Pic: Yaki Assaig

A lot to fix from 2006

If this place is important to us, we need to find the way to rise anew in 2007

The last time we corresponded was after I read Lobengulu, King of Zulu and I learned that you went looking for the king’s treasure four times and four times you failed. As I was the most lost child in the neighborhood of Yad Eliahu, I thought I was the only person who could understand your yearning heart.


I put my letter to you in a bottle and hid it in the public park opposite the ‘Heroes of Israel’ school, under the mulberry tree which stopped baring fruit a long time ago. I did not throw the bottle into the sea because no one ever told me that that is what you are supposed to do. I just buried my letter and waited. At the age of eight it seemed the best way to correspond with you and was I disappointed when you did not respond.


Many years have passed since then, my dear Omalimu. I am a little less lost and a lot less innocent, and you no doubt live in one of the tin house slums of the Kawazulu-Natal district, picking your way between the muddy paths and the open sewers. Do you remember the Israeli tourist with the straw hat and the notebook full of drawings that at one point just stood there and yelled, “Ladies and gentlemen! You have yet to see Africa at it’s wildest!”


Africa is still wild, but it’s a different type. Four million have died in the last few years during the civil wars in the Congo, two million have died in tribal wars in Rwanda, 30 million people have died from AIDS, 11 million are AIDS orphans. Starvation is everywhere. The only treasure anyone has uncovered among the corpses and the flies is the music.


You see, the second time I thought about you was connected to music. It was the year after I had finished the Israeli army and Paul Simon had just released Graceland together with the ‘Lady Smith Black Mambazo’ – who are Zulu.


One night in New York I saw them dancing and singing. Someone told me that dance is called ‘tip of the finger’ because it was created in the cursed mines of South Africa when the black workers wanted to dance at night without the white guards hearing them.


There was something liberating and happy about them, something uninhibited. I was jealous of this quality they had to lose themselves in the rhythm. Apartheid was on the wane Omalimu but I still couldn’t understand what they had to be happy about.


The last Israeli you met – Nachum Gutman – died a long time ago at a ripe old age. He summed up his last visit with you the following way: “In a sailboat we came to the Tel Aviv coast on the fifth of Sivan, 5695 and the number five red car took us home.”


Yes, we've done a lot

5695 for your information is 1935 which means that you are no longer a child. If you were to visit today you would discover that the number five red minibuses still runs and it may be time to give it a wash but everything else has changed.


Gutman’s sailboat could now anchor among the yachts of the Tel Aviv Marina that did not exist then nor did the marina of Herzliya which was then a small backwater town, or the port of Haifa which was barely one dock then or that of Ashdod, a city that did not even exist yet, or at the Eilat airport, another town that did not exist, or Netanya, ditto. He could have simply landed on one of the monstrous marble and chrome tarmacs of the new Ben Gurion 2000 airport, which also did not exist.


Yes, Omalimu, we’ve done a lot. You no doubt thought to yourself, “How happy the people who live here must be.” But then you would lift your eyes and see us: sour faced, full of anger and disappointment, endlessly running around and complaining. You would see how we are eating ourselves from the inside; how we insist on only seeing the bad, infuriated by and jealous of each other.


We ignore what is happening in the land of Zulu and understanding what we have are miracles – also in our day – ignoring the fact that in distant China where outside of the main city centers, most people make something less than two dollars a month or India or in most of South America and Russia beyond the Ural Mountains.


The electricity always works here, Omalimu, would you believe it? And every time you turn on the faucet you get hot water. The health care system looks after the poor and 68 percent of the population has Internet. The traffic lights work and there are paved roads to everywhere. Exports surpass imports and no one is dying of starvation. We build aircraft, busses, silicon chips and grow cherry tomatoes as sweet as plums. We go to the theatre, shop in air-conditioned malls, send satellites into space. All of us – almost all of us – know how to read and write.


2006 was a disgusting year

To whom am I speaking now, Omalimo? Why do I have a feeling that this letter will also remain inside a bottle? I still remember your first treasure hunt, when out of sheer boredom you began talking to the buffalo you were riding.


Maybe that is why I am talking to you, because I have no one else, because here there is an absolute refusal, my friend to see the good. But what about the empty refrigerators we ask with moist eyes, what about the social gaps and what about the Palestinians, the education system, the corruption, aggravating politics, the war did you see what happened during the war???


2006 was a disgusting year, Omalimu, but I don’t know – no one does – what is the point of this slow sinking into a depression. The greatest African prince of our generation, Nelson Mandela, once said: “The greatest glory in living lies not in never failing, but in rising every time we fall.”


Not all of us are corrupt, not everything is bleak, the country is not deteriorating, and the threat to our existence lies mostly in our own heads and hearts. The Omalimus of this world - all five billion of them – would trade places with us in a heartbeat. If this place is important to us, we need to find the way to rise anew in 2007. If we can find the inner strength to do this, we will discover that it’s a pretty good place to start.


**Omalimu is a character in ‘The Land of Lobengulu, King of Zulu,' a classic Hebrew language children's book written by artist and author Nachum Gutman


פרסום ראשון: 01.02.07, 23:30
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