My trip to Israel came at one of the most unexpected of times. Like someone once said, “Life is what happens to you when you are busy making other plans. ” I got excited , nevertheless. The faint excitement of getting onto a flight after 20 odd years was something I really looked forward to . I had a very different experience- some good, some bad, yet different and something worth reading. There is one particular reason why I liked the trip. Simply put, it’s a country I would have never considered visting.
My experiences- Here are a couple of things that I loved about my stay in Jerusalem:
1. This was the first time I stayed away from home. It was almost therapeutic. Jerusalem is a quiet , conservative city. The sun would set at 8:30 pm in the evening. I would go on long walks by myself. The strangest part was carrying my passport everywhere I went. Being a muslim had its disadvantages. The first few walks seemed a little eerie but as I learnt my way around the city, it seemed better.
2. A kind old man helped me with Hebrew and I picked up a smattering of it. The phonetics were a little tougher with Hebrew being a Semitic language but now I’m managing just fine. It’s really amusing to see the reaction on people’s faces when you speak to them in their native language comfortably. It’s a pleasure to see their face break into a smile. And when you do converse further than the cursory greeting, they are floored. Additionally, if you happen to be an Indian, you just win all the brownie points possible!
3. Everyone knows Bollywood. Atleast , everyone’s heard about it. In a group of 10 people, chances are 7 people have heard about it. On one particular day, an Indian colleague and myself were standing in the hallway and suddenly this gentleman calls us over to his room asking us whether we had heard a particular Hindi song. Turned out to be a song from Munnabhai! He insisted on hearing the story of the movie.
4. Wearing a bright pink salwar kameez never fails to draw enough attention. An Israeli colleague coyly asked me whether this was the “saree”. I laughed and explained to him the difference.
5. Everyone gets kids to work! From new borns to toddlers to teenagers. Just took me sometime to get adjusted to the whole setting. A colleague saw my bewilderment at the whole thing and explained it to me that it’s common in all companies.
6. The part I enjoyed the most were my long, lonely walks. Sometimes in the morning, sometimes in the evening. I improved my Hebrew reading skills during these times trying to read the signposts. Coming from India, the roads looked terrific, flawless and smooth. People biking on the pathways, green lawns next to the road, families and prams, the quietness , all mere accompaniments.
7. People are conservative in Jerusalem. It’s a mixed bag with some people orthodox, some a little less and some not at all. Much of the culture stems from their religion and their beliefs in it, which is way too deep and too complex for me to write about and is inappropriate considering my superficial knowledge about it.
8. Some people I met there knew more about lesser known places in India than I did. Like the Sanksrit school in Varanasi.
9. I don’t know how to swim and when I floated in the Dead Sea, it was an experience to remember. Child like glee, excitement and a huge grin explains it all.
10. Watching a bar mitzvah , followed by an astounding view of hundreds of men and women segregated , praying at the Western Wall just took my breath away. I remember watching it on BBC long time back , not knowing ever that I would see it live in my lifetime. The most quixotic observation is that just across the Western Wall, lies the Dome of Rock, a mosque for Muslims and it is this land that people have been fighting over for centuries.
For me , this trip was something that was least expected yet it opened my eyes to so many things. My experiences ranged from being identified by my surname on my passport, to being introduced to culture that was in so many ways similar to that in India, to a religion from which my faith is derived, to the warmth of the people when I appear as an Indian and the hostility when I appear as a Muslim.Yet, it’s strange that in the end it is all about people. You leave an impression far beyond your specifics .My best times were of my long walks, where I would see the latest cars whizz by, yet see people walk past in their traditional attire. A paradox. Israel is a nation of paradoxes. It’s a nation so deprived of natural resources, yet totally compensated by the talent and the attitude of its countrymen. So, steeped in its traditions, yet very advanced technology wise. So much like India, yet so unlike it. Would I remember this trip? Definitely. It was my first backpack trip across a nation different from mine. Well , atleast partially.