I spent twenty-seven of my first forty-eight hours in Jerusalem in my hotel bed, and yesterday slept for seventeen hours. A cold and a cough that descended on me the day before I left Canada turned into a full-blown phenomenon on the plane ride into Israel. I became that coughing, sputtering, disgustingly snotty guy on the plane no one wants to sit beside. By the time we touched down in Tel Aviv my airways felt like they were on fire and every sneeze seemed likely to shatter my arms.
The last time I traveled alone to Israel I had a passport filled with stamps from Iran and Turkey. And so I spent six hours in security while the customs officials made sure, through some mysterious means, that I was not up to anything nefarious. This time my passport was lit up with stamps from Jordan, Algeria, Morocco and Pakistan, and because I spent two weeks last year passing in and out of the Spanish enclaves of Melilla and Ceuta from Morocco, I had twenty-eight Moroccan entry and exit stamps. I figured I would beat my six hour record by a couple of hours at least.
This time, however, the travel gods offered me some mercy. I was through security in less than an hour. Aside from asking me if my wife was Moroccan and how I could possibly be a writer if I didn’t own a cell-phone, the airport security officials had little interest in me. I am sure it helped that I am scheduled to do a reading at a Jerusalem bookstore-café on the 23rd, and that my name and face are currently on the café’s website. (www.tmol-shilshom.co.il) I will write more about the café, which is one of my favourite places in the world, in an upcoming post.
I am feeling better this morning – my lungs have stopped burning, anyway – and I am looking forward to getting started on the research into the West Bank wall. I am waiting for my contacts here to get back to me. They include an anthropologist, a human rights lawyer, a Palestinian hip hop artist, a cultural centre official, and people from organizations that campaign both for and against the security barrier. I am casting my net wide in the hope of finding some stories that have not yet been told. That, I think, will be my biggest challenge on this leg of the trip.