I had just arrived in Amman, Jordan, and my boss sent me off on a mission. Catch a taxi to the hotel she had stayed in and pick up 10,000 USD in cash from the hotel safe that she had forgotten.
It was 2007, I was 20 years old, and I just got out of the army after the second war with Lebanon ( حَرْب تَمُّوز according to Wikipedia). I was working as an assistant to the director of an NGO that promotes understanding between people in the MENA region. We were just about to begin a three-day seminar for women leadership in the Middle-East, and, as usual, I am off to save her ass from some stupid mistake she had made.
So I catch a taxi by myself – a young Jewish Israeli woman – and the driver is a middle-aged Jordanian man who speaks very little English. We are silent all the way to the hotel and I am nervous and angry that I was sent off on my own. When we arrived to pick up the cash, I explained that I would be back in a few minutes. He sees me enter the hotel and return a few minutes later with an envelope.
So he asks me- “Where are you from”?
I think for a moment. My parents are Canadian and I grew up in Canada, I am light-skinned, speak English without an accent. I can pass as a Canadian. Canada hasn’t harmed anyone so this is the easiest answer.
“Israel”- I answer. Don’t know why I said that. Now I am afraid.
“Israel! That’s wonderful! We are neighbours! We are friends! Where in Israel are you from?”
With a huge relief- “Jerusalem, Alquds” I answer.
The atmosphere in the taxi changed in a moment – we were both smiling and friendly to each other, we did not have much more to say as we did not speak the same language but we were both suddenly more comfortable in the car together. My three days in Jordan just started off on the right foot, I thought to myself.
I love to travel and people often ask me where I am from. Answering truthfully that I live in Israel doesn’t always come easy as you never know what kind of response it will evoke. There is always something going on in the Middle East and you don’t always want to get yourself into a political discussion when you travel, or god forbid, put yourself in some kind of danger just because of your identity.
But whenever I hesitate about answering this simple question, I think of this taxi driver in Jordan and always answer truthfully. Actually, in some cases, I am just curious to hear the response that often reflects the various images Israel holds, and so I learn a lot from these conversations.