September 22, 2007

A Misanthrope in Ramadan - Act I

An Occupied Shore

I longed for the Sea.
The sea represents to me the primal waters, the " Prima Mater ", the womb of the earth, the origins of every living thing.
And the sea cannot be tamed. It imposes itself with its tranquility, waves and under currents...

So, when a friend kindly arranged for a short day trip to the seaside, I jumped to the occasion and with great anticipation, hit the road.
I thought to myself, this is the Ramadan season, the place will be at best empty or at worst will only host another "odd tourist" like myself...

I could not wait to feel the sand beneath my feet and immerse myself, like in a baptism in the salty waters, as in a purification ritual. A purification of the body, the senses and the soul from the " negative energies " I have been carrying around like some excess luggage.

And true to my expectation, the shore was virtually empty. I picked a spot in whatever shade I could find...Bliss, pure bliss.

An hour later, two Russian couples, heavy weight size, sat right in front of me, obstructing my vision with their corpulent mass. A bit too close for comfort. After all the beach was empty, why pick here ?
The Russian XXL " Dasha ", then moved her sun bed in the tiny spot of shade I had.
Her partner, " Ivan the terrible " stuffed his bathing suit into the cracks of his bottom, turning it into a thong. He wanted to make sure he gets an even tan exposing his full Russian buttocks right under my nose.

Anyone who travels regularly to these beach resorts in the Middle East, also knows that the average Russian tourist, is known for his/her curtness, lack of consideration for others in particular Arabs, their haughtiness and their nouveau riche demeanor. Our " guests " were no exception.

Half an hour later, two other couples came and sat to my right...Much closer than necessary. They were Israelis, Ashkenazis to be more precise.

Now, nothing, absolutely nothing, beats the tacky Israelis nouveaux riches.
One of the woman had a leopard print dress, a leopard bathing suit, a leopard hat and of course a leopard handbag that goes with the rest of the " ensemble. " Plus the gold jewelry.
She looked as if she just concluded a hunting expedition in some jungle and came out carrying some of her trophies. I suppose " Israel " can be considered a jungle and the Palestinians a species on their way to extinction.
And, as if this grotesque outfit was not enough, she was chewing gum in the most vulgar of ways. I felt I was sitting next to a ruminating cow.

I later learned several " interesting " things about Israeli tourists.

- For one, they never pay in local currency. They get excessively cheap rates back "home" and everything is paid in advance. So the " local " host economy gets peanuts from their visits.

- The second thing I learned is that Israeli tourists are known to be be snatchers.
They basically snatch everything they lay their hands on. Hotel towels, ashtrays, soap holders and even the paintings on the walls. So hotels have nailed their paintings in such a way as to make them unmovable or should I say, un-snatchable. Unless of course, an Israeli bulldozer is called to the premises.

- The third thing I learned is that Israelis don't need a visa, whilst the
" locals " must apply for one, weeks in advance and 9 times out of 10, it is refused.

- And last but not least, there is a holiday festive period in " Israel " and that a number of Israelis prefer the next door shores to their own crowded kitsch beaches.

And of course this particular bunch was your typical loud, arrogant, and downright nasty to the staff, bunch...arguing about every single penny on the bill.

A little later, landed an English couple and proceeded to sit right behind me.
I thought to myself " Patience girl, let's see how far you are jinxed. "
This pinkish looking English couple had the heaviest cockney accent ever.
The " eeyah's and oi's " galore.
The tattooed Brit ordered industrial quantities of beer that his " mate " and himself, gulped down at the speed of ligthning, grabbing fistfuls of nuts from the bowl and shoving them down their mouths as if they had never seen a pistachio before in their entire lives.

So let us recap shall we ? Four Russians in front of me. Four Israelis to my right. Two cockney English behind me and I was waiting for the "grande finale" to happen before the curtain falls down. And of course it happened.

A little later, an American couple came and sat to my left. I nearly fainted. I am jinxed for sure.
The guy looked like some G.I on a short break from the heavy, tiresome duty of killing and his " meaningful other " ( a typical politically correct qualification don't you think ? See, am learning), his partner, an obnoxious, loud thing, called a " woman ".
I can safely state with no exaggeration whatsoever, that the pitch of her voice could be heard to the end of the beach and maybe across the borders...

