We had a wonderful morning in Jaffo. Breakfast in a run down warehouse with broken walls, dangling wires and streaks of red rust dripping down crumbling sandstone. The place is called ‘The Container’ and it looks like a building ready to be demolished, except for one thing. It is bursting at the seams with people drinking coffee, talking loudly and eating the most delicious salads, eggs, herrings, breads and croissants.
Yaffo, as it is called, has for as long as anyone can remember, (and longer) been a place where Arabs and Jews have lived side by side. Sometimes peacefully and sometimes not peacefully, but always together. Sharing the amenities, the beach, the parks, the markets, the shops and cafes. The oldest houses closest to the sea are still inhabited by Arab families who have lived there for generations, and behind them houses, and apartments, many of which are heritage, are being restored and renovated whilst preserving the shells of the building. Saturday is family and friends day. The port of Yaffo is exploding with people eating in restaurants, shopping in the open air markets and navigating the alley ways where little boutique shops have been set up to sell rows of different sweet halvas, dried fruit, knaffe ( an orange coloured desert that literally tastes like food from heaven) and countless other mouth watering delicacies. One can smell the rose scented sachleb (an exquisite hot milky dessert) long before you see it. It is almost impossible to buy anything from the shops all crammed one next to one another as if they are in some kind of food exhibition, because there are so many people walking through the narrow alley ways and from what I saw there is no one to take your money anyway. But no one cares. The point of Shabba/ Saturday is not to shop but to stroll, taste, talk, meet family and friends and relax.
We went for a walk along the coast from Yaffo to Bat Yam and within half an hour we heard over 20 languages. This is a place where all the world can be seen and heard and where the possibility of living together in a diverse community seems more than possible. Everyone I speak to says the same thing. If peace were left to the people it would have been a fait accompli long, long ago. As important as negotiations are the longer Governments draw them out more complex and distant the final decisions become.
Back in our apartment, it is 3 pm and everything is quiet. Calling a friend at this time is akin to sacrilege.It’s just not the done thing. There are so many cultural differences and these differences have been the centre of many of our conversations over the past week.
It may be because we are new here, but given an opportunity to explore why people are in such a hurry that they will push in front of you at the checkout, or slam down on their horn if you hesitate at a green light, or behave as you have no right to disturb them when you just want buy a stamp, is a conversation everyone seems to love and participate in with great gusto. So much so, that is is normal to speak over, on top of and above each other. Another cultural phenomena that I find challenging to say the least.
And yet, my neighbor knocked on the door two days ago and invited Oren and I for coffee. Just like that. We had never met before. I asked when would suit her and she looked a little confused and said ‘Now. Come over now’. So we did. She had set up a little table with barekas, ( Triangular cheese, or potatoes pasties… delicious) and nuts, fruit and coffee and for a hour we chatted and shared stories of our lives. After an hour we were friends. My other neighbor asked if I would like to go shopping with her so she could show me the super market. In fact every person in this apartment block has introduced themselves and offered to help in any way if we need something.
There is a no bull shit attitude here. I love that. I love the way the butcher in the supermarket yelled across the whole supermarket yesterday to say hi to a friend as he was chopping some meat for me. I loved that he asked me what I’m going to cook tonight and how after slamming the wrapped meat on the counter said Shabbat Shalom to me. I love the passion and intensity and the volume of conversations here even though getting a word in edgewise can be a challenge. And I love the countless opportunities to learn.
We went to an art exhibition this week at the Open University and after looking at the art of an individual who has collected paintings over a lifetime we went into the auditorium to learn about the history and the ideas that created three of these paintings. Why did he lend the Open University all his paintings? Because he simply wanted to share them.
There are concerts, many free, every week. The Open University is just one minute from our apartment and Oren has already chosen a course to study for the next few months. And I have booked into an intuitive art class. Meditation, dance and painting combined. Im excited to begin.
I can hear stirring in the apartment below me. Chairs scape the floor. I look at the clock. 4.20 pm. Time to begin the second part of the day.