On Shwarma and the Generosity of Palestinians

I’m constantly struck by the generosity of Palestinians here.  Yesterday, I went to buy a 9 shekel shwarma sandwich but only had a 100 shekel bill.  (9 shekels is about $2).  The kid behind the counter (he couldn’t be more than 18 or 19) had carefully pronounced each word in Arabic for me slowly.

“Ba-sil?” he asked.  Then held up some sliced onions.

“Aiwa.” I responded.

“Salata,” he then said slowly, a mix of lettuce and tomatoes in his tongs.  I realized this was going to go on forever.

I want everything, I said, in Arabic.

“Are you from xxxx,” he asked, naming a country.

“Yes,” I said.

“I knew it. I love xxxx.” He then pointed to the red spicy sauce, already dabbing some onto the flat tortilla-like bread.  “A little or alot?”

“Ikthir.” Alot.

It came time to pay and he said, no its on me, holding his hand to his chest and bowing lightly.

“No, I insist on paying,” I said.  (At least in my own head, my Arabic is not that eloquent, and I don’t know the word for insist.) I looked over at the older man standing inside the shop next to a bunch of plastic chairs.  But the kid just kept shaking his head, saying that it was on him and that I had come from faraway.  I started to feel really bad.  The statistics started flashing through my head: Gaza had the highest unemployment rate in the world.  45.2% of Gazans of working age are unemployed.  52% of children in Gaza suffer malnourishment, according to the a study by the Palestinian Medical Relief Society.

And here I was, a bit chunkier than usual (I had gained a few kilos before coming to Gaza), getting a free shwarma sandwich with everything on it AND extra spicy sauce!

Luckily the owner / the kid’s uncle came over. I held up my 100 shekel bill, and the man gave the kid a piercing look.  I walked by this place almost every day, and I had never seen a client.  I had actually wondered if it was safe to eat that shwarma, or if it had been roasting there since 2006.  The kid attempted to say something about not having change, about how I came here all the time (I didn’t) and the man just took the bill and went next door to get change.  I wasn’t sure how much the shwarma cost so after he gave me 90 in cash I started to walk away.

“Wait, wait.” he said, then pulled out a 1 shekel coin out of his pocket. I tried to say goodbye to the kid before leaving, but he just stared at the floor, embarrassed.


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