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Meeting Mohammed

While I was in India I received a series of emails from my friend Dan (name has been changed). Excerpts from his emails are published below.

Dear Alex,  I’ve found a flat. Finally. It was a real balagan, but it’s over now. Great location – downtown, just off Ben Yehuda. Didn’t you live there once? The rent’s cheap, too. One room-mate. He’s called Mohammed.

The whole process was worse than finding a job, or a girlfriend. First I saw a few places in Bakaa and Emek Refaim, but they were too far out for me. Besides, I don’t want to get into that Anglo scene – Ulpan was quite enough for me. I narrowed the search down to MercazHa’ir, Rehavia, and Musrara. And Nahlaot. Musrara was my favourite, though. Do you know it? It’s easy to miss, off behind the Russian Compound, next to Mea Sharim and on the edge of East Jerusalem (the Palestinian part). It’s full of old Arab houses – I suppose they were kicked out in 1948 – and was settled by Mizrahim. It’s where the Israeli version of the Black Panther movement began.

Why am I telling you all this? Surely you know it already.

Most of the population are underprivileged, but there are also some Haredim. There’s a lot of gentrification at the moment. Many of the buildings are being renovated and transformed into penthouse, duplexes, and studios. Living alone is beyond my means right now, so I stuck to the older buildings. They’re a bit run down but with lots of character. I saw one flat advertised on Homeless, called up, and was invited for an interview. It was like a semi-urban kibbutz, I mean they share all the expenses, even food. They’re all vegetarian and live rather frugally, but it was a great place with an atmospheric old courtyard, and really cheap – only a thousand shmeks.

There were three of them at the interview – the other flatmate was out. Two of them were students, at the Hebrew University I think, and the other one worked with disabled children. Someone else who had a spare room in a flat with Rehavia worked with disabled children; sometimes it seems that’s what everyone in Jerusalem does for a living. I was nervous because of my Hebrew but they didn’t mind me speaking in English. I told them about my background etc., and what I’ve been doing here. Thankfully they weren’t put out when I said that I worked for a left-wing organization (not like a religious guy in Talpiot – he was really into the idea of having me as a room-mate until I told him who I worked for). At the end I made sure to ask lots of questions, to show that I was interested, and then they asked if I was neat and tidy and whether I minded noise, because one of them’s a musician. I thought it went well.

They called me for a second interview with the flatmate who hadn’t been there that night. Then they rejected me.

Don’t you think it’s stupid? Anyone can pretend to be normal for half-an-hour. The only way you can find out what someone’s really like is by living with them for a few weeks. And if they’re so left-wing and egalitarian, why make such a big deal of the selection? They made it clear that they wanted someone who would contribute to the life of the flat, and wouldn’t just shut themselves off in their room every night, and I didn’t have a problem with that. It would have been good for me. Still, I thought it was a bit much, like I was being interviewed for a law firm or something. I left London because of stuff like that. Still, it doesn’t matter now. I’ve found Mohammed. Don’t know much about him yet, though, and I’m too tired to tell you about the place. Didn’t mean to get so carried away with the flats that rejected me, but I thought it might interest you. Anyway, hope you’re having fun in India. When you coming back? Did you find what you were looking for? We miss you here.

Take care,Dan Read more

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