Last week I arrived in Mancora, northern Peru. It was quite a journey through the elongated country. It took me almost 9.5 hours! Mancora is on the Northwest coast, and I thought it would be nice to spend my last month in Peru kissing the sun and getting some salt on my body. (It is winter in Peru now, and although I love the Cusco region the cold winter weather has been part of my stay there.) Anyhow, I started my trip to Mancora by questioning my choice. “Did I really want to travel to the north?” But since I had bought the plane ticket, there was no turning back. On the day when I was finally supposed to fly from Cusco to Talara (the closest airport to Mancora), the flight to Lima was 40 minutes late, leaving me just 15 minutes to catch my next flight.
“What if I don’t make the flight to Talara?” was the question that motivated my feet to run as fast as they possibly could. And I made it! Arriving in Talara at 7 pm, I was greeted with an evening breeze and an airport full of taxi drivers competing for customers. I was getting closer to my final destination—Mancora 90-minute drive away. The plan was to catch the last Eppo bus that left at 8 pm. I also knew taking a private taxi was another option, but it would cost more. 120 soles!!
“Taxi to the bus station, how much?” I asked in broken Spanish.
“20 soles. But the last bus to Mancora left at 7 pm” The taxi drivers insisted.
“Is it true that there are no more buses, or are they just trying to get me into their taxi? And 20 soles to the nearby bus station while 120 soles to Mancora?” I did not have much time to kill if there was a bus at 8 pm, as I had been told. I had to decide in the face of two contradictory interests competing. Money and time!!! After two months on the road, my budget hit rock bottom, again forcing awareness of money. I was in an unknown city at night, in an airport gradually emptying of people. I needed to make a quick choice.
“Madam, Mancora? 40 soles, madam!” I heard one of the taxi drivers say.
“40 soles? Did I get it right?”
“If it’s 40 soles to Mancora, which sounds completely insane and they want 20 soles to the bus station, of course, I’ll take a taxi,” I thought and wanted to communicate that to the driver, but my poor Spanish skills prevented that. Somehow, I managed to mark my astonishment with my body and repeated 40 soles like a big question mark.
“Yes, you are going to share a taxi with him and another person,” he said, pointing to a young man standing with his back to us smoking. And woops, as soon as the young man turned around and started talking, I knew he was from Israel. I was suddenly into politics, totally forgetting about the trip. And so the rest of that journey continues with this conversation:
“Are you from Israel?”
” Yes, and you?”
« Iran. We’re enemies,” I say with a smile, half joking, half serious. Deep down, I know that I sympathize with Palestinians and think what they are subjected to is unimaginably unfair. Sure, I’m fully aware that I’m throwing myself into a hornet’s nest by writing this. Moreover, I also know that life is not fair and that the concept of justice is a word invented by us humans.
“Should we just take this taxi together? It might be more expensive than 40 each though, since it’s just the two of us,” I say to him. We are the last two tourists in an empty airport. It is evening and I am in an unfamiliar city, eager to get away.
Finally, we agree on a price and turn towards Mancora, surrounded by darkness with 80s music playing at full blast.
“Does he have to play music so loudly?” I think and consider asking him to turn it down a notch, but I instead turn to the young Israeli man and ask:
“What do you think about what is happening between Palestinians and Israelis?”
I know very well what I think about that topic, and I am aware that his answer could easily place the Israeli wall between us for the rest of the trip. The last time I asked a young Israeli traveller the same question, the conversation did not end very well, but I had already thrown out the question.
“Absolutely horrible!!! Both sides are equally crazy. And my generation who have grown up with a right-wing government are completely brainwashed, whereas, in my parent’s generation it was different,” he replies.
“Oh, and what do your parents think of the situation?” I manage to get out, surprised by his answer and the turn our talk is taking—an exchange more profound than money, haggling, or music.
“They didn’t like it, so they moved to the United States.”
“Why didn’t you move with them?”
“I was 18 at the time and could not get out of the country until I had served in the military. If they had moved when I was 15, I could have gone with them.”
“Are you out, traveling after being in the military?” When I travelled around India in my early 20s, I saw young Israelis traveling worldwide after their military service. Israelis often travelled in groups, on the recommendation of their authorities.
“Israelis not welcome,” I remember reading here and there around restaurants & hotels. When I asked why they told me that the Israelis were arrogant and rude. This young man is traveling alone and will meet his friends in Mancora before going on to Ecuador and from there to Colombia. There are only two months left of his 10-month journey.
“May I ask what it was like to be in the military and what you did there?”
“Terrible, but I had no choice. I was a security guard. My father was traumatized serving in the military. If you have a family member with such experiences, you can avoid the frontline, but we all have to join the military. The military is sacred in Israel; today, you can refuse to join, but choosing something else is not easy. Society judges you harshly. When you meet another Israeli, the first question they ask is, “What was your military service?”
“Good! At least you did not need to kill anyone,” I say and ask further:
“And what are you going to do after traveling?”
“I’m going to work, but maybe I’ll go to the United States and work there.”
“How is it in Iran?” he asks me.
“Hell. The mullahs are as crazy as your government, and I haven’t been back to Iran since 1993. During that trip, I realized that the Iranian chapter of my life was over.” Then I told him what I had heard; about what the Iranian government did to Iranian youth after the green movement in Iran.
“After the green revolution, the young people who had participated in the green movement were put onto buses. The buses were driven to the desert where they were set on fire. This is how they operate and wreak havoc with their own people in the name of God.”
“How old were you when the revolution happened? Are you Muslim, by the way?” He wants to know.
“I was only seven years old. I was born in a Muslim country but I don’t believe in any institutionalized religions. “Religion for me is about love, but the way the patriarchates interpret the monotheistic religions (Islam, Christianity, and Judaism) and use it in their power play is anything but love,” I reply.
“Where in Israel do you live?”
« I live in Tel Aviv. It’s a cool city for every taste.”
“How many people live there?”
“About 500,000 thousand inhabitants.”
“I wish I could go to Jerusalem and see the historical sites, but since I was born in Iran, I’m unlikely to get in.”
“I don’t like Jerusalem. Yes, it is a historic city, but it is also a city where the craziest of crazy Jews, and the craziest of crazy Muslims live. It is not a safe city,” he says, adding that he is also not allowed to travel to Iran.
“No, but we had many Jews in Iran in the past. They left right after the revolution.”
“Yes, my grandmother was an Iraqi Jew and had to get away from Iraq.”
“Think, when the Moors ruled parts of Andalucía; at that time Muslims, Jews, and Christians used to live side by side in Andalucía. In that era education and the arts and sciences flourished and they had a prosperous culture and economy, while politicians today divide us and spread hatred and prejudice,” I say and ask if I can write a blog post about our conversation.
« Yes, you can write it. I’ll never read it anyway,” he replies.
“I’m so glad I met you. It gives me hope for the future,” I say, and I feel truly grateful for:
The serendipity that brought me to the same taxi with this young man.
For being confronted with my prejudices.
For seeing how people can surprise me.
And for our world!! It is certainly more colorful than what we (I ) think. It is not black and white!!
PS. To the best of my ability, I have tried to recount our conversation. But what I have written has passed through the filter of my perception. “By the way, I am the gypsy.”
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