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Tuesday, April 01, 2008

An African Correspondent (Part II)

[If you didn't read yesterday's post, please do so first.... otherwise this one won't make sense.  Trust me.]

So if you'll recall, when last we met I was on the horns of a dilemma. 

I realized belatedly that it is a very easy thing to act the anonymous big-shot and assure some faceless bureaucrat that they should go ahead and give a tourist visa to someone you've never met (or even spoken).  It is quite another matter to have that faceless bureaucrat turn the tables on you and ask if you are willing to sign a legal paper taking full responsibility for someone who could easily turn out to be very different from the polite, sincere correspondent you thought you knew.

One of my smart-alecky readers emailed me yesterday afternoon to ask if my African correspondent had initiated our email relationship with something that looked like this:

DEAR FRIEND,

I AM GIDEON ARAP MOI, THE SON OF THE FORMER PRESIDENT OF KENYA MR DANIEL ARAP MOI. I CAME TO KNOW YOU IN THE COURSE OF MY SEARCH FOR A RELIABLE AND GOD FEARING PARTNER, AND I DECIDED CONTACT YOU, BECAUSE I BELIEVE YOU ARE A REPUTABLE PERSON AND I FEEL YOU CAN HELP ME AND MY MOTHER OVER THIS CONFIDENTIAL MATTER.

I COUNT ON YOUR INTEGRITY AND HONESTY TO BE ABLE TO HANDLE THIS BUSINESS.  MY FATHER...

Hardee har har... very cute.  :-)

Let me state for the record that up to and including the point where I volunteered to contact the Israeli Consulate staff on his behalf, not once in almost three years did this young man ever ask me for anything other than my opinion on matters related to Israel and the middle east.

Of course, one could argue that a request for someone's opinion is perhaps the most potent flattery and could serve to ingratiate the asker for any number of future favors.  But I honestly didn't think that was his motive. 

And on another point, in answer to one of the commenters on yesterday's post who suggested that it was not possible that my African correspondent was coming to get a job washing dishes in Tel Aviv... even dishwashers in Tel Aviv make more than many middle managers in the third world.  Add to that the high rate of unemployment and the lack of opportunities in developing countries, and suddenly the food service industry in Israel doesn't look all that bad anymore.

But let's get back to my African Correspondent.

After staring at the very official-looking form for a few minutes I decided that the right decision (for me, anyway) was to sign it.  After emailing a scanned copy back to the Consulate in Nairobi, I called the consular officer and told her to go ahead and issue the tourist visa.

For the rest of the day my emotions see-sawed between feeling very good about myself for trusting this young man... and nagging self-doubt as I realized that I was powerless to keep this person from overstaying his visa (or even from engaging in criminal activity) if he was so inclined.

It turns out that any fears I might have had were completely unfounded.

My African correspondent arrived in Israel over a week ago and spent his first couple of days exploring Old Yaffo and Tel Aviv with a Harvard Doctoral student that he met at the hostel where they were both staying.  It wasn't until the two of them came to Jerusalem that I got to finally meet the person with whom I'd been corresponding for so long.

We arranged to meet on Ben Yehuda Street and it wasn't hard to spot him crossing the street.

During the inter-tribal violence that surrounded the recent Kenyan elections, my African correspondent had told me that he'd been spared from some of the danger because, being very tall, he could pass for a Massai instead of his Kikuyu tribe, if he had to.  As I watched this tall, slim African man walk across King George Street to meet me, I understood what he meant. 

The first culture clash occurred when I gave him a hug.  I'm used to the typical American male single hug (with some back slapping thrown in to keep things hetero) followed by a quick release.  Apparently they do a 'double hug' with a partial release in the middle where he comes from.  Oops.  :-)

But seriously, once I saw him and we began to chat, all I could think of was, 'of course this is what he would look like... and why on earth was I worried about him?'

My African correspondent had originally intended to visit the north of Israel as well, but since he lost a few days of his vacation waiting for his visa to be issued, he split his time between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem... with a day trip to Ein Gedi thrown in to boot.

