Tuesday 1 March, 2005

I was talking earlier to a friend of mine in Israel, Gal, via MSN messenger. Gal lives in Tel Aviv, where a suicide bomber hit a nightclub last Friday. He was close to the scene when the explosion took place – he heard the bang and the next minute sirens were everywhere. I asked how people react to these sorts of things when they happen so often. "It doesn't matter what happens," he explained, "your human mind lacks the capacity (thank god) to realy grasp these things. Unless it happens to you… on my way I saw lots of American tourists with camcorders, and most of the pubs and waterside bistros were full. Candle lit tables and all. Plus, after the bomb and the sirens there is no noise, and evacuation took less than 20 minutes."He went on: "By the time I got there the chaos was over but things were very surreal. The gore was out of view because of the ambulances that kept around to treat shock victims. Really, it was much calmer than i expected it to be, even us noisy Israelis kept pretty quiet."

Fascinating, that such horror can be taken so coolly by so many, so often. I remember in 1999 when I was in Kosova, I was in the town of Mitrovica, enjoying a beer on the Albanian side of town in a restaurant on a lively street with awful but catchy Balkan techno-dance music blaring. A mortar was fired from the Serbian side of the river… a flash, a bang, a few screams, and everyone was running backwards and forwards. But a few moments later, everyone was back where they came from and the music carried on. Humans have an amazing ability to pick themselves up and carry on. Even with atrocious music playing.

I mention this conversation with Gal not to labour some point about human nature I am sure others are better placed to make, but to tell you about how we met. He stayed with me in Inverness while travelling around Europe last year, and had contacted me through an accommodation exchange website called Global Freeloaders. We got on very well and have kept in touch. Gal even valliantly searched Israel for a "mullet" for me to visit (Ma'alot was the best he could find (close, but no kibbutz).

I have met wonderful people from all over the world through this site – including reclusive pensioners, wickedly humoured teachers, students, surf bums, clergy, and a whole host of others, many of whom I got on really well with and am still in touch with. Things have been quiet on that front for a while now, but the other day I got an email from a Belgian woman asking to stay a couple of nights next month.

If nothing else, that means I can brush up on my Flemish.

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