Be'er Sheva the sand-coloured city
My 100th entry on Wonderland! היום היום הולדת, היום היום הולדת
I went to Be'er Sheva, which is a city right in the Negev desert. It reminds of the fact that Israel was created this way - carved on a desert step by step. I realised two things. First, I understand now why Israelis say that Tel Aviv is 'European'. Second, I understood that unless you see something like Be'er Sheva, you can't say you've visited the Middle East if your experience in the region is limited to Israel.
The first impression of Be'er Sheva might be that everything is in the colour of the desert. Starting from the university
and finishing with some ancient elements in the centre
Be'er Sheva is proud of its diversity, which is more visible than in other big cities in Israel. I haven't seen so many fully covered women in my life, and in this desert dust brought by the winds from Sahara I wish I was dressed like that. I would just add glasses on top of everything. Be'er Sheva is home to an abundant Bedouin community, and their huge marketplace (see someone's movie) is one of the tourist attractions. The place is really huge, and after you think you memorised a certain falafel stand, you'll soon find yourself in a section with, literally, alleys of fruits, feeling unsure where the exit is, let alone the falafel shop. Some things are ridiculously cheap, and sellers are trying to out-shout each other offering peppermint for but 1 NIS. You can also find shoes, 'European' and Bedouin clothing, waterpipes, furs, toys, kitchenware, crops and seeds, tobacco in huge sacks, and many other useful and useless things. Middle-aged Arab and Bedouin men take pleasure in saying 'Yes, cutie' whenever you pass by something they have to sell. Kids smile ironically as one wanders around. Actually, many kids work in the market. I'd like to think they only help around because it's a Hanukkah break at school, yet I'm aware that child labour in markets is quite widespread.
A blond Russian-speaking trader has some Lithuanian alcohol. When I ask how come they decided to import it, he answers, somewhat irritated, that it's not him who imports it. The mixture of desert dust, noise and the, sorry to say, obtrussive manner of the locals to ask you how much of this and that to weight for you when you merely cast a glance at that thing risks of causing a headache, but overall this colourful area is definitely worth experiencing.
If you see an Ashkenazi without a kippah / kerchief that Orthodox women wear, in the majority of cases asking whether they speak Russian is only an act of politeness. Local businesses, like elsewhere, have learned how to cater for the needs of the Russian-speakers. I heard a story from Prof. Nelly Elias at the BGU that there is a church which is shared by Russians and Christian Arabs.
As I was there, the streets were quite empty, allowing one's look to float around with the wind. A friendly juice seller asks how cold it is in Lithuania, and frowns at hearing -13. I admit, it's hard to imagine. Meanwhile the coarse plants and the general landscape keeps reminding of the 'desertness' of Be'er Sheva.
As I turn into one random street, construction workers hardly notice me. Nobody else goes there without a purpose, although it's an interesting street.
A few drops from the sky make me expect rain to catch up with me. The rain, not too generous for Be'er Sheva, greets me on the way back to the station, close to the Bedouin market. Dust set down and the wind plays with scents from nearby bakeries, and it's obvious that rain has never smelled so heavenly as after spending a half-day here. As I walk towards the station past home-bound soldiers with open submachine guns, things start looking more familiar.
For someone travelling alone, Be'er Sheva is quite an intensive experience. Yet how else will you feel that you have set your foot in the Middle East?