The first thing I noticed was not the Israeli flag. It was not the map of Israel pinned to the back of the living room door, perhaps because the door was open and obscuring it, but nor was it the Hebrew alphabet chart above the bed with “Good Morning Israel!” written across it. In fact it was probably the fuzzy purple rug, or perhaps the neatly laid out white sheets, folded into threes on the bed.
We sat in the kitchen and began getting to know one another over peppermint tea. Juan was a gay vegan from Spain – all terms he defined himself. I was a bimbling activist, not entirely sure what she was doing in Berlin.
He asked about my travels: where had I been? Where was I heading? I mentioned the middle-East and dreams of Greece, wanting to do solidarity work in Iran and Palestine… it was then that my eyes landed on a postcard behind Juan’s head, pinned to a cork board: “Volunteer for Israel” Had I just put my foot in it?
Pete and I keep hearing about these Antideutsch people – a part of the Radical Left movement in Germany, which is anti-German (as in the German state) and anti-state in general, but somehow also pro-Israel, and bizarrely, pro-America (“because they are the only ones supporting Israel”). The official line is apparently something like “all states must go, but Israel should go last.”
No, says Juan, he’s not Antideutsch – but he is pro-Israel, although he’s also pro-Palestine… I’m confused. Please explain?
We have a long and interesting discussion in which Juan patiently explains his position. It involves maps, history and hand-drawn diagrams. When my head starts to hurt I draw a gentle close on the conversation and we talk about boys for a bit and eat spaghetti before I go to bed. It is then that I notice the flag, the maps, the alphabet chart, and in the morning I also find the Israel postcards and fridge magnets amongst the vegan and animal rights ones I had noticed before.
Despite his curious obsession (yes Juan – it is!), I like Juan very very much. He is open, friendly, generous, hospital and patient: a perfect couchsurfing host. He insists that I eat his food – delicious vegan pates and yoghurts that he says he bought especially for me, sleep in his bed (he takes the sofa bed) and generally make myself at home. He absolutely forbids me from doing the washing up. Of course I do it anyway when he’s not looking, even though he says it hurts his feelings.
It feels good to have a bit of space and to take advantage of such luxuries as hot and cold running water, a toilet and a cooker that turns on and off with a switch. Benefits of this newfound luxury include the ability to bake vegan cupcakes for the first time in seven months. Mmmmmmm… Pete sends text messages asking how is my new bourgeouis lifestyle?
I stay about a week with Juan before some legal issues (long story) mean his wife has to come home (even longer story) and I return to the van and Pete. A bit of space has done us both some good. Things can get a bit tense sometimes when you live together with one person in a metal box. Regular time apart is a must.