Saturday, October 15, 2016

Chronicles of a Baby Boomer - Israel



I went to school in Israel in 1975. As an exchange student. Of sorts. I grew up as a Catholic, rejected all religion in my teenage years, became an atheist, blew it all away. Fuck you, God. Then was saved by a high school Christian outreach. I was re-baptised and everything. I became a Christian in fact, face, and deed.

When I had a chance, I spent a year in the Holy Land. I lived and studied at a Christian school in Jerusalem called the American Institute of Holy Land Studies. I learned Hebrew. Some, though my Hebrew was never very good. I learned history, geography, and local color. I remember going into the Old City in the morning and getting warm bread at bakeries just at the surface of the street. You could bend down and look in and see the ovens. Or getting falafels from street vendors. Chick pea, tahini, fried, with tomato and cucumber in a pita bread embrace! Perfection! Across the valley was the Mount of Olives! Nice walk on a clear day.

Our gardener was an Arab. Nice guy. Friendly. Spoke English, Arabic, and Hebrew. Our accountant. Also nice. Spoke all of those plus French. Our gardener dug up a skull in the garden once. He thought it might have been an English soldier from the 1940's. I brought it into my room and put it on a cabinet. I wanted to use it in a Christmas card.

I went on field trips. Down to the Negev. Up to Galilee. Into the Golan. Haifa. Along the Gaza Strip. To the Dead Sea. All rich in history. All rich in currency. All rich in today-story. All rich in. Well. Just, all rich in, All.

We had a bus driver. Fice. He was an Arab tour bus driver that liked driving for us on our field trips. Most other drivers didn't like driving for our school because they didn't bring us to gift shops. The drivers got a commission. Fice liked driving us students. He was a warm, friendly guy. He would bring out his water pipe and smoke it at night, while we were camping in some dark Mideastern desert. Sometimes we stayed in youth hostels. Sometimes in camps. Sometimes in hotels. We managed. Fice was there. Fice was nice.

Fice was a great guy. I bought a water pipe in a Jerusalem suk, probably near where I used to buy Turkish coffee, and brought it with me on a field trip. "Fice," I said. "How do you run this thing?" Fice showed me how to take a wad of tobacco in my hand, soak it in water, and squeeze it out. Then form a mound on top of the water pipe clay throat and place a burning coal on top of it, to ignite the tobacco. And then breath the smoke in through the long, decorated pipe and hose through the water in the vase. It gurgled satisfactorily. It was sweet.

My best trip was to the West Bank. A man, I don't remember his name, was a member of the Israeli Knesset. That's their Parliament. He was an advocate of the Arab Bedouin living in Israeli occupied land after the Six Day War. He had made an effort to reach out to the people living within Israel's borders. He brought medical attention, clean water, and comradeship. They said he had an Arab accent like a Bedouin. On one occasion our class visited a settlement in the West Bank. They had several camel hair tents set up. And a cistern for water-it was silted over because the Israelis were piping in drinking water now. The leader of this little group, Oman, Sheik, I don't know what he was called, welcomed us. He kissed our host and welcomed us into his tent. He wanted to slaughter a goat and give us a feast.

Our host said, No. These are poor people. They can't afford to lose a goat. Instead, they gave us coffee. Around the fire in the shiek's tent he brought forth beans. Coffee beans. And roasted them in the heat of the camp fire. Then ground them. In a mortar and pestle. And boiled the water over that same roasting fire and brewed the coffee therein. And gave us each a demitasse cup of the rich liquor.

That's the greatest sense of hospitality I've ever felt.

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