Thursday, August 11, 2011

Day 17: The True Middle East: Ahlan W Sahlan

Tonight was one of my most incredible nights in Israel! In fact, I am risking sleep deprivation to write this post at 2 in the morning because I don't want to forget anything that happened. As was planned, tonight was the night that a group of us decided to go into Jaffa for some authentic Middle Eastern food, the big street fair held there every Thursday, some good hookah, good music, and just all around good fun. We arrived in Jaffa around 7:45 and were immediately swept into the HUGE open flea market (Shuk Hapishpishim) and street fair. It was pure magic. The first thing we saw as we entered the market were people Israeli folk dancing to the most gorgeous Israeli folk music. The music that my grandparents and parents danced to was now being played in the streets for the young people of today to enjoy. It was amazing seeing all of the people dancing without a care in the world. I felt so much at home! After we watched the dancing for a short time, we decided to browse around some of the shops. There were beautiful shops filled with bagadim (clothing), gorgeous Judaica, scarves, carpets, and anything else you could think of! My suite mate Mara was very excited she could find cheap (and very beautiful) head scarves! 

After some more walking around we were getting very hungry. We are becoming more and more like Israelis every day; we don't eat until 9 or 10 pm! We all wanted authentic Middle Eastern food so we decided to try a nice restaurant called Abu Lafa. WHAT A FIND! First of all they all spoke Arabic so I was naturally excited! We got a table and were immediately bombarded with tons and tons of food: Humus, tehina, red cabbage, white cabbage, babaganush, salat ilarabi (Arabic salad), romanian babaganush, eggplant, olives, pickled peppers and carrots, and a huge thing of pita and lafa! 

With all of that food we only had room to order Falafel!! Thinking this was going to be a huge bill we tried to be very selective of what we ordered, but to our amazement, we were only charged for our main courses. Everything you see in the pictures (aside from the falafel) was free! I LOVE JAFFA! As we were eating, all of a sudden the Muslim call to prayer filled the restaurant and it was the most beautiful chanting and praying. For the first time I felt as though I was in the true Middle East; authentic food, sounds of prayer, and everyone around speaking both Hebrew and Arabic. It was astounding how amazing I felt.  As we were finishing out meal one of our party had to use the restroom so I politely asked "wen il-hamam", which is "where is the bathroom" in Arabic. I thought the guy I was asking was going to drop his tray. He must have been very excited I spoke some Arabic because, from then on, he kept coming back to the table with desserts and coffee! It was fantastic! After we finished eating we decided to walk around the Shuk a bit more and then find a hookah bar. It has been a goal of both Susanna and me to find a hookah bar that can replace the one we lost in Jerusalem. 

As we were walking we found 2 hookah bars and decided to go to the less sketchy of the two. They were both filled completely with men so we opted for the hookah bar on the more crowded street; the less isolated the better in this situation, especially since we were a group of all females. The hookah bar was fine, we had amazing hookah for a good price, but it was nothing like what we had in Jerusalem. The people working were involved with their own groups of people, there wasn't much music, and it wasn't the best atmosphere. It was a bit disappointing but at least we got amazing hookah out of it. By this time we were all starting to get very sleepy. It was pushing 11 and we had a long day. We felt so strange being tired so early since most Israelis are just starting to eat dinner at this time, but we chalked it up to the fact that we had to be up at 7 this morning so it was perfectly acceptable to be tired at 11 :-). We finished at the hookah bar, paid the bill, and decided it was time to walk back to the bust stop. 

Well, God works in mysterious ways sometimes because what happened next wouldn't have happened had if some circumstances had been slightly different. We had left the hookah bar (where there was a bathroom) and I didn't have to use it. Literally, and I am not exaggerating, 2 minutes down the road I all of a sudden had to pee so badly I thought I was going to burst (sorry for the details)! Luckily there was a McDonalds by our bus stop so we decided to stop in there... O WAIT! It was closed... I was not a happy camper because we had at least a 40 minute bus ride back and I definitely wasn't going to make it. Before giving up hope, Susanna pointed out this little cafe place that looked like it could be open, and we decided to see if we could beg for a bathroom to use; I would have bought up the whole store just to be able to use their restroom. As we got up to the door it looked closed, and right as I started yelling due to frustration, the owner comes out and invites us in. Well, right when we walk in all you could hear was very loud Arabic music playing. For a second I was so excited I forgot I had to go to the bathroom; so what do I do, I start dancing to the Arabic music. I finally go up to use the restroom and come down to find that the owner was giving us free food from his stock. At this point he didn't know I spoke some Arabic, but he saw how I was looking at the music videos playing, and was very interested in what was going on. I recognized on of the songs that was on, and started explaining to my friends who was singing, and the owner then knew that I had a very special connection to this language and music. He told me he could see it in my eyes when I walked in. Anyways, he told me I was the boss and then offered me free iced coffee and free food. I was just so excited to be there I didn't care what happened; I just wanted to stay for the music. I was ecstatic when Susanna decided to order food, because that meant we would get to spend more time there! Another man walked into the cafe at this point and asked me if I speak Hebrew or where I was from. I answered him IN ARABIC that I don't speak Hebrew but I speak Arabic, and he was very excited! And then I got more free food :-) and listened to more Arabic music. Susanna and I decided that this would be our new spot, and I have a feeling I will be there ALL THE TIME! Not only will I get to practice my Arabic, but they play amazing music and give me free food! Basically just like the hookah bar in Jerusalem :-) We have found our new home base (O and it doesn't hurt that it is walking distance from the beach). 

Finally, it was time to go home; we could prolong our stay no more. We crossed the street and began the wait for our bus. As we were waiting we heard a sound you NEVER want to hear when you are in Israel. A tire exploded and each of us had a mini heart attack. For a second we all thought it might have been an attack, but then we saw that it was just a blown tire... But really... Hearing something explode in Israel is no fun. After waiting for about 20 minutes we were told our bus no longer runs so we all had to share a cab home. It worked out really well and we were charged a very good price, so all in all, it was a great end to a fantastic evening! 

Well that about does it for tonight! I found my home base, practiced my Arabic, went to the Shuk, and had amazing Arabic food! Tomorrow it is off to Nachalat Binyamin (a big art fair and festival in Tel Aviv), and then some nice relaxation/beach for Shabbat! 

Lilah Tov Chaverim :-) Until Tomorrow! 
Jordana Simone 

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