If you really want to know what it sounded like, I invite you to pinch both of your nostrils really tight and then speak rapidly in the loudest voice you can muster.

Go on, give it a try...Yes that is exactly it!

Her partner, tired from his murdering sprees, turned on his Ipod, obviously ignoring her endless chatter about the latest chocolate fudge she had at auntie Lou's, back home. After a while, seeing she was being manifestly ignored, she picked a trashy Danielle Steel " novel " and would read one line, stop, and chatter some more...
Don't you just love American intellectual conversations ?

And as if all the above was not enough, I got the final prize.
The beach bartender decided to play some music. And guess what he had on ?
Some fucking hillbilly Banjo music that made Dolly Parton sound like an Opera Diva in comparison.

So here I was, caught in a cacophony of unwanted Hebrew, a reactionary brazen Russian, a disdainful cockney English and a loud, nauseating nasal American, the whole speech of tongues crowned by some Banjo music from Iowa....
And here I am, sitting in the heart of the Middle East, during Ramadan.

I got terribly claustrophobic and could no longer breath...I felt as if a thousands walls came tumbling down on me...
I gathered my things and moved to the farthest, furthest, end corner of the shore, anxiously looking behind me, hoping I will not be followed by this occupying mob...

I told one of the waiters as I was heading towards my safe haven :
" For God's sake, change this music...We are not in some corn field in Iowa. "
What I really wanted to shout at the top of my lungs, was : " God damn it, change this shitty yankee music. " But I showed restrain. After all, I was the real foreigner here not them.
" No problem, Madam, I have Celine Dion." He replied.
I can't stand Celine Dion but anything was better than that.

I finally relaxed a little and heard mousey Celine Dion blasting away with the theme song from the " Titanic ", you know - the shipwreck.

I was wrecked myself. I castigated myself for having to put me in this torturous process of " socio - political " observation, that caused me a huge anxiety attack nearly suffocating me.

Feeling my heartbeat slowing down, I reclined back and tried to shut Celine Dion and them from my mind. I switched on my antiquated walkman and since I had no tapes, I fiddled with the radio. A news flash bulletin came up.

- A disabled Palestinian from Nablus was shot dead by Israeli soldiers as he was standing by his window. The man was disabled in 2001, following an Israeli incursion.

- A 12 years old Palestinian boy was run over by an Israeli bulldozer in Gaza.

- 15 killed and several wounded in various parts of Iraq...

And as I was listening to the news bulletin, I received two text messages.
The first one from Radhee and it said : " Three have been killed by them (meaning U.S and militias in his neighborhood.) But don't worry we are still alive."

The second one from Zayd : " This evening, 9 sharp, visit, condolences to X. Nephew shot dead in his home by Mahdi guys. Don't be late. Enjoy ! "

I sighed and changed the radio station and fell upon an old Iraqi traditional song, sung in Hebrew followed by a Palestinian folk song, also sung in Hebrew.

The beach was temporarily vacated by then. I guess the various " guests " were preparing themselves for another succulent Middle Eastern " Dinner "....
I could already picture the hotel staff inclining, bowing and snivelling like in
the " good old " colonial days...
Then I remembered what an older Palestinian lady told me a few days ago. She said:
" When I was in high school in Jerusalem, our English teacher said to us - nice girls sit upright with their heads and backs straight. You (Palestinians) don't really need to learn that, only us (English) have a right to such a posture. "

It was time for me to leave. I had a funeral visit to go to, I gave one last long look...
The sun was slowly disappearing into the sea. The water took on a blue silvery color and shined as if a thousand diamonds were floating on its surface. All was gently enveloped in a hue of pink, red, yellow and indigo.
And in a few hours, at sunrise, the sea and its shore will be witnessing a brand new day of...Occupation.

Painting : Iraqi female artist, Sawsan Al-Saraf.: " Tidal Wave "