Rubber boots

by Christian Penrod, guest contributor to Bible Lands Explorer.

Steve and Wendy in Hezekiah's Tunnel. There are no lights in this tunnel dug through limestone with human hands. The tunnel carried drinking water to Jerusalem's ancient inhabitants. The system still works after all these years; you walk through running water about mid-thigh deep. Shoes and lights are not provided.

We had a saying in the church where I grew up:

It isn't a youth trip unless something goes wrong.

I've discovered this to be true of all trips. Shortly into our journey to Israel/Palestine, I realized that I was not as prepared as I thought. A visit to Hezekiah's tunnel appeared on our itinerary and we needed shoes that could get soaked. I only had what was on my feet. I needed to go shopping.

Our only planned stop for shopping (“Because this isn't a shopping tour” Mark said) was at a store near Bethlehem run by a group of Christian families. Many of the shop's offerings were carved olive wood pieces. Mark told us that prices were negotiable. But I wasn't comfortable dealing and haggling in an unfamiliar culture. I didn’t have the exchange rate figured out. I was paying in US dollars and getting change in Israeli shekels and trying to be thrifty. 

Fortunately, while the others were hunting for nativity sets, Mark set up the four of us who needed “wet shoes” with a local named George. We followed George out of the store thinking that the place was just down the street. A block away, we came to two cars squeezed onto the sidewalk. Our new friend told us to get into one of the cars. There was that sudden moment of what did we get ourselves into? and dare we continue? Somehow, we exchanged all of that in one look. I shrugged my shoulders and we climbed in. 

In the car. Left to right: George, Rick, Mike, James, and me.

So there we were, four Americans (three of whom I just met the other day) packed into this tiny car, riding around Palestine with a guy we didn't know, unaware of where we were or where we were going.

We pulled up to a nondescript building. There was some material handling activity out front that showed promise. When we stepped inside the door, the five of us barely fit into this shop. George told the guy behind the counter what we wanted. He disappeared, straight up a ladder! Fifteen seconds later he dropped down with a pair of rubber boots. We were told they would be about $9 a pair.

We looked the boots over, made James try them on, did some quick and horrible math, and decided that the boots were worth it. To make it easier, George handled the exchange. We gave him our dollars and he made the purchase. As we were leaving, he tried to give us the change in shekels. We insisted that he keep it as a tip.

As we were driving back, I wanted to thank George in Arabic (the language for most Palestinians). I asked him how to say it. He told me 


I butchered it a few times. 

When he realized I was trying to thank him he emphatically responded, "I am the one who should be thanking you."

Me and Rick sporting our boots after a successful passage through Hezekiah's Tunnel.

I still think about that conversation. It's easy to become irritated by the people trying to sell you scarves and postcards on every street corner and tourist stop. It's easy to slip into protective mode because nobody wants to be swindled or snookered--especially on a trip to an unfamiliar place with unfamiliar customs and an unfamiliar currency. It's easy to miss what others are going through because we're just trying to get through our schedule. It's easy to miss guys like George.

Shukraan, George!

Christian Penrod ministers with the Northside Church of Christ in Richmond, Indiana. He is married to the lovely Jenny Penrod. Together, they laugh, cry, eat healthy foods, talk politics, work a food pantry, and raise remarkable children.