17- Rishikesh and the Hummus Trail

.Rishiskesh lies in the foothills of the Himalayas. Thousand of Pilgrims and tourists come here every year. I had been here a few years ago and it is always so strange to re step ones steps years later. It is like images and places that you never though about seem to be reencountered in your brain. When I crossed the bridge when I arrived looked down at the Ganga river, saw the sun shining the monkeys sliding through the metal bars in the bridge I was brought back. I was arriving from a 20 hours trip with an accident but somehow seeing the Ganga and the monkeys made me feel home.
Everyday I seat by the bridge and see the festival of colours pass by. Women wearing saris in all shades, Babas, Sadus, painted faces, cows, monkeys, tourists who come looking for enlightenment blessings yoga meditation. I seat there and watch the people wash clothes in the Ganga which now also features tourists rafting. Such a strange combination. Green lush mountains surround us. It looks like Brasil in the nature, but another planet in the constructions and in the people you see.

I remember I used to feel overwhelmed when I first came here in another life time. This time I find it all so gentle, so mild. I wonder is it me, or Rishiskesh? We all know it takes time to really arrive in India. Once you do it is all so somehow…”is”. That is what it is kind of feeling. A resignation which is not a feeling of loss. It is more like a feeling of “dasein”. Cant put it into words really. So I watch the people, they always ask to take pictures with me. And I must feature in hundreds of pictures around the country now. Some children when they are 3 are scared… their parents want soooo much this picture to be taken. 6 years old like to be next to a total stranger who smiles and says hello. Women hug me in the pictures… me so boringly dressed next to their colourful and never repeated saris. Men probably bring it home to show their friends. I always say yes. I actually enjoy this little encounters and I also find it that it brings some kind of balance to the amount of pictures I take of them.

Rishikesh is also part of  the “Hummus trail”, so 80% of the  tourists I meet are Israelis. Some of the people who read this tell me “wow how is it that you always end up with Israelis?”. It is truly hard not to. There are so many around. I wrote about them so many times before. Those of you who have been in this list long enough might have read of them in South East Asia and in the middle East. Something strange happened to me here in India. When I left the Middle East I felt somehow defeated, I felt I was privileged to see it all, but that I had no real right to cry in front of the wall as I did. Now I believe I do. That wall belongs to all of us as human beings.

I have been encountering here the most amazing Israelis. I am usually now in the situation where they ask me to tell them about the Palestinians. I have met Israelis who boycott their own state, who have been to Budrus, who knew Juliano Mer. Juliano Mer the Israeli Palestinian who created the Freedom theater in Jenin hoping through art to bring peace. When I encounter these people, who question their own cultural narratives to wonder about the other I always love them. I always cry as I know how hard it is. They want to hear the stories, they cry when I tell about the ordinary encounters I had in Palestine.

Last night I ended up spending hours telling a couple about my Palestinian friends. The girl asked to see my photos. And while we sat by the Ganga this girl went through every single picture I had of the places and the people I ve seen in Palestine. She wanted to hear their stories. She wanted to know more. “it is crazy, they live 20 minutes from me and I have to come all the way to India to really hear about them.” There are of course those who repeat the same old lines ” They dont want peace. Israel is the only democracy in the middle east. The IDF is the most moral army in the world?” But now I seat with Israelis who reply and say ” What does it even mean moral army?”.

As I seat with these people I imagine in my head the encounters of those I met and love in Palestine and them. It would be challenging and beautiful but there are people out there who always in the face of  absurdity can just think of the human. Not so long ago I sat with a girl whose father was saved by a Polish blacksmith who taught him how to behave unjewish, who took care of him… so that he could survive the war. 50 years later this man went back to Poland and re-encountered the daughter of this blacksmith. He brought her to see Israel. I cry so much when I hear these stories. They fill me with hope… there will always be these people. People who in front of it all question the system, question their cultural memories, question the power structures to try to really see the other.

People always ask me “Why do I go to these places? Why do you go stay in the house of Kashmeres, or why do you put yourself in unnecessary risks?.” And I always say I never believe people can be too different. Maybe they are in the surface but we must scratch it. We must fight our brain tendency to essentialize and categorize and be empirical about things. All the stories I heard, all that I have lived allows me to now understand a bit more about the complexity of this all. My Israeli friends are born having to legitimize their existence.  As the pacifist that I am, I am convinced we are so similar. So I will never be able to accept the creation of a wall. Any wall. I look at these thousands of Israelis who pass my way negotiating their thought to support their military state with love. I know fully well that in the end no one can truly believe in this. With some pain I watch them. But now I watch them next to these brave boys and girls, men and women who as pessimistic as they are about their governments they are hopeful about people.

I know my Palestinian friends read this. I know they see the world though me. They have told me. So I write this post to let you know about this people I encounter here. People as gentle as you. People who take care of me to the same extent you did. By the Ganga next to the sweet Israeli who asks me questions about your lives and has her eyes in tears I am convinced walls will always fall. And reality can only be changed by these brave people who do not fight, rather they unite, they question, they take risks to love the unknown. When I was by the wall in Bethelehem my friend Jaafar consoled me. “It is just governments, we the people want peace. One day we will live together”. At the time his hope made me cry even more. Months later I was in Berlin and I saw the wall down. My mom showed me the wall in the map so arbitrarily built. So crazy that someone decides one day to build a wall and people actually agree to it. There was a time where cities where surrounded by walls, there was a time Germany was divided. There was a time apartheid separated people in South Africa. There was a time that slavery was institutionalized and accepted by the vast majority as normality. Now I seat by the Ganga with Germans and Israelis. Now I seat in a Tibetan in exile village with a white South African who gets upset at the white South Africans who complain of racism to them. ” They need to wake up these people. We oppressed 80% of population before. Now it is different and it must be. It is getting better. But the powerful never likes loosing power. It is getting better but it takes time” Now I seat with Chinese who defend the Tibetans. There will always be these people. They are minority in the beginning but eventually walls fall.

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