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March 13th 2009 (Friday)

    I once joined a construction crew in the Sinai.  The land then belonged to the country of Israel and it now belongs to the country of Egypt. The crew spoke to each other in a German that included French.  Window was "fenestra". Paint was "farbey".  I write the two words as they still sound to me.

    Like so many, in moments of frustration, the crew believed that by speaking louder they improved their communication skills.  But however loudly it came - "DI FARBEY IST DUOO DICK" - only made sense to me when my advisor had a paint can in one hand and a solvent can in the other.

    It was high summer.  We worked in the morning and in the evening.  Through noon we found shade.  

 

    I understood the long sleeves in that sun.  And at the end of a week, before the arrival of the next water Bowser, we washed our bodies and our clothes in whatever water was left from the previous Bowser. 

    Naked I could see those numbers on the arms of my workmates. Clumsily done they were, but hardly faded.  These men had been children in the death camps of Europe.  At the end of that chaos, and after the displaced persons camps, they had joined the French Foreign Legion.  Each one of them had served twenty years.  From 1949 to 1969.

    Occasionally we would get a lift into the city, and they would do something magnificent and ridiculous.  Which was scary for me, but fun for them, and always forgiven by the City of Eilat, which meant the tattoos on the inner forearms of my workmates were real.

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