Walk #1: Noa

Walk #1, with: Noa, born 1977, sister of my friend Uri.

Where: Montfort Crusaders castle and Kziv creek, Upper Galilee, northern Israel.

When: 7 January 2016

This is my second stay with Noa and her family at Kibbutz Matsuva close to Israel’s contested border with Lebanon. On my first day she takes me for a drive through the mountainous Upper Galilee, pointing out Jewish, Muslim, Christian and Druze villages. We stop to watch silent, colourful para-gliders against the bluest of blue skies before eating a huge vegetarian lunch at a seasonal Galilean restaurant. On the second day, Noa takes me for a long walk past Montfort Crusaders castle and along Kziv creek. It is a still, mild, slightly overcast Thursday and we meet almost no-one.

As we start to descend carefully into the gorge through olive and oak trees and past the ruined castle, the metal cleats on my cycling shoes crunching horribly against rock and acorns, we come across a narrow, cave-like gully. ‘I feel like I’m in the Old Testament’, I joke. We meet two young Israeli men in the process of walking from the Mediterranean to the Sea of Galilee. Later, down by the almost non-existent creek, I see a huge wild boar trot across the path ahead of us. Later still, walking along a minor road I collect a bunch of long porcupine spines – which I’ve never seen before – for Noa’s five year old. The only annoyance of the walk comes when several drivers honk at us for walking along the road! It is on the same road that Noa’s partner, Y, comes to pick us up with their son. Later, he kindly goes with a neighbour to pick up the car we left at the start of our walk!

Mindful of my notorious appetite, Noa has made several kinds of sandwiches including some with peanut butter and home-made guava jam. We also eat the sheep’s milk semolina pudding left over from the previous day’s lunch. As usual, I eat more than my share. We drink delicious, sweetened lemon verbena tea from a flask.

During the walk I ask Noa if it’s common for Israeli Jews to work and socialise with Israeli Arabs, and whether the latter are allowed to hold positions of civic responsibility. She tells me the top man at the nearby Nariyah Hospital is an Arab doctor and this is probably unusual.

I’ve half-forgotten my idea of blogging about 40 walks with 40 friends during the year I turn 40 until part-way through my walk with Noa. I ask if she’d consider letting me write about it, and we discuss my concern that some people might feel ‘exposed’ or somehow ‘collected’. Noa says she’d be pleased for others to read about our walk in order to see that I don’t intend blogging – except with her enthusiastic consent – about the more personal things we talk about. ‘Besides’, says Noa, ‘you’ll be blogging about your own experience, not about me’.

We talk about Uri, Noa’s brother and my friend, and about my brother, Ben; and the increasing closeness that comes – as in any relationship – from risking mutual vulnerability. We agree how nice and helpful it can be to have a sibling as a friend.

Noa tells me about a lecture she’s preparing to give to new parents at an ante-natal clinic, about how to talk to your kids about gender, sex and consent (in age-appropriate ways of course). Given the profound lack of this in my childhood and that of most of my peers, it moves me to think of the impact this kind of work will have.

Noa is one of the people with whom I always seem to feel good about myself. On our walk we have a conversation about conversation, and the skills it involves. Noa confides that the speed with which we reached a level of conversational intimacy when we first met a year ago was a new and wonderful experience for her (whereas for me it’s something that happens quite often, especially when travelling). Noa attributes this difference partly to living a more ‘heteronormative’ lifestyle (her word not mine).

These days the only thing I still ache for is to know and to be known. Prior to visiting Noa I warned her I’d probably be working quite hard to resist sinking into a hot triggered mess following a confusing and button-pushing heartbreak. Noa tells me a lovely story about a time she felt really unseen in one area of her life. She expressed frustration to her partner, who listened carefully and responded simply ‘I see you’. Observing the two of them together it’s easy to believe this is true; rarely have I met such an apparently accepting couple, both willing and able to see one another as they actually are, in all their ‘perfect imperfections’ (to quote the song).

Being solo and a relationship anarchist I’m not searching for this kind of intimacy within a conventional ‘couple’ framework. It’s increasingly clear to me that by risking mutual openness and vulnerability with several of my close people I can soothe the ache to see and be seen, to know and to be known. I think that’s a pretty important insight with which to kick off the year and this series of blog posts. Thank you Noa for seeing me and for letting me see you. <3