Saturday 14 December, 2013 by Uncle Spike
I was in Israel in December 1987, literally having arrived a couple of days after the First Intifada, the uprising of the minority Palestinians against the Jewish settlers who were, and still are, encroaching ever further into Palestinian territories. Now I don’t want to get into the politics, I’ll happily leave that minefield to political observers and journalistically inclined bloggers; which is altogether somewhat different to a few tales of Young Traveller Spike.
I was in my very early 20’s, and had found myself wandering around a few parts of the globe in search of adventure and myself. Come to think of it, I’m not sure if I ever did ‘find myself’, but adventure; check – did that one by the bucket load. So I was very much single back then, having been on the receiving end of the odd romantic entanglement where rash promises had been made and not long after, cheap rings were sold back to swindling dodgy backstreet jewellers for their paltry weight in 9 carat gold.
It was an interesting time in Israel and Palestine to say the least. Tensions were high, political muscle and the muscle of the native youth was being flexed on many a street corner, and… well you know the history; not much has changed in essence since those days I guess.
I was a lone traveller, hooking up with other similar wandering lost souls as/when the occasion arose. I kind of landed in Israel by accident too. Having been chatting to some guys in Athens about ‘where next’ and ended up tagging along and boarding the ferry from Piraeus in Greece to Haifa in Israel. Most lone travellers will tell you similar tales; you meet up with and part from folk all the time. So within a couple of days, I was just bumming around Jerusalem, exploring the very varied parts that held a certain fascination for young Spike. It was during that time that I bumped into a young lady, quite literally in fact, having tripped over her bag in the busy old central bus station in Jerusalem.
Her name was Keren, a Jewish variation of the name Karen, and means ‘ray of sunlight’ – and that she was. With a beautiful olive dark complexion, dark auburn hair, sparkling eyes and a gun, she was every young guys dream. Err, yes, I said ‘gun’. Like all young Israelis, military service in the Israel Defence Force (IDF) is compulsory, girls too. And like all soldiers, conscripts and serving alike, they were assigned a weapon and faced lengthy sentences if their weapon was lost, for obvious and extremely good reason.
After apologising profusely for knocking into her and spilling her drink, a few polite words were exchanged and as she was on leave for a few days, I found myself with an unofficial guide to some parts of the city I would perhaps not otherwise come across. Result! We got on well. She was chatty, well informed about the world too, having spent much of her pre-teenage years growing up in the states.
We never romantically hooked up shall we say, but we did share some laughs and even had a sort of ‘date night’ where we met up for a meal at a not very posh, but secluded small eatery on the outskirts of the city – not in the area where her family lived by the way; I was not particularly well known for my bravery, never really my thing. So anyway, we met up as arranged. I had on my one half decent pair of trousers that had been carefully squashed under the hostel’s mattress for the past day after spending 2 months rolled up at the bottom of my backpack. Add to that one open-necked cheesecloth shirt that thankfully looked better unironed than ironed and I was almost a presentable young suitor. Keren however, had turned up rather unsurprisingly to be much better dressed than me. She wore a fairly long skirt, heels, her hair was bunched up, and she held a small clutch bag/purse. Oh, and of course, her gun.
Now I got to admit, I had had my fair share of female company over my latter teen years, but…. that WAS a first, even for me; to go on a date with an armed woman!! I was, of course, the perfect gentleman, impeccably behaved to a T. Well of course I was; she was carrying a flippin’ semi-automatic rifle as well as a shiny little black bag. Attractive she might have been, but stupid I wasn’t.
We did have a lovely meal by the way, and another tour round the next day before she returned back to her unit and I packed up and headed south to Eilat. It’s all such a tad bizarre, when I sit here now, some 26 years later, and think back to those days of wanderlust, guitars on open deck ferries, friendship bracelets, cheesecloth shirts and cute girlies with guns.