During his time in the Jerusalem area we were honored to be able to host him in our home and Zahava expressed her hospitality the only way she knows how; she fed him to within an inch of his life! 

For his part, my African correspondent was the perfect guest; soft spoken, considerate, engaging, funny and embarrassingly generous.  He brought gifts of traditional tribal clothing for everyone in our family plus some peacock earrings and a handbag which Ariella instantly claimed for herself.

For my part, I gave him a gift of a couple of books about sections of Israeli history that are largely ignored and/or overly politicized.  One was called 'Zion before Zionism' which is about the history of what is today called Israel before the modern Zionist movement was born.  The other (whose name escapes me at this early hour of the morning) was an unvarnished look at the Lehi (Stern Gang) and Etzel (Irgun) during the period immediately before the establishment of the state.  I figured he could find the more conventional stuff to read on his own.

I find it interesting that the the comments on yesterday's post were fairly evenly split over whether or not to sign the papers for this young man to be able to visit Israel.  Most of what people had to say - both for and against doing so - went through my mind during the decision-making process.  But in the end I felt that the right thing to do was to trust my gut... and this young man.

He's now back in Kenya and is probably reading this at work (shame on you for reading blogs on company time!).  From what I understand he enjoyed his trip very much and would like to come back for another visit some time in the future.  Most importantly, we Israelis don't seem to have tarnished his vision of the region very much and he still counts himself among Israel's staunchest supporters in East Africa.

All I can say at this point is that whenever my African correspondent (I'll leave it up to him to reveal his identity or not) wants to visit again, the guest room at chez treppenwitz is waiting patiently for his return.

Posted by David Bogner on April 1, 2008 | Permalink

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I knew you were going to sign it! You're a good guy. I'm glad that it worked out so well.

Posted by: SuperRaizy | Apr 1, 2008 1:29:44 PM

That's a great story, David. Very glad that it turned out so well.

Posted by: val | Apr 1, 2008 2:08:38 PM

If I wasn't overly busy, I would have treated him to some Muqata-hospitality-brand (TM) Waffles.

My bad. But I'm glad you saw him; will see him next time as well!

Posted by: Jameel @ The Muqata | Apr 1, 2008 2:17:20 PM

I'm glad everything worked out so well. Remember, I never said not to sign, just that I'm not as trusting as you are. Which is probably why you have way more friends than me, but hey, that's who we are.

Posted by: dfb1968 | Apr 1, 2008 2:19:28 PM

Well done, Trepp! Besides you certainly know about cliffhangers.

Posted by: Ilana-Davita | Apr 1, 2008 2:25:38 PM

Busted!! I am at work and reading your post David (not the first time). I had a great time in Israel, thank you and your family for having me over, couldn’t help remember being caught off-guard with questions over a mouthful of Zahava’s delicious cooking.

I will return, someday.

Ps. Free Jerusalem by Zev Golan

:)



Posted by: p | Apr 1, 2008 2:34:10 PM

Wonderful! A happy ending to start my day. Thank you for sharing this story. I hope you and your new friend both have a lifetime of happy news to share with each other.

Posted by: Juggling Frogs | Apr 1, 2008 2:42:42 PM

What a great story! Mr. African Correspondent--next time you are in town, would be happy to take you around Tel Aviv. :)

Posted by: Gila | Apr 1, 2008 3:03:56 PM

Beautiful story..and a selfless example of Hachnassat Orchim. Avraham Avinu smiles down on you..

Posted by: Marsha in Stamford | Apr 1, 2008 3:05:26 PM

Why did this post bring tears to my eyes?

I guess its because I just love hearing about the goodness of humanity, and of people with truly honorable intentions. I am so glad "p" was able to see a bit of our great country and to benefit from your hospitality.

And "p", I'm sure I speak for many of us here who would love to show you around the next time you visit.

Posted by: Baila | Apr 1, 2008 3:10:51 PM

Very nice.

