A couple of months ago, I wandered through the streets of Be’er Sheva in the evening. In many ways, this city reminds me of American cities in the southwest such as Phoenix or Albuquerque. Big blocks of cement in the middle of a desert, where you would expect a group of people of at most a few hundred members to be able to survive. Yet hundreds of thousands do. Where does the water come from? I have noticed Israelis like to call every ditch where a little bit of water might flow through two or three months in the year a river. Say what you will about the Dutch and our boring, flat country. We know a river when we see one and Nahal Be’er Sheva ain’t one.
You can only wander around in a warm place like this before you start asking yourself hypothetical questions like “does water float?” When this starts to happen, you inevitably start to get thirsty. I ended up entering a bar where they played some live music. A guy was half singing, half mumbling his lines while accompanied by a guitarist. Even though the bar had maybe fifteen people in it, he performed as if he was the closing act of Woodstock. I assumed one or two mood enhancing substances helped to bolster his performance. I ended up in a conversation with him and he introduced himself as Yaki. Yaki did not look like your average Israeli. He was very slender, almost underfed, and had long hair. He invited me to join him on a day trip to Israel’s holiest place, a little part of the Negev desert called the Ada canyon. I was to meet Yaki in some parking lot in the Gimmel neighborhood of Be’er Sheva the following day with a few bottles of water and a six-pack of Goldstar. He would take care of the rest.
The next morning, I waited at the parking lot for a couple of minutes when I heard the approaching sound of a Van Morrison song, followed by a shabby, rusty car appearing from around the corner. Off we drove, south on road forty. Yaki started telling a story about a childhood memory on this road. When he was four years old, his family drove on this same road a few miles to the south. A truck had flipped over on the side of the road and sitting beside it were a couple of injured Bedouins. One of them was crying. I started thinking of my own memories from the age of four and wondered how a child that young could remember such a detailed event. But I wasn’t going to press the issue, the whole accident seemed to have upset him as a child and I think it caused a lasting impression.
There is undeniably some kind of divinity at the Ada canyon. Or it may have been other stimulants, such as the hot sun burning on your head. Either way, we made the offering of two of our Goldstars to the desert god and prayed for a large sandstorm to appear and carry away that oddly placed McDonalds under the Avdat ruins. This beautiful, rocky, dry desert is no place for burgers and milkshakes.