It was quite late into the night. I went to a movie with my buddy and two Arab girl-friends (i.e. friends who were girls, nothing more). The sherut (शेरूत – an Israeli shared taxi) dropped us at the gates of the Old city at 12:53 am (point A). Our destination was point B, across the Muslim Quarter along the narrow walkways.
Map of the Old City. The points A-I are used to explain the events below
The four of us were laughing, joking and talking about the movie until reality stuck us. It was late night and we had to cross the Muslim Quarter. Women were not allowed to travel alone after 9 pm. They had to married and accompanied by their husband. Hanging out with male friends so late at night was against the rules. The punishment was death for the girls and 200 lashes for the guys (not sure if rules were different for non-Muslim guys).
We were two Hindu guys with two Muslim girls, trying to cross to point B.
One of the girls was called Hafza and I don’t remember the name of the other. Hafza wore religious black head dressing, while the other girl was modern, dressed in jeans. The four of us were so close friends that we never realized until now that we belonged to different religions, or such man-made differences.
We became serious. As a self-declared leader I announced: “Three of you stay here (outside the gates) while I go and checkout if it’s safe inside. Don’t go anywhere.” I asked my buddy to protect the girls (ah, how sexist!).
Ignoring their protests, I ventured in. It was typical old city. Nobody around, occasional drunkards (strange to find them in Muslim quarter) and drug addicts lingering and looking at me with suspicion. For a moment I thought I was on those narrow alleys of Mumbai or Toronto. I started to run on the route. Too bad it was too dark, I couldn’t see my feet and everything was so confusing. At point C, instead of going straight, I took a left turn – blunder…..
In total darkness, I ran till point D because I saw light there. To my right side was a Turkish shuk (शुक् – market) – brightly lit and very clean. Just one perfume shop was open. The guy inside was wearing a blue Islamic cap. He looked at me and sneered (as if mocking at my panic). I went back and continued to point E, which was a junction again.
PS: I hate junctions.
I turned left and approached gate F. It was a huge gate, really massive. It looked similar to the Damascus gate, except that it looked evil and gloomy. The doors creaked. They were closing. There were men and women standing in front of the gate. Someone started yelling भागो भागो… (run, run!) and as the gates closed they started running. There was loud music, someone playing a Flute and मृदंगम् (Mridangam – South Indian percussion instrument).
I started running too. The road was a steep hike and I was trying my best to run but even the women dressed in blue abayas were overtaking me. Somehow overcoming the screams and fear, I made it out to gate G. I was exhausted with all this running around in darkness, full of fear and panic.
I saw a plaza in the front. I recognized it was the tourist plaza in the Jewish quarter where I clicked pictures yesterday. I saw few tourists and tour buses there. Somehow I dragged myself to point H.
Holy shit, I was lost (realization 1). It was 30 minutes since I left my friends at point A (realization 2). I didn’t carry my cellphone today (realization 3). I couldn’t speak Arabic or Hebrew (realization 4). I was terribly worried about the safety of my friends (realization 5). What can I do now? Going back would mean another half-hour of running thru terrifying dark alleys.
I collapsed on the floor crying, unable to take all of that.
1:23 am. But then I told myself to get rid of the melodrama and got in control of myself. I got up and started looking for help. Tourists were running towards the bus and the driver was honking. I wanted a cellphone and I was ready to steal one if I didn’t find any. I saw 2 girls and begged them to make a call from their cell phone. I waved a 10 Shekel note (Rs. 40 or $2.5) at them. But like any other friendly Israelis I met, they simply gave me their cellphone. It was a RIM blackberry.
I started dialing the number. But I couldn’t. My hands were shaking, my eyes were full of tears and I was so weak that I couldn’t press the buttons. Embarrassed, I asked them to help. The girl dialed the number. Suddenly ten little Arab kids appeared there from somewhere, grabbed the cellphone from the girls and held it to my ear (aww.. so nice). Probably because I looked so damn weak that I couldn’t hold a cellphone. When the call connected, they all yelled – “helloooo….” I took the phone and said, “I’m okay, Toda (तोदा – Hebrew for Thanks.)” They turned away without saying a word, strange. Then I realized they were Arab Muslims (and probably trained to be apathetic to Hebrew) so I shouted again Shukran (शुकरान् – Arabic for Thanks.) They turned, smiled, waved and disappeared.
Back to the call, I started blabbering to my friend in Marathi (strange!). I was so delighted to hear my friend’s relaxed voice that I talking to him frantically. He said बोल बोल, मी बघतोय (keep talking, I am seeing it). What the hell…. I turned around and there he was – walking from point I to point H. The girls were giggling too.
Their situation was stark in contrast to mine. I felt like I was almost dead. Although I was so relieved to see the three of them safe and sound, I was agitated at my buddy for being so risky. It was me who proposed the night movie idea. Although tourist, I was the guy who knew the streets well. The Muslim girls (locals) were my responsibility. I was agitated, I roared and ran towards my buddy, with this strong urge to slap him.
“Dude, it’s okay trust others too”, he said.
I wake up with a shock, look at the watch, it was 1:30 am. That’s right, this was a dream.
- Recent trip to Jerusalem old city and one night when I was roaming there with friends.
- Asking strangers in Israel if I can use their cell phone
- Turkish shuk in Akko (Will post about this shortly)
- My superior (self-declared) map reading and navigation skill
- Japanese anime – I have to protect my friends at the cost of my life
Like I said, all this was a dream. Feel free to tell me what you think it means: