29 December 2011

Discovering Haifa (or: my adventure on bus number 5)

(c) photos by khulud kh, all rights reserved (2011)

I think this was the first time in my life that I take bus number 5 in Haifa. Starting point: Carmel Center (after swimming). Destination point: Downtown (office). But what I didn’t know was what a trip this bus had in for me. No mercy here. So we begin our journey – I sit comfortably at the back of the bus. First stop: Carmel Center. A number of people get on the bus, mainly older people with shopping bags. The doors close and we begin to descend – a winding road connecting between the mountain and the sea, not accidentally called Derech Hayam in Hebrew – the Sea Road. In Haifa, the higher up the mountain you go, the higher the socio-economic status of the residents. A historically known fact. Although today it doesn’t quite apply in such a general way. But still, this is reflected in the environment – the streets are much wider, cleaner. The houses – well, standing more erectly. Parks and playgrounds – perfectly maintained. But let’s get back to the bus.

So we go down the mountain, and at one point we reach a bus station with some seven or eight soldier-boys standing around it. The bus stopped for about a minute and a half – which seemed just too long, as I was sitting at the window with the boy-soldiers right in front of me, only glass separating between me and their machine guns. One was smoking, letting out failed rings of smoke out of his mouth. The other one stood talking to him, and at one point sent his hand down his pants to adjust his penis inside them – I guess – and then to scratch around it. Only two had weapons. But these were not the usual guns we see in the public spaces all the time. These were much heavier, thicker. I don’t know the names of machine guns, but the name is not relevant here. What is relevant that they scared me and I was suddenly very happy that none of these boy-soldiers with these weapons got on the bus. Only hours later, when I told someone at work about this incident and asked if there was a military base there, I was told that this is a medical military base. What do they need such heavy weapons for in a medical military base – I couldn’t understand. A soldier-girl came and sat next to me – no weapon. I scooted over, practically gluing my upper body to the steel of the bus. As far away from her as possible.

The bus continued, with three new passengers – the girl-soldier who sat next to me and two boy-soldiers who stood at the back door of the bus. We entered Kiryat Shprintsak – known to be a very socio-economically weakened neighborhood. The buildings – well, all dilapidated. While up on the top of the mountain every other building is being renovated, here it seems like no human hand has touched these buildings for decades. Some buildings actually have missing pieces – there are these metal on most of the buildings, I’ve never understood what their function is, but I think it has to do with wind. Anyway, some metal sheets are missing from some of the buildings. The paint – well, most have no discernible color. Everything seems crowded here. An older couple gets off the bus at one of the stations with a shopping cart. I see an old man walking by, his right hand holding a transistor radio to his ear, the antenna sticking out.

We continue. Now we cross a clear boundary, leaving Kiryat Shprintsak behind with its dilapidated, colorless houses, and entering Wadi El-Jmal. Ein Hayam in Hebrew. The Arabic name means the Valley of Camels, while the Hebrew means the Eye of the Sea. This is the place where my grandfather considered buying a house a lifetime ago, settling finally on Wadi E-Nisnas, as Wadi El-Jmal was very far (back then) to the center of the city. Here, at the first station, a young Arab woman gets on the bus with two small girls. Nobody gets off the bus. The architectural scenery is breathtaking. I concentrate on the old stone houses – the beauty of them. Greenery enveloping them in a wild manner. Other houses are newer, but built in a way that reminds the past.

And then we are out of all residential neighborhoods, on the main Sea road. We pass the Marine museum of Haifa – with two warships being exhibited in front of it, a necessary (un) reminder of wars. After that, the “business” sector of downtown – car agencies, falafel and shawarma places, different workshops of metalwork. All this, among some scattered unoccupied houses belonging to those who were forcefully expelled from their homes back in 1948. These houses are mostly in ruins – some have no windows, the open spaces closed off by blocks. Others were renovated.

I get off the bus one stop before Kiryat Ha-Memshala – the Government district, with its ugly glass buildings and lawyers’ offices. I have only one word to say about this district – ugly.

I cross Ha’atzmaut road and walk to Jaffa road, heading to my office for a day of work, never imagining that I could have such an enriching trip through my own city, traveling through all the complexities this city has to offer – architectural, social, economic, military, national. I went home, making a decision to take different buses and new walking routes whenever I have an opportunity. To discover Haifa and taste it all over again, every time from a new angle and through a new path.

Next destination – the Haifa stairs.

(c) all rights reserved to khulud kh (2011)

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