are all pointing to Gaza, the Erez crossing and Rafah as we drive past Yad Mordechai. Buildings have long since given way to fields and we turn off the road when we see the landmark which is an antenna. Driving through the dirt track of a field close to Gaza we keep driving, kicking up a mass of dust in our wake. Yuval points out that we are driving in one of the fields that the Grads and Qassams keep landing in.
The pitch black on either side gives way to the flickering of a bonfire off to our left, we follow the path and arrive in an area that has been all set up for a party. The boys step out of the shadows to greet us. Only one person comes later than us and everyone is already there enjoying beef brought down from the Golan and lamb from somewhere around Tekoa. Druker is a classic outdoors man, he loves messing around with mechanical equipment, hunting and tracking he works with animals for a living.
His friends are of the same ilk and had rigged up a portable generator, a kiln, bonfire and mattresses and had set up a shaded canopy in preparation for the next day, there was booze aplenty and food to feed an army. We sat with each other and traded stories of our lives as we do each time we meet. Aviv’s new wife is newly pregnant, Elad is worrying about his brand new mortgage and everyone keeps asking me when the book is going to be ready and how big a part they play in it.
Soon the guitars come out, Netanel and Iddo are playing all of the old camp fire songs and Aviv has his harmonica ready, Sofer taps the little drums Yuval brought with him, everyone’s having a sing along interspersed with shots of vodka and toasts to the groom to be. The food keeps coming, Druker’s moshav friends have a figurative conveyor belt of delicacies that they send through to us. The fire is going strong. Sahar has prepared a question and answer session for Druker on things his fiance said of him and turns what should have been a game lasting minutes into an hour long session by unsuccessfully attempting to silence the knots of people having their own conversations and joking with each other.
The game ends and the water pipes come out, huge multi pipe ones that would be more at home in the palace of a sultan of the Ottoman Empire, the coals that light them come straight from the bonfire. One by one the revellers fall down and stop talking, the drink and other things have taken their toll. Druker whips up coffee and those of us still awake sit around the fire sipping it out of small glass cups. I decide to hit the sack and move towards the car, almost tripping over an unconscious Yuval as I go. Druker turns off the generator signalling bedtime for all. I grab mine and Yuval’s sleeping bags from the car and drape one over him as I find my own spot under the stars.
It’s the first time in 7 years that I have slept out in the open and I have forgotten just how spectacular the view of the universe is when there is no other light to obscure it. I deliciously take in the stars, planets and galaxies above me revelling in the gift that is the vision of the universe before me. A shooting star bursts across the heavens, then another, then a star moves across the sky. I follow it with my eyes as all the others disappear. The darkness gives way to light, and the light gives way to dark.
I awake around 6:00 to the sight of a bunch of guys adding water to flour to make dough and then adding jam to the stretched out dough before rolling it up, sticking it in silver foil and burying the jammy dough deep into the embers of the still glowing fire. There are flies everywhere, feasting on the bits and pieces left over from the night before. The newly baked bread is pulled out of the fire. Labane with olive oil and Zattar quickly joins it alongside freshly made pittot. The breakfast feast begins amid some snap crackle and pop coming from Gaza.
The sun really hits me around 9 and it’s time to get moving. We come together to clean up, plastic bottles are collected and placed alongside the empty beer bottles for recycling, water melon is chopped up and distributed as we go. Water to all, all the time, I have forgotten my hat, seems all this time away has made me sloppy. With everything packed up we say our goodbyes, knowing that we will back in the same place on Thursday for the wedding.
We drive back, through the fields and up the interior of my adopted country. I fall asleep in the back and dream of star filled skies and an endless desert. One day I’ll walk the length of this country and write about all that I see but for now I will have to content myself with a single night in the desert.