Saxum is able to thrive with the cooperation of volunteers from all over the world. One of our current volunteers, Joanne, has been working in the Saxum Visitor Center since November. To find out about her experience living and volunteering in the Holy Land, check out a short interview we had with her before she returns to London at the end of June.
Where are you from?
My family is from India, but after my parents got married, they moved to England so I was born in London. My dad is from Delhi and my mum from Kolkata.
How long have you been here?
For 7 ½ months. I came in November and will be leaving at the end of June.
And why did you come?
I wanted to take a gap year after I finished my degree [in physics].
What is your favorite part of working at Saxum?
It’s a project that I’ve heard about for many years, but now I get to be a part of it. So many have contributed to Saxum before it was built and now we get to meet people from all over the world who hadn’t even necessarily heard of it before. I feel like we’re part of the moment when the Holy Land comes alive for people… you can see it in their faces! They’re not the same before and after. It makes me feel lucky to be part of this, knowing that I may not have been chosen to be a volunteer.
Walk me through a typical work day.
We leave for work [from the Old City in Jerusalem] at 8am. Then we take the tram and the bus to Abu Ghosh… and have a wonderful walk up the hill to Saxum. My job has varied over the past 8 months which is great because I get to try new things. I give the multimedia tour to English-speaking groups as well as working on a database, answering queries etc.
When you have a tour, what is that like?
It’s a bit nerve-wracking at the beginning because you don’t know how people will respond. Since there are people from all over the world, they’re coming from different backgrounds, so it’s important to really tailor the tour to each group.
Do you feel safe in the Holy Land?
Yes – Jerusalem feels safer because it’s a holy city for the 3 main religions, so I think it’s less likely for there to be conflict. What I knew from before I came is that there are definitely areas that have problems. But in general, it is easy to avoid those places.
What was your initial reaction on coming to the Holy Land?
It was a big culture shock, which I did and didn’t expect. I never imagined I’d be in a country where everyone spoke Hebrew and everything is written in Hebrew!
What is one thing in the Holy Land that you cannot miss?
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre. It has to be! It’s the place where the most crucial point in history took place. But that’s also why I like Nazareth, because without the Annunciation we wouldn’t have the Resurrection!
And somewhere that might not be included on a tour?
I really loved Ein Gedi. It was in the middle of my time here and the weather was really nice. We were hiking in the desert…but with waterfalls. It didn’t feel real!
How about your favorite food to buy here?
Arabic sweets. Baklava and Kanafeh – with an Arabic coffee. I hate coffee, but I could drink Arabic coffee round the clock!
Is it unbearably hot? How do you stay cool when it’s really hot?
The only time I felt unbearable heat was in Galilee in the first week of June, and at the Jordan River it was very hot and humid. But we survived, thanks to air conditioning in the car! As long as you are smart, you’ll be fine. Drink lots of water and have some sugary snacks throughout the day. But in general, you get used to the heat and I come from England where our summer is like 24*C.
Do you think it’s essential for people to come to the Holy Land?
Yes, because you cannot have this experience anywhere else. And I don’t just mean in a spiritual sense. It is unique in every way and you will not find this in any other place. By virtue of that alone, you have to come.
How do you feel about leaving [the Holy Land]?
I don’t want to talk about it! I will never ever get this year back and that is always hard, knowing you’re not going to get that time back. Being in the Holy Land…everything is different now. It’s the first place I lived on my own and had to look after myself. I feel like it’s where I kind of grew up and got my head screwed on.
Anything else to add?
Since Saxum will be here until the end of time, and will become the 8th wonder of the world, you should definitely apply to be a volunteer here while you can!