Wednesday, 4 April 2018

Tel Aviv / Jerusalem, Israel, April 2018

M. says, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem have nothing in common apart from the language, and that is our impression as well.

Tel Aviv is a thousand pubs, coffee shops, bars, caf├ęs in the middle of the road, breakfast places, ice cream parlors, hummus stalls and so on. Jerusalem is a labyrinth of old town alleys to get lost in and suddenly find yourself inadvertently having crossed from, say, the Moslem into the Armenian quarter, with cave-like shops selling tourist souvenirs, clothes, art, jewellery and religious artifacts.

Tel Aviv is young, fit and good-looking - muscular shirtless guys show off their beach bodies in open air gyms. Jerusalem is orthodox Jews in traditional black robe and with side earlocks, some with heavy fur hats, accompanied by women in skirts and dresses (never pants) often wearing wigs (showing your natural hair is not allowed).

Tel Aviv is dogs, dogs, dogs.
Jerusalem is a Jewish soldier guarding a mosque, a Muslim woman cleaning the toilets in a church.

Tel Aviv is laid-back and open-minded, and the best place for LGBT people in the Middle East.
Jerusalem is charged and intense - you can feel some sort of sizzling in the air, and every taxi driver (they are usually Palestinian) will tell you unasked about his frustrations with the Jews and the state - how the Arabic writing above one of the old town gates supposedly was replaced by a Star of David overnight. How formerly Palestinian neighborhoods have turned Jewish and the former occupants were forcibly removed from their houses. Having come too close to the entrance of Al Aksa Mosque, we are being told off in a rather hostile manner. Driving through the streets at night, we see a large gathering of religious Jews in what looks like a riot or a demonstration, with lots of police, military and burning trash cans. When we mention it back at the hotel, the receptionist merely shrugs and informs us that "there is always someone protesting in Jerusalem".

Tel Aviv has no history to speak of, the whole city is barely a hundred years old and sports an eclectic mix of architectural styles, from Bauhaus over Jugendstil to the glass facades of modern skyscrapers.
Jerusalem has more history than most other places on Earth, with some of the most significant places, buildings and structures of three world religions being within walking distance of one another. Standing next to the tomb of Mary,  or the place where Jesus preached to his followers on the Mount of Olives, it is hard to believe that this is the same soil they would have stood on, the same view they would have had.

Sunday, 21 January 2018

Nairobi, Kenya, January 2018

How safe is Nairobi? Well, there are certainly more security measures in place than I’ve seen in any other city so far. Judging from that, we should be able to feel very safe. Highway traffic is surveyed 24 hours by CCTV, heavily armed guards are seen everywhere, be it at the entrance of official or even private buildings, shops or inside malls.

Security procedures for getting inside the UN compound are seemingly being tightened on an almost weekly basis, resulting in me not being able to access the premises: even though I had been registered as a visitor the day before, consequently did appear on the respective list which the guard at the gate had in front of her, had my passport on me, passed the bag scan, and was granted a day access pass, we still hadn’t done everything right. My host was not aware that she’d have to pick me up at the entrance, as any visitor now needs to be accompanied by a staff member. I went back to my hotel without having achieved anything.

Our colleague tells us that, when a UN staff is interested in buying or renting a house, it needs to be inspected and signed off to ensure it meets the UN's security requirements. This includes among others a day guard and two night guards (or 1 guard and a dog at night); an electric fence surrounding the property; alarms and sufficient lighting around the house at night. His lovely property doesn’t give the impression of such a fortress – he explains us that the electric fence is well hidden just behind the dense hedges. “We like to pretend it’s not there.”

The terrible incident of the shooting in a shopping mall, resulting in 67 deaths in 2013, still rings in everyone’s ears. During the elections at the end of last year, there was real fear of a massive outbreak of violence, which fortunately didn’t occur. Still Maina, the driver, says that things are being exaggerated, and any white person can walk around any part of Nairobi during the day without needing to be afraid. 

He might be right, or not. At the end of the day, though, Nairobi (or at least the very few parts I’ve seen of it) has surprised me very pleasantly, especially because the city is incredibly green, last but not least thanks to the wonderful Nairobi National Park. It’s worth a visit, and in any case, the only zero risk option is not ever leaving your bedroom.