Friday, September 06, 2013

Late November/December 1973: my gap year, part 4

Before the programme started, we were told that the year would roughly be broken into three parts:
  1. Introduction and learning Hebrew (3 months) - Bet Ha'emek
  2. Seminars (2 months) - Jerusalem, Haifa
  3. Work period (5 months) - Bet Ha'emek
By the end of November 1973, we were approaching the end of the first period. Despite the chilly national mood, we decided to put on a show for the kibbutz, to show our thanks for their hospitality over the past few months and possibly even to bring a smile to some faces.

I don't remember having very much to do with this show. Along with one other person, I worked up an arrangement of Simon and Garfunkel's song America; I had never heard the original and learnt the song from my co-performer. After the rest of the group heard our arrangement, it was decided that a few others would appear with us, bolstering the singing (I wasn't singing at all).

Presumably the evening went down well. The following night, I was having tea with the adopted family of one of my room mates; the conversation was mainly a post mortem about the show. After a while, my room mate left, but for some reason, I stayed. The father of this family was the manager of the hatchery, and presumably I wanted to take this opportunity to discover why I wasn't being allowed to work there.

The answer was unlike picking oranges or collecting eggs, working in the hatchery required a certain amount of training, and at the time, they didn't have the work power to allow this (the 'work boss' had been conscripted into the reserve army and wouldn't return for another few months). I asked how we could get around this, and it was suggested that I turn up for work every day: on the days when I had Hebrew studies, I would work for two hours before breakfast then continue to learn Hebrew. On my work days, I would work however long was needed, and not let off early because I was part of the group. I agreed to these terms.

That same evening, our work organiser was extremely surprised - and possibly happy for me - when he told me that I was working in the hatchery the next day. This arrangement lasted for about two weeks, which was the time left to us before we went to Jerusalem. In those two weeks, I learnt a certain amount about how the hatchery worked and about the life cycle of chicken embryos. I probably spent no small amount of time making cardboard boxes in which the newly hatched chicks would be placed, but I also got to take part in the other main activities.

The gestation period of a chicken is three weeks and the hatchery worked on a three day cycle: one day would be "incoming", one day would be "transferring" and one day would be "outgoing". So even after two weeks, I was able to go through a few cycles. The eggs would arrive on day one, they would be cleaned, placed on trays then stored in an incubator. After a certain number of days (I don't remember everything!), we would take those trays out of the incubator and invert the eggs.

On day 21, the chicks would begin hatching; we would take the trays out of the incubator and place them in front of selectors, who were able to determine the sex of newly hatched chicks. All the chicks were placed in front of the selectors; the males ended up on one side of the selectors with the females on the other side. Chicken runs growing chickens for meat would keep the chicks segregated, so it was important to determine the sex. 

Such hatching days would be very long; after all the chicks had been sorted, we had to clean the rooms thoroughly to ensure that there would be no chance of contamination between different batches of chicks. On hatching days, we would start work at 4am and finish whenever, whereas other days would start at 6am and normally finish at 3pm. Some times, the hatching day would include some of the following day's activities, meaning that there could be one long day followed by a short day. In 1975, there was a day when I worked 14 hours (I came back to my room and fell asleep fully clothed) but the following day, I worked only three hours.

I remember that one day in this period, we walked to the neighbouring Arab village of Abu Snan to meet with one of the village elders. As I had already been up and working for a few hours, I actually dozed off during this meeting.

In the second week of December 1973, we finished the first stage of our year and prepared to move to Jerusalem. At this stage, we said goodbye to one of our members: a girl a year older than me. For reasons which weren't stated clearly at the time - "incompatibility" was the general explanation, I think - she had decided (or maybe it had been decided for her) to return to Britain. I think that I was one of the few that missed her, as we had been quite friendly and often spent time together. I think that we had met for the first time in the summer of 1970, when I attended the 'wrong' summer camp; we met every now and then (I even spent a few days at her house at some stage) and then we spent three months together in 1973, as friends. Such is the way of the world - especially the Habonim world - that once someone left, they were never seen again. So forty years late, goodbye Lesley.

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