A paper collage showing a dream-like scene of the outline of Saturn, with ropes pulling the planet downward. Black hands pulling the ropes.
Image credit: Yannick Lowery / www.severepaper.com

Editors’ note: This piece is from Nonprofit Quarterly Magazine’s fall 2023 issue, “How Do We Create Home in the Future? Reshaping the Way We Live in the Midst of Climate Crisis.”

When Amir rose in early evening, the desert sun still roasted the sky. Inside the crumbling remains of the abandoned kibbutz’s guesthouse, the solar cooling system struggled and wheezed.

Amir cracked the door a few centimeters. Wincing at the heat—forty-two Celsius, even this late—he spat on the rocky ground. Wasteful, Romi would have said. She’d always been careful, even before the water wars.

But Romi wasn’t here, and Amir wasn’t a young man anymore.

He trudged toward the central dining hall, sticking to shadows cast by the remains of houses, the ruined scars of dead trees, a basketball hoop’s backboard. When the last holdouts left the kibbutz, someone scratched a line in the fading paint of the dining hall’s front door. Shov ashuv eilechaI will surely return to you: a biblical promise almost as old as the desert itself.

Something caught Amir’s eye—a dust cloud in the distant west.

He crouched—carefully, his right leg had never quite healed—and lay down, ear to ground. He closed his eyes and stilled his breath, hearing the desert.


No one was supposed to know he was squatting here, far from any surviving cities.

Amir limped back to the guesthouse as the dust cloud approached. Inside, he rummaged through his kit bag, shoving aside clothes, medicines, and extra glasses until he found his old Tavor rifle. Hands shaking, he stepped outside and adopted a wide, low stance.

The motorcycle crossed what had been the kibbutz’s front gate, then stopped.

As the dust cleared, the motorcycle rider emerged—a young guy in a faded Adidas tracksuit. Seeing Amir’s rifle, he raised both hands. “I don’t carry a gun!” he cried. His Hebrew was halting, with a thick accent.

An Arab. Amir switched to his rudimentary Arabic. “What do you want?” The rider answered rapidly in the desert dialect of the Bedouin.

Amir shook his head, ears ringing. “Too fast.”

“Do you speak English?”

Amir nodded warily, steadying his rifle grip. “Much better than Arabic.” “Can I put down my hands?”

“What do you want?” “To trade.”

Amir scowled. “I don’t need anything.”

“I do.” The rider exhaled, and his shoulders slumped. “Antibiotics for my daughter.”

Ah, hell. Amir lowered his rifle. “I have amoxicillin. Well, Clavamox—a formula for dogs. It’s all I could find.”

The Bedouin rider unbuckled his bike’s leather panniers. “I’ve got canned beans, batteries, LED flashlights…”

Amir shook his head. “I don’t need any of that.” The rider frowned. “What do you want?”

Amir closed his eyes. I want to watch Netflix with Romi and argue about which one should marry which one. But all that’s gone now.

He met the Bedouin rider’s gaze. “You got any weed?”


As the sun dipped below the horizon, Amir passed the joint back to the rider—Khaled. They sat beneath an aged solar pylon in the ruined kibbutz courtyard. Between hits, Amir roasted a pan of green coffee beans—his last—over a small fire.

Khaled blew a smoke ring. “Why are you here? Nobody’s been here for years.”

“I grew up here. My great-grandmother was one of the founders.”

“Were you here when they abandoned it?”

Amir nodded. “Toward the end of the water wars.”

The water wars. Syrians against Jordanians against Palestinians against Israelis against Lebanese against…in the end, it was everyone against everyone, and everyone lost.

“But why,” asked Khaled, “are you here now?”

Amir shook the pan and checked the beans—yellow and grassy. “Pass the joint.”

After a long drag, he sniffed the beans again. Like toasted bread. “I promised I’d return.”

“We didn’t think the Jews would ever return.”

I scratched my promise on the door, thought Amir. Shov ashuv eilecha—I will surely return to you.

