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
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
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.