This was the cheapest pasta at the corner store near the apartment. It was a decent dinner too, but let’s be honest: I bought this pasta because it was Russian. In case you, dear readers, didn’t know, I’m a little bit obsessed with all things Russian in sort of an arm’s-length-distance sort of way.
Strangely, of all the places I’ve been, Israel was perhaps the most Russian. About 20% of the population are Russian speakers. This stuff is everywhere. It was fascinating, sort of a weird thrill, and a very, very different aspect of my experience in the Holy Land.
The language barrier I encountered in Israel/Palestine was probably the most disorienting obstacle I faced throughout Walking Walls. I traveled extensively before heading to the Holy Land and from Paris to Poland, I had always been able to read a few street signs, master some key phrases, sometimes I could even understand and respond to simple conversation in German or more advanced discussion in Spanish.
I didn’t stand a chance with Hebrew or Arabic. Reading was out of the question and I only learned a few basic words in either language during the five weeks I spent in and around Jerusalem. To be fair, I didn’t have the time or resources to make a more serious effort at either language, but my resulting confusion and dependance on the prevalence of English signs and English speakers was both remarkable and isolating.
And a note about the prevalence of English on those signs. In Israel/Palestine, most public signs and notices will include writing in Hebrew, Arabic and English. In my experience, the order of the languages tells you who controls the area and by extension, reveals your relationship to the neighborhood. English is usually last, but it seems to me that the real battle is between first two, Arabic and Hebrew. They switch predictably based on geography, but with an insistence that would make you think someone was keeping score.
The above photo was taken in the Shu’afat neighborhood of East Jerusalem.