He asked me where I’m from.
“Where is Sicily?”
“The big island in the Mediterranean Sea.”
“Cyprus, Crete, Sicily” clarified someone else sitting next to us in the hall.
“I don’t know.”
“Look it up on Google.”
“Look it up on Google.”
“Wait.” Quick, familiar swipes of finger on the screen of my phone together with the feeling he was pulling my leg. “Here. This is Sicily. Italy, Sicily.”
“And where are we now?”
Quick pinch on the screen to reduce the size of the map. Let’s play his game.
“Here, this arrow here it’s us. This is Jerusalem. Where are you from?”
“Here it is. Bethlehem or one of the nearby villages?”
“Near Bethlehem. I’m from Ayda. You know Ayda? The camp next to Rachel’s Tomb.”
“Do you know the word ‘camp’?”
“Is it true you’re a rabbi?”
“…Yes…” Here we go again…
“Is it true that you want to destroy Al-Aqsa and build the Temple?”
No… Yes… No, not all of us… I want to hear about you and your life. I do not want to talk about the end of days.
The sea of Jaffa was placid the morning after. He was leaning against a wall and staring at the water expanse. I sat there facing him.
“Have you been to Tel Aviv before?”
“Yes, when I was little,” his hand lowered to his knee approximating his age at the time.
“Whoa! A long time! Maybe they’ll take us later today…”
“I like the sea.”
“What is over there?”
“I don’t understand,” I said and looked for clues in his eyes. All I found was the skyscrapers in his sunglasses.
“Where does the sea go?”
In the fraction of a second clips from the evening before flashed through my mind, adding details to my impressions of him.
No, he wasn’t pulling my leg with his questions.
No, the sky above me wasn’t blue and cloudless anymore.
“Where can we go? Can we go to China from here?”
“I don’t know… Maybe. But it is far away.”
“But where can we go from here? Turkey?”
“Turkey. Greece. Italy. France. Spain. And if you keep going this way along the coast, first there is Gaza and then Egypt.”
A focused smile was tracking the movement of my hand as it pointed to the direction of the different countries.
“Ah! Can we go to all these places from here? Really?”
“Yes… No… Well, yes!” I can, you can’t. For whatever draw of luck.
“Have you been in the sea?”
Then he asked me in Hebrew “Have you been inside the sea?”
“Yes! I love it!”
And while I uttered the end of that overly enthusiastic sentence my stomach cringed and I was scared of his answer to my next question.
“Have you been inside the sea?”
“In my lifetime I’ve never been at the sea.”
No apparent emotion in his words. Just a plain matter of fact statement.
This is part of the reality of my life as a 31 y.o. Palestinian born, raised and living in a refugee camp.
In my lifetime I’ve never been at the sea.