Sunday, June 21, 2009

Jerusalem of Gold

I love taking the bus in Jerusalem. I say this having only taken the Israeli “Egged” bus once, but I rely on the “Al-Quds” buses that run in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. I take the 75 almost daily. Not only is it cheap, but it runs so frequently, that I often question the ability of the bus company to remain solvent. There is no time table on which these buses run. They come and go with the rest of the traffic.

There are no bus stops for these buses. Let me rephrase; there are bus stops, although they are a negligible part of the bus infrastructure. No one uses the bus stops to get onto the buses. Passengers have the ability to wave the bus down like a taxi and get on or off at any point throughout the course of the bus’ trip. This system is very user friendly, although it cannot be the most efficient method.

There are no capacity limits on these buses. Keep in mind, many of the Al-Quds buses look like the mini-buses that we use in the states, they aren’t normal sized passenger buses. Regardless, the buses are so widely used that the aisles double as a standing room. I was a standing passenger today, and I was concerned that the bumpy nature of the bus ride would send me into the lap of some old hijab clad woman. I didn’t want to cause anyone to violate the Muslim tenet that holds inter-gender contact as haram, or forbidden. Therefore, I braced myself with a wide stance, and leaned against the back of another chair. Laysa mooshkila, no problem.

My experience with the bus system has been so far seamless. My only qualm resides in the time frame within which the buses function. Every evening, 7 days a week, the Al-Quds buses stop running at 10pm. Only my parents go to bed at 10pm! And even at that point, they’re still watching Letterman. Therefore, if I want to get home in the evening I have to pay for a taxi to get up the Jabal al-Zetoon. Luckily, I’ve made friends with a taxi driver who is consistently outside of Damascus Gate. We’ve worked out a deal, and I’ve made it clear to him that I will refuse to pay the rip-off prices that he charges to gringos. He teaches me a little Arabic, I pay him a few shekels and there I am, home sweet home.

Jerusalem is a spectacular city, and a city that is very easily travelled by foot. In the day, I have no problem walking from the Machaneh Yehuda, a shuk near Jaffa Rd. all the way down to Damascus Gate where I pick up my bus. One observation about pedestrians, however, is their hesitancy to jay-walk. For a culture that is so impatient in most aspects of life, Israelis will rarely dare to cross the street in defiance of the red, standing man. In fact, if they catch you doing so, they will start to yell at you. It’s a concept that I am still trying to grasp, but I’ll get back to you with more musings if I come up some.

My first weekend as an independent Jerusalemite was very enjoyable, and very relaxing. Much of Jerusalem, with the exception of East Jerusalem, is silent on Shabbat. No buses, a few taxis, and even fewer cars. No businesses are open. Hardly any pedestrians venture out into the street. As a friend observed, Jerusalem is like the country-side on Shabbat. It is silent. However, Sunday is a normal day in Israeli society. The hustle and bustle of normal Jerusalem life exists in full force on Sundays.

It is only a matter of time before I absorb these cultural adjustments. After visiting Japan in 2005, I recall bowing to people in the United States long after returning home. I am unable to pinpoint what aspects of Israeli/Arab culture will stick with me after my return home. For now, I am just enjoying the unique intricacies that make Jerusalem one of the greatest cities on the planet (and one worth fighting for).

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