(Part two in a series. For part one, click here.)
The two-lane road between Ramallah and Birzeit (Palestine) has been in physical therapy for as long as anyone can remember. Some parts of it are functional, but others, despite forced and repeated attention, refuse to cooperate. Gravel piles, potholes larger than Netanyahu's ego, irregular taxis, frisky sheeps, and other hazards check the nerves (but not the speed) of local motorists. I was on this road when the Mercedes attempted to pass.
Being rushed head-on by a large sedan with a rumbling truck on its hip is an exhilarating experience. What made this experience even more exhilarating was the wall of bedrock immediately to my right and and the gulch of empty air to my left (lacking guard rail of course). I accounted for all of these factors in an instant. My ninja-like reflexes compelled me to do the kind of thing that I do best: I closed my eyes. Then I slammed on my brakes and braced for death.
The Mercedes accelerated, swerved, and scraped between my front fender and that of the truck. The driver in the car behind me, however, was either (a) not equipped with ninja-like reflexes, or (b) busy singing a lovely habibi tune. He plowed directly into the rear of my hatchback. I took turns bouncing between the steering wheel and colorful seat of the Fiat 127.
Traffic in both directions ground to a halt. Riders spilled onto the asphalt. Arabic conversations erupted. I emerged, shaky but unhurt, and met my crasher. Fortunately, he too was OK. Our ability to communicate was limited, so we stood and whistled and examined our crumpled cars. Excited gawkers gave us much assistance and advice. From what I could gather, the bulk of this larger conversation revolved around the speeding Mercedes that had, by this time, somehow disappeared over the hill. When the driver was later apprehended, he was still drunk.
The wail of sirens announced the arrival of the Palestinian police. The officers, in smart uniform, began the task of sorting out the situation and unclogging the road. I showed my papers; my crasher did the same. A fair amount of yelling ensued. Then, one of the officers, a swarthy fellow with black mustache and cool eyes, spoke to me in perfect English:
"If your car is drivable, follow me to the station."
As it turned out, the Fiat was wobbly, but drivable. The same was true of the other car (some kind of small station wagon, I do recall). Several others were coerced to join our little parade so we limped back up the hill to Ramallah. With each pothole my hatchback waved playfully to those behind me, including the glum crasher who leaked a line of fluid all the way into town.
Inside the police station, I was given a chair and a cup of coffee. My contribution to the discussion was quite limited, unlike my crashing friend. He hollered, cried, harrumphed, clapped his hands and between each of these, shot me fierce looks. The officer gave it back to him in kind, occasionally looking over at me with a comforting nod as if to say, "do not worry, my friend, no one will be eaten raw in front of you."
To this day, I'm not sure of the scope of the conversation, but it appeared earnest and wide-ranging. I stuck to the coffee.
After a while, the poor driver fell silent. He slumped in his chair.
The officer turned to me and said calmly (again in perfect English):
"Here is what will happen. This man," and he pointed menacingly at my crasher, "will come to your house tomorrow. You will give him the keys to your car. He will take your car and have it fixed. When it is fixed, he will bring it back to your house."
The plan seemed fair, albeit somewhat irregular.
But there was one more piece. The officer straightened his papers, then spoke slowly, emphasizing each word for all to hear.
He looked at me sternly. "If he does not come and fix your car, you will call me . . . "
Then he glared at my crasher. "And I will go to his house and beat him up!"
I must confess, it was one of the more awkward moments I have experienced in life.
Justice has a different face in different cultures. In Palestine, things are admittedly a little rough around the edges. However, it does work sometimes.
The crasher came to my door the next day. He sheepishly took the keys.
A week later, he brought back the Fiat. It was a good as new. Well, I exaggerate. It was as good as it was going to get.
I thanked the poor fellow and shook his hand. We were both somehow grateful.