Sunday afternoon (blessed you are, you three day weekends!), a little story from the Old City
This afternoon (21th of July), I went out to the Old City for a little photo session in the Church of the Holy Sepulture. I took a large detour through the Armenian quarter, as I had never explored it. I found it very residential, completely empty of tourists. Houses are hidden behind walls and occasionally, if you peak through a gate, you’ll notice a little front garden. I only stayed on main streets, because when walking in the Armenian quarter, I felt like I had to be very discreet. I crossed a few locals, and kept my head down when I did, so as to blend in. I didn’t even feel like taking my camera out quite yet. Next time, perhaps. The streets are empty, no shops, no kids running around, all is very calm. You wouldn’t think there’s a busy Souq minutes, almost seconds away. Coming down Saint Mark’s street I couldn’t hear a thing, and suddenly, I came down a few steps and found myself in the now very familiar and busy David Street, which comes down from Jaffa Gate.
I went straight ahead in Christian Quarter Road, and here comes the little story. On my way the Church of the Holy Sepulture, I was stopped by a young man who holds one of the shops on that street, as tourists always when walking along Christian Quarter Road. Eventually, it can get annoying and you can feel harassed even if people aren’t really aggressive. Especially when you walk through it almost every day. But I seemed nice and honest (okay, he had a nice smile) when he said he didn’t want to talk for business, so I stopped and started talking to him. What’s your name? Where are you from, what are you doing…? And so on, the usual start. I find it’s always very interesting asking these random questions, because unlike anywhere else in the world, two people who come from the same country might define themselves in two very different ways. For example, this guy, Malek, answered “Jerusalem”, saying “I’m a Palestinian from Jerusalem, a Bedouin”. Okay, so I’d say he’s a “Palestinian-Bedouin-Jerusalemite”. I thanked Malek for the little talk, we shacked hands and I promised I’d return to his store (that’s just because I’ve been brought up to be polite).
Now, for the real actual story I wanted to tell you about when I started writing this: a couple of shops away, yet another shop holder called me out. Sami, his name is, wanted to know about my neckless. Well, that’s a first. Nobody has ever wondered about that. So obviously, we started talking, and Malek came running up to us with a smile, saying, “yes, yes, I want you to meet my friend Sami, when I’m not around and you need something, you can ask him, okay, you ask him!”. As you can notice, if you ever plan to go to Jerusalem, have no worries in the Old City, you’ll be well looked after (if you keep on the commercial streets…). Sami asked where I wanted to go, and offered me a map to get to the Holy Sepulture. I’ve already been, but a map is a precious thing in the Old City, so I accepted, and he showed me the way on the map. I already knew the way, but you never know where a conversation’s going to go here, so I listened quietly.
And here it is: he said, “you’re going to the Church, so, you believe in God?”. Feeling a little adventurous, instead of getting swiftly rid of the conversation by saying the usual “I don’t know about God, but I definitely believe there’s something out there”, I was honest and said “no”. He looked very confused, and said, quietly, not aggressively, “no? no? what do you mean, no?”. He just didn’t understand. “But you must believe in something!”. I answered, “yes, sure, I believe what I see, I believe in people”. “So you pray for people…?”. I explained that I don’t. After that, the conversation went on to him saying that people should seek for the truth, and that the truth is one single God. He agreed with me when I said I thought that all beliefs should be respected, even if not understood. Applying my usual logic, I said “but some people on the planet believe there are several gods”. He said they are wrong, they are not on the right path, so he can’t respect them. The way I see it, is that he can’t respect any belief, even if says he does. He only respects Jews, Christians and Muslims. Therefore, he would say that Buddhism or Hinduism isn’t beliefs, if he can’t respect them… That’s going a bit too far. Looking like he felt sorry for me, he decided that he wanted to take me in charge, and made me promise to search for the truth. I said “okay, I’ll promise, as long as you let me find my own truth, even if it’s not one God. He said he couldn’t promise that. As you would expect, the conversation sort of froze there. We shacked hands politely, and exchanged phone numbers, as he wants me to come over to one of the diners they have in the Old City (probably so that he’ll get another chance to show me “the truth”). Religious people are paradoxical, from my point of view, that’s the only way I can put it without going as far as using the expression “narrow-minded”.
Oh by the way, you’ll see below a few pictures from inside the Holy Sepulture, where I eventually went… but they don’t seem so interesting to me now. It’s not what I’ll remember from today. Go out to fetch a story in the Old City, and you’re bound to return with another one, even more likely, you’ll return with several. Go out to take pictures of something, and you’ll end up writing over a thousand words about something else. And even if it’s an unfinished story, or if it’s not a big story, you’ll still remember it (well, as long as you write it down…).