“Is this man harassing you? I work across the street but I just closed so I am helping here. Such beautiful eyes. Do you have Facebook? Oh, no? Well, know that when you leave you take my heart with you.”
– An Arab man around his thirties, talking to me in a restaurant in the Arab quarter –
“My nigger… Gay, disgusting… Dude I was looking at the tree for like twenty minutes, it was just spinning dude.”
– A drunk American Jewish teenager, wearing a kippa, shouting on the bus coming back from a Purim night in Jerusalem –
“Where are you from? We had a bet between us, he says America and I say Russia. Yes, Israel, but where are your parents from? Oh, Russia, I knew it. You can tell where a person is from by the way he speaks. Americans have a lot of time so they elongate the words, Russians are more deep with them. But you have the German beauty.”
– A male seller from Hebron in the Mahane Yehuda market –
These are only a few examples of some quotes I heard this weekend while roaming the streets of Jerusalem. I found it important to mention the ethnicity of the speaker because the amount of times I was asked where I am from is countless. And as the question arose the same inquiry came to mind: what do I answer? I felt as if I am Alice and I have all these caterpillars around me, not leaving me alone before I answer the most basic question there is: ‘who are you?’. So I choose the easy way and say ‘I’m from around’.
Why is it so hard to answer Israeli, you wonder? Why can’t I say Russian without any regret? Because I don’t want to belong to any of these places. Because every tag like this is followed by a long list of who I am without me having anything to do with it. I am a leftie, a rightie, an alcoholic, a slut, a killer, a soldier, a patriot, an immigrant, a Zionist, a dodger… What else? Tell me people, for I have forgotten what else I am to be. What else awaits me? So I am from around, just like you are from around, it is easier this way.
Dear daily male, why should I be amazed after you told me my eyes are beautiful? Dear daily male, go tell that to another costumer. Dear daily male, why did you depart from your heart so hastily? Dear daily male, how did you become so courageous that you can come up to any girl and look at her as if she owes you something? Dear daily male, no, you will not see my underwear tonight.
Jew boy. Yes you. Oh, this word upsets you? What, it has bad connotations? So how dare you shout Nigger? How dare you shout gay? Close your mouth and rethink it, or at least take down your kippa because this is not how God would like you to speak in the Holy Land, you hypocrite.
Thank you, really, I am so lucky to wear the ‘German beauty’, it disguises everything else inside me so well. Sorry, but I do not think there is such a thing as a type of beauty. There is you, and a debate on whether you are beautiful or not is only for you to start. I understand that he was saying it all with a smile and with the best intentions, probably hoping that I will buy more cheese. The Jewish teenager was drunk, just like another teenager is right now somewhere in the world, and he is definitely not a representative of a whole community. The guard just tried to do his job, thinking that staying far from Arabic is for the best. I can try and understand it all and I can also find many examples of why Jerusalem is one of my favorite cities. I can write about the enchanting smell of the market, the lovely smile I get on a Friday morning from the seller after he milled my coffee, the rooftops of ancient buildings during a sunset.
It is very easy to write why you love something but it is more important, perhaps, to understand what you appreciate less, to find a reason for the heaviness Jerusalem might lay on you from time to time. On my last visit there I felt like a ghost; I saw the faces of the happy tourists with the voices of my language and the one I am trying to acquire in the background. I could not get myself excited because of quotes such as those I mentioned above. When I see this city more than what I am used to, these quotes begin to sink in, creating a weight from within. Most guests do not see how hard it was to clean the house, they only see the beautiful food on the table, and leave dirty footprints on the floor. Whenever we are being hosted, we should look for the dirty footprints that were there before us, that is why I am showing them to you now.
Written by Maayan Agmon
Edited by Maria Tirnovanu
Copy-edited by Carlos Sevilla