Posted by: Jack | Apr 1, 2008 4:27:29 PM

Hurray! (and yes; I remember my gut reaction yesterday.)

Posted by: Wry Mouth | Apr 1, 2008 4:29:48 PM

Yesterday you had me at the edge of my seat wondering, would he? or wouldn't he.
Of course with 20-20 hindsight I had a hunch (or hope) that you would sign.
So good for you David. Your a mensch!
And you know what? Even had he turned out to have misrepresented himself, that wouldn't have diminished you in anyway, because your motives are pure.

Posted by: QuietusLeo | Apr 1, 2008 5:19:39 PM

I'm glad it turned out well. I was wondering whether the stark realities would be a disappointment, but your blog, David, doesn't pull punches, so p, you weren't expecting a land of angels and Einsteins. Just a few, here and there.

Posted by: Barzilai | Apr 1, 2008 6:49:10 PM

Good on ya. What a great story.

This is yet another example of how the Bloggy-Sphere creates connections between people.

Or maybe it's just David. He managed to hunt me down and call me the day after Atlanta and environs was hit by tornadoes, just to make sure I was OK. So maybe I will call the Blogworld an enabling technology, one that helps bring people together who would otherwise never have the opportunity.

Posted by: Elisson | Apr 1, 2008 7:04:56 PM

What a great story! Yesterday was quite the cliffhanger! Your generosity and kindness towards this wonderful sounding young man is inspiring.

Posted by: Katie B. | Apr 1, 2008 7:38:38 PM

I remember him from years ago and had always wondered what happen since I rarely saw his name pop up anymore. I always felt he was a trustworthy and gentle soul.

Glad you took the chance. You not only taught some valuable lessons to your children but you expose them to someone they may not have the chance to meet at such young ages.

Posted by: Jaime | Apr 1, 2008 7:56:38 PM

David - your chesed never ceases to amaze me. What a wonderful story.

Posted by: orieyenta | Apr 1, 2008 8:46:45 PM

Wow...wow...wow
You and your family are terrific. Beautiful story.

Posted by: SaraK | Apr 1, 2008 10:30:08 PM

David, this post made me really truly happy.

I hoped to read these words. It was like unpacking a lovely present that contains exactly what you wish for.

I KNEW you can trust your instinct!!! (Didn't read the later comments yesterday, am off now to do that)

Posted by: Lila | Apr 2, 2008 12:13:31 AM

Yay!!! So glad you signed and it all worked out : )

Posted by: zemirah | Apr 2, 2008 2:34:16 AM

So where are the pictures of the family in tribal outfits??? : )

Posted by: Irina | Apr 2, 2008 3:03:59 AM

Thanks Ilana-Davita for mentioning the book title, I was going to ask David to try and remember. I'm so glad this worked out well for you both; making oneself vulnerable for someone else is not always wise and not always rewarded, but god forbid that we never do.

Posted by: hiraethin | Apr 2, 2008 5:37:16 AM

great ending, but, while i don't really want to buck the trend in the comments, i think you're nuts. (please don't take that the wrong way.)

Posted by: Lion of Zion | Apr 2, 2008 7:53:48 AM

I read the post yesterday and didn't reply. I was hoping that you'd said 'yes'. How wonderful it is when we say yes to life. To our hope in our fellow man.

I don't dismiss those that say no. They were thinking of protection in a land in which protection means so much. But that 'yes'... Isn't that the promise of hope?

Bless you, David. What a gift to give to your brother from Africa. I don't live the risks that you live everyday. And yet your compass still points true north.

Posted by: christopher | Apr 2, 2008 10:25:15 AM

SuperRaizy... Don't 'good guys' always finish last? :-)

val... The longer I live the more I'm realizing that these stories are all around us but if we don't bother to notice them and write them down we can't fully appreciate them.

