Thursday, February 11, 2010

Old City of Jerusalem, the citadel

Welcome, sign written at the entrance of Jerusalem.

A synagogue on the top of the mountain at one of the little towns in Samaria desert.

A little cave, old city of Jerusalem, close to Jaffa Gate

Sunset in Moshav Tirat Yehuda

Montefiore Windmill

Riding a bus or just waiting for one...

“In Israel, in order to be a realist, you must believe in miracles” David Ben Gurion.

After all the “adventures” we experienced while looking for an apartment, from scoping out advertising to meeting people who wanted to rent their apartments, no matter their condition, we came to clearly understand the above words by Ben Gurion!

And this time I want to share with you another experiences, this time on Egged buses. One of the miracles I continually experience in my life is meeting people and hearing about their life stories. Being on a bus in Israel, we can learn much about the daily lives of Israelis.

It does not matter where you go: you will always find it amazing and “haval al-hezam”, as you say in Hebrew when something cool is happening. Therefore, I think that the best way to learn about the real life and the people here in Israel is simply riding a bus, even just for a very short time (10 minutes), or just waiting for a bus in a bus station.

In Israel, you are able to buy a one ride ticket, a 10-rides ticket, a one month ticket or a year ticket to ride a bus all over the city -- in our case, Jerusalem. If you are buying just a one ride ticket, you also have the right to ask for “kartis ma’avar” (a transit ticket) in case you need to change to two buses in order to get to your final destination, or you know that you will not spend more than 1:45 hours at the place where you went.

Since we arrived in the middle of the month, it was not worth it to buy a monthly ticket, so we bought two 10-rides tickets. It is really cool to give the ticket and ask for the “kartis ma’avar” -- no one will ask you why. The important thing you need to know is to keep the ticket (the transit one and the ten or monthly rides, or even one ride ticket) the driver gives you, just in case an “ish bitachon” (Security guard) boards the bus to check if everybody bought the ticket.

Another pleasant thing (at least for me) is to see soldiers (young girls and boys) with their Uzi on their shoulders. No one gets surprised, they are just other passengers on the bus. You will see more soldiers on Sundays or Fridays, than during the rest of the week, because they are going or coming back from their military base.

The first two seats on the buses are saved for handicapped people, elders, pregnant women and, in some buses, these seats are also for “ish bitachon”. You do not see pregnant women or seniors standing; the youngest passengers stand for them automatically. Sometimes, they need to insist that the pregnant or the senior person will take a seat.

The drivers sometimes are nice, sometimes are … little nasty, but . . . “c’est la vie”. And, as the Israeli humorist Ephraim Kishon wrote: “Israel is a country where the same drivers who cuss you and flip you the bird will immediately pull over and offer you all forms of help if you look like you need it”.

One day, we were lucky and the driver was really ‘funny and cute”. When I bought the monthly ticket, at the Bus Station, they did not have the plastic envelope to protect it, so I asked the driver if he might have such an envelope. Another person heard me and also asked for one for her, too and a third one asked for the same. The driver had only one and asked me what he should do! I suggested that he will give it to the first person who asked him. So he gave it to me. Then he asked us from where we had come, and I said we were from Chicago, so he started to ask questions about Chicago -- it was enough to make our entire ride a wonderful experience.

First, he was stopping his colleague from the other side of the road to ask if he might have more of these plastic envelopes. Then he saw pedestrian crossing the street, and he stopped for them!! (This is very rare, to see a bus or taxi driver stopping for pedestrians), unless there is a green light for the pedestrians).

Then we passed by the famous market in Jerusalem, “Mahane Yehuda Market”, and called one of the vendors to sell him, our bus driver, 10 shekel of candies. I just was laughing. While speaking with us, he said he wants to go to Chicago, and I told him, “Do come, and I will introduce you a nice and pretty girl!” Then he asked us where we will get off and when he realized that we were going to the Old City, he told us to go to his father's store, where he would offer us “great prices”!!!

