The sun is already going down when I finally ride down mountain Hermon. It’s a two hours drive to the port of Haifa. On my way I have a strange pit stop. As I pull over at a gas station the Service station attendant greets me with the following words: “chello my darling!”
I give him a long uncomfortable stare.
Noticing my uncomfortableness he asks, “are you ok, my darling?”
He doesn’t really strike me as the liberal type of person that loves cosmopolitans and whose yearly highlight is the gay pride in Tel Aviv. From his thick oriental accent and looks I can deduct he must be Arabic. He could be Christian or Muslim. But in both cases I assume that the standard practices in his living environment wouldn’t allow him to be this openly gay. I’m confused, so I ask, ”excuse me?”
“Yes, my darling, habibi, how are you?” he says with a big smile.
Bingo! He wasn’t hitting on me! This was just a misunderstanding. I was lost in translation. You can say habibi also to a man in Arabic. The use of the direct translation of habibi (=“darling”) in English comes across a bit strange if you use it from one male person to another. I try to explain him that it’s a bit strange to use it in English. Especially if you’ve never seen that person and he just wants to buy some gas in your gas station. So I reply
“It’s not OK to say ‘my darling’, like that. It sounds weird in English, do you understand?”
“no, I can use ‘my darling’, it’s fine!” he says with a big grin.
I don’t agree. What follows is a small yes-no discussion in front of a gas station between two non-native English speakers about the meaning of “my darling” in English.
Annoyed because I’m unable to make my point, I enter the shop to pay my gas. To make matters worse I think they try to trick me when I just receive a few coins of change back. The bad thing about traveling for too long is that you start become paranoid, you start to think that everybody wants to trick you, but apparently not this time. After I make a whole spectacle and a complete fool out of myself by using words and sentences as: dishonesty, trying to trick innocent foreigners and a couple of Flemish swearwords I rather not want to translate, the women behind the counter shows me that the coins are 10 shekel which is the equivalent of about 2,5 euros. I definitely got the right amount back. I got confused by the coins… . In my defense: ever since I left Rwanda I had to calculate in eight different currencies and I don’t really posses what you would call an accountants’ accuracy with money.
My cheeks turn red and I mumble an apology. As I walk towards my motorcycle, my boots filled with heavy shame, I hear behind my back a mocking voice: “bye, bye, my darling!”
I ride into the dark towards Haifa where I arrive around eight o’clock in the evening. I look for a mcdonalds to have some electricity and wifi to send a message to Adrian. He’s out of town but after a few trials I can reach him.
We meet up at his apartment in the center of the city. It has been a while since I’ve seen him. We used to study together and he lived in my home town. Studying social sciences doesn’t really give you a big advantage on the labour market, so he decided to move to Israel. Although his last name (Rubinstein) was a bit of a give-a-way I never really realized that Adrian was Jewish. He was also more of a friend of a friend you meet in bars. He took part in a program to stimulate young Jewish people to return to Israel and to reinforce the population. I assume that the Israeli state is looking all the time for fresh young forces to have young forces in the army and the private sector. In return for half a year of Hebrew classes, young Jewish people from all over the world can come to Israel, gain the citizenship and get a salary for a determined period of time. Adrian speaks fluent Hebrew now.
He shares an apartment with his girlfriend and another Canadian girl. I buy some beers before I join them (beers are crazy expensive in Israel!!) Later another friend (Reinout) from Belgium joins us. I pick him up way past midnight at the train station of Haifa. It takes me a lot of effort to find the way back up the hill. It’s all one-way traffic streets and if you miss one street you need to ride around the whole town so to speak to find your way back from where you came. We have some beers together and go to bed (for me and Reinout that means the sofa)
In the morning the Canadian housemate of Adrian awakes me. In a moment of complete embarrassment she proposes me to wash my clothes for me. I never felt so embarrassed in my life. Do my clothes smell that bad?
I smell my clothes but can’t really detect something. It might have been just the smell of us sleeping one night in a small, unventilated living room? Still, the damage is done and I feel like a complete bum. With three pair of underpants, socks and only one pair of normal paints, I must say that I’m traveling with a very basic wardrobe. There’s just no room for more stuff on my bike. In Africa all of this didn’t count. Maybe people thought I smelt bad but looking different was my ticket in everywhere. Now I start to realize I’m might have turned into a bum… I don’t feel very good about it.
The next day I give Adrian a ride to work. Afterwards I ride to a big mall where I buy a new pair of pants and a t-shirt, all for the equivalent of 30 euro’s. The rest of the next three days I spend with Reinout walking around Haifa, getting acquainted with local herbal vegetation and drinking beers. The days go by fast when you do nothing and you’re head is in the clouds. We also visit the northern border of Israel with Libanon which looks like a scene from a James Bond movie. Funny.
Israel gives me a strange feeling that I can’t fully describe. It looks a lot like southern Europe but it just doesn’t feel like it. It looks so close to Europe but you still feel like an outsider. After a few days I decide to stop fooling around and I start arranging the shipment of my motorcycle to Greece. I try to shop around and negotiate the best price. But there’s not much choice. There is only one agent that sells tickets for a roll-on roll-off boat to Greece and that’s the Rosenfeld agency. It’s the only shipping agent, that gives me a bad negotiating position. I thought that the boat transfer would cost me around 500 euros. In the end I pay 460 euros so I’m a happy man.
We had a few good days together. But all in all Haifa is not the biggest city and it seems a bit boring to me (although Adrian says it’s not) The Bahai gardens are another highlight. The gardens are amazing and the view on the bay of Haifa even more amazing. The temple is a lot less impressive on the inside than the outside.
After a few days Reinout sets off to Jordan to visit Amman and Petra. I’m moving down south to visit Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. These few days I spent with Leuven (my home town) boys really released some homesickness within me. Europe and Belgium are coming closer. But this trip is far from over yet.