Thursday, June 21, 2012

On the Road

(Original Image Kemal)

Chris began to question the wisdom of this trip when the jerky stop at the rail-crossing had startled him into awakening. A green pine-tree like cardboard dangled from the mirror, exuding smell of bathroom spray. The air-conditioner was blasting cool air. Pink Floyd played quietly on the radio. It was an unfamiliar car.

"Morning hunk. You awake?" The middle aged woman at the wheel, her white t-shirt tight against her flowing breasts, flipped open the lid of a cigarette pack, tapped it twice on her tanned thigh, and pointed the poking-out cigarette in Chris' direction. "Want a cigarette?"

Too groggy to find voice, Chris shook my head in refusal. Reaching for the cigarette with her lips, she slowly pulled it out. Chris turned his face away from the smoke and looked out of the window. The passing train seemed to stretch with no beginning or end. Piles of cement and chalk – likely from the nearby quarries – were tugged along the tracks, railcar after railcar, no faster than a walking pace. It was going to be a long wait. Behind the tracks, punctured with caves, the sun-baked south tip of the Mountain sloped down into the banana plantations. Evening was falling fast.

"Are you local?"

Chris shook his head.

"A student?" she guessed.

This time, Chris nodded in approval.

"You don't say much," she said. "are you a freshmen?"

Chris nodded again.

"Going home for the break, are you? Your family must be excited. I remember when my son came home from uni for the first time."

"No, I'm here to visit some friends."

"A girlfriend? She inquired. "My son didn't have a girlfriend for long time. He has one now. A lovely girl. Everything looks better when you have a girlfriend. Don't you think?" she winked, as if sharing a secret.

Chris felt his cheeks burning red. He turned his face to look out of the window. But gentle stroke on his thigh brought him back. Holding a cigarette in one arm, having the other in his lap, the woman used her elbow to keep the car in the middle of the long road. Chris felt panic numbing his body. He had never learned how to say no to a woman. Even if he had, he did not want to risk staying stranded on this empty road, when night was falling. He had been warned about the dangers of hitchhiking, but like always, he knew better. Now he was about to learn.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

The Fallen Teeth

(Mamila in the 1960's. Photo by Igal Morag)

With its main entrance in Israel, and its far wall in Jordan, the dilapidated old people's home, originally a luxurious mansion, towered over the neighborhood of Mamila. With falling walls and alleyways blocked by piles of debris, it was not the neighborhood of choice.

On summer days, when snipers would hide from the punishing sun and not attempt to shoot the occasional passers-by, the old people would open the metal shutters that protected their large window, and sunbath. It was on one of these days that Mathilda, suffering from a cough attack, had dropped her teeth to the ground below. This would not have been a problem if it were not for the fact that the teeth fell in the no-man-zone between the countries. The old people, crowding at the window, watched the unfolding of events as the army on both sides and the United Nation were summoned.

First to arrive in an open Jeep was an unshaved Israeli Colonel. He was followed by a United Nations car – the one that looks like a white funeral car with big black UN written on it. Soldiers rushed out of the white car and opened the door for an officer, who moved with a puffed chest, as if he owned the border. None of the old people in the window had ever seen so many medals sparkling on a single chest, and a cacophony of animated arguments, pushes and shoves, erupted over what they were for, and how he could move his legs in such overly starched trousers.

The UN officer approached the fence and talked with the Israeli Colonel, until a convoy arrived from the Jordanian side. A Jordanian General emerged from an armored car and approached the fence. With shouting and a great deal of hand movements, the sides communicated over the many rolls of barbwire that separated the countries. Eventually, the three sent their soldiers to stand back, while they started moving the wires aside, making their way towards each other through the slippery dirt. As they didn't have gloves on, it was a painful job, and the occasional rude word turned into a flood when the UN officer spotless uniform got caught in the barbwire and ripped. He was French.

When they finally found the teeth stuck deep in the mud, a new discussion erupted. The Jordanian General pointed his walking staff at the soldiers and then at the teeth and back at the soldiers. The UN officer, clearly upset, argued vehemently. The Israeli Colonel, ignoring the two, simply bent forward, plucked the teeth from the mud and waved them triumphantly. On both sides, everyone cheered and clapped. That is, everyone except for the UN officer. He was still in a foul mood, shouting at his poor soldiers even when they drove off.”

The old people secured back the metal shutters. One by one they reclined on their straw mattresses in the room lit by a single dim yellow bulb. They were happy. That night they would have something to dream about.