After all, professional drivers in Israel and Palestine are some of the most fascinating people in the world. They kind of have to be. They are willing to travel to dangerous places, by virtue of both nature and human conflict, and they have to be ready to address whatever comes their way. What prepares them for this kind of career is every bit as interesting as their work adventure stories.
So I helped Abu Rami peel stickers off of his truck. English was not his strongest language, but he managed to get his meaning across. Some University students had turned his rugged desert camper into a peace train before he drove them into Gaza. He told me about how stupid he thought it was: Westerners must believe they are invincible to go into Gaza in the middle of an active conflict with Israel. And for what? Tragedy tourism?
We then sat under a tree, and he read some of the newspaper to me. He translated an editorial cartoon, and he taught me how to spell my name in Hebrew and Arabic. He told me how he had come to learn all three languages, and explained that he was proud of the fact that he could “pass” as either Israeli or Palestinian, because it made him very good at his job: getting people wherever they wanted to go.
We were sitting next to some cacti, and he asked if I wanted some fruit. I didn’t want to be any bother, I told him. I didn’t want him to feel that he had to entertain me. But he insisted on showing off his innovation: he’d figured out how to pick and serve cactus fruit with just a pop bottle, a stick, a knife, and some newspaper. First, he cut the pop bottle in half. Then, through the mouth of the bottle, he inserted the stick. He used the pop bottle to shield his hands from the needles as he picked the fruit and dropped it into the newspaper. Then, he rubbed the fruit on the ground using the newspaper until all of the sharp spines were rubbed off. Finally, he cut the fruit and gave me a piece.
The gap in communication was easily bridged by my sincere interest and his willingness to be patient with me.
It was one of the most remarkable interactions of my life. Because, while he had already driven me all around Northern Israel, I had always felt like an outsider looking in. Like I was still watching it on television. But by speaking to me in the way he did, and by sharing a couple of hours with me as friends, he allowed me to see a part of the country that you can’t see unless someone is willing to share it with you. He let me into his life.
I haven’t found that experience on all of my trips. You can’t extort it from people, you can’t manufacture it, you can’t capture or recreate it. But that makes it all the more magical when it happens. Like the Great Pyramid, if it only revealed itself selectively. It is a World Wonder which only exists in my memory: the peaceful, informative, fun and funny afternoon I shared with Abu Rami.