I have the knack of visiting countries when religious festivals are on. I was in Morocco during Ramadan which was not the best time. I was shown a hotel in Tangiers that was next to the mosque. That was why I was there, to soak up the local culture. I did not feel that way at 6 O’clock in the morning as the speakers blared out the ‘call to prayer’. My arrival in Haifa was at the start of the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, and it was only September.
Jewish festivals start at sunset so I had time for my very first falafel. At one time I used to eat small pieces of metal; it was my staple diet. Falafel sellers allow you to fill the pitta with as much salad as you can. They end up very swollen. I sat at a table and drank my Coke. A woman sat at the next table.
“Get me a glass of water!” she yelled at a waiter. “From the tap! I ain’t paying for it!” Her accent was straight from the Bronx, full of New York charm.
She started a monologue with me, not checking if I spoke English at all.
“There’s summat going on. They keep moving troops up North. I saw them yestaday. Gonna give them Arabs annuda whooping. Don’t like this new government. Need a strong leader like Moyshe Diane. He’ll sort it. Kids don’t ever call their mam on New Year. This watta’s full a chemicals, not like the old days.”
She continued in similar vain for at least 10 minutes. I gave up nodding after about 5, made no difference. She finished and left without even saying ‘goodbye’ or leaving a tip. In that short 10 minutes, though, I managed to understand all of Woody Allen’s films.
I found a nice hotel, well 2 million flies could not be wrong. Paint was peeling and there was a smell of dead bodies. Not that I was familiar with that particular smell but perhaps it was more urine, anyway, overpriced it was. Everything was closed in the evening and the receptionist told me I could a restaurant in the Arab quarter. What? Surely that was too dangerous?
Forgive my ignorance but the only Arabs I had ever seen were on TV, killing people. The propaganda machine had worked even on me.
I remembered a story I was once told about someone who wanted to join the Foreign Legion because he hated Arabs, could not stand them, hated everything about them. On his first day he was on duty when a colleague of his shouted out.
“Look, there’s the Arabs!”
The guy shot him. His captain asked him why.
He replied, “If there’s one thing I hate worse than Arabs it’s a grass”
I found somewhere to eat and left a handsome tip, just to be on the safe side. I walked back through the quiet streets when a woman approached me. She spoke to me and I told her I did not understand.
“You want f***?”
“No, but thank you for asking so nicely.”
The night was as hot and humid as that not so young lady was. I felt relieved at how I had ‘braved’ my first contact with this different culture. My beliefs were to change; I kept an open mind, although I must stop using semi-colons as it just showing off. As the sweet fragrance wafted through my nostrils, I fell into a deep sleep dreaming of Nazareth. The town not the rock group.