Saturday, 29 December 2012

A Little Bit Like Africa

I have decided that there are a lot of similarities between living in Israel and living in Senegal. In many ways Israel is a particularly technologically advanced nation, but in many ways, there is a slightly less modern feel about it. However, unlike Senegal, I like this less modern feel – it has character and energy.

Haifa is already growing on me. A city where Jews, Arabs, Druze and Baha’i live in relative harmony, it feels very much a multicultural city. I hear Arabic as much as I hear Russian. I don’t feel uncomfortable at all when I walk past an ultra-orthodox Jew on the one side of the street walking his son to synagogue, and see a Muslim on the other side on his way to the Mosque. My neighbours speak Arabic, yet half the doors in the corridor have mezuzot on them. Of course, some of the benefits of this multicultural city seem very selfish – I have the option of eating kosher if I want to, but I am also free to go shopping on Saturday. On the other hand, Haifa feels very much like a large town, rather than a city. There is no significant CBD with lots of skyscrapers, people dawdle (except when driving) and the place really isn’t so polluted (but perhaps I’m just comparing to Dakar…).


Today I went to the local shuk in Wadi Nisnas, the majority Arab neighbourhood bordering on my new home in downtown Haifa. Not only was it open on Saturday, it was thriving with people, guarded at all entrances, something which didn't feature on Friday. And as I am still getting used to, I walk past the security checkpoint and casually get asked whether I am armed, in the same manner as someone else might ask me for the time. I walk through the crowds, notice the children’s entertainment, and the band on the roof playing what sounds like a Yiddish twist on Michael Jackson’s Billy Jean. I go in with a shopping list – a new apartment needs a lot of basics. However, a few hundred shekels later, I leave primarily with lots of Middle Eastern goodies. Halva in multiple varieties, more baklava than I can possibly eat (though that won’t stop me trying), fresh pita, chocolate croissants, rougelach (similar to a chocolate croissant, but the chocolate is rolled into it rather than put as a filling, and then it is topped with icing sugar), a half kilo back of za’atar (my favourite spice of all time which seems to be sorely lacking in many countries), and of course, a few things I actually needed…

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