Just returned from our winter-break/ holiday expedition. A short 5 day hike through the Israeli Arava region, amidst the mild Mediterranean winter. The group I led was compact and tight, with three staff and three teens. We love the one-on-one ratio and intensity, as we weave in and out of involvement, allowing our teens some independent time together as a team. In such small groups, there are fewer chances to fall back and not contribute to the food and shelter preparations. Aaron, our youngest, at the age of 14, was allowed a little more leeway by his peers as they carried some of his share of weight. It seemed that with his learning disabilities and baby-face look, he was able to get away with a lot in his life and needed a serious boost to his sense of competence and endurance. Tim, on the other hand, was very independent and competent, only one year older than Aaron, he seemed ions ahead. Not a lot of what we physically did in the desert seemed new or difficult to him. He wasn’t tough by any means, just very self-reliant and seemingly lonely. He barely talked at first. Lastly, there was Guy, a high school graduate who is figuring out his next step in life, with much difficulty following through on decisions and goals. Definitely my kind of a group – small and diverse.
My colleagues and friends for this journey were Nili and Yasmin, a psychologist who graduated from Neropa, Bolder, Colorado, and an educator with years of experience working with various youth groups in Israel.
By the fourth day, we had already coped with some rain, day and night, building night shelters or simply sitting in a makeshift cover for lunch, Mediterranean cold nights at approximately 38 degrees, navigating through some lost paths and shortcuts, and very impressive food preparation. Aaron, while nearing a breaking point on the second day, seemed stronger and more determined than ever. He made a conscious decision to stop shortchanging himself. On the third night he insisted on building his own shelter and woke up surprisingly warm and appropriately happy. Tim and Guy connected on many levels. Somehow Tim found out that his vast interests and stored information can help him connect to many people. He discussed the intricacies of video games with Guy, Aaron, and even Yasmin, Yoga with Nili, desert wildlife with me, and star constellations with all of us. His help making fire and shelters was greatly appreciated by his peers. Guy simply and steadily was present with everything that transpired. While resistant, he managed to prepare an amazing meal for everyone on the third night, start to finish, and unintentionally he discovered the power he had by just being with someone. His effect on Tim was very noticeable and empowering for Tim, and once pointed out to Guy, it became empowering to him as well. While he had always claimed not to like “children” or bother to do something for others, his entire journey with us was filled with caring gestures and positive feedback.
The fourth day itself was special to all of us. As the trip was nearing its end, we slowly made our final and toughest physical climb up and trough a ridge. Guy picked a challenging course and pummeled through it all the way to the top, not stopping for a second. He had to wait for us for quite some time. Aaron seemed to hop from one rock to the next with no effort, despite the heavy backpack and blistered toe. Tim took the time to help whoever needed in figuring out the right path and making it to the top in one piece. The shouts of relief were quite audible once someone reached the top! We found a beautiful location for lunch and took out our rewards – tuna cans and beef jerkey we had saved for 4 days. It was a short hike from there to our final night camp. On the way there we played lead-the-blind and noticed the amount of trust and responsibility that was built in our group. Then we finally arrived to a dry but green mid-desert waterfall. Talk was halted as we descended to the bottom and picked out sleeping spot. After dinner and our day-close talk we separated and let the group be. For us the staff, it was a sweet sorrow, as this experience was nearing its end, having been so meaningful and full with wonders. We spent a couple more hours processing our thoughts and feelings before going to sleep for one more night under the open sky.
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