I went to the sea turtle center twice more over the past two weeks. And new experiences.
For week 2 I went on Thursday and met some regular volunteers there. Among the four coworkers, I spoke with Shir the most. She is a high school graduate and has been working here for a year now as her national service. On that day I realized the toughest work wasn’t touched at all during my first visit. Lettuce!
… I was happy to be invited to go on a trip to collect lettuce for our green turtles. Sat in the car, watching the fields, groves and clean handsome village houses of the nearby moshavim, we arrived at a vegetable company – but it was a big warehouse sort of, waste plastic bags and other materials piled randomly on a sandy ground. In front of the warehouse was a shady working area for their employees. There were two groups of workers, on one side were Muslim women and on the other were Asians. It seemed the two sides didn’t communicate at all. One curious Asian girl came up to me and asked me in English where I’m from and if I work or study here. I explained my turtle mission and learned these people are from Vietnam. Indeed, look at the conical Asian hat!
They cut the bad leaves away from the lettuce and washed it. And it is our mission to take in the bad leaves – bad in human eyes – and fill as many plastic bags as possible. It’s a piece of cake to bring a handful of leaves from right to left. But a hundred pieces of cake is quite a big thing. All the time I bent down and lifted up. The plastic bag was like a black hole, whenever I thought I finally fill it up, Shir would shake her head and violently give it a push – what power of compression that the bag was half empty again. Although dismayed, I kept going. I guess the efficiency ratio between Shir and I was 2 to 1. I was truly happy we didn’t have to continue after I collected three bags. But that was too early for celebration. What comes after loading the giant lettuce babies unto the car is of course, unloading them. Then we teared these bags open and released the lettuce into a metal cart, from there we had to transfer the lettuce again but into another white numbered bag and weigh according to the data on the daily sheet. I am going insane just by writing all these down. In short, everything about lettuce is labor intensive.
When I told the story to dad he laughed straight out. He said I had never done heavy physical work and now I got a taste of what it’s like. I sensed he must have been happy to hear that I ventured on this volunteering work. To a minor degree this reflected his days of youth, when he was forced by state policy as an intellectual to go to the field and work with peasants. It was hard physically and void intellectually. Nevertheless he was happy to live a democratic life in his small circle which actually resided in a most autocratic country.
On a different note, now that I think of it, perhaps we can simplify the procedure by weighing the lettuce in the original plastic bags. We should only take out some leaves if it exceeds the target weight. The number on the bag which indicates which water tank it goes to can be easily taken care of just by labeling it with an oil pen. I’ll propose this idea next Sunday.
This Sunday, I went there for the 3rd week. It’s interesting how I appeared to be a veteran in the eye of a newcomer and explained my freshly learned knowledge as we went around the water tanks to take temperatures. But Mayan, a true veteran lead me through some new tasks.
Cleaning the pool doesn’t always mean using the siphon. For a more comprehensive cleaning, the turtle has to be moved out and the water be drained. While a high pressure water gun is used to spray at the water tank, the turtle in a smaller box is manually scrubbed and showered. Here came my most intimate interaction with a loggerhead . Mayan and I were in charge of cleaning it. We started with the carapace. A thick layer of seaweed persistently attached to the shell. But as we brushed as scrubbed, the shell gradually emerged as its original brown. Then we moved on to its four limbs and head. The skin there was a little softer. I tried very gently but the turtle was disturbed and shrank its legs half under the shell. Sometimes it could be very not cooperative and splash the dirt all about. I had some nice stain all over my face and T-shirt. After cleaning, we measured various carapace parameters and weighed it. This guy is heavier than me!
Another new thing I did is to hand feed the blind green turtle. She likes to swim right below the surface and therefore can’t find the fish that sank to the bottom. I used a clipper to clip one fish at a time and passed it to her mouth. It seemed that she was more interested in lettuce than fish that she simply ignored my fish touch. Later I developed a tactic. I would pull some big lettuce leaves over to her that she couldn’t finish with a single bite, then place the clipped fish among the leaves so that as she advanced on the leaves, the fish also sneaked in. I was quite proud to have finished this task with some visitors’ cheering.
Now in retrospect, I certainly had delightful moments when I could see the sea turtles. However when in intense work, and especially when the sun goes high up, all I think of was to finish off the work at hand or to avoid the direct sunlight. The notion of helping the sea turtles, once the very reason for me to have taken action, became kind of remote and peripheral. But I think I don’t need to feel ashamed or sad about this. Maybe this is a natural reaction to the hard physical work. But I will continue to be hard-working because I’m no coward.
Apart from working, I have to mention that the 30-40 minutes walking before 8 a.m. is really a great start for a day. I got off at Yannay interchange, and went straight to the pebbly beach northward. After a while, I came upon a rocky corner. If I go lower there are shallow sea water and sometimes small lagoons to tread upon; if I go higher, there are strange rocks to climb that requires a bit of skill. That is really fun! I should swim there next time.
Also the new people I met there are all very nice, as expected. Some of them are from the marine college. Some of them do this as national service like in Shir’s case. She speaks perfect American English because she lived in the States before. And Mayan, the tall and skinny Canadian girl has finished her army service and came to volunteer before she’ll study music in Jerusalem this winter semester. It’s quite noteworthy that all of the girls I met here, indeed all – Mayan, Shir, Mor and Karine – are genuine beauties. All the more reasons for people to come volunteer 😀