Thursday, 5 February 2015

Four new men in my life

One of my friends says that I have one of those faces that makes people feel they can come and talk to me – hence, perhaps, why ‘David’ on the Temple Mount the other day felt able to ask me what we were looking at. (In reality, I think it was because I was holding a Guidebook with the cover written in English!)

Anyway, as of today I have four new men in my life – whether it is because I have ‘one of those faces’, who knows: Thaddeus, Ramadan, Nadeer and Elias.

Thaddeus is a Greek Orthodox Priest who is based at the St Stephen's Greek Orthodox Church. Thaddeus genuinely seemed warm and welcoming (and he has to be as there will not be many people who pass the doors as the church is on a busy intersection and most pilgrims will pass by in a coach rather than on foot). The church is simple, but has the most vivid and lively frescoes when compared with a number of the churches I've visited here. We were getting on so well until I mentioned that I am a priest in the Anglican Church. Well, the very polite and smiley 'conversation' that followed was a real eye-opener. Essentially, the Greek Orthodox Church is the only real church and, even if any of the others do have anything about them, then it will not be much to speak of. I smiled a lot and nodded a lot and was polite, a lot. I was also glad when a couple of other people came in and I could move towards the door. As I left Thaddeus asked if he could say something to me, from the heart. I thought it might be a word of blessing (and for those opposed to the Ordination of women to the priesthood – let alone their elevation to being a Bishop - it will have been a blessing) but, alas it was not. Thaddeus’ parting words for me were, “Leave being a priest and save your soul.” He asked me to think about it and I said I would… Oh my!

Ramadan owns the shop next door to the one where I am sure I was ‘ripped off’ the other day when purchasing a scarf of a ‘certain style’. (Note to self, ‘Improve bartering skills before entering a Souk in the future!) I was introduced to Ramadan yesterday and, when I passed today, said hello, not expecting him to remember me. In fact, he did (or did a very good job of pretending!) and invited me to sit down. He was a friendly chap (not that sort of friendly – that’ll come later!) He’s Muslim, has always lived in Jerusalem, and is married with seven children. I’m afraid I did say, “Your poor wife!” Not very helpful, but really, seven! I also remarked that it must cost a lot of money to bring them up, to which Ramadan’s reply was, “Some of them are older and married and they help me.” I guess, ‘keep it in the family’ really does work sometimes.

Nadeer owns a Coffee Shop on the route of the via Dolorosa. I stopped in there for a breather between visiting St Veronica’s Church (which I’d never seen before – and it was open!) and the Western Wall Tunnels. I was the only one there and we got chatting, as you do. His English was seriously impressive. His home is above the shop – what a cool place to be – right in the middle of the city (although getting out and about in the evening will always be a challenge as the streets of the Old City are not necessarily ones you will want to be walking in after dark). My conversation with him was fascinating: politics – national and international; religion; faith; medicine; travel. He paid for his sister to travel to Bombay some years ago, to receive a kidney. Not realising it was illegal, he paid for the treatment (for which, read kidney) by route of having to ‘cosy’ up to the ‘mafia’ in Bombay to ensure he wasn’t ripped off anymore than he was being already. $11,000 later – with a local Indian being found who was compatible (and who will have been paid no-where near anything approaching what the cost was) – and his sister is well and fine again. Nadeer also told me his first girlfriend was English (how do I manage to find them!) and that, if his wife had allowed it, he would have married her too. My, but isn’t life wonderfully complicated. And all this over a mint tea!

And then there is Elias, whose parting words to me were, “I would desperately like to make love to you”. Well, what could I say?! I’m afraid I politely said, “Thank you, but no."

I met him (not at a candy store) but at Nadeer’s Coffee Shop where he came in as I was seeking to pay. A most bizarre conversation ensued with Elias first asking me where I was from and, when I replied England, he asked if I knew Manchester. He went on to ask if I had any girlfriends, at which point Nadeer explained Elias was looking for a girlfriend and, more particularly, a wife. Also, Elias doesn’t trust the local people and certainly doesn’t want a wife from Jerusalem. I asked if he had any camels with which to barter, or many shekels with which to pay… apparently he has a good house near St Veronica’s Church (and no, I don’t take that as a sign!) and is financially well off to boot. Now I have to tell you that, amidst all this argy-bargy and much laughter, a Polish chap joined the conversation and we were laughing at my having acquired the role of marriage broker. Elias thought I was laughing at him and I sought to assure him, with the help of Nadeer, that that simply was not so. As I collected my change, Nadeer pointed out that Elias had bought me a lemon/mint drink. And so I sat down and continued to chat – how rude would I have been if I hadn’t. I discovered that Elias is an Arab Christian (a rare breed in this part of the world – as so many of them are being forced out of the city due to increased costs in living here and disdain from both the Muslim and Jewish communities) and that he attends the Franciscan Church. I did say to Nadeer that I hoped that accepting the drink didn’t mean that I was accepting anything more. Can you believe it, he said that Elias wished to invite me to see his home this evening, and have a chance to talk together. Well folks, I tried to be polite and not beat too hasty a retreat and, when Nadeer asked why I couldn’t, I blushed and said, “It’s complicated…” “What’s complicated about any of it?” asked Nadeer, at which point Elias leaned across the table, looked meaningfully at me and said, “I would desperately like to make love to you”. This is the point at which I smiled and politely said, “Thank you, but no.” I didn’t quite run out of the café, but my handshakes were rather quick and I did walk away rather fast. Nadeer said that I’d always be welcome but I think I might just leave it a few days or months...

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