All right. Three more stories from Eilat:
1. While staying at the Shelter (the name of our hostel), a man I did not know came up to me and asked me to play backgammon with him. I told him that I was not very good, and that he would have to remind me of the rules, but that I'd love to play. He said he wasn't very good either and that it would be fun. One of those things was a lie, one was the truth.
Backgammon is popular game in the Arab world, so I can reasonably be expected to lose when playing against an Arab man. Also, the game was invented by the Turks, so I would be even more expected to lose to a Turkish man when playing him. Finally, I have only played the game with Fro 3 times.
Really, I thought that backgammon was a game of luck, but it was as if I was playing chess against Bobby Fischer. Bobby could tell me all the hints and tips he wanted, he could even tell me what moves to make half the time, but he would still destroy me like Tyson destroyed Peter McNeely. However, I am proud to be able to say that I played backgammon with a Turk.
2. We have a guidebook for Israel and the Palestinian Territories that is about 6 years old. This leads us to some places that no longer exist. For example, we tried to find a pub near the hostel section of town in Eilat, but couldn't find it anywhere. Across the street from where we were trying to go, there was a small bar with music blaring out if it. We decided to wander in, and fortune smiled upon us.
It turned out to be a restaurant/bar run by Ethiopian Jews. There was only one other white guy in the place and I think he was the owner or the manager or something. Our first night in the place, we had just eaten dinner, but one of the Ethiopian men literally forced food into our mouths (when I say literally, I mean it. I held the food in his hand, refused to let me take it with my hand, and forced it into my mouth). It was great, but we were so full that there was not way we could eat more than one bite. Sarah couldn't even handle that much. She made me eat most of hers.
The next night, we went back to the same place for dinner. The food was really intense, and it made a very powerful impression on my stomach. I am used to eating Arab food, which is no light fare, and this still felt incredible heavy. It was also bursting with flavor. As we ate, the Ethiopians watched and corrected our eating style, and interrupted us every two or three bites to ask if we liked the food. It was really fun.
After we had finished eating, the music really started cranking, and one particularly gregarious man (the one who had forced food into our mouths the night before) convinced us to get up a dance in the middle of the restaurant with him and some of the other men. So there we were, three white folks from the US, dancing in between the tables at an Ethiopian restaurant to some sort of music that sounded like a mix between Busta Rhymes, Tribal Beats, and Raffi. (Alright, everything will be alright, we can make it/ Alright, everything will be alright, we can make it).
We were there for about 2.5 hours, and we only left because the hostel had a curfew. When we tried to leave, the other patrons of the restaurant tried every trick in the book to keep us there. I ended up arguing with them in the street on our way out, trying to convince them that we really had to leave, or else we would be locked out of our hostel.
As we were arguing, one of the men ran into the bar (I knew where he was going) and came running out with a beer for each of us to walk back to the hostel with. (This is allowed in Israel). Finally, we were able to leave . . . But I am sure we will be back, God willing.
3. One morning, Jesse, Som, and I got up early to hike in the Negev. We took a bus out to the spot where the trail began, but we could not get a bus back after we were finished with the hike. We decided to hitch back. As we were walking, we came across a checkpoint that was manned by Israeli soldiers. They stopped every car heading back to Eilat, and asked if they would give us a ride. They first promised to find a car full of beautiful, single girls, but later we convinced them that we would be happy to ride back with anybody that would give us a ride.
Jesse and Som got a ride fairly early on, but there were only two seats, so I waited with the Soldiers for another 45 minutes or so. They offered me water, coke, sunflower seeds, and cookies. They asked me what music I liked and tried to give me their Ipod to use, and they constantly tried to make sure that I was as comfortable as possible.
At one point, a soldier who was stationed a little bit away from the check point began to sing "Good Morning Beautiful" by Steve Holy, followed by "You'll Be In My Heart." (The Phil Collins song from Tarzan). The other soldiers started making requests, and even put in my request for some Cat Stevens, but apparently, his Ipod was only stocked with cheesy love songs in English.
My perspective and attitude toward Israeli solders (as people) has really been impacted by this encounter. It was the first time I have interacted with soldiers who did not have reason to suspect or be frustrated with me.
The enduring image of this trip may indeed be dancing in the Ethiopian restaurant. I know that I will never get that song out of my head, and I pray that I will be able to return to that place. Israel is quite a unique place. The blend of cultures, religions, and languages makes it so that it would take a long time to grow bored with it. That wasn't a sales pitch, by the way. It's just the way it is.