We arrived at the Jaffa Gate, one of the seven gates of the Old City, and we said good bye to Meir, our nice bus driver.

Another day brought another grand experience on a bus. First, I started to read all the signs on the bus. Most of them were in Hebrew, Arabic and English. These are the official languages of the country. Only two were in Hebrew, for the drivers only: One about a “fine” he would need to pay if he allows passengers to get on or off at a non-assigned bus stops. And the second sign was related to the driver’s responsibility to check any “suspected package” before and after he starts his trip. Some of the signs in three languages are: “Do not smoke, breaking the law leads to fine”. “Check all of your belongings before you leave”.

One other detail that has captured my attention since the first time I rode a bus here in Jerusalem and other cities is a mini-TV next to the bus driver’s seat. The bus driver can see, during the trip, all the passengers and make a stop if something is wrong. There is also a garbage can and a First Aid box next to each door of the bus. I do not remember seeing such things in other countries where I have traveled.

Seeing religious women or men praying during their trip on the bus is normal, not only in Israel but in other countries. What is somewhat rare is seeing young girls or non-religious people (men or women) reading Psalms at the bus stop or during the trip, until they arrive to their destination. Sadly, they were doing this . . . just in case . . .

Even if you are not interested in what is going on in the lives of the passengers, or you are just reading a news paper, you cannot ignore what is going next to you, or behind you, while you ride a bus in Israel. Even while you are waiting for the bus, you can hear, for instance, a conversation between two women about their weekend -- who came to visit them, what they cooked, who called them, what the neighbor said, etc. Even if you do not want to hear them, you cannot avoid it, and they speak a little loud to be sure everybody will hear.

On the bus, everybody has a cellular phone -- not just for emergency situations, but for sharing the news of the day, of the moment! The other day I heard about a young girl, may be 19 or 20 years old, speaking with a friend about the boy she met at her brother’s party. Just hearing what she was saying, you might well imagine what the person from the other side of the phone was saying! I was rather amusing. I am pretty sure you too, would enjoy hearing what was said -- but, ah, it is gossip and I do not like to share gossip, so is better if you just imagine such a conversation

I cannot end my experiences about riding buses or waiting for a bus without telling you another experience, I am especially happy that I can share it with you, and after to read it you will understand why!!!

A few days ago, waiting for Bus #8, two blocks from the apartment we stayed, there was also a young kid, maybe 14 or 15 years old, and a man who may have been in his 60’s. I was speaking with my husband about the village that we see across the street, when suddenly,the young kid took out from his pocket a pocketknife and was “polishing it”. The man sitting next to us started a conversation, in Hebrew, with the boy:
-What is this?
-A little “plastic knife”
-You cannot have this in your hand and while riding a bus. Give it to me.
-No, why? It is a “plastic knife.
-Give it to me! Or I will take you to the police.
(He showed an ID, he is a security guard)

The boy gave it to him, and then the conversation continued in Arabic.
(I understand a little Arabic so here is the translation)

-What is your name?
-Where do you live?
-Here, in this village.
(The boy pointed out the village, the name of the village is Um-Lisun, an Arab village) It’s common to see an Arab villages in the middle of the cities of Israel (it is just something which the politicians in Israel simply accept).

Then the conversation continues went back to Hebrew.

-I will give your knife to the Police; you can go there and pick up it.

The bus arrives, the boy gets on the bus, after him the security guard and them us. The security guard gave the knife to the driver and showed him his ID. The driver took the knife and asked the boy to get off from the bus unless he wanted a ride to the police station.

Sadly, these situations are sometimes “like everyday life” in Israel. I am very happy that we had an “ish bitachon” at this moment; otherwise I would not have been sure what was happening!

Anyway, were ever you will go in Israel, unless you are in a hurry, waiting for a bus or riding a bus provides one of the best experiences here in Israel.

Yes yo can think sometimes they are GREAT experiences, sometimes not so great.

Until my next blog entry!