The beans cracked, their sweet scent overpowering the light cannabis haze. “How’s the water?”

Khaled peeked. “Hot. But nowhere near boiling.”

“That’s what they said about the planet, when I was your age.”

“Did they say that about the political situation, too?”

Amir’s fingers tapped his forehead, acknowledging Khaled’s point with a mock salute. “Do you remember before the water wars?”

Khaled took another drag on the dwindling joint. “Too young.”

Amir pointed to the chocolatey beans. “They’re dark now.”

“A few more minutes. They need to crack again.”

Amir nodded. That’s how Romi liked it. Cracking twice brings out the caramel, she’d say. And the bittersweet.

He jiggled the pan. “When I was your age, this was all countries and borders. We fought over every centimeter.”

Khaled jutted his chin. “We were here first.”

“Actually,” said Amir, “the Canaanites were here first. We defeated them.”

“But we were here in the desert the whole time.”

Amir remembered Joseph’s jealous brothers throwing him into a waterless pit and debating his fate until a caravan of Ishmaelites arrived.

The beans cracked, oily, with a slight sheen.

“I’m taking them off the fire now,” said Amir.

“Not yet.”

“They’re done.” Amir dumped the beans into a metal bowl to cool.

“How’s the water?”


“Too soon. Take it off the fire.” He imagined Romi’s voice again. We don’t have enough to waste.

“Where do you get your water?” asked Khaled. “The wells here dried up years ago.”

Amir smiled. “I’ve rebuilt an atmospheric water harvester.”

Khaled sat up straight. “How?”

“Pass the joint back.”

Khaled obliged, but the joint was just a nub.

Amir frowned. “There’s hardly anything left.”

“Welcome to the Middle East.”

Amir gave Khaled another mock salute and took one last pull. The sun’s last light—a hint of red in the western hills—flared, then died.

“I think the beans have cooled,” said Khaled.

“They need more time.” Don’t we all? But Amir shook the bowl, discarded the flaky chaff, and reached for his mortar and pestle. “If your daughter needs antibiotics, why are you smoking with me?”

“We already have some. I’m planning ahead.”

Amir pounded the beans with the pestle. “There’s an old Jewish saying: ‘Man plans and God laughs.’”

“You’re here, making plans, building a water harvester.”

“How do you survive? What are your plans?”

Khaled smiled. “Mainly, portable solar arrays.”

“You’re kidding.”

“We charge up deep-cycle batteries, then trade them in what’s left of Be’er Sheva, Rahat, or wherever.”

Amir whistled. “What kind of batteries?”

“Any kind. Say we go to Ghazzah with charged-up gel cells, and Ghazzah has figs, dates, and discharged AGM batteries. So, we drink tea, we bargain…and when we leave, they have full gel cells and we have figs, dates, and empty AGMs.”

“Then what?”

Inshallah, the next week we go to Eilat with full AGMs and return with empty batteries and fish.”

Twilight faded to night as Amir switched from pounding to rhythmic circular grinding. When he spoke, his breath was weary. “What’s your daughter’s name?”

“Hiba. We also have a baby girl, Sarab.”

“How did Hiba get sick?”

“Pneumonia. From a dust storm.” Khaled frowned. “You’re not grinding them right.”

Amir grunted. “Mind yourself, young man.”

Khaled raised his palms in mock surrender. “Take your time, grandfather.”


“How many children do you have?” asked Khaled.

“I had three.” He stopped grinding—it was done. “Put the water back onto the fire.”

Khaled obliged. “What happened to them?”

Amir presented two small porcelain cups. “I don’t have any cardamom.”

“It’s not proper coffee without cardamom.”

“Do you have any?”


The water boiled again, and Amir tipped the ground coffee into the pot. “Don’t let it boil over.”

“I know how to make coffee.”

Amir lifted the coffeepot, filled a tiny cup, and handed it to Khaled. “I scavenged the vapor harvester from the ruins of Kibbutz Ketura.”

