Monday, February 11, 2008

Interesting Encounters

I had an interesting encounter today.

It all started with a meeting I had with a business consultant from the Israel Small and Medium Enterprise Authority (an org run by the Ministry of Industry and Trade that provides assistance to new and existing businesses).

I was rather astonished to find that their offices are in the New Central Bus Station in Tel Aviv. For those of you who have never been there, this is a huge monolithic monstrosity about 6 storeys high taking up a very large city block. It is in a rather insalubrious part of town - lots of down and outs, rooming houses, foreign workers, girlie shows, the usual deal for a bus station in a major city. Not the kind of place you expect to see a government office in, but there you go, some things in Israel are a bit hard to get your head around.

The offices are, apparently, temporary, which would be a good thing for the workers - I don't know how you would describe an office environment that shakes vigorously every time a bus rumbles up the ramp to the loading bays. Unsettling for clients definitely. My advisor was a nice man who, fortunately for me, spoke very good English - for when my Hebrew failed me. He sits in an interior office with no windows and bare, whitewashed concrete walls. But that hasn't seemed to affect him. I was consulting with him regarding my future, or at least, what I hope will be my future. And he gave me several good tips. Now it is up to me to get cracking and start in on my new life. But more of that when it becomes less nebulous and more concrete.

Anyways... I decided to leave my scooter at home rather than risk it getting stolen from the bus station - which would be a very likely happening. And so, after more than 3 years of being public transportation free, I hopped on a bus. Now admittedly, here in Israel, the bus system is pretty comprehensive (if you ignore the fact that there are no public buses running from Friday evening through Saturday, and only starting to run again after sunset on Saturday night) and generally fairly reliable. So I got myself a day pass and got me on a bus.

After my meeting with the consultant, I decided to go to Diezengoff Center, wander up to Ben Yehuda street, and then go to the Carmel market.

Anemones bought at the Carmel Market

So onto the bus I hopped, and there had a strange encounter with a fellow passenger.

Now we are talking about a rather good looking young man, but with something not quite right about him. He asked me if I spoke English, introduced himself as Gabriel from Potsdam, New York and then started to ramble about pickpockets in Barcelona, and how Tel Aviv felt so safe. Then he explained that he had missed his flight and had to go back to the airport in a couple of hours to pick up his luggage, that he only had 20 shekels and would have to change into his suit.

We are talking about getting a partial life history here.

Now the strangeness about him was in his speech and mannerisms. He appeared to be... challenged or drugged or perhaps both. I suspected that perhaps he had received head injuries in some sort of accident - the suspicion arising because of a large scar along his chin and the fact that his smile (he smiled alot) was rather disconcerting as he had a major chunk of teeth missing from the side of his mouth. This suspicion was confirmed when Gabriel said that he was in Israel to visit friends courtesy of MedicAid, and that he was going to be going back to Barcelona to take a course in teaching English as a second language - also sponsored by MedicAid.

The point of this course was so he could go to Jakarta to teach. When I commented that the region wasn't exactly politically stable and also happened to have the highest population of Muslims in the world, this obviously Jewish young man smiled (again) and said "Oh that won't be a problem, I'm Muslim". Which put me in my place.

But I wonder how much of the encounter was real and how much was a figment of his imagination?

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