Naturally, most of my blog postings have focused on the more exciting events that have punctuated my time here. But now I think I should spend a little time providing some more details on the small...uh, details that serve to remind me that I'm in a foreign country. Since I've spent more time in Palestine than in Israel, the focus will probably be weighted accordingly.
- In both Israel and Palestine, for some reason flushing toilet paper is taboo—the pipes here are a bit pickier, I suppose—so most bathroom trash cans wisely have lids on them. One particularly touching memory from my Ramallah flat: gaggingly prodding through the beastly stench of the bathroom wastebasket, looking for a relatively clean piece of toilet paper to use after realizing too late that we were out of it.
Once you do flush down your business, the toilet explodes with a torrent of sound and water that puts our timid low-flow American toilets to shame. Finally, after leaving the commode refreshed (or disappointed?), you should remember to turn off the light switch which is invariably located outside of the bathroom.As far as Palestine goes, there are not many traffic lights to be seen; speed bumps are the traffic control measure of choice. There is a disorder that is almost delightful on the streets of Ramallah—although the Palestinian Authority employs traffic cops, these beret-wearing officers don't stop the bustling crowd from spilling out onto the streets and walking nonchalantly through busy intersections, a skill which I picked up rather quickly. Palestinian drivers are experts in the nuanced language of the horn, communicating a surprisingly diverse spectrum of feelings and desires just through a few well-timed taps.
- While driving in Israel, you'll notice that a yellow traffic light precedes both red and green lights. In other words, start your engines...
-Self-explanatory...to be continued....
- In Ramallah it is not uncommon to see young boys with arms around each other's waists or shoulders, walking down the street together in quasi-embrace. As the boys grow up and become men, this inter-male affection gradually evolves to an exchange of kisses on the cheek. The sort of skittish homophobia that pervades American boyhood is not present here, but make no mistake: it's not easy to be gay in a predominantly Muslim society. (Though if you were an openly gay Palestinian, unquestionably the best place to be in Palestine would be Ramallah. Here the stark social edges of Islamic culture have been softened by the large—and profitable—international presence in the city.)
- And who could forget about the ubiquitous presence of automatic weapons? Almost invariably they are wielded by soldiers in both territories, although you'll see many more AKs on an average day in Jerusalem than in Ramallah. I've only been disturbed by them on the rare occasion that I've seen them wielded in the hands of people wearing street clothes.
- In Tel Aviv, porno is practically given out for free, while it is nowhere to be found in Palestine. (Ok, so I haven't been looking, but I'm fairly certain that the entrepreneurial Palestinian that set up a porno shop would be jailed—and that's if he was lucky. And in the "Hamastan" of Gaza, well, that's a pretty good way to commit suicide.) True, there is a place called "True Love" right next door, but its warmly-colored shelves are filled with corny Valentines and stuffed animals, not freakishly large dildos painted with stars and stripes.
- In America, a hookah is usually shared among two or more people. Here, Palestinians can be found sitting around a table each nursing their own. At first I thought this was a strange anomaly in the pattern of sharing that I had noticed among Palestinians, but now I get the feeling that these sessions last for hours at a time, necessitating the copious amounts of argeela smoke.