Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Drunken Ponderings: In the tub with Argov

I had another stressful day at the office yesterday. I was on a three-party conference call with a local customer and a vendor in California who could not produce his widgets fast enough. The customer was understandably frustrated and since I'm the assembler, I had to speed up my own production to make up for the delay. Typical scenario.

Since my customer's command of the English language leaves much to be desired, I also played the role of interpreter. When the mild mannered Californian explained that he won't be able to deliver due to raw material issues of his own, the customer lost control and addressed the vendor directly.
He bellowed:
"(By not getting the parts), Nizo will be retarded, and then I will be retarded. In the end we will all be retarded".

I had to quickly intervene and explain that by "retarded", the customer meant delayed. In French, the word for delay is retard.

It leads me to wonder how a company's director can speak English so poorly, especially since most of his sales are overseas. Until Mandarin becomes the new lingua franca, English is the language of business. This isn't to say that all Quebecers speak poor English, many are so perfectly bilingual you cannot tell if they're primarily Anglophone or Francophone. Nevertheless, such ignorance is inexcusable within a business context.

Last week, I had to place a call to our branch in Petach Tikva. Although everyone there speaks impeccable English (including the security guard who moonlights as a receptionist), I try to seize every opportunity to practice my mediocre Hebrew. As soon as I finished my call, my neighbor, a fellow manager asked me what language I was speaking. Hebrew I responded, and she asked me to teach her a word. I was delighted, finally, someone was looking beyond their baguette and willing to learn something new. So I picked a simple funny sounding word that she would find easy to remember: Bakbuk (bottle). To my annoyance, she kept repeating "bakbuk", until the day was over.

The next day she approached me, and with a grave look on her face she exclaimed: "Nizo, I don't think the word you taught me was correct. I said it to my boyfriend's roommate and he didn't recognize it".

I asked her if her boyfriend's roommate was Israeli, and she answered that he was German.

I was perplexed. Was he Jewish?
She said No.
"So how would you expect him to speak Hebrew? "

She had a confused look on her face and exclaimed "What's the difference between Hebrew and German? they sound the same".

I thought she was kidding.
She wasn't.
How could a 34 year old university graduate, who holds a managerial position require an explanation about Germany and Israel being two different countries with two completely unrelated languages? Granted, both contain the ch as in Bach sound, and to the severely untrained ear, they might sound similar, but to think they're the same is ignorance worthy of physical punishment, which I would have loved to dispense had our HR department permitted it.

Ignorance debilitates me, it eats up my insides. I tried to make sense of it that night. When I got home, I spent two hours on the elliptical machine and another hour on the PlayStation where I was a great white shark who attacks beach-goers. She was one of the girls on the beach who never made it to shore.

Still, it wasn't enough to make sense of both situations.

So I took out my secret weapon, the key which unlocks all truths: booze.

I topped up the martini shaker with enough gin and vermouth to sedate a horse. I filled up the bath tub and lit a couple of scented candles. I put on a Zohar Argov CD.

I proceeded to marinate in the steamy hot bath, the heat a welcome escape from the -25 celsius arctic freeze outside.

Zohar's goat-like voice serenaded me and nudged me gently towards a new state of consciousness. I imagined myself in a faraway land, sitting in a courtyard under date trees and bougainvillea. Zohar was there too, along with his lead guitarist whose face was barely visible behind gigantic, opaque ray-bans. We sipped martinis. I talked, he listened. It was my turn to lament.

I mentioned the customer and his poor English. There's a socio-political context of course. Most in Quebec do not identify culturally with the rest of Anglo Canada and there's an active separatist movement which has tried to make an independent state out of this province. Thanks to the "revolution tranquille" quiet revolution, the Quebecois have made formidable advances on all fronts, and have managed to protect the French language and promote its usage. However, whether Quebec secedes or not, this province's educational system needs to do much more in order to churn out linguistically proficient and culturally aware citizens. Future generations should be able to find Germany on a map. Otherwise, Quebec risks becoming a nation of Wall-Mart greeters.

Argov listened intently... His guitarist strummed a mournful tune...

Speaking of cultural change, my rant went on to those who need it the most: the Palestinians. My people, yes, those with the tendency never to miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.

I lamented about how Arafat allowed the sprouting of a dozen militias during Oslo thus turning Palestine into the mess it is today. How instead of sending our men to work in the new industrial zones, they were sent to terrorize Gilo. How we fell for Nasrallah's assessment about Israel being as weak as a spider's web subsequently using Sharon's visit to Al-Aqsa as a pretext to launch Intifada II and decimate the Israeli left.

As if all of this wasn't enough, our great Palestinian nation punished the corrupt Fatah mafia by electing a bunch of bearded baboons who aspired to turn our nascent quasi-state into a second Afghanistan. Since we weren't regressing fast enough, our hooded gangs proceeded to kill each other in Gaza, and it took a silk-robed rotund sheikh to broker a cease-fire. All of this while Israel's settlement enterprise continues unabated, appropriating land and resources, cutting off populations.

So, how does one explain the above failures? I refuse to submit to the explanation that Palestinians are inherently evil, or that Islam in itself is belligerent. That's a lazy explanation, and at its heart a racist argument that dehumanizes Arabs and thus makes it easier to drop bombs on them.
On the other hand, I also disagree with the many self-proclaimed Arab intellectuals, who see all of our failures within a narrow post-colonial framework. Like street vendors, they pull out and dust off the same old arguments about Western interference and Arab helplessness.

Just like in Quebec, but on a much larger scale, a cultural paradigm shift is required. We need a reform movement, a party that harnesses the energy of moderate forward thinking Palestinians. It all starts with exorcising the demon which is the culture of the Shaheed (martyrdom). We need to start valuing life. First on the list must be
Palestine TV, which needs to be cleansed of shows that glorify martyrdom. If we cannot salvage the older generations, let's at least spare our children. Shows like the one below must be banned:

This is for our own sake regardless of the Israeli occupation. One only needs to look to Iraq to see how Shaheed culture is like a fire consuming whatever is left of the country. As I said in previous posts, the Palestinians aren't the first nation to be occupied or oppressed, there are alternative ways of resistance. Whatever the cause, children should never be put on the front lines. They should not be encouraged to kill themselves.

Instead we need more shows like this:

We need to de-program people, it's a huge endeavor. Yet it's not impossible. Shaheed culture in its current manifestation is a relatively recent phenomenon in the Arab world. The concept of martyrdom is as old as time, and is not unique to the Arabs or Islam. What is new is how indiscriminately blood is shed. How nothing is sacred anymore.

The question is, how do we get there from here. Short of a mass epiphany, one could only hope that change in Palestinian society will come gradually and organically. Hopefully people will realize the ineffectiveness of our current methods, that we have sunk so low that the only way now is up.

I heard a loud pop, something hit me in the face. At first I thought it was Zohar's proboscis-like nose. Was he trying to give me a kiss? I then realized that fluctuations in temperature and pressure made the metal cap fly off the martini shaker and come crashing down on my cheek.

Argov was still bleating about some long lost love, I switched him off and went to bed. At some point the mundane takes over...