They sipped their coffee in the starlight. I’ve missed this. The years since he’d left—his years with Romi—had been long and full. But Tel Aviv’s choking traffic, car horns, and skyline blotting out the stars—those he didn’t miss.

What was left of it now?

I will multiply your descendants like the stars of heaven,” Amir murmured.

Khaled stretched his arms. “I should leave soon.”

“Another cup? One for the soul, one for the sword?”

Khaled shook the cup and returned it to Amir. “My wife would worry.”

“Wait. I want to give you something.”

Khaled frowned. “You don’t owe me anything. We made a fair deal.”

“I know I don’t owe you. Just wait a moment.” Amir shuffled to the guesthouse, opened his kit bag, and removed the water harvester—a small assembly resembling a metal box atop a radiator grille.

When Amir returned to the courtyard, Khaled straddled the motorcycle.

Amir opened the box. “This spongy part near the top is the metal organic framework. At night, its crystals absorb vapor from the air. In the daytime, the sun heats the solar absorber. The crystals release the water, which runs down these tubes into the cistern.”

Khaled shook his head. “I can’t take this.”

“I insist.”

“But you need the water.” “I have another.”

Alhamdulillah,” said Khaled, setting the harvester inside the motorcycle’s pannier. “How much can this collect?”

“Maybe three liters a day. I’d have made more crystals but I ran out of reagents.”

Khaled narrowed his eyes. “I thought you said you found it in the rubble.”

Amir winked. “Perhaps I was a chemical engineer in Tel Aviv before I returned to the kibbutz.”

“Can you make more?”

“I could rig a collector box and condenser mechanism from old parts. But to synthesize the metal organic framework I’d need metal salts and an organic ligand—good luck finding that.”

Khaled examined a stone on the ground. “I must confess—Hiba isn’t sick.” He licked his lips. “She died two weeks ago.”

Amir winced. He didn’t know Arabic condolences, so he translated the Hebrew formula. “Blessed is the true Judge.”

“May Allah have mercy on her.” Khaled rubbed his eyes, and Amir gazed into the distance to give him privacy.

Two minutes later, Khaled asked, “Do you want to take back the water harvester?”

“No. You have another daughter. She needs water too.” Amir furrowed his brow. “But why are you trading for antibiotics?”

“I’m planning ahead.”

“You know what we say about man’s plans.”

Khaled started the engine.

Amir raised his voice over its whine. “I don’t want visitors. Say you found an old man, but he was dead.”

Khaled touched fingers to forehead, mimicking Amir’s mock salute. “Shalom, Amir.”

Ma’a salama, Khaled.” He turned back toward the guesthouse as the motorcycle purred away.

Well, he imagined Romi saying, you’ve gotten yourself into a mess.

“Why?” he asked aloud, closing the door behind him. “Because I gave a life-saving gift to a man who still has a child?”

Don’t be an idiot. You know what I mean.

“Because I gave him my only water harvester?” asked Amir. “I’ve lived my life, Romi. We raised our children, watched them grow…and the rest.”

From his kit bag, Amir removed a water bottle—his last. “I came back, as promised.” He unscrewed the cap and drank. “Soon I’ll join you in the world to come.”


Amir lay down for a while. He had some Ambien rattling in a plastic bottle—just enough. When the sun rose, hot and drowsy, he’d be ready. But not just yet.

One last look at the stars. Amir creaked out of bed and opened the door.

Outside, a single light wove through the desert night toward the kibbutz. When the motorcycle entered the courtyard, the rider cut the engine.

“Amir, my friend,” said Khaled. “Could you make a metal organic framework from copper chloride and terephthalic acid?”

Amir gaped. “I…where?…”

Khaled smiled. “My wife has made maqluba for dinner, and we invite you to be our guest overnight.

Tomorrow, inshallah, we will trade batteries for reagents.”

It’s too late, thought Amir.

Don’t be an idiot, said Romi.

“I’d like that,” he said. “I’d like that very much.”