When I contacted the hospital here to ask if I should learn any Arabic before I arrived, I was advised that it wasn’t necessary and indeed, for the most part, this has been so. The Staff at the hospital, and may of the patients have a good smattering (and some, a good command) of English, and so I have been spoilt. At time, I have risked feeling like a lazy Westerner who can’t be bothered to learn anyone else’s language – but this isn’t actually so. Not entirely. Whilst here I have learned how to count a bit in Arabic, as well as learn the Arabic for chair (I know this will come in useful sometime in the future!) I love the universality of ‘sign language’ though, such as when I got out of the taxi this afternoon having arrived back from Bethlehem (name drop!) where I went to discover more about a possible tour to Ramallah on Sunday.
After getting out of a taxi, I indicated ‘crazy’ and said it under my
breath whilst smiling in an embarrassed fashion. An older lady waiting in the vestibule area looked at me and asked, “Why you crazy?”
“He charged me 30 shekels from Bethlehem. To get
there was 20!”
“30 shekels?!” she cried, “It is only 12. If you on your own
12, with others is 3.”
“On the way I shared and the other lady paid 3, but he charged me 20. He told me 20 so I paid 20. On the way back here the man said 30,” said I.
“We go to the Police! He will go before the judge!” At which
point I put my arm around her shoulder and gave her a hug saying, “Shukran!” as
I did so. Someone else said,
"That's Palestine for you!"
Ah! The wonders of the universal experience of being taken
for a ride (literally!) I can’t really complain though as the total cost of the
trips to Bethlehem and back, whilst being 50 shekels and so at least double
what it should have been, actually equates to just £8.50 (ish). In reality, the
drivers here could actually do with the money but, if they were a little more
fair, there would be more money to spend in some of the shops too!
There is a wonderful 'language' used by all taxi drivers here
though – that of the horn. As they drive along the roads – wherever they are and
whatever time of day – their eyes will be scanning the streets for anyone who
looks in any way as though they might be going anywhere that might require a
taxi ride, at which point will come the double horn press: beep, beep! It took a
couple of days for me when I was in Jerusalem to learn to not even bother
looking around as that was the reason they were beeping, not to warn me to get
of the way or any other reason. Once I had learned that, I began to feel as
though I knew a little more how to behave like a local. my bartering skills leave a bit to be desired as yet though, but I shall be trying a bit harder come the next taxi ride!