Letting Go of One "i" (the self referential one) to Learn About Another

If you gave me a multiple choice questionnaire I could tell you: most people from India are Hindu and most people in Israel are Jewish. Somewhere in the back of my head I know something about Palestine and the Holocaust, and the chosen people; but because I wasn't an IR major - and to maintain the truthfulness on this blog - I'm ready to admit that even though I read the New York Times everyday on the clock at work Gaza/Palestine/Israel has yet to make a lot of sense to me. Also I've never met anyone from Israel, or the anywhere else in the Middle East, or from India (except for a set of twins named Vadahi and Vital Patel in my highschool).

Anyone with two brain cells probably doesn't understand why I'm even talking about these two places that are basically unrelated but in my head I am constantly having to untangle them. I even read two books about subcultures in India this last year (The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai which is about Nepali's, and The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri which is about Bengali's) and I still have to fight the urge to talk about them to Israeli people like I have learned even an iota about their experience. The only thing India and Israel have in common is that they start with the letter I.

The first person I really met here in Buenos Aires is my roommate Adi who is Israeli. I would come to find out that an incredible percentage of my fellow travelers are also from Israel - most of them traveling after their terms of mandated military service, much like people in the United States do after college. And there is a large group of them staying in Limehouse.

Adi has just returned from Skydiving when he bounces into the room and introduces himself. He is nothing like I picture men from Israel: he is very chatty, smiles often, and is kind of cute. He, and his friends all wear t shirts with the neck cut out of them and cargo shorts and drink like frat boys.
After he tells me he is traveling for 5 months I ask "oh! Did you just graduate from college?"
"No actually. All my friends and I just finished military service."
"Really? How long did you serve for?"
"I served for 5 years, everyone is required to serve for 3"
"Even girls?"
"Yes. Women too."
"Do they actually fight or do they serve more of a supportive role like as nurses and secretaries?"
I think here is when he would tell me that service in Israel is more like extensive military training, and less fighting on the front lines but he just replies "Yah kind of"

and then I say "I read an article in New York Magazine* about this model Bar Refaeli who is in big trouble for skipping out on her mandatory military service"

* I said New York Magazine but what I meant was New York Magazine's fashion blog The Cut.
Adi has never heard of her but maintains his composure when I bring up a model when he is discussing combat. He simply says "Well that's good then. Everyone needs to do it, and it's not fair if you get out of it"

After he leaves the room I think to myself about how idiotic bringing in a reference to a daily fashion website is when someone is telling you about life and death.

If I am going to learn anything here I am going to have to figure out how to do something I've never quite excelled at: keeping my mouth shut. I am a good listener, I have a keen memory and I do more than hear when someone is talking to me. But I want it to be a dialogue. I always believe I have something to share and something to say.

Here I need to realize that when I can barely tell the difference between a small nation plagued by religious turmoil and the country that holds over 16 percent of the worlds population it's time to just shut up, listen, and and learn. I have nothing to say about someone else's cultural experience that they can't say themselves, that they can't say better, and with the deep back of the throat Hebrew accent that makes it sound real.

2 comments:

  1. This view is amazing! The light is gorgeous!

    ReplyDelete
  2. That's such a hard thing to to reconcile - the deep-seated need to connect and relate to someone by sharing what you have experienced in your life that is relevant to them, and, in opposition, the fact that just listening to another person serves their need to connect to you.

    It sounds like you are having a truly special experience and I am so excited for you! I love you Sammy and I miss you dearly.

    Say 'Buenos Dias' to Buenos Aires for me...

    ReplyDelete

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