KINDNESS OF STRANGERS – Marilyn Armstrong

Israel was in turmoil. Years of bad blood between Arabs and Jews, a disastrous economic situation, and an intense heatwave which had everyone cranky and ill-tempered. It’s no wonder that most riots take place in the heat of summer.

The predominantly Arab areas were seething with resentment while the Jewish population was none too happy either. It was a rough patch, but when had it been otherwise?

Jerusalem’s diversity is part of what makes the city unique. The Jewish population is highly diverse. From secular and downright anti-religious, to ultra-Orthodox and everything in between. There are Christians of every stripe and every flavor of Islam. Bahai, Samaritans — and sects I never heard of — and more than a few wannabe Messiahs.

French Hill

I sang along with the Muzein when he called the faithful to prayer. I loved the chanting, the traditions, the clothing, the open-air markets. I loved everything and everyone, but not everyone loved me back.

The newspaper I was running was broke. We’d been going on fumes for the last few issues and it was obvious we’d be out of business and out of work very soon. We kept hoping for an angel, someone to come along and invest enough to get us well and truly launched. In the meantime, it had been weeks since we’d gotten paid.

I was doing my share, trying to keep the newspaper alive, so when someone had to take the pages to the typesetter in Givat Zeev up by Ramallah, I volunteered. I had a car. I’d been there before. Why not?

There’s a myth that Jerusalem has just one road, but it winds a lot. The theory is, if you keep driving, sooner or later you’ll get there, wherever “there” is. That’s not quite accurate. You may get close — but when I’m the navigator close may not be close enough. I have no sense of direction. When I hear the words “You can’t miss it,” I know I will miss it.

Which is how I wound up in downtown Ramallah in the middle of a minor riot in late August 1983. I didn’t know what was happening or why (exactly), but I was sure I shouldn’t be there.

ramallah-2

I was lost. No idea how to retrace my steps and get back to French Hill. Going forward wasn’t an option. I pulled to the curb and sat there, wondering what to do next.

A few moments later, two Arab gentlemen jumped into the car with me. No, I hadn’t locked the doors. If they wanted to break into my car, they might as well use the doors as break the windows. Was I about to be murdered? Abducted?

“You are lost,” the man in the front seat said.

“Oh, very much,” I agreed. The two men conferred in Arabic. I picked out a couple of words, one of them being “American.” That’s easy. It’s the same in almost every language.

“Okay,” said the man in the front seat. “You need to leave. Now.”

“I couldn’t agree more,” I responded. We swapped places. He took the wheel and drove me back to French Hill.

“You must be more careful,” he chided me. “You must not go to dangerous places.” I thanked him with all my heart. He smiled, and the two of them headed back, on foot, to Ramallah. Offering them a lift didn’t seem the thing to do.

As a final note, their act of kindness was a genuine act of bravery. They could have come to real harm for their generosity which some would have regarded as a lack of loyalty to whatever the current cause is or was. They were under no obligation to help me. Yet they did, at considerable risk to themselves.

An act of kindness by strangers and people who were, in theory, not on “my side.” People can be incredibly kind when you least expect it.

I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.

