I actually do not know where to start this post from. I am still in Nablus. I should probably start by explaining that It is in Nablus that most Israelis told me not to come to if I was to come back alive. It is in Nablus that all finishes at midnight as the Israeli soldiers might spend the night in the streets. I have not seen a single Israeli soldier yet but I also have never been to the streets pass 10pm.
What I have seen of Nablus is entirely different than what I was told about. I walked last night through the streets with Lorna a young English couch surfer without ever feeling scared, or ever anyone coming to bother us. I walked the old city with Sam my host and was greeted by incredibly friendly people. As there are not that many tourists walking through the markets in the old city is just easy and lovely. The city is thousands of years old. No one hassles you, there is no bargaining and as I am being chaperoned by either Sam or his brothers I never have any hassle at all. People are incredibly politicised here. They always want to tell you about about the occupation. I ask them about Israelis and they say they do not like the army, but do not dislike the Jews. They often ask me about Chavez, most people I encounter in the streets can carry out a conversation in English and seem to know a lot about the world.
Sam, my host, lived in the US for 11 years, and his story deserves a book so I won’t do the injustice of summarising it here. He is a generous man, with enormous ideals of creating hope and opportunities for the new generation of Palestinians. He took the time to take me to walk the city, the old city, have breakfast in the most special place. Because of him I saw every hidden little place of Nablus. I saw the spices shops, and the hidden rooms in the back where laid the treasure collected by Bedouins. I saw the shop that sold pistachios, and other nuts and seeds, and the back rooms where the old ovens roast them. I saw where arabic coffee is breed and was shown its secret ingredient: cardamon! I visited the oldest turkish bath, established 130 years before jesus, I saw where the Intifada first started, I saw where was the “interrogation room” for traitors in the middle of the old city, i drank teas, and coffees, and tried all kinds of spices.
When Sam had to go to to work, and Lorna left to Ramallah I was passed to Sam’s brothers and his friends. We went for a walk at night and then to a coffee shop. In the coffee shop I started a conversation that turned out to be way more controversial than the Palestinian and Israeli conflict: sex!
Yahyah is 24, Ahmad 23, and Brahhim 22. They joined me for coffee and what started as me asking about their daily lives, what they did to have fun, turned out on me asking about their girlfriends. Both Yahyah and Brahim had girlfriend for years. I asked what they did with them. And basically they did not do anything. I insisted on the question and was revealed to an enormous world of contradictions. They both had had sex before with married women but would never have sex with a woman if they loved her unless they married her. In a mixture of romanticism and Islamic fanaticism they explained to me that once married they would devote themselves to their wives. If a woman does all that for you you have to give her everything! they explained. When I asked how about if they would marry a woman that is not virgin they said no. Even worse quite without a problem they recognised that they would kill their daughter or sister if they were to have sex before marriage. I asked if it was a common practice and they said no because girls don’t have sex before marriage, and if they do they are married to the guy.
I was appalled. What? So you guys would kill me? They would not because I am not Muslim so I can do whatever I want. The conversation was truly fascinating. Their ideas of love, sex, respect are sooooooooooo different. What became even more insane was that once we came home and I told Sam about their views he became furious. It became a discussion over the Koran. Sam saying that what they said had nothing to do with Koran but with their own hypocrisy as they were all not virgins either. He said they just used the Koran to say whatever they wanted but the Koran itself made it almost impossible for someone to be charged with sex crimes. Half of the talk was done in arabic. It became heated. They eventually agreed that if they loved a woman they would marry her. Ahmad would stand up for her, Yahyah move to another country. They wanted to know my views on love. I told my views ” total freedom. if you love someone don’t constrain them”. They were amazed. The other boys who were in the house joined the discussion.
I asked then ” what if you were married to someone you had sex with out of respect, and then married realised you were friends, and then fell in love with someone else”. They were completely taken by that thought. What would they do. Yahyah stooped thought about it and said “if my wife was good to me i could never hurt her. I would just stay with her”. I insisted ” even if you loved totally someone else”. He was confused probably never thought of that before. He hesitated. ” If my wife had saved herself for me, and would be my wife I just could not leave her” he said. In this mixture total absurd stealing of women’s sexuality these boys feel they respect women much more. Whoever is this girl they marry is their little princess. Then they don’t want them to work, or suffer. I pushed the limits i asked all and a bit more. I showed pictures of my gay friends. I said to them that were I came from no one would marry a virgin. It was absolutely fascinating. In a strange way I feel that women here are both constrained and protected. What a mysterious world.
Yet with me pushing it all, saying thins like ” I am whore to you all then, right?” they were always incredibly kind to me. Incredibly interested in finding out what was it that I thought? How about kids? How about love? How about Allah? Some do pray, most of them don’t. What fascinated me the most was their truthfulness. How they would just basically say whatever they thought. How passionate about the notion of love. How naive, crazy and sweet all at the same time. The English girl with me here had said the night before ” all over the world men want to have sex, here they want to marry.” It is incredible they actually really do.
These boys are just boys. They do not want to live like in the west. They think we don’t really value relationships. Yet they would like to have a club here where they could go out and dance. They go to segregated schools. Never talk to a girl. Boys walk hand in hand and kiss each other cheeks when they meet. And even though Lorna, the english girl, and I stand for all that their religion does not they not only are very interested in learning about us, but also want to make sure that we understand they are not bad people. ”
Yahya I am shocked would u really kill your sister?” Sam furious screamed “our sister has had sex b4 marriage and who does he think he is!? I d kill him if he touched her! ” Yahya looked at me exhausted and said “of course I would not. But that is what I am supposed to say”.