Saturday, May 24, 2003


1. Not having to ask if something is vegetarian
2. The coffee is pre-mixed
3. Not having to listen to the traffic lights
4. Discovering that my nose works after all
5. Riding a bike!
6. Overhearing conversations and actually able to understand what theyre saying.
7. 'Baby' cigarettes

Wednesday, May 21, 2003

my itinerary

21st May: Sede Boqer-Ber Sheva-Tel Aviv-Amman (jordan)
22nd May: Amman-Bombay-Bangalore (~10 AM)

Tuesday, May 20, 2003

A nice (and detailed) article on ancient Indian astronomy, star names and their identity.


Today, or rather tonight , the Israeli nation celebrated Lag-baomer with bonfires and barbeques. In Sede Boqer, the MASHAV people and a few students gathered on the cliffside, just along the Wadi Zin to light our own fire. But it turned out that the cliff side was a rather popular place for such fiery activities tonight. I went there after darkness had already fallen, and as I headed past the few buildings onto the open field, all I could see in the dark was these fires burning all over the place. Looked quite a bit surreal. It was easy to spot our group: all the other fires had hebrew voices. Since the mashav people come from so many countries, all kinds of accents floated through the night.. I joined them for an hour or so, and various songs in various tongues were sung. It was good to sit under the stars and watch the fire. And listening to songs intermixed with the chatter of a dozen languages.

Sunday, May 18, 2003

The day starts ominously. Alarm fails to trigger my consciousness. But something else does. I wake half an hour after the scheduled departure time. I make my first coffee with curdled milk. Realize it just before drinking it. Then the key refuses to function. Am effectively locked in. Desperation. I have to leave through the window. Lucky it's too early in the day for anybody to notice my undignified exit. Head down to the Arava, and it's the same story as last week (see previous post). There go my experiments. Now everything is shelved till I return from India. This day is the latest in a string of mishaps. Plans not working as...well, planned.

Two days back I decided to go to Jerusalem for a shopping bout. This is probably the millionth time I've been planning to go to the Holy City, but all in vain. Some forcefield round the city always cosmically interferes with my travel plans. This time, it was the bus. I went to Rehovot, stayed overnight at Joseline's wonderful new home. It's quite a difference from the usual characterless apartments that infest Rehovot. She's sharing it with a roommate, and the house is ultra nice. It has a yard (albeit overrun with plants) and excellent ambience. I liked the chaotic wild growth in the yard, almost like a planned disorder. The cats really like it, and I suppose through their eyes, it's a wonderful practice ground for all their stalking and pretending to be BIG cats. Anyway the plan was to catch a bus in the morning to Jerusalem, but like I said, fate intervened. We missed the bus by approximately 1 min. It was too late to take the next bus; otherwise I wouldn't have made it back to Sede Boqer before Sabbath fell. (to which I will devote a whole rant sometime). So we (J, J's friend Marcos and me) decided to go to Jaffa instead, which turned out to be a good deal after all, because it was much closer and you get the same touristy stuff there as well. Jaffa is a really beautiful part of Tel-Aviv and like every other place in Israel; it has tons of historical baggage. I couldn't stay there for very long, and so scooted out of there catching the last buses all the way back to the campus. All-in all, it was a welcome break from the mindless shuttling between lab and home.

Sunday, May 11, 2003

them spiders, they gone

I went to my field site in the Arava again after a month or so. They were there then, these spiders that I depend on for my livelihood. They were fine. The colonies were blooming. Spring was in the air. Everything was just ..peachy. This time: disaster. All the colonies had suffered a drastic reduction in number. I should mention here that I have two sites- one where I just observe and another where I collect spiders for experiments in Sede Boqer. The collection site is also known as the garbage site, because its right next to a massive garbage dump. Such is my work environment. Such is life. The garbage site had one of the largest colonies in the whole area. And now. Nothing. Nothing. A few stragglers here and there. All that could leave, leave. Ones who stay no build webs. Maybe. No webs. Forgive me, it’s a pain I no longer can bear. Where have they gone? Why did they leave me? After I was so good to them. I used to talk to them. I was their shepherd. I always used to defend them when people cursed them. Now it’s all over. My boss say they will come back- there must be heat wave, a khamseen or something. Maybe they’re even hiding somewhere where I can’t see them. Let it be true. As of now, all ruined, experiments all ruined. I go home without completing experiment. No use. The trees- silent. No know to do what. But wait, wait wait. Always wait. En una copa de vino qusiera tomar veneno.