23 thoughts on “KINDNESS OF STRANGERS – Marilyn Armstrong

  1. I only just have a moment and it seems I NEEDED to read this right now. It’s a wonder-full tale and it confirms my firm belief that people, in general, are far better than we could imagine. Much of the nonsense going on is not the work of misdemeanants but rather a lack of thinking-first-and-acting-then, of stupidity and/or not-knowing-better.
    I read, with much delight, Suze’s ‘story’. I had a very similar experience in the (I think, if I remember correctly) late 80th. I went on a short trip to Israel on one of the first ‘short term’ fligths & hotel’ arrangement, together with my then best girlfriend. It was a very taxying voyage with controls at the Swiss airport making us reconsidering our decision to take that trip at all – none of the usual friendliness, no jokes, no laughter, it was strict and very unfriendly interrogation. Mind you, that was years and years before the strict controls you have to endure now when flying. I remember, having had a knitting with me for the long waiting time before the flight and during the flight. Also I remember having been asked WHY I had a knitting with me. I risked a jokey remark about ‘I wasn’t going to stab anyone in the eyes but knitting a sweater for my son’ and was nearly thrown out. In hindsight it really wasn’t the time for a friendly banter.
    But the ‘worst’ was our arrival in Eilat where we started our stay. We thanked our lucky stars for this break, being at this wonderful beach with cristal clear water in sunshine, at the beginning of November, and were suddenly and quite violently approached by men with loaded guns and in full military garb on trucks with motors running. They informed us in no uncertain terms that we had to leave the beaches by 4pm because after that we were ‘free range and could be molested, chased, raped and whatever else’. The hotel didn’t inform us, we had naturally, at this time, no inkling of the future internet, nor did we have travelling guides or the first idea of why two young, (one) very beautiful European women with long hair and bikinis shouldn’t be out and about alone at this time of the day. Not a good beginning. The next problem was then to have a meal, we shouldn’t be outside the hotel for the always possible outbreaks of fights, troubles, shootings and we had to eat either something far too early elsewhere or eat the terrible and way too expensive food the hotel provided. Another, not very good experience. Luckily, we booked a 3 day long tour to Jerusalem and other biblical places (both of us very interested in history and faith), a tour full of awesome learnings, sightings, excursions, with a tour guide who knew everyone and everything, with invaluable information and tips. And yet, in Jerusalem, we managed to get totally lost – and then – were, when we expected it least, saved and guided back to our bus, by a stranger who spoke some English. He did allow us to give him a ‘tip’ but we would have gladly given him much more, we were so lost and in panic. He didn’t take any advantage of us and told us that, although he knew fully well that we were ‘sort of in his hands’, he wanted us to take a good memory of this city’s trip with us – and that we surely would do the same if it happened in our own home country. A wonderful angel in the habit of a young, instructed and intelligent person – and for us an unforgettable encounter.
    I’m glad you shared this experience. Made me thankful all over and lets us forget the awfulness of many of our contemporaries in these modern times!

    Liked by 1 person

    • It is also not the first time this kind of thing has happened. I had a nearly identical experience in Harlem in 1969 when Owen was in the hospital and I got off at the wrong stop. Two very nice (BIG!!) dark-skinned gentlemen walked me to the train, made sure I got ON the right one — and told me where to get off. I remember they looked at me and said: “You are in the wrong place!” and I said: “It certainly looks that way!”

      Liked by 1 person

      • Holy crap! If you believed in guardian angels and if you didn’t, he was working overtime for you, not your time to go! You had something important yet to do I’d say. Although if your like me, you don’t have a clue what that is or if its already happened.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Marilyn, This piece is a ringer. A real memory. An altogether unexpected turn of events. So timely. Beautifully written. If I had Michael Bloomberg’s billions, I’d cough up whatever you might want to get a newspaper up and running anywhere and everywhere.

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    • It was hard even back then to keep a newspaper up and running. I loved the work. Possibly my favorite job over many years. But we went broke because we needed advertising and couldn’t get enough of it soon enough. That seems to be the issue with all print editions. I do hope the news business comes back. We NEED it!

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      • ouWhat’s happened to newspapers is huge loss, Marilyn. I have no doubt your paper was a gem and the world is less sane because advertisers didn’t come through. We DO need the news business. Maybe we put you and Garry together in the field?

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  3. I remember reading that story some time ago, and such experiences show that not everyone can be tarred with the same brush. Thinking of the things I have missed in life, I think I would have liked to have gone to Israel, probably Jerusalem, and discovered it all for myself ( with you as a guide?). I had my experiences with mixed races where I grew up in East london, but now years later, I realise how lucky I really was to experience it all.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I loved showing people around because otherwise, I never went any of those places. When you live in a city, you don’t go to the tourist places because they aren’t part of you regular life, but when you have company, well then — you take time off from work and you really see your own hometown in an entirely new way! I would have loved having you as a guest.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. I was in Egypt during the Arab Spring uprising. I originally wanted to go with a tour group but they were cancelling and I determined I was going anyway, so I took off on my own. I found a hostel that catered to older people and checked in, stored my junk and the next morning wandered out into the streets to check out the market nearby………and walked right into a huge group of very angry Egyptians, and a mob of military personnel down the block with huge guns…A lovely young man grabbed my arm and pulled me out of the crowd, asked where I was staying and said “you must go back now. Now.” He escorted me back to the hostel..i could remember the name but not exactly how to get there…told me to stay there and left. I thought I was stuck there for the duration. He came back about an hour after he dropped me off with a sack of groceries a few books and a hijab. He showed me how to wrap the hijab and said “if you go out, wear this. no jewelry, just this”. I asked his name and how I could thank him. he said “no thanks are needed, Allah knows your heart”. I never saw him again. I still hope that he is okay……….

    Liked by 4 people

    • It’s amazing what people — without any reward or expectation of “getting something in return” will do for a total stranger. It gives me hope that we may yet somehow survive. I have heard stories like this from many people. There ARE great people -not famous or rich or looking for rewards everywhere. They find you, somehow. It’s amazing.

      Liked by 3 people

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