Israel Stories

Monday, December 01, 2008

Train of thought

The 7:43 train pulled out of Modi’in Central station. I sat on my seat mildly out of breath after a last second sprint an acrobatic dive saved me from waiting another 25 minutes for the next train.

In the UK when you’re on public transport, the idea is to be as anonymous as possible. You don’t look at anyone and you certainly don’t speak to anybody, in fact if you say hello or ask an innocent question about changing trains people look at you with suspicion and you are immediately branded a strange and people will avoid sitting near you. Great if you’re on a packed train.

Yet the train here is the absolute opposite, the antithesis of London. Firstly, when you get on the train everyone has to look at you. Sizing you up, who are you? Where do you come from? Nice shoes etc. Then you are inevitably sucked into conversation, could be with the person sitting next to you or the person three rows behind. Once somebody starts talking everyone gets involved. Opinions, ideas, political theory, theology anything. Of course everybody has his or her own opinion and everybody is right, or so they think.

The games we play on the train range for trying to decipher the shoulder tags of the soldiers. What do they do, where are they based why do they all have slightly different shades of green. There are dark green shirts, blue shirts, grey shirts, beige shirts and light green shirts. Reminds me of the bus we used to take to school. A myriad of uniforms and combinations of colour, even Joseph would have been jealous.

It’s funny the perceptions we invent in our mind for people we don’t know. The guy with a laptop case, blonde beard and ponytail must be a Russian programmer, the guy in a suit is definitely a lawyer and the guy with his sunglasses plastered to his head, tight jeans and smart shirt, definitely a hi-tech salesman.

Then there is the Arab girl sitting trying not to attract attention, but when she got on the train everyone went quiet, so now she has all the attention as whispers start circulating. What’s in her bag? Is she really pregnant? Don’t worry they check everyone before they enter the station. It’s a mixture of fear and self preservation with an unfortunate drop of discrimination. But where is she going? To Tel Aviv? Probably Haifa, which would make more sense. Why? Well it just would.
I counted 23 mp3 players in my carriage including mine, 12 laptops and two play-stations.

That’s a lot of hardware. The buzz from 46 speakers provoked my neighbor to throw down her paper and sit with her fingers in her ears. A bit extreme I thought until I removed mine and heard the incessant drum and bass reverberating from end of the carriage to the other.

I read the free paper and then took out my book, hoping that it would have registered with my fellow travelers that I was not one of the Anglos rejecting everything Israeli. I see myself as bridging both worlds I even try and put some accent into my Ivrit, which is more than can be said from some of my trans-Atlantic cousins. Did I mention the trains automatic announcements which have the most annoying American Israeli accent. What’s wrong with the way they do it on the London Underground? English (the Queens) heavily accented with a mix of Afro Caribbean and Indian, touch of the Empire. I never understand what they are saying, but then that’s half the fun.

My stations is coming up. Got to get ready for the final sprint to my connecting bus, miss that and I’m in trouble. Mp3 players go silent, newspapers are discarded and people start to make their way to the doors.

I jump off the train, no ‘mind the gap’ announcement here. I have my ticket at the ready as I run to the barriers and up the stairs to the bus stop.

The Arab girl waddles passed me, mp3 player in one hand, laptop bag over her shoulder. She is also running for a bus.


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