Israelis, in my opinion are very interesting people, some people have stereotyped them as ‘crazy’ (in a sweet way, I assume). Some Israelis are rude and impolite but so is everyone else, it depends in which context you are experiencing them. In the 9 months that I have been here, I have met a lot of friendly and sweet Israelis, it all depends who you are talking to and where you are. On a daily basis, I’ve met Israelis who have invited me to their houses for Shabbat dinner with their families within just an hour or so of meeting me, sweet old women who have planted kisses on my cheeks calling me endearing names like “chamudah and metukah” and saying that I needed to be fed. One particular person I have in mind is our lovely wonderful neighbor Luna who has taken over a mothering role to all of us in the apartment. She feeds us, every time she knocks on the door she always gives us home cooked meals, cakes and fruits. Whenever I run into her on our shared stairway, she plants kisses on my cheeks and asks me if I have had enough food and If I have enough clothes to wear!
And then, there are Israelis who are confused when they see me in certain places (for example the Dizengoff Center or in tourist areas) that, much of the time, barely have any African people wandering around. On these occasions, they give me so much unsolicited attention and sometimes approach me and we strike up a conversation. They ask me where I am from and what I am doing here. On learning that I am from Uganda; the famous line from the Israeli song pops up “lama lo “Ouganda!”. They then ask me if I knew that Uganda was meant to be Israel, which for the most part I am grateful didn’t happen – for a couple of reasons, one being in my opinion that the native Ugandans would have a different standing in society today – it all comes back to the colonial games. They also ask me about Idi Amin, the past notorious dictator president that Uganda is so unfortunate to be famously known for and the hijacking of the Air France Flight 139 by Palestinian terrorists, who landed the plane in Entebbe, Uganda which then became the location of the famous IDF rescue known as ‘Operation Entebbe’. I tell them that I am doing a BINA program through MASA and then they ask me how it is possible since MASA is only for Jews and then I reveal to them my Jewish story which they are usually surprised at, fascinated or confused to hear, in which case they ask me ‘but why?!’
Sometimes, some Israelis categorize me as an asylum seeker, then they gave me that dreadful stare, the one that says that you are not wanted here; go back to where you came from. At first this used to bother me but then I thought that I could be in any of their (asylum seeker) shoes, the experience has changed the way I understand the asylum seekers struggles – I feel it on a more personal level. On these occasions, I remember what one of my humanitarian law professors used to tell us when I was in school – that we all needed to know and prioritize the topic of Refugee Laws and Asylum seeker situation because at anytime, anyone can become an asylum seeker or refugee and find themselves in places where they didn’t want to be or where they are not wanted.
One of the things I love about being here is when some Israelis automatically begin to speak to me in Hebrew assuming that I know the language – unlike in the U.S. where on meeting some people for the first time, they would ask me if I speak and understand English (as if I’m an outsider), here that’s never the case.
Sarah Nabaggala, a 26 year old law graduate from Mbale, Uganda, is a participant on Tikkun Olam post college program. Each week Sarah will be writing a blog sharing her experiences of what it is like living in Jaffa, volunteering with asylum seekers, refugees and the homeless as well as studying at BINA.