Samuel Matson

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The Middle East

 
 

“He who sees the past as surprise-free is bound to have a future full of surprises.” 

― Amos Tversky

 
 
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The taxi driver

On the Sabbath, Israeli buses don’t run. We realized this too late and were left searching for alternative transport to the Dead Sea on our last Saturday in Jerusalem. An Iraqi taxi driver overheard us asking around the bus station and offered to help. Along the way, he stopped to take us to lunch at the best Kebab place he knew. He told us he’d lived over 60 years in the region. He told us he now had cancer but still worked to provide what he could for his family. He haggled us for a hefty tip. His eyes were persuasive - dark pools, deep with history, rich with pride.


 
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Night bus through the Sinai

We found a night bus from Eilat that promised to take us to Cairo for about $100 USD. The website had good reviews and we’d save money on hotels by sleeping in transit. What we didn’t account for was the route through the Sinai was a war zone in active conflict with ISIS. Our driver kept his sub-machine gun under his seat as our only precaution. Our attempts to sleep were feeble as the sporadic gunfire in the distance kept us alert and the steady vibration of our rickety bus on unpaved roads shook us awake. 3 hours along the coast of the Gulf of Aqaba, I woke to see our driver stopped at an Egyptian military outpost. The guards explained the path ahead had recently seen combat and the path back wasn’t much safer. They offered an armored escort of 2 reconnaissance vehicles with a few soldiers to ensure our safe passage to the next outpost. They guided us through the worst of it and we drove the rest of the night periodically stopping at each checkpoint. As the sun rose and climbed overhead, we were finally in sight of the Great Pyramids of Giza on the horizon, an oasis to our heavy eyes.


 
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Good food, good rest

The best breakfast I’ve had anywhere in the world is the Shakshuka I ate at Tmol Shilshom, a renowned cafe in Jerusalem. We’d just driven from Eilat through the Sinai to Cairo and back, only to catch another bus from Eilat to Jerusalem. All told, we’d spent over 36 hours in transit in the past two and half days. 28 of those were in a Middle East war zone. I can’t remember how the food at Tmol Shilshom tasted but I remember how it felt - like solace.


 
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Samuel Matson