With my brakes in desperate need of tuning (both front and back), we decided to turn into the village of Hura, at the junction of Routes 60 and 31 about halfway between Beer Sheba and Arad -- smack dab in the middle of nowhere, Israel. It is situated on a series of hilltops above the Jewish moshav of Meitar and only a few kilometers from the Green Line. By the minarets, flat roofs, and illogical layout of the village streets (not to mention noticeable fragrance of barnyard and burning dung from two clicks out), we both knew Hura was an Arab village long before we arrived. What remained to be determined was whether its inhabitants were bedouin-- as Elijah hoped-- or Palestinian.
We stopped at a convenience store to ask for directions to the center of town. I stood by as Elijah asked a man standing in the doorway in Arabic where that could be found. His skin was far darker than most Arabs, nearing pitch black, and his facial structure and hair was more African than Arab. Somewhat puzzled by Elijah's Egyptian Arabic, he muttered something incoherent and asked to switch to Hebrew.
"I'll be damned," I thought to myself. "Linguistic economics in action."
In Hebrew, he explained he was not a local. He was visiting from Rahat and was bedouin.
"The center of town? There isn't one, really. Try up by the mosque," pointing to the green domed mosque at the top of the hill, lording over the village like a castle.
Up we rode past children who shouted aleikum salaam in response to our greetings. When we reached the top I needed to piss, so I dismounted and walked up the steps of the mosque. I had never entered one before, so I took every step cautiously and tried to break no taboos. I removed my shoes at the entrance and proceeded down some stairs to where the bathrooms were. The first chamber was an ablution room of polished stone with seats placed before faucets. A corridor at the back led to the bathrooms. The stench, however, was overpowering. Barefoot, I peered inside and found untoilets: holes in the ground from which emanated a horrific odor. No offense to the mosque or its frequenters, but I felt no compunction for turn-tailing it out of there having lost all need to micturate. At least the old man entering as I retied my shoes warmly clasped my hand as I gave him a sheepish salaam.
From he crest of the hill, high above the surrounding lowlands, we could see into the West Bank. As we descended back into town we felt as though we had entered it. Though we could see Beer Sheva in the opposite direction, Hura seemed another world. The locals were curiously puzzled to see two cyclists cruising about a town off the beaten track and everyone we passed replied to our greetings.
A whiff of narghile brought us to a stop at a coffee shop where, over a hookah, oranges, chocolate, and coffee blacker than midnight, we rested. The local teenage boys ogled our bikes and asked to take a ride. Though I offered mine, it was not without hesitation. Three took it out for a spin, and each time, I admit, I worried how I'd get home if it vanished. (Juan Williams you're not alone?) To my relief, it always came back, and none worse for wear. They were mild mannered and kind.
I asked Tariq, who gave us oranges from the produce stand next door, whether many Israelis came to Hura. He said he studies in school with local Israelis, and that they come in to the shops. All together the situation did not seem grim.
Rides home always seem shorter. Whenever you have a defined destination the road slips effortlessly beneath your pedal strokes. Inclines seem less steep, and the burning in your calves is less painful. When at last you reach your door, you have the strength and eagerness to go out once more.