I'm going to write more about cab drivers in Israel today because yesterday I had the full cabbie variation experience. I was in a total of 4 different cabs all in a very short space of time. I hailed the first cab driver outside my apartment to go to the train station because I was leaving with too short a time to trust taking the bus. He reminded me of the ancient mariner or maybe a close descendent of Methusula. When I told him I wanted to go to the Arlozorov station he said, no, I'm taking you to the university station because the traffic is better in that direction and it will be cheaper for you (thud), he used the meter without my asking, and then talked to me about the Kabbala all the way there. (And by the way, it was much faster). When we pulled up at the station I paid him and as I was getting out the right change he reached into his glove box and pulled out a litle book in a pretty little bag and handed it to me with the instructions to read it and my life would make more sense, I would be happier, and (most importantly) I would find a good man who would take care of me and make me happy --it was a copy of sefer ha'zohar.
When I arrived at the central station in Be'er Sheva I was completely lost. I knew I had to find the Maccabi kofat cholim and I knew it was only a short walking distance but I didn't have any idea uh where it was. So I brilliantly thought to ask a cab driver. He offered to take me there for 10 shekels. When I said, actually, I really would rather go by foot if you would just be nice enough to point me in the right direction he grudgingly gave me directions --go down this street about 3 blocks and then turn right and then left and then ask someone there. Ok, so I follow his directions and end up...in the middle of nowhere basically. I approach a nice woman on the street and she directs me back to where I came from but just across the street. Just across the street from the station, inside the kanyon (shopping mall). In other words, this cabbie had offered to make a U-turn, quite literally, for 10 shekels. And then had sent me on a wild goose chase when I declined. Grrrr.
So I pop into the Maccabi thinking hmm I might just have time to get these forms and the medical exam done in time to be at the scheduled talk at the university. But aahhhgghh when I hand the forms I'd spent 3 hours translating and filling out to the woman (given to me by the university) she shook her head and said, "these are the forms that Clalit uses. You have to fill out these forms instead and have your university fill out this section before we can do anything." Waaaahhhhhh. So out I rush and ...grab a cab.
This cabbie lives in Ashkelon but drives his cab in Be'er Sheva (I couldn't quite make out his explanation for why he does this --they are about 80 km apart which is, uh, far even for us kilometer-challenged folks). I gave him my standard "I'm from Germany" line to make sure we talked in hebrew and not in english and it turns out he is originally from the Netherlands but moved here as a child. So we talked in a mix of germanish/dutch and hebrew on the way to the university. He was full of praise for my hebrew ability given I've been here 3 months --when they say that you know what is coming already--> and asked me for my phone number and could we maybe have a date? Uh no but thanks!
I rush to the department in time for the talk only to discover that the talk has been cancelled. I give them the forms and have them fill them out their part and then it occurs to me that if I rush like hell I might actually get back to the Maccabi before it closes and then back again to the university in time for the meeting I have at 4:30.
Sprint to the gate and grab cab #3. Cabbie #3 is of the industrious "I'm going to pick up the world" variety. There is already a young woman sitting in the back of his cab when he picks me up. 10 seconds later he stops to pick up a young Arab-Israeli student who is covered head to foot in traditional attire. She and I are both going almost the same place and it is only a short detour to drop off the other young woman (first). The conversation was very interesting. He asked each of us in turn what we are studying and how we like the university. For convenience and lack of language skill sake, I simply say I'm studying communications. He then he asks me whether I am just here to study or have I made aliyah. When I tell him I've made aliyah, the young Arab-Israeli woman in the back warmly wished me much success and said that, having studied for part of her undergraduate degree in the UK, she truly believes that Israel is the best place to live in the world.
He drops me off and as I'm crossing the street to the Kanyon, cabbie #2 from Ashkelon drives by and waves and starts to pull up but I wave him on. He was probably wondering what the heck I was doing back there again since he'd dropped me off only a short while ago at the university...
I rush back into the Maccabi about 10 minutes before it will close and am the only person there. The young woman at the desk, who speaks not one word of English, shakes her head and tells me she is not allowed to help me fill out my section of the forms. I sigh and say hmmm I guess me and my dictionary will have some work to do and I'll come back next week. Dictionary? You can't understand these forms with a dictionary! Here, give me the forms and I'll help you after all, she tells me. So she reads aloud question #1 in hebrew and I look at her blankly. She calls a doctor in and he translates one (of the many) in the list of ailments I maybe had at some time in my life? I say no, never had that particular one...so she circles no. The next question goes the same have you ever blah, blah, blah blah, blah or blah? In response to my blank look she purses her lips and says, "you look very healthy," and circles "no". The doctor nods approvingly and goes back into his office. So it goes down the list. There is the occasional question I do understand --cabable of doing the work required, boy howdy yes --will I be exposed to any toxic or dangerous materials in my job --g-d I hope not, circle no. We are done and she says, ok we'll submit these and get the correct forms to your university so you can be paid next week. Bye. What about the exam...? She calls the doctor out, they consult, they beam at me, given my answers on the questionnaire --not necessary. Alright!
So now it is back out to grab the 4th (and final) cab of the day. Cabbie #4 is a morose man. He has a stuffed dog on the dashboard and I pet it and comment that it is very cute. He grunts in response. Searching for conversation, I ask him if he has a real dog at home. No, he tells me, it is forbidden. Ahh, that is a shame. What about cats? No, they are also forbidden. Only Jews are allowed to have pets, he tells me and because he is not a Jew he is not allowed to keep so much as a fish. B'emet? Really? Yes, he says only the Jews are allowed such things. Ahh. To be a non-Jew in this country is to be worse than the dog he is not allowed to own, he tells me. I didn't quite know how to respond to this and indeed, the rest of the ride went in silence.
So there you have it, a wide spectrum of cab experiences, no?!
(BTW, I asked at the university if it was true that only Jews are allowed to keep pets in Be'er Sheva and people responded with a "where in the world did you get that crazy idea?!")