“Grown ups love figures. When you tell them you have made a new friend, they never ask you any questions about essential matters. They never say to you, ‘What does his voice sound like? What games does he love best? Does he collect butterflies?” Instead they demand: ‘How old is he? How many brothers has he? How much does he weigh? How much money does his father make?’ Only from these figures do they think they have learned anything about him.” Le Petit Prince
Palestine is a great place to be a foreigner, I’ve decided. If you need something, have a problem, and don’t know where to go or what to do, all you need to do is turn to the person next to you on the street/in the cafe/on the bus, and they will bend over backward to help you out. This happens on a daily basis – as I often have no idea what I’m doing – but a few recent examples:
– In Bethlehem a couple weeks ago, the nice woman in the service with us walked us all the way to the Church of the Nativity, though it was rather far out of her way, just because we didn’t know how to get there, chatting the whole time about her life and what else there is to do in Bethlehem.
– When we’re waiting for the bus to get to Jerusalem from Ramallah and there’s a huge group of people rushing toward the bus to get on, as soon as one of them notices that us poor foreign girls aren’t as comfortable pushing our way to the bus, will take pity on us and herd us, arm encircling us to protect our silly Western notions of personal space, onto the bus.
– I can’t even count the number of times I’ve asked a shopowner (whether in Ramallah or in another city) for directions to a certain place, and they’ve walked out the door with me and down the street to explain exactly how to get there [n.b. this is also a function of no street names or discernible directional features], the whole time joking with you that it’s going to cost you 10NIS for this.
– Yesterday, in Jerusalem I was a little further out from the Old City, where I was going to meet some friends, and I needed to catch the Arab bus the rest of the way. Being unsure exactly if I could pick up the bus on this particular street (they just pick you up off the side of the road if you gesture to the bus driver, there aren’t any designated “bus stops”), I saw an older woman waiting on the side of the street. Since this seemed like the customary “wait for the bus” position, I simply went up to her and asked (in Arabic yes!) if she was waiting for the bus to Jerusalem, to which she replied yes and began a nice little conversation about where I’m from and what I’m doing here.
These are just a few, silly examples of the complete and utter trust you feel in the people here. I would never in DC just hop into a van unsure of exactly where it was dropping me off or how much it cost or really anything about it, just on the basis of a couple men in a parking lot telling me that it’s the service to Nablus. And then the driver handing you a business card with his number on it, so that if you have trouble finding transportation back home, you can just call his personal number and he’ll “work it out for you.” And ahlan was ahlan to falasteen (welcome to Palestine).