Three Magic Words

In the western world the three magic words would be «I. LOVE. YOU.». But in the Palestinian society this phrase has lost its meaning for me as an international, blond and tall girl. The Arabs would waste their compliments and spoil any foreigner who not necessarily would be pleased by their generosity of sweet talk. But the words that actually have a magic meaning in this area are the words for ‘step by step’, ‘come on’ and ‘done!’ – in Arabic: «swaie-swaie», «jalla» and «hallas».

The argila is a symbol of the swaie-swaie attitude. Take it easy, go with the flow.

The understanding of time is pretty different in Middle East compared to the European culture. Sometimes it seems like the Arabs have all the time in the world despite an upcoming or already passed dead line. Any effort to make an Arab hurry up will be met with a relaxed smile and the comment «swaie-swaie». The attitude has some similarities with the «mañana, mañana» you hear in South America. This phrase makes even me, who is famous for being 30 minutes too late to any appointment, s-t-r-e-s-s-e-d out! Somehow I envy their ability to live in the moment and be present, but often I find myself rushing on their behalf. For instance I once started running back home from nice walk with the Bedouin I stayed with because his schedule told us that he would have people coming over to his house. When we arrived, sweat and exhausted, two hours passed before we saw any sight of guests. But at least we had our work out of the day.

The swaie-swaie attitude is balanced with the second magic word. Because when the time is right and the moment is here, the Arabs are as fast as lightning. When you hear them screaming «Jalla», there is no time to wait for anything, and you would easily miss out if you only would like to tie my shoes before it’s time to go. «Jalla!» means now – not in two nanoseconds.

Finally the Arabs have a magic word to end any process that has come to an end. «Hallas» is the period of any discussion, and if you try to introduce a new argument after the word has been said you would be talking to deaf ears. Another meaning of the third magic word could refer to you own energy level. The phrase «I’m hallas» would send a warning about an exhausted friend who would need a break and some good treatment.

The popular walk of Via Dolorosa during easter

Tourism: the popular walk of Via Dolorosa during easter

Now my time in Middle East has come to an end, and I would like to share some thoughts. This year has been a constant rush of impressions, experience and meeting with interesting people. I’ve been making a living with people of  Palestine and taken part in their struggle for their culture and their state. I’ve learned bits and pieces of a difficult and widely spoken language, Arabic. I’ve been challenged as a volunteer in a local NGO which gave me responsibilities for work I’ve never done before. I’ve lived like a Bedouin in the desert, and on the other side been a tourist walking Via Dolorosa with African pilgrimages during easter. I’ve gotten to know different religions from the inside – had a Baha’i weekend in Haifa, taken part in Sabbath dinner in the Old City, and woken up by our Imam neighbor every day for morning prayer. This year in Palestine has been a jalla life I’ve never experienced earlier which has given me friendships for lifetime.

The separation wall

Activist: the separation wall

In contrast to this rush, my understanding of people, culture and politics has been swaie-swaie. It’s a long-lasting process of learning before the confusion calmed down. Still, I easily get confused because there is a specter of topics to dig into. During the last weeks I’ve felt pretty hallas with the complicated life of Palestine and Israel. My fatigue was obvious to me when I found myself screaming against a fence surrounding a simple neighborhood that I couldn’t get out of. The obstacles of walls, fences, checkpoints and road blocs make me feel imprisoned. The restrictions of freedom of movement blocs my mind and the only thought I would be left with is the hysterical need to run away.

Yot & Tal with their dog at a view-point of Golan Heights

Before I returned to a more peaceful country I wanted to make some friends in Israel as well as in Palestine. This brought me to Golan Heights in the Northern district in Israel which offers beautiful nature, green hills, natural pools and refreshing water springs. In order to get as much interaction with Israelis as possible I went traveling by myself, hitch hiking and couch surfing throughout the area with an enormous success. The beauty of the nature did not impress me as much as the beauty of the people. The lack of public transportation in the mountains makes the inhabitants generous hosts for any tourist, and I feel lucky to be welcomed by these sharing people. My travel became an adventure because of Yot & Tal who live in a fascinating tin boxed house, but from the inside it’s a curtain castle with a compost toilet. He is a student working as a teacher for gifted children, and she runs her own yoga and massage business. The curious couple is open-minded and easy to connect with. Staying with them made me feel like visiting some good old friends.

To sum it up, dear Israelis and Palestinians, my three magic word would be “THANKS” “FOR” “EVERYTHING”.  I’ll be heading back home with plenty of knowledge, experience and inspiration from people and friends who enriched my life. At this stage I feel pretty hallas with the jalla life and the constantly incoming swaie-swaie new pieces of facts or feelings that I have to fit into the bigger picture of understanding of this complicated territory. I’ve packed my bag, we’ve cleaned our way out of the apartment and our goodbyes has been said. I believe I’m ready for my return. Palestine – hallas! Norway – jalla!

Good times - Good people


3 tanker om “Three Magic Words

  1. This is a great post habibti, I can relate a lot :) although I find that Palestinians often seem to be on time, much to my disappointment, haha. I love the photos and the three magic Arabic words – what would we have done without them?!

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