Wednesday, 1 August 2012

All too familiar- The Middle East

There's barely anything as pleasurable for me as to squat on the ground and let water gently swim down my back as if it was a gentle caress. I still remember how my first bucket shower ( while I volunteered in Thailand ) went from total dislike to becoming my favourite activity of the day. I remember how the hot bucket shower available in the himalaya mountains in Ladakh put a smile from ear to ear on my face. There the bucket was given to me with boiling water  and I decided with the cold water available in the bathroom which temperature I wanted it to  slide down my body. It usually made me remember how little pressure, knobs and water we need to have a wonderful time.

And so tonight, the water, I chose to be cold. I let it pour down my exhausted body in this hot sunny day. I had never imagined this morning I would be sleeping where I am now. I have been on and off sick since I arrived in the middle east. I went from being totally cared by my Israeli friend Maya to suddenly be totally cared by my Palestinians friends on this side of the wall. But when I woke up I knew none of it. I just left Maya to go back to the place I am officially staying in Tel Aviv but as I reached the station I decided to take a bus to Jerusalem.

I love Jerusalem, where even the newest tram can create confusion in the minds of those who live in this city known to so many for so many thousands of years. As I stood close to the machine under a boiling sun watching religious of all kinds pass one in front of the other. As I heard them have discussions ( I could not understand) with tourists, and soldiers while being "helped" by some kind of worker (whose job seemed to be to take the money of a few people to buy the tickets for them rendering the automatic , self-service machine useless and taking longer than a counter )I had to laugh....It somehow felt suddenly that I was back in the middle east.

I met a friend in the beautiful mahane yehuda which is one of my favourite markets in the world. As I walked through it I just wanted to stay in Jerusalem forever! I remembered every friend that disliked Jerusalem and I thought they must not know the secret details. I realised within seconds they probably feel the same about me. The truth is that in all its chaos I love Jerusalem for its incoherence.

My friend invited me to stay but somehow I knew where I was going. I promised to come back but since my feet knew where to walk to I took the path. I was coming to Nablus in the West Bank. I knew where to find the bus, I knew how to go from Ramallah to Nablus without having to figure out where the bus station was. I walked the whole time remembering how all too strange and difficult it had felt the first time I came. I knew no one, i knew not my path, my Israeli friends were terrified I was coming here alone. But I just came. I confess, that as I walked I felt some slight pride for that stranger so much stronger and braver than I am today. It has been a while since I don't try for the first time an unknown language, and an unknown shower.

It is Ramadan and I am once again in a Muslim place. Not eating to get better had not been understood by my Israeli friends, nor is it here. Luckily, it is Ramadan and I am not the only one fasting.  

27hours of fasting and no desire for food even inside of Mahane Yehuda That is how sick I have been. But when the Harira breaks, and the fasting of Ramadan has been suspended till is morning... When all your friends are around a table to drink their first sip of the day, to eat there is no way you can resist it even if you are sick. I sat and I ate. Close to the whole family of my friends I sat listening to conversations in Arabic I don't understand with joy. I looked a mother next to her adult children talk and laugh. We attempted conversation in her few english words, and my barely non existing arabic. And once again I remembered how much we can get trapped in distant discussions where we know so well the language. There in a "real talk", in one that your barely understand, you seem to get more. You seem to put more effort into listening. Or maybe you just observe all else that language would have stolen from you. I broke my fast with these all too familiar faces. I did not understand them but they knew me. I had been here before.

And then yet not feeling great I squat to shower. I remember all the other times I had squatted before. I feel thankful I am here. I feel happy to have reencountered these people I met around the world before.  I once again remember the part of "Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance" where the author understands why his young son can't understand the beauty he sees in the birds on the road. The beauty he states lies on the fact that they are familiar and you recognise them. So I gently squat down remembering it all, all the places I have squatted before, all the joy that came from that act. I suddenly remembered how much joy I feel for having reencountered my friends.  And in a all too familiar sentiment flushes back through me, I realise what is so obvious,  that In both sides of this wall (that I hate so much) I feel anything else but love.


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