“Welcome Welcome! Welcome to Hebron!”

IMG_6446Walk around Ein Sara or the Old City of Hebron, Palestine for any length of time, and someone will yell at you “Welcome Welcome!” It will happen when you least expect it, and could come from anyone, anywhere, at any time.

When this happens, you will of course ask yourself, “Why is this guy yelling at me? Did I do something wrong? Is this guy being ironic with me? What did I do to make this guy get all ironic with me? Is ‘welcome’ an Arabic word I don’t know?” This panic is entirely normal for a first-time visitor, and is commonly known as Welcome Welcome Panic (WWP).

Panic not, intrepid traveler, for this yelling man is genuinely welcoming you to his city. He would also like you to buy whatever he is selling. But more than that he is primarily – truly – happy to see you, and would like nothing more than to invite you into his shop for coffee or tea, and maybe some argila if he’s rowdy.

Join that man in his shop. Sit with him and drink a caffeinated beverage. Tell him where you are from, why you are in Hebron, how long you are staying, and that his coffee or tea is delicious. Try to say everything in Arabic. You will not say anything correctly, mind you, but do try! This man sincerely appreciates that you want to learn his language, and will help you along if you need it.

At this point you will believe you’ve made it: You’ve been accepted by a Palestinian local, and the rest of your time in Hebron will be smooth sailing. This man’s warmth and curiosity will have pummeled your initial reticence and into oblivion. Nothing will perturb you anymore for the rest of the time you are here.

Not so fast.

After you’ve been there for an hour, speaking to him and his colleagues, puffing the argila, some more friends of his will show up. You haven’t met these friends before, but you are open minded and acclimate easily – so you think.  

“You must come to my house for dinner this evening,” one of the friends will say.

“What?” you’ll mentally exclaim, “I just met this guy, and he wants me to join him for dinner? I’ve lived in the U.S. / France / Cameroon / Chile / Japan all my life, and no perfect stranger has ever invited me to dinner. What is this? An elaborate ruse??”

Again, intrepid traveler, calm your thoughts and just go with it. Accept the friend’s offer. Join him and his wife for dinner, speak your poor Arabic, and don’t feel bad that you only understand 5% of what is being said. Play with the kids afterward, let the young son punch you in the arm, tell him he’s ‘ooway (strong), and around 11pm bid farewell to your new friends.

Go forth, intrepid traveler. Be wowed by this culture of warmth and hospitality. Forget anything you’ve seen on the news or read in your political science classes, and just enjoy this city.