I hadn’t even left the airport and I had started a religious argument. The last remaining seat on the shuttle from the airport was beside me. A more orthodox Jewish man got onto the bus and, in Hebrew, asked the woman behind me to sit beside me, probably so he didn’t have to compromise his religious beliefs. The first sign that I’m not in Kansas anymore. This started a debate about the rights and wrongs of this action between the woman and another man on the bus. I just sat quietly on my seat trying to not tempt anyone else into sin (it’s hard to work out if you are on the winning side of this) This was also in addition to being asked how much money I made by the same woman. I met you 2 minutes ago.
My desire to experience a different culture was off from the word go.
Jerusalem was an assault on my northern Irish senses. Being me and being passionate about women playing an active role in their communities, I’ve found observing women in this culture fascinating. Just what women do with their hair here has me provided me with hours of people watching distraction. From what I can tell, for those women that choose the headscarf option there is a different way of wearing it if you are Muslim or Jewish – Muslims wear the scarves around their chin, Jewish women wrap it around their hair only, exposing the neck. Then there are the Jewish women who shave their heads and wear crochet hats or wigs instead – I now have a fun little game of wig/not a wig. Then there are the women who don’t cover there heads with anything and the tourists in their floppy sun hats trying to stop the sun from sucking the life out of them (I frequently fall into this category) For someone who likes to work out patterns and rules, I gave up pretty quickly as it all is down to whatever cultural tribe you belong to, of which there appear to be many in Jerusalem.
The Old City’s shops appear to be staffed solely by men, including the lingerie shop! NI men would benefit from being sent here for training on how to survive a Saturday afternoon. on Marks and Spencer lingerie floor. This is definitely a change from being served by a 16 year in most high street stores at home. But in other areas women are more visible in a variety of roles, including in the police and military.
Religious sites, monuments to the past as they are, continue to take a historical view of on the role of men and women, especially the Jewish ones. Ok so that’s probably a bit harsh. It’s just strange that these sites are divided in two, with a barrier in the middle and I suspect although I didn’t have a chance to measure it the women’s sections were smaller than the men’s sections.
I’ve had two experiences since being here of not being listened to because I am a woman. Only when older men have intervened, did what I was saying be taken seriously. On one occasion involving an obnoxious queue-jumper, a Texan named Viktor, with sunglasses and a moustache that meant business, coolly repeated exactly what his wife and I had been saying and moved the man on to jump another queue. If he had a pistol, I’m pretty sure he would have blown the smoke away and twirled it back into its holster.
But this experience is not new and not confined to the Middle East. Legislation doesn’t change attitudes. My friends and I can list countless occasions of the peculiar deafness of some men in NI. However, I’m also privileged to know men who value and listen to the voice of women.
As I stood on the women’s side of Elijah’s cave (picture above), I was reminded of something Paul (road to Damascus guy) said about Jesus “For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility” (Ephesians 2)
I like that Jesus trumps barriers and hostile walls that separate.