Yesterday, while my British roommate and I were strolling about downtown Ramallah, we encountered a rare sporting goods store, so I seized the opportunity and bought a basketball. It wasn’t a compulsive buy: I had just met an American who was also into shooting hoops, and we half-joked about entering Ramallah’s “Streetball Challenge” around the same time next month, featuring a hefty grand prize of 10,000 shekels (over $2500) and a sweet “Nike
I didn’t think the decision to forego the bag would have anything other than an infinitesimally small environmental effect. Besides, I wanted to dribble the ball around, get a feel for it.
Yet within the first fifteen minutes out of the store, the ball had touched probably five different pairs of hands. Left and right, at the sight of the basketball triggered an automatic “pass it to me” hand gesture among the males of the Palestinian population.
When the first man-on-the-street, a middle aged, bald-by-choice man with a goatee, asked for the ball, a part of the distrustful American in me reared its ugly head: “You gonna give it back?” I asked him. “Of course,” he said in clear English; obviously he had spent some time in America. So I passed it to him and we converged on a street corner near the Minarah, the city’s centerpoint marked by statues of lions.
While he dribbled, he talked about working and living in central Florida for about fifteen years. Curiously enough, he would pause his story intermittently to cat-call at women as they went by. I wondered what his goal was – from what I’ve heard, even the most secular-looking Palestinian girls don’t sleep around.
So I asked him what the point of it was, seeing as he wasn’t going to get any. But he retorted with something along the lines of “Are you kidding? There’s more fucking around here than in America…I’ve fucked so many hos here.” While he elaborated on how Ramallah girls were prone to getting nasty, he stopped again to dish out a “Hey baby” to somebody not even close to womanhood.
“That’s a twelve year-old girl, man,” said my British friend incredulously.
“I wasn’t looking at her, I was checkin’ out her mom!” he replied.
We look back at the girl and see her mother at her side, covered from head to toe in dark clothing.
A bit demoralized by the experience, we walked in a daze towards the Old City and encountered the familiar sound of vendors shouting at the top of their lungs at the produce market. One of them, a deeply tanned man probably in his late forties, saw the ball in my hand and gestured for it. By this time, Ramallahans had gained my trust so I flung it to him without a second thought.
Rather than juggling, dribbling, and finally returning the ball, he beckoned towards me. “Come on,” he said in rough English. He wanted me to guard him. It was on! The surreality of it didn’t take long to sink in. Here I was, tenaciously guarding a Palestinian produce vendor who was dribbling a basketball amongst apricots and watermelons, all against a backdrop of decrepit looking buildings. I felt like this would a perfect scene for some corny movie about cultural understanding.
When it comes to basketball, defense is my forte – the man got a few dribbles in before a well-timed swipe put the ball in my hands. Then I juked right, crossed over to the left, and spun around him towards a nonexistent goal. Our brief bout of tender manliness was over, and he stretched out his meaty hand with a smile. “Welcome,” he said, a common refrain among Palestinians upon seeing a Westerner walking their streets.