Cairo to Istanbul in a G-string #4

Verbal Warfare in the Holy Land
Alleluhia! I made it to Israel… and back!

Actually, the Holy Land was a bit of a let down and far as excitement goes. Indeed, God, Yahve and Allah be my witnesses, I swear I honestly did my best to get in trouble and have some interesting stories to tell, but to no avail.

My guidebook said: “Avoid crossing the King Hussein-Allenby Bridge between 11am and 3pm”. I got there at 11:05 and went right through, with welcomes and smiles.

“Don’t go to Palestine, it’s dangerous now,” the tourist office people in Jerusalem told me. The next morning I headed for Bethlehem, really excited about having to cross the Palestinian army check point. I caught a Palestinian minibus driven by a local who took a side road to avoid the military barricades, dropping me in downtown Bethlehem without me ever having seen a soldier.

I peacefully visited the Church of the Nativity, all alone, with guides fighting among themselves to give me a free tour (the poor chaps are bored out of their minds as other tourists tend to listen to the advice they get in Jerusalem and never venture out in the Palestinian territories). A few hours later, Bethlehem was shelled while I slept safely within the walls of old Jerusalem.

So the only hostilities I was exposed to were the verbal abuse of the vendors/guides/touts of old Jerusalem’s Islamic quarter. I had had a pretty bad week so my patience was not much short of non-existent with these vultures. Which is why I insisted on ignoring or keeping my answers short with this guy at Jaffa gates:

“Hello girl! Good morning!”

“Hello.” (don’t look at him and keep on walking)
“Hello! Excuse me! Please? Yes, you! Hello! Where are you from? Bus tour? Walking tour madam? Madam! Taxi? Dead sea? Tel Aviv? Hello! Are you going shopping? Deuscht? American?”

(ignore him and keep on walking)
“Hello lady, I am talking to you! Hello, do you hear me? Hello! Where are you from please?”

By this time he’s blocking the way, so I have to look in his general direction and tell him something.

“Canada,” I say, trying to walk around him.

“What are you looking for? I am friend, I help you, please, yes, what you want?”

For a minute I actually believe his offer of help might be half genuine. So I risk it:

“A bank machine.”
“Money, you want money, my friend here change money for you, no commission, good rate just for you because you are my friend from Canada, yes pl…”
“NO, I have no cash, I want a bank machine, me have card only, plastic, me no money, no.”

He now gives me vague and confusing instructions, and changes the subject back to his tour:

“You come back for tour, yes? You see the Dome? The Holy Sepulchure? We take you to Mount of Olives, good price, just for you, two hours, English, French, Deutsch guide, you see the…”
“NOOOO, I want a bank machine! Goodbye!” (this time I am seriously annoyed and walk away without turning back)
“You mean, bad tourist! Go home! I don’t know what is wrong with you, Canadians usually they are nice!” he yells behind me.

Vicious vendors aside, the coolest thing I found in Jerusalem were the young Israeli soldiers who carry semi-automatic guns as casually as they would a mobile phone. In fact, I would even go so far as saying that Israelis don’t carry their guns, they wear them! Guns are so common they’ve practically become a fashion statement for young guys (female soldiers don’t seem to be allowed to carry any). When you think about it, what could possibly be more hip/macho than a semi-automatic casually slung over your shoulder? Wonder if Israeli teenage girls find it as virile as I did…

After only a few very expensive days in Jerusalem, I headed back over to Jordan the same way I came. The Holy Land stirred all sorts of emotions in me (sadness, anger, guilt, but also hope). I doubt anyone can stay indifferent and avoid any form of introspection while in Jerusalem.

My reflections led me to the conclusion that being mean and rude to every man I met was not the smart way to travel in the Middle East. I had the time of my life with an open attitude in Egypt, so I decided it was time I resumed a more pleasant behaviour with the locals. While one must obviously not be completely naïve and keep a keen eye to screen out the scum, respect calls respect, so I began smiling and answering back to local men again.

This was definitely a good move, although somewhat exhausting. Indeed, dealing with local men means you’ve got to be as sharp and clever and imaginative as you can be, because you must outsmart them constantly. You must also be guilt-free about lying from morning till night. But if you can play by their rules, it’s extremely fun and rewarding (and economical…that’s the best way to get deals on everything!)

This is how I got a private taxi to the Dead Sea and back for almost nothing. Raatib, a middle-aged chubby little Bedouin guy, seemed quite happy to spend the whole afternoon trying to convince me to marry him. Our conversation went like this:

“But Raatib, we just met, I don’t even know you. Why should I marry you?”
” Me Bedouin, very strong, very hot!”
(somehow managing to keep a straight face) “You have to talk to my father, I don’t think this will convince him.”
“Ok, you give me telephone number your father and I speak with him. I listen what he want and I send it to him.”
“Someone offered me 100 camels and 2 kilos of bananas. What can you give?”
“Bananas? No. I give your father too many camels and I have sheep also. And if you want to sleep in the tent, no problem.

By now I’m picturing Aramex, the local express mail service, entering Quebec City with 500 camels and 300 sheep in tow, desperately looking for Monsieur Michaud to hand him a note reading:

“This for your daughter. Welcome. Raatib the Bedouin”.

During the whole afternoon, Raatib used every line in the book, but I always had the right answer. When he dropped me back in downtown Amman, he handed me his business card and said dead serious:

“Ok, when you want to marry Bedouin, you call me.”

“That’s a deal,” I said with a smile, shaking his hand.

Now THAT’s what travelling the Middle East on your own is all about…

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