Stefanella's Drive Thru

Israel, U.S., conflict, war, peace, humor, travel, romance, fashion, fun

Suleiman the Coffee Guy July 12, 2009

A few weeks ago while shopping in Tel Aviv’s Carmel open-air market I ducked into a side street tchochkes shop to buy a glass carafe.  Mine had accidentally banged against the marble counter top at home and cracked into pieces.

It was midday and the outside heat and humidity were starting to  bear down.  The narrow shop,  divided by a sales rack crammed with a range of home appliance and accessory items, was cooled only by a high-powered standing fan.    Cluttering the shelves, a range of inexpensive items vied for space.  There were glass tea pots, no-frill wine glasses, cheap dishes sets, Turkish coffee Finjans, pots and pans, stainless steel plated silverware, dime store variety candles, laundry clips, waste baskets…Garden variety tchochkes.

As I scouted a glass carafe, I bantered with the shop owner, a tanned and fit 70-something year old man with silver hair, Coke-bottle glasses, thick lips and wearing a maroon and white Hawaiian shirt.  We joked a bit about the heat, I commented about his store’s cramped quarters and, hearing my accent, he asked where I was from.

Then, while ringing my sale, he gingerly queried:  “If I make you Turkish coffee, will you sit and drink with me?”

My knee jerk response was to beg off with a “have to run” excuse.

But during the split seconds of contemplation I came up with: “I have time.  Why not?  What’s the harm?  Why not have AN EXPERIENCE?”

So I pulled up a wooden stool and seated myself behind the counter as he went to the back room to boil water.  A few minutes later he returned with two demitasse cupfuls of black sludge and sat down beside me on his stool.

He introduced himself as Suleiman (Soo-lee-mohn) and told me he was from Iraq.  In Hebrew, his name is Solomon.  He asked my name.  “What?” he repeated several times, scratching his cheek and furrowing his brow.  He then shook his head and announced:  “No. It won’t work. I’m calling you ‘Hellwa.'”

I laughed but didn’t protest.  Hellwa means “Beautiful” in Arabic.

Suleiman told me about himself.  He lives in a Tel Aviv suburb, has owned his shop for 40 years and is married.  The marriage was not good, he shared, but admitted he was loathe to walk out at his age and after so many years spent with the same woman.  “Sometimes it’s just easier to stay together,” he sighed.

His malcontent came as no surprise.  Because unless he’s a connoisseur of new people, I somehow doubt he’d otherwise be inviting a younger woman in for coffee and re-dubbing her “Hellwa“.

But he wasn’t bitter.  He was funny and his attitude was upbeat.  So when he jovially started on the a man is a man, AFTER ALL, and has needs – needs his wife was apparently uninterested in meeting –  I didn’t get the usual surge of:  “Oh god, here it comes.  THIS is going to be uncomfortable to deflect.”

Suleiman was a  coffee-pal/buddy sort of guy.  He told me about his girlfriend, a good girl he sees several times a week who he “doesn’t have to pay” and who is content with their arrangement.

And he asked about my situation and listened to my history in brief before serving up,  as people tend to do in this part of the world, advice.  Suleiman told me what type of man I should find, what type of man I should avoid and estimated the time it should take for me to “settle down and be taken care of”.

When one of his regulars,  a stout 50-ish Russian woman looking for 2 medium sized drinking goblets, dickered with him on price, he rolled his eyes and elbowed me with a grin.  “Okay okay,” he conceded.  “You’re going to put me out of business but I’ll give you your price.”

I sat a while longer and sipped my coffee as Suleiman tended to other customers.  When the cup contents were down to dregs alone, I stretched and stood to go.

“Come visit me again,” Suleiman winked and smiled before planting a peck on my cheek.

“I will,” I promised, meaning it.

It had been AN EXPERIENCE.  And I don’t mind going back for seconds.

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To Gaza with Love January 15, 2009

My 7-year-old’s school is taking up a care package collection for Israeli soldiers serving in Gaza.

This business of organizing little gifties with little notes for military personnel serving in a conflict an hour & a half’s drive from my Tel Aviv home is a new experience for me.    gazasoldiers1

Because during my growing up years, the closest I ever came to participating in organized support for a cause was when our private school bussed the lot of us downtown to Cincinnati’s Fountain Square where we sat on the frigid cobblestone in mid-winter listening to speakers calling for the Soviet Union to Let the Refuseniks Go!

So when I consulted with my son about the care package – What do you want to include?  Maybe a few marbles?  Some chocolate bars?  That cool leather bracelet you got as a gift that you never wear? and told him that per the teacher’s suggestion we should add a personal note from him, he asked me a rather interesting question.  One, in my opinion, that I failed to answer adequately.

When the current Gaza incursion began nearly three weeks ago, my son and I were staying with friends in northern Israel for the weekend.  About midday we heard a stream of jets flying overhead.  For those in the know,  there is no mistaking the sound of fighter jets.  And being the Jewish Sabbath and all – a day Israel’s army doesn’t train –  it was clear “something was going down.”

Could the Gaza Operation be starting already? I asked our hosts.  The Israeli government had made it clear there would be an incursion but they had also said it would take place sometime after Sunday’s Cabinet session. Ha ha.  Part of the plan.  Surprise attack!

I try to keep my son away from regional news or gory details I don’t think he necessarily needs to know.  But as we ventured out for lunch a half hour later, he asked what was going on as my friends and I pointed overhead at yet another band of departing fighter planes.  That’s the Israeli army & they’re going down to a place called Gaza, I explained.

He wanted to know the distance from us to Gaza, why soldiers would be going there and whether or not we were safe.  I briefed him in the briefest manner possible.

But when we returned to the cozy warmth of our friends’ home, while channel surfing to find Cartoon Network I glimpsed the first Gaza aftermath images on Sky. The journalist in me couldn’t help but pause to take in scenes of wounded Palestinians rushing to Gaza’s Al-Shifa Hospital Emergency Room.

My son demanded an explanation.  Remember the planes we saw?  These are the people in Gaza who were hurt when the planes bombed there…and I quickly got off the channel and the subject.

And I didn’t bring it up again.

So when I asked him about the care package, he asked me:  But mom, shouldn’t we be sending it to the people in Gaza?

And well…hmmm?  So I explained why the soldiers were in Gaza and told him about the militants sending rockets to Israel.

And he said that wasn’t right either.

And then he threw up his hands and said he didn’t want to send anything to anyone.

And I totally understood.