Jameel @ The Muqata... Over breakfast at our place 'P' mentioned that he had spoken to you but that you were busy this time around. I suppose it was the sad breakfast we served him that reminded him that he had missed out on your waffles. :-)

dfb1968... If I have so many friends, why can't I find anyone to go indoor wall climbing with me other than my daughter? anyone? Beuller??? :-)

Ilana-Davita... My whole life is a cliffhanger. Isn't everyone's? :-)

p ... Thank you. As soon as I had my coffee I remembered. I hope you enjoy them. You are a hard person to select a gift for... but I figured these two would appeal to your sense of adventure and your desire to be able to refute those who say the Jews are modern interlopers and the Arabs were masters of the land back then. Come back soon.

Juggling Frogs... Thanks.

Gila... 'P' would totally enjoy your snarky sense of humor. I'll put you on the list of people to call when he starts planning his next trip.

Marsha in Stamford... OK, the email address is right but that sounds nothing like my friend Marsha. What have you done with her???! :-)

Baila... Thanks. I'll add you to the list too.

Jack... Indeed. :-)

Wry Mouth... What, I thought your comment yesterday was sort of ambiguous. ;-)

QuietusLeo... Thanks. I appreciate it, but my motives were more simple than pure. I just wanted to meet this guy after such a long time as pen pals.

Barzilai... Now that you mention it, I am pretty tough on the country here on treppenwitz. I'm pretty amazed that I didn't sour 'P' to the country.

Elisson... Hey, it's not every day a tornado stalks the best damned 100 word storyteller in the east! :-)

Katie B.... I didn't mean it to be, but if a few more people extend themselves and take small chances because of this story, I guess I don't mind being called 'inspiring'. :-)

Jaime... "p" has gone under many names here (Rami is one of the latest) but is a bit shy. I can't say I blame him. I imagine I'd be pretty shy if I got interested in Kenyan culture and history and began participating in comment threads on African Kikuyu and Massai blogs. :-)

orieyenta... Aw shucks. :-) Hey, your turn isn't far off.

SaraK... You've enjoyed the VIP treatment at chez treppenwitz (although you opted not to stay over). No big deal. :-)

Lila... There are few things in life that work out exactly as you wish. It's fun to savor the ones that do.

zemirah... Me too! SO when are you coming? We could play some duets! :-)

Irina... GIlad has been wearing his around, but I think the rest of us may have to wait until next purim. As attractive as they are, they aren't exactly standard attire here in Israel. :-)

hiraethin ... I agree. Oh, and it was 'P' himself who added the name and author of the book.

Lion of Zion... No question about it. And no offense taken.

christopher... Thanks for that. But I can so see you doing this kind of thing so it doesn't feel particularly out of the ordinary. :-)

Posted by: treppenwitz | Apr 2, 2008 1:05:46 PM

Wow! What a story. There are no guarantees with any trust and often all you have to go on is instinct and your "gut." Last summer I travelled through England and Holland and stayed with many people through an organization called "Couchsurfing" ( couchsurfing.com ) There you contact people and they open up their "couches" to travellers (or you host too). Their mission is as stated: ""CouchSurfing seeks to internationally network people and places, create educational exchanges, raise collective consciousness, spread tolerance, and facilitate cultural understanding."
There is a certain level of verification that you are who you say you are, but in the beginning there is a certain amount of trust and leap of faith that must be taken. While I don't claim to have had the same kinds of concerns that you had to consider living in Israel, I did encounter the same kinds of choices you talk about. I had a few potential hosts politely decline hosting me because of my newness and lack of established references. No harm, no foul. There were enough brave souls who took me in and now have established what I hope are strong and long lasting friendships. There are many members in Israel that do this.
This year I will be travelling to Israel (for my first visit!) with my family and will be looking forward to form many wonderful bonds with the land and our people.
But then again, no one has to legally vouch for me.
David, you are an oasis of reason and hope in an otherwise crazy world.

Trying not to put the ouch in vouch,
(another) David

Posted by: arrrteest | Apr 2, 2008 7:41:13 PM

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