The Writing on the Walls
The journey to Mo's sanctuary
(The exact location is not mentioned to respect the privacy of the person that I and my friends stayed with.)
It was Friday afternoon in Jerusalem. My friend had invited me over to meet Mo. I had agreed to it and now we were finishing up our Ethiopian coffee and snacks. Next, we headed to the Damascus gate to meet her other friend. Both of us had never seen Mo before but we were curious. I was told that Mo invited many people to his house and that they left something behind on his wall. We came together at the bus stop.
After a while, the bus stopped at the gate of the village. We walked through the crowded entrance searching for the next bus. Left and right vegetables and fruit were spread out on stands. A short man with a mustache asked “taxi”?.
Finally, we got on an old van the bright yellow it used to be had bleached in the sun to a softer shade.
Golden heat burned on our skins as we moved along and stepped into the bus.
Some people love to travel, it is a form of excitement and adventure, others find it boring. A woman once told me that traveling was mostly waiting. I an the other hand prefer to arrive.
Cramped together in the backseat of the van my two friends were on the left side and on the right side was an annoying man. He tried to get my attention but I found myself deeply fascinated by the conversations my friends had. If it would be about the color of the latest socks I would be fine with that. The wind blew in our faces through a cracked window. We got off in the city after asking directions from the driver. One of my friends knew where it was.
It was a fifteen-minute walk on a dusty road. We stopped at a narrow alley, the neighborhood was at the edge of the city. A tall Grey apartment building hid in the shadows. As we moved towards the entrance and stepped inside. The noise of the street vanished. A cool draft wrapped itself around our bodies as we climbed the staircase.
A strange beeping sound followed us up the stairs. Later I learned it was the electricity closet, tiresome complaining to its users.
“Mo” and a big arrow pointing to the apartment door was written on the white wall opposite of the staircase. We knocked on the door and waited. Our throats were dry from the journey in the midsummer heat. My stomach rumbled and the bag pack was getting heavier with each minute. I had no idea that a blanket and a few clothes could weigh so much. Or was it really, the heat and the fact that we weren’t supposed to be there.
Mo opened the door and smiled. We got in and left our shoes and bags in the living room. As my eyes got used to the darker room I noticed the writings and art on the walls around us. All the walls except the ceilings were covered in writing.
Medicine against lonely thoughts
As we sat in the bright and friendly kitchen we poured ourselves cold water and lemonade and started to talk. Mo was a friendly kind-hearted man with a beard. He looked interested in his two new guests since he already knew my other friend. We introduced ourselves and told a brief story.
“The writings and the art are from people all over the world” Mo explained. He told us that he hosts many people from all over the world. He refuses to charge anything. I guessed that our stories are our currency here. He loves to get to know people but is limited in his ability to travel outside. Mo lives in the West Bank and therefore has to request a permit to leave and travel abroad. Whenever he gets the change he travels, but the rest of the time he receives people into his home.
He is open-minded and talks about the challenges of life in his city where being religious is expected. Whatever his personal believes he is relaxed to others and doesn’t oppose his opinion. We eat some small things and drink more water as the sun goes down. The kitchen window has a good view over his part of the city. Orange and red set in the sky as the prayer sounds.
It is time for dinner, and for this occasion, we decided to go out and eat. It is Ramadan, a time in which Muslims fast for a month at daytime and eat at night.
Whilst my friends continue to talk I pounder on my cold water. The apartment feels as if it is inhabited by a crowd of people. A friendly gathering of people leaving prayers, mantras, hopes and jokes on the walls. Even advice. At the end of our stay, we will also leave our wish behind on the wall. It feels as a medicine against lonely thoughts. A reminder of our connection with each other. On our way to the restaurant, we speak about peace. Is it likely we both wonder?
Getting real never felt so genuine
The truth is that we need to have hope, it is our light in times of shadows and despair. We are the last to arrive and within a few minutes are served juicy chicken, rice, and crispy vegetables amongst other delicious things.
With our stomach filled we head back home and continue the conversation. Mo makes a haunting comment that sticks in my mind till this moment. “We might look back at this period and realize it was peaceful, worse might be yet to come”.
Even though the sound of that is a heavy one, I believe it to be important. I am familiar with the meme: on a happy note. But the truth is that there is not a lot of happiness most of the time. Feelings of gloom, dread, and straightforward realism are just as legitimate. It seems hard to speak about feelings and yet here we are. Getting real never felt so genuine.
His comment had a refreshing effect on me and brought me back to the now. Instead of an elusive unknown future, we can truly only focus on the now. The present is where change is shaped. Each of us has the gift of creation. That is a specific context and something that you can do. Like Mo, he can offer his home to the wanderers of the world and connect. Through these meetings and the exchange of stories, new roads are paved. The writings on the walls are like the signatures under a contract, a promise of doing the work now. It’s more than that, it reminds us that we are not alone. Our feelings can overwhelm us, and they are to be respected. Yet it is good to know we share these moods and still come out of it on the other end.
I left with respect for the work that Mo is doing. And I know that he himself does not consider this work. Perhaps he even thinks it is nothing special. If he would utter such thoughts I would surely correct him. The writings on the wall are like chapters of an unfinished book that reflect the warm kind heart of one man. They reveal to us the power of action, the desire to break divides and in the end the pathway out of darkness.
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© 2018 Samira Kacemi