Israel Stories

Monday, September 24, 2007

The Malawian Zionist

“Hello”, said a deep voice, “my name is Oscar and I am from Malawi, what is your destination.”

Ah Paris, what a city, maybe a strange comment from an Englishman, but as I’m Israeli now I suppose I can allow myself to soften my upper lip. Anyway I am talking about the city not the people. Ever since and probably a long time before William the Conqueror waltzed into England shooting people in the eyes and declaring himself the monarch there has been at best and uncomfortable tolerance and at worst all out war with the French. One of the strangest questions on this topic came from an American who wanted to know if the English hated the French more than the Americans. All I could tell him to do was to refer to his history (not the American version which started a few weeks ago but the British which predates the Romans). As Disraeli put “when the ancestors of the right honorable gentleman were brutal savages in an unknown land, mine were priests in the temple of Solomon.”

So Oscar was waiting for me to decide where I wanted to go. As an innocent abroad and keen to see as much of the city as I could (even though this must have been my tenth trip to Paris) and on the companies generous account, I asked him if we could take in some of the sites on the drive to my hotel.

The Eiffel tower loomed up ahead. I’ve always seen the Eiffel tower as some Freudian attempt at compensating for their inadequacies. (Of course those words were actually uttered from French lips regarding Big Ben, so I reckon we’re quits.) I jumped out the cab to buy the kids some souvenirs.

“How much money you pay?” Oscar asked. “Oh , about 5 Euro.” Oscar shook his head. “No,no, no, no”, he repeated in almost a trans-like rhythm. He grabbed my souvenirs and ran over to the vendor. I saw his arms flying around in a very animated display. He certainly wasn’t gesticulatery? challenged. He ran back to the taxi and deposited 2 Euro in my hand. He smiled at me and pointed to the vendor, “He’s my brother,” Oscar beamed.

Next we turned to the Arc de Triumph. Now I could make some very sarcastic comments about famous French triumphs, Waterloo for example, bit I’ll leave it because I may be accused of racism, and being Jewish, I am only allowed to be on the receiving end, besides do I want to sink as low as them.

So we drove passed the Arc de Triumph, that celebratory arch, celebrating French triumphs, when suddenly another taxi cut in front of us very dangerously. I have to admit for a second I had visions of Oscar and the front of the cab disappearing under the other taxi. We chased the other Taxi and at the next set of lights Oscar jumped out. More arm waving and shouting. Oscar got back in the taxi and smiled, “he’s my brother”. Now call me stupid and you wont be the first, but a sensed a pattern forming.

Now I have never met a Malawian before but if they are all as nice as Oscar I think Malawi could be my next holiday venue. Osacr was a great advocate for his country, something that shamefully most of us fall short of. But then came the final test.

“So,” Oscar piped up, “where are you from?” Now I could say London and get a shrug and no reaction, I could say Israel and risk the conversation going two ways; a torrent of abuse or compliments. But how to gauge Oscar. He was obviously a good man, who was giving me excellent service. But what was he all about. I quickly looked around the cab, there was no Arabic, no fancy tissue box, no pendants, chains or even crucifixes, just a nice clean taxi.

So I decided to ignore the question until I got more info. “So Oscar, where did you learn English?”

Oscar smiled, “I learned English in St Georges School, in my home country”.

“I’m from Israel”, I blurted out.

“Ah Israel”, Oscar smiled, “he’s my brother!”


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