On the Bus: The Car Edition

I ride buses a lot. Some are cold and sterile, while others are sticky and smell of body. But sometimes I am lucky and I get rides from people who own cars: saints.

Yesterday I was waiting for a bus on French Hill in front what I’m convinced is the most poorly placed bus stop in all of Israel when I was passed up by 3 Arab buses in a row. Depending on how my “street confidence” is on a given day, this kind of event will either roll right off my back or convince me that I’m a silly girl from Utah who should just stay at home instead of trying to catch crowded buses headed into areas on the State Department warning list. But yesterday I was feelin’ good. I had just come off of a successful venture in and out of Bethlehem with a few women from the branch and I was rocking the “Shukran” like I knew what it meant (and I do, but that’s about it).

When third bus driver told me he wouldn’t drop me off in Beit Hanina and pulled away, the gears grinding and sticking as he merged into uphill traffic, I heard my name being called from behind me. Max had already dropped me off at the bus stop and headed back home so it couldn’t have been him. But the voice was definitely male, and as I listened again I realized it was definitely that of an Arabic speaker. I saw an arm stuck out of a window a few feet up the hill and when I approached the car (understandably hesitant) I saw Radwan, the night “secretary” at my work perched in the driver’s seat with a cigarette between his fingers.

“Where you going, I’ll give you ride” He offered.

“…um” think fast Brooke “…um…I’m going to work.” Is this ok? “…A ride would me nice. Thank you.” Here goes

It might sound strange to balk at a ride from a co-worker, but I’m still trying to feel out the “acceptable” and “non-acceptable” behavior for a lone woman in public, and a Western Woman to boot. It’s not that I doubted his motives (he’s very nice at work while he puffs away in front of the “No Smoking” sign that he himself printed and put on the wall) but that I was concerned with how it would look for me to be cruising through East Jerusalem with a local Palestinian male about my age.

As we approached our work I had a sudden fear that my students would see me, particularly the conservative ones, and I would lose all credibility because of my loose behavior. And then I felt like I was being ungrateful for this free ride on a hot day. Living in Arab society would make me insane, I’m afraid. (More on that later – inspired by my discussion in class the other day about how “women can never be forgiven”) But I got to work on time and all was well. When you are somewhere foreign the smallest things really speak to your perceived values of the society.

The other act of vehicular kindness has come from Hakum, of the beloved orange coat fame. She has been giving me a ride home from class twice a week and I’ve come to really look forward to these times. Not only do I save 9 shekels a week, but I feel like I can ask the genuine questions I have about Islam and Palestinians and get thoughtful, personal answers. She usually listens to recitations of the Koran in her car and even though she turns it down when I get in so that we can talk, I can always hear its faint melody under the honking and screeching of the streets. It’s nice.

A few nights ago she told me that she only started wearing the hijab a few years ago and when I asked her why, she said that she just felt like she needed to. She wanted to be closer to God and show him that she wanted to follow him better. What could be nicer? One time we were talking about the outward symbols of religiousness (modestly in particular) and how it’s good, but it doesn’t matter if you are a bad person inside and do bad things. At one point she said something to the effect of “but Islam is not the end.”

So I leaned in closer to make sure I understood exactly what she was saying in her “level 6” English. She went on to say that what is most important is our relationship with God and the goodness in our souls, the connection being that Islam is how you get closer to God and cultivate goodness of the soul. Islam literally means “submission” and a Muslim is one who has submitted to God. It’s been such a treasure to have these kinds of discussions instead of just taking Karen Armstrong’s word for it. (Whose word I love, by the by. You should read,well, anything by her)

**I've just deleted a comment from this post and for all ye who tread the treacherous comment waters hear this:  I reserve the right to delete anything that does not foster thoughtful, compassionate discussion or that furthers personal agendas built on things I consider uncivil, unkind, unchristian, or stupid.  Furthermore, I abhor and reserve the right to delete anything that takes the worst expression of a religion and uses it as an excuse for hatred and intolerance.  If you have a problem with that, write your own blogs, people.**


  1. What an adventure! You're a brave woman, Brooke. And I'm interested to hear about your class discussion on women being forgiven...

  2. Brookie laying the bad manners smack down on some poor unsuspecting weirdo who has never seen you kick a soccer ball. I'm very proud to call you my daughter in law Popsula

  3. Wow, that post script is so well said.

  4. What a fab post. I love thinking about how religion is only the beginning of our relationship to God. BTW, your header photos are the bomb. Do the kids still say that? I doubt it.

  5. You are so brave for having all these experiences and beautifully insightful for seeing the importance of them. Thanks for sharing so we can all take part! I can't wait to read the book you write someday.