Israel Stories

Sunday, December 18, 2005

The Hunter

Darth Vader approached me in the street the other day. Actually it wasn’t really Darth, but the guy was huge, dark, large protruding jaw, pointed cheeks and large insect like eyes. He was even dressed in black. All he was lacking was severe asthma and a black cape. Menacingly, he held out his hand, I braced myself for the lighting that would shoot from his finger tips. “Do you have the time?” he asked in a very high pitched, almost soprano sing song. “Er, yes”, I said, offering my wrist as proof that I had a watch and wanted to make sure he could tell the time. ”See, its three fifteen”.

Then trying to make conversation he asked “are you shopping”? “Urm yes as a matter of fact I am trying to buy an elephant.” Reacting to my obviously sarcastic comment, said something about my lineage under his breath and walked away. Shocked I shouted “I’m serious, I want to buy and elephant!” He turned and obviously thinking I wanted a fight, shouted “try the zoo where you belong (then something in Amharic which was probably to do with my mother)!”

It was only then that it dawned on me, telling an Ethiopian (and a big one at that) you want to buy an elephant could, in certain circles and with a certain malicious attitude be construed as a racist derogatory remark.

“Look friend, it’s my anniversary tomorrow, and I have a tradition of buying my wife an elephant, not a real one, just something small to fit in our display cabinet.”

He looked at me, eyes blazing. What did I say? “Do you think I am stupid as well? I realize you don’t want to buy a real one!” Then he laughed an high pitched squeaky, wheezy laugh, the sort that only cartoon characters or people sucking helium do. “You want an elephant? I find you one.” “Th, th, thanks”, I stammered.

“This, your car?” he asked pointing to my car. Now I may be friendly but I am not stupid. When a 2 meter Ethiopian takes you on a trip to find elephants, its better to go on foot. “No”, I lied, “I walked”. Obviously seeing through my lie he shrugged and we set off together. The conversation was strained and not wanting to bring up anything that could be misconstrued as racist or a personal criticism or insult, I stayed quiet for most of it, just nodding at the appropriate time, smiling on cue and nodding even more.

“They kill elephants for their bones, you know. Hundreds and hundreds of them until there are none left. I tried to help stop them, I am a lawyer in Ethiopia, but they don’t respect me, so I came to Israel, where they don’t respect me, but at least they are Jewish and won’t beat me! The law exams here are very difficult, so I have another job now, I am a driver and delivery man. I make more money in a week here than I did in a month in Ethiopia, so I am happy, and my family eats.”

I stared at him and saw the tear in his eye that no self respecting African man would admit to. “Let’s find your elephant”, he chirped.

So off we went into the Bet Shemesh sunset, hunting elephant.


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