Today, I did too many things to write a story. So I’m going to list them:
-I spent a train ride talking in French with an Orthodox Jew of Moroccan origins who immigrated from France.
-I hung out in an underground pool with arches built in 789 by the Abbasid Caliphate in a boat. And then I wrote an Arabic poem while inside!
-I met Peruvian (Jews?) and talked in Spanish about my friend Claudia who did Peace Corps in Peru.
-I visited a church from the 1200’s with a super hot Arab security guard whose smile and kindness melted my heart. Can you say “return visit”?
-I bought a CD of Iraqi music in Arabic sung by an Iraqi-Israeli Jew back in the day who was born in Iraq- for 10 shekels!
-I talked about Ethiopian music and Sigd in a store covered in Amharic and Hebrew signs.
-I watched Karaite Jews pray Ma’ariv evening prayers. Most of them are of Egyptian origin, so I chatted with them in Syrian and they responded in Egyptian Arabic.
-I made friends with an Israeli soldier when our trains got messed up and delayed and we had to switch lines.
-I did dinner in a mixture of Hebrew, English, and French with a Sabra and a French non-Jewish PhD student…whose family is from Guadeloupe! We talked about our shared love of Zouk.
-I danced dabke for easily three hours with young Arab students. A German exchange student came and I helped a talented dancer in a hijab translate dabke instructions into English (and a little Yiddish, which he can largely understand!).
-I then hung out with said wonderful German exchange student for another three hours walking around Tel Aviv and talking about life here. He is one of the most open-minded, non-judgmental, kind people I’ve met here. He’s not Jewish and I couldn’t imagine that a non-Jewish German would make my night…in Tel Aviv!
-Thinking no more cultural richness was possible, I hopped into a cab. The Israeli man turned on the music (without lyrics) and asked me to guess where it was from. Within 5 seconds I said “Thailand!” I love Thai music and used to buy it at the Thai grocery store back home. He was shocked. His wife is Thai and he lives in Thailand with his children, only coming back to Israel to care for his parents. He speaks fluent Thai- as do his biracial children. He was mightily impressed that my favorite Thai dish is Pad See Ew- he says everyone says Pad Thai!
This is what I have to say- today I spoke English, Hebrew, Arabic, Spanish, French, and Yiddish. Just last week I also spoke Catalan, Portuguese, and Farsi (with both Persians and Bukharans). If you have the curiosity, the passion, and the will- you can experience more cultures here than you can count. I live in a neighborhood where I regularly meet Iraqis and Moroccans and Syrians (Jews) and Burmese and Sudanese and Eritreans (non-Jews)- I even had someone tell me her friend is half Ghanaian half Filipina.
When people find out I’m a polyglot, they often tell me “what do you do with your languages?” Sometimes it feels accusatory- “why aren’t you making a ton of money off of them? Why aren’t you working for the government or the military or the CIA?”
You know what? What I do with my languages is what I did today. I explored ancient civilizations, made new friends, learned about other cultures, danced, sang, wrote poetry, and built bridges of peace. I felt happy 🙂
If you can show me something more valuable or enriching than that, be my guest.
In the meantime, I’m just happy to live in one of the most diverse countries on the planet. Where the combination of things I did today is only possible here. One person today said to me “but honestly what is there to see in Ramle?”- one of today’s destinations.
The answer: “everything, if you’d just open your mind.”