Happy New Year from Jerusalem!
By Minama Enos
When we arrived here in early August, it was summer. The temperatures were extremely high going up to 40oC. Right now it’s winter. The first few weeks were obviously challenging. The conditions were extremely harsh, even punitive, and for a minute you would have paused and asked yourself why you had come all this way from Kenya just to have a barbecue experience. But we got through in style, after all, we are products of the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology. If there’s one thing JKUAT does to you, it’s making you adaptable to all conditions anywhere in the globe. And for that much I forever remain indebted, and also very grateful to Arava International Centre for Agricultural Training for giving us this opportunity to undertake our internship in Israel.
From JKUAT we came here a total of 25 graduates, but we’ve since been able to meet, interact and co-exist with hundreds of other students from different parts of the world. As far as the interactions are concerned, I’ve come to learn and appreciate one thing; the importance of embracing diversity. In the place we stay, we are a conglomerate of different cultures, origins, backgrounds, countries and religion. We have Christians, Jews, Muslims and Atheists. We live together as one BIG community. A family. The place is a hotbed of cultures and everyone is accepted no matter your beliefs or practices.
Saying that this experience has been great would be an injustice to the truth. It has been breathtaking and priceless. We have learnt a lot. We attend classes once a week and work the remaining days. One very important thing in this place is that everything you do is hands on. It’s work, work, work. We learn various harvesting practices using machines, sorting, grading and packaging. Sometimes we do planting of dates, onions, capsicums, strawberry, tomatoes and many more horticultural crops. Matter of fact as at now, just half way through the scholarship, I can say that whatever we have learnt has surpassed my expectations.
Sometimes in class we are taught by farmers. Some of whom do not have degrees but, trust you me, they would give a PhD holder a run for his money. Their hands on experience is above board, and coupled with their vast experience, their classes are by far the most interesting. When you get the opportunity to be in their lectures, you don’t want the day to end, you will always want to be with them. Always yearning for more.
Now picture this, how does a group of more than 300 people decide to live together as one family and share everything? I mean everything! You don’t personally own a car; it belongs to everybody who is a member of the community. All of you eat in the dining room, you work in shifts, and share salaries equally among the members, all your children are taken care of from morning to 4 PM, school fees are paid for by the community. Amazing. This has been the strangest and most interesting thing so far that I’ve observed among the Israeli communities. The spirit of brotherhood and communal co-existence is as strange as it is intriguing and enviable.
In school we meet with students from Cambodia, Ethiopia, Thailand, Vietnam, Nepal, East Timor, Mynamar, Indonesia among others. We share a lot together and interacting and learning with them has been the greatest experience.
I would not have completely told the Israel experience if I don’t talk of the very reason that instigated our coming here in the first place. That’s the fact that agriculturally speaking, the Israelis have learnt to work with less to generate more, go against a presumably sealed fate to nurture their own agricultural Canaan. For one, they have turned the desert green. That’s something most countries are struggling with or unable to do. They have water in plenty. And I mean water in plenty, in a dessert! Pause and think about that. And from where I am standing, I can confidently say it’s no rocket science. Maybe it could do with the very long working hours they put? Yes, sometimes we work 14-15 hours a day!
But worry not for me, it’s not all work without play. Visiting some of the historical sites in Israel has been the most amazing experience. The Old City Jerusalem for instance is wonderful. For a Christian like me, the experience has been magical. When you are here everything is Biblical.
So what has been my greatest lesson and take aways this far? Anything is possible if we set out our agenda right. Israelis are doing incredibly well in farming yet they are in a desert. They are able to feed their people and export their farm produce all over the world. Why can’t we do the same when we have favorable climate in our country? As a country we still have a lot to learn and do in terms of food production and becoming food secure.
There are numerous opportunities in agriculture as a whole so long as our population keeps rising and our need for quality food increases. We have many opportunities in the field of agriculture, from production, value addition, all the way up to marketing. We need to curve our own niche because we will always need food. It is up to us to create jobs for our people. You need to give farmers the recognition they deserve because they feed the community.
Do we miss home already? Personally I don’t miss home. Though we are away from home, this place is home away from home. We are a family here. We have each other. I think this is the main reason we don’t miss home unless somebody is missing home chini ya maji. We are occupied most of the time with either work or classes so we scarcely have time to feel homesick. And the other main reason is that we are very busy coming up with solutions that will hopefully solve agricultural problems back home. Personally, I’m planning to create jobs when I get back, teach the upcoming farmers especially those in the village how to do farming in a more advanced way. I also plan to start my own farm. I have particular interest in growing tomatoes, onions, indigenous vegetables among other crops.
Since I have a word count to stick to, I have to pen off. But get this fact, Israel is a beautiful country; forget about what the media tells you. The country is full of different cultures. For this short period we have been here I got the opportunity to make new friends from all over the world. I now have friends in Israel, from London, Brazil, Sweden, USA, Mexico, Canada, Uzbeskistan, Thailand, Cambodia, Ethiopia and many other countries. The experience has been invaluable, and most of all, it has manifested the strength that comes from embracing diversity. I pray that we all may come to realize this basic fact irrespective of our tribes, languages, backgrounds or religion. As for now, from me and all the other JKUAT great minds we have here, we wish you a happy new year, or as it’s put in Israel, ‘Shana Tova!’
Cheers to good health, harmony, peace, love, unity and God’s abundant blessings!
The writer is a graduate of B.Sc. Horticulture and is among the 25 JKUAT students currently undertaking a scholarship in Israel. More details on the same can be found here.