We stand, two American women, on a Sabra street corner. A taxi appears, battered, sputtering, seats bolted together with a horizontal rod. We sit inside; the driver speaks:
You work in the camps, I know it. With the Palestinians, yes? I’m Palestinian. You American? I love the American people. Not the government, but the American people are wonderful, so warm and friendly. I’m from Acre – you know Acre? Akka? Oh you speak Arabic!
You know I was in Germany and I had a girlfriend there, Monika. And she was going to Palestine so she asked me what do you want from Akka. I said some picture postcards. And she brought back to me twenty-five or thirty cards.
I showed them to my father and he says to me from where did you get these? And I say I got them from my girlfriend Monika; she went there, she went to Akka. He says do you know who this is, he points to a man on one of the cards. He says to me, it’s your grandfather. Because my father, he was born there, but I never met my grandfather.
What kind of American music do you like? Do you like the countryside music? Tell me have you seen the Sound of Music? (We sing Do Re Mi for a bit. We remember our college housemate from Salzburg who has never seen the movie.) Do you know this one, it goes many roads can a man – before they can call him a man. (Having spent my happiest years singing Dylan at summer camp and in college, I proceed to complete the verse.) Yeah, Bob Dylan…his words, they have so much meaning in them. You have a wonderful voice!
The route we take is the longest and most circuitous route we’ve ever taken from Shatila to Hamra; it includes a pass by the ocean and turns down crowded sidestreets. The driver is slow and deliberate and courteous, letting in any and all cars attempting to merge into the sluggish traffic streams.
Do you know Arabic music? Fairuz? You know Fairuz? (What to do but oblige? Ziruuunii kuli sana marra haram…) – you know it! You know what it means? Yes – once a year!
As we near our destination he points out a restaurant nearby, recommending the fish – no, no the shrimp – and continues driving down the street, pointing out useful spots along the way, until we gently insist that we really must alight – we’re late to meet a friend. With a flurry of warmth and greetings we say goodbye.