In 2007 I had the good fortune to visit Israel for two weeks. This was a birthright trip for American Jews to visit their homeland, the first ever to take disabled and differently abled youth (Much of Israel is not accessible so this was a big deal). I lucked into it as all the participants were able to bring personal aids for the journey and I was accompanying my friend Alexander.
It was a beautiful trip I could write volumes of. But this post is about our bus driver Ahmad. For two weeks Amad drove us north, south, to the Golan Heights, to Masada and the Dead Sea, through cities ancient and modern, through deserts. For two weeks he drove a dozen Jewish kids and their aids on a once in a lifetime tour of their ancestry.
Ahmad is Muslim.
Each day he was up earlier than God knows to prep the bus and the route, and he went to bed later than any of us. He was the first to stand up and the last to sit down, wherever we went.
Each day he altered his appointed prayer times to get us where we were headed. I once had to run back to the bus at a museum and found him kneeling in the aisle of the empty bus in prayer. I later asked him if it was difficult for him to change his Salah for us. He said "Allah can hear prayers at any time; you, my friends, have appointments to make."
The patience, humor, and physical strength it takes to get 10 wheelchairs safely around some of the most ancient sidewalks on the planet cannot be underestimated.
Ahmad ate sang and danced and laughed with us. When we went to a winery to stomp grapes - one of only three wheelchair accessible grape-stomping pits on the planet - Ahmad helped hold one of our fellow travelers upright so they could stomp.
Ahmad taught me Arabic, including one of my now favorite phrases in any language: Al Ha Kefak, which is Arabic for "all is well" (also slangily used to mean "cool" or "it’s all good").
On the last day as we all offered reflections, Ahmad - not a man of many words - asked to speak. He broke down in tears and thanked his new friends and Allah for giving him the privilege to be with us for two weeks.