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February 24, 2014 By:
What Happens When You Leave Your Gym Bag on a Jerusalem Bus
Editor's Note: East Mount Airy resident Anne Shlay sent this account from Jerusalem, where she is spending the academic year teaching at Hebrew University.
Ladies and gentlemen, the story you are about to read is true.
I know you have been waiting with bated breath to get an inside account of what happens when there is a suspected bomb on a bus in Jerusalem.
Some of you may have become very matter-of-fact about these kinds of things in the post 9/11 environment. I do not think, however, that you really know matter-of-fact unless you know people who have been through the bombing of Britain (WWII), the IRA attacks in London and, of course, the Second Intifada. I think the British win the prize for stoicism. Israelis continue to report how frightened they were. The British never even hint at fear.
I recently asked my beloved British Aunt Marjorie why my mother was in the lavatory instead of a shelter when a bomb fell in their London backyard during World War II (this is the stuff of family lore). Auntie Marjorie thought about it for a few seconds and said, “I suppose she had to go.”
I now give you an inside look at my experience of contemporary bus security in Jerusalem. I ride buses in Jerusalem on a daily basis and have ridden them since my first serious visit there in 2006. That was at the tail end of the Second Intifada. As a Fulbright scholar, I was told that I should not ride the bus and should take taxis. I ignored this regulation with total abandon and lived to tell this tale.
Fast forward to 2014. The Jerusalem buses are crowded. But it seems that anyone who can, drives a car. The people I see on buses are largely students, young people, the elderly and the ultra-Orthodox. There are very few Palestinians because they have their own bus line. And there are really few ultra-Orthodox because they have their own bus lines, too. Secular people have the ambition of not being on a bus and get a car as soon as they can, so they don’t need their own line. Often, when I arrive at the university on the number 19, I am the only "real" adult on the bus.
So, the other day, I took the number 19 to Har Hatzovim (Hebrew University of Jerusalem-Mount Scopus), got off, went through security and stepped on the escalator into HUJI. I had been deep in thought and was anxious to get to my office and write something down before I forgot it. And then I realized that….
I had left my gym bag on the bus.
This was bad. Very bad.
I immediately dashed down to security and told them I had left a bag on the bus. They put me on a just-arrived bus to chase my bus.
Off I went.
The bus driver dropped me off at a small building at the end of the tunnel. I found a room where a few bus drivers were eating breakfast. With great urgency, I explained that I had left my bag on the bus. They looked at me as one might observe a small child and kept eating. Finally, one asked the bus number and what the driver looked like.
"Young and thin," I said. One, with a laugh, claimed to be him. He wasn't.
I said that I was worried that people would think my bag was a bomb.
Still eating, they observed me with what I think was amusement. One got up and we went out to the bus yard. He had me go through a few buses. I told him that I knew that my bus was gone.
"We are wasting time," I said. In my mind, my bag had become a real bomb.
I asked, "What are we going to do?"
Now there was a small crowd of bus drivers. They all shrugged. I persisted. (If you know me, you know I always persist).
One said I could call somebody and gave me a phone number. I called and got someone who spoke English. I explained the situation. He said not to worry and I might or might not get my bag back. I should call back later.
"But," and now I was frantic, “they are going to think it’s a bomb,” I said. I am not one to hide my emotions and even this guy on the phone could hear my panic.
“OK,” he said. "Describe the bus driver. When did he leave the depot? I will try to track him down.”
He took my number and said he would call me back.
I walked back to the university and ran into Gilad, a friend and collaborator. He said that my bag was going to be someone's bad day. When they find the bag, they would make everyone get off the bus. Then they would either shoot it or blow it up. It was going to take a long time.
My phone rang. It was my bus guy. Yes, they had found my bag. Yes, they had called the police. No, everything was OK. Yes, I could pick up the bag.
He told me to go to the bus depot past the Malka Mall, Jerusalem's only shopping mall. It was built on the edge of the city and, as far as I knew, was as far as the buses went.
He asked how I was coming.
"By bus," I said. He then gave me these instructions: "Get on the bus and tell the driver that you need to see Dudu."
"Dudu?" I asked incredulously.
"Yes," he said. "That is my name."
"Yes," he said. "Any bus driver will know me, Dudu."
Later that day, I found my way to the number 4 bus which goes to the Malka Mall. I got on the bus and told the driver that I needed to see Dudu.
"Dudu?" he asked.
"Yes, Dudu," I replied. "Can you take me to Dudu?"
And off we went. It was a good hour before we got to the Malka Mall. Everyone got off the bus but me.
The driver then kept going. We arrived at a big parking lot with many buses. The driver pointed to a building.
"Dudu is in there," he said.
A bunch of drivers stood outside smoking cigarettes.
"I need to see Dudu," I said.
At this point, I knew if I said "Dudu" much more, I was going to lose it. But I held it together.
"Dudu?" they said. "Walk down the hall and take a left. Go inside. There, you will find Dudu."
I did as instructed. A man was sitting at the desk. "I am here to see Dudu," I said.
Dudu, he said, had left for the day. It was then I saw my bag on the window sill and told the man that it was mine.
He said, "Oh, you must be Ian." (Ian is how Israelis pronounce my name because they cannot reproduce my Midwest accent with the flat A.)
"Indeed," I said, and picked up the bag.
I called Gilad to report mission accomplished.
"How is the bag?" he said. "Any bullet holes?"
None, I responded. Gillad seemed disappointed.
I later told an Israeli friend what happened. I asked incredulously, “Do you know what Dudu means in English?” feeling like a 2-year-old again. “Of course,” she said, but clearly her sense of humor is not as debased as mine. “Here, Dudu is the nickname for David.”
Friends and family: If your name is David, Dudu could be your new Hebrew name. Imagine next time you have an aliyah. I can hardly wait.
In the meantime, I get on the bus every day and pretend to say to the driver, “Take me to Dudu.”
Anne (who has a twin brother named you-know-what)
When not on academic leave, Anne Shlay teaches sociology at Temple University.