October 04, 2015

All in the Bedouin family

Though most Israelis would say that I'm crazy going to a Palestinian village, endangering my life, I feel at home in Al-Za'im.

I drove to Al-Za'im for two good reasons. My tire was leaking air and, because of the recent sand storm, I wanted to have my car washed. However, my main motivation was my bad mood; I secretly hoped my visit to the village would elevate it.

The huge metal gate in the concrete wall happened to be open, and - for me - it was easy to cross the soldiers at guard. At the entrance of the village, I passed the petrol station of Ahmad's brother. The petrol station is not functioning, since the brother is in administrative detention for almost half a year. The family was recently informed that he'll remain in jail for another half a year. The idea of administrative detention is just incredible. One night he was taken away from his bed, without any charges, and just disappeared behind locks. (My efforts to do anything about it were of no avail.)

Opposite the petrol station of Ahmad's brother, there is a garage. I waited somewhat, helped pushing another car into the garage, practiced my best Arabic and changed oil. Then one of the workers looked at my tire, laughed when discovering a huge nail, and fixed it in a moment. I asked what to pay and he answered NIS 25 (about $6). I told him that it can't be so little for both the tire and a liter of oil, to which he replied "say hi to Ahmad".

I moved on to the closeby carwash. Yasser, Ahmad's cousin, who runs the carwash, apologized for the fact that there were several other cars before mine. I left the car with him and went to the green grocer; also closeby. Al-Za'im is not often frequented by foreigners and villagers are likely to approach me. Since I had not met the man in the shop before, he right away asked me whether I live in Al-Za'im. I told him I'm from Jerusalem and bought some stuff.

On my return, Yasser suggested that I stay away from the sun and wait in his air-conditioned caravan (two beds and a sink). Although Yasser didn't mind, I felt uncomfortable invading his privacy, and stayed outside. Now also a customer from the village, waiting to have his car washed, asked me where I'm from, and if I were Turkish, since my face is too white to be a local. I explained that I'm originally from the Netherlands. Nonetheless, I considered that Bedouin life goes according to clans, and that a local person would have been asked who his father was, or of what "house" he were, referring to the name of his descent group. So, I joked that "I'm from the house of (mentioning the name of the descent group of the family of Ahmad and Yasser)". Yasser immediately confirmed.

More family to come... Yasser's father, another brother of Ahmad, passed by the carwash. When he saw me, he came to shake my hand and tell Yasser he should take good care of me. Then, several boys - around the age of ten - walked up the road and waved at me. Two of them were the sons of Ahmad's brother with the petrol station; the other, the son of a third brother.

Not long after, I left Al-Za'im with a clean car, a fixed tire, a couple of bags with locally grown vegetables and fruit, and a big smile.

* More about the village Al-Za'im you can read in my previous post.

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