A few weeks ago, I hiked the entire Jesus Trail for the first time with my friend/coworker Yafit. Upon reaching the Mount of Beatitudes and the end of our four-day hike, we called the Jesus Trail cab driver to take us home. The beautifully air-conditioned taxi arrived ten minutes later, and I met Chiki for the first time. Technically, his name is Joseph; and the Jesus Trail people make an effort to print only this name in official materials, thinking it will remind pilgrims of Mary’s betrothed and strengthen the mental connection between the trail and the Biblical person of Jesus. That, they tell me, is just a part of the clever marketing strategy that goes into advertising the trail. But in real life, everyone just calls the cab driver Chiki. I don’t know why.
I got into the back of the cab and listened to the conversation between him and Yafit, who sat up front; every few minutes I drifted off to sleep, my head vibrating against the window. Chiki had one of the heaviest Arabic accents I’d ever heard in Hebrew, and he threw in Arabic slang left and right. When we got out of the cab to pick up our bags from our previous night’s lodging, I interacted with him face to face for the first time and reassessed my previous assumptions based on the enormous star of David that hung from a heavy gold chain around his neck.
We went into the bed and breakfast and sat down for a cup of coffee with Israel, one of the owners. He and Chiki got to talking and discovered that they had been in the same military unit in the late 1960s. Israel pulled out an old, black-and-white album; they poured over images of men in uniform, standing in rows, and Chiki pointed to one blurry speck in the top left. “That was me! We were marching in the same group that day!” Turning to me, he explained, “This was really important because it was the first time we had marched like this in a unified Jerusalem. East and West Jerusalem were one city.”
Israel and Chiki continued talking, and Chiki admitted that he had only just joined the military when this event took place in 1968, so he didn’t actually fight in the Six Day War. “Ah, so you didn’t quite make it in time to kill the Arabs, eh? Too bad,” remarked Israel.
Continuing to marvel over this coincidence and to exchange stories of mutual acquaintances from the army, the two began to talk about one of their commanders, who “was basically God to all of us soldiers.” They discussed what news they’d heard of him since then, confirming that he had married a Jewish Moroccan woman he’d been seeing at the time. Chiki shook his head and laughed. “Yes, she was beautiful. But my father always used to tell me when I was a boy” – and here he broke into colloquial Arabic – “‘Marry a Muslim before you marry a Moroccan.’” He translated the aphorism into Hebrew for Israel, and they laughed.
We finished our coffees and prepared to leave. Israel and Chiki shook hands warmly and bid each other goodbye in Arabic: ma’a essalaame!
There is SO MUCH IDENTITY in this country.