translation here

Monday, May 05, 2003

Wisdom of the Grasshoppers

or Zen and the Art of Grasshopper maintenance

As part of my official lab duties, I am one of the Keepers of the Grasshoppers. Ours is a spider lab: and at any given time there are hundreds of spiders in the midst of experiments. Most of these spiders are Stegodyphus lineatus.
These spiders need to be fed. Because spiders eat live prey, we maintain a series of prey items. We use Grasshoppers, Crickets and Drosophila flies to feed the spiders. I am one of the three in charge of the Grasshoppers, the other two being Alex and Michal. Over the last one and a half year I have grown accustomed to feeding the Grasshoppers and maintaining the cages etc. We have 5 cages for Grasshoppers: 2 juveniles, 1 sub-adult, 1 Adult,1 breeders. Because the spiders are rather small, they cannot handle large Grasshoppers and hence we feed them with Juveniles only. My duties involve cutting grass from the campus, putting grass in cages, transferring the Chosen Ones- the individuals that go on to become the Breeders and once a week, cleaning the cages and transferring the Egg-laying containers for the Juveniles to hatch. The following is a set of 9 benefits of Grasshopper Maintenance, which will help you to attain Zen-like enlightenment.

1.Humility: Nothing teaches you humility better than the realization that you are cleaning out Grasshopper Shit. There is a famous episode in Indian History wherein Mahatma Gandhi taught humility to his wife Kasturba by forcing her to clean out toilet bowls (forbidden to Brahmins). Well this is one step higher.

2.Cycles: You learn to appreciate cycles in nature. Things are born, they grow, the lucky ones are transferred, they mate, they lay eggs, and they die. It is all part of the Karmic worldview.

3.Freedom is Illusory: Famously known as the Maya principle by the ancient Hindu sages, the fact that Grasshoppers live their entire life cycle, generations after generations within the cages show you that all existence is illusory. You may think that life is good: free food, free sex and good company, but true freedom lies outside the confines of the glass cages.

4.Humans can get used to anything (or This Too Shall Pass): When I came into the lab, every time I had to feed the Grasshoppers I had an allergic attack. But with time, this too faded away and now I can do the treatment without a face mask. With time, everything becomes tolerable and everything ends.

5.Awareness of the surroundings: I live in a small campus. But even in this small bubble, I know people who have not ventured out beyond the usual commute from home to office. But because of the Grasshoppers I have been forced to avoid this monotonous fate. In order to cut grass, I need to find grass. For this, I needed to roam all over the campus, discovering so many pleasant things and places that would be invisible to the normal desert dwelling sedeboquerian. I also realize the passing of the seasons, the times when grass is plentiful and times when they are not.

6.Responsibility: The knowledge that several hundred creatures depend upon you for their food and that several hundred spiders depend upon these for their food brings responsibility and a profound respect for living beings. Even a single juvenile that has escaped the cage for the nth time is important in the grand scheme of things.

7.Small changes have profound consequences: A different grass species can bring death in its wake. Forgetting to water the anti-ant guard can result in an invasion. The system is sensitive and reacts like a living being. A butterfly flapping its wings in the Pacific can bring about a hurricane in the Atlantic.

8.Respect: So they eat their siblings, they eat their dead siblings, they have orgies like never before seen by human eye, so they mate with dead females…so what. Respect other cultures. Never mind if you occasionally find heads lying among the grass. Its part of their culture. You are just the keeper, the god outside the machine.

9.Team Work: No man is an island. The Grasshoppers are maintained only due to the work you put in, and the work of others. Good communication is vital. Row together and you will reach your destination. Row alone and you upset the boat.

Friday, May 02, 2003

the bubble gets pricked

Living in sede boqer is like living in a bubble. We are so far from the rest of Israel that nothing seems to affect us. The nearest town ie Be'er sheva is 40 km away (also the nearest pub i must add). A recent terrorist attack in tel-aviv hardly caused a ripple in the day to day life of desert dwelling sedeboqerians. I even know people who went to tel-aviv only twice in two years: once when they came and once when they left. So it was rather suprising that the general strike called by the unions all over israel had such an impact on sede boqer. The biggest crisis was due to the MASHAV course. The israeli foreign ministry organises various short term training courses in different disciplines every year for foreign students and the ecology course is held in sede boqer. This year the mashav was supposed to start tomorrow, and hence people from all over the world were travelling to israel. Now because of the strike, the airlines stopped flying to israel and consequently several students were stranded in various transit countries wondering what to do. A friend of Felix's, from Peru was stuck in Frankfurt and they were threatening to send her back because she did not have a visa for Germany. Luckily the strike is ebbing and now there is only a partial strike. Airlines have resumed flying and people should start arriving any day now.

In other news, Jaime is leaving soon, back to Colombia, and we had a farewell party. It was a crazy latin american dance trip that went on till 3 am. For sure all the neighbours will ostracize us for years to come. If not for the loud music then atleast for the drunken singing.