A very young boy sits on the floor making a drawing and school books and copybooks are scattered on the small table, the holiday is about to begin, but there is still homework to be made. "Being good students, that's the only way for them to get out of here", says Salwa, while smiling at the earnest face of her little granddaughter. The girl doesn't notice it, she's concentrated on writing an exercise.
It is stifling and humid inside.
However, opening the window is a very bad idea. The over flowing sewage is right underneath her ground-level flat's window and entrance door. The smell is unbearable.
Getting out of here (meaning, the Shem Hagdolim housing estate owned by Halamish) is not an option for Fatma herself. Disease and long hospitalizations made it impossible for her to work. She has to get by on her social security payments. She cannot afford to live elsewhere. But she hopes her grandchildren will be able to escape. "Escape" is the word Salwa uses. Escape from the jungle.
We called the municipality "106" and after about half an hour of waiting a guy called Shmuel promised us they would send someone. "Yes today, or tomorrow". They will contact Salwa so she can show them the problem. This was Thursday.
On Friday morning we call again. This time, after "only" 25 minutes a guy called Rafi anwers. He checks on his computer and states someone had been over there (no one contacted Salwa), but it is NOT the municipality's problem, the house-owners should take care of it. I explain to Rafi the
buildings are Halamish public housing and they don't work on friday. Moreover, we contacted them on Thursday and they said it's not their problem.
Rafi insists it IS the owners' problem "and we will send them a letter". "When will this letter be sent?" we ask. Well, in sunday a report will be filed by the men who checked the problem. After the report has been filed, we will check who the owner is and we will send him a letter."
Patiently i explain to Rafi that we are talking Halamish here, not private owners. And that Halamish has already been contacted but they claim it is the municipality's responsibility.
I also explain to Rafi that we are dealing with a river of shit, flooding the entrance to a large apartment block where many children live. Maybe they can come and carry out the necessary repairs and fight over the paying the bills afterwards? After all Halamish is a municipal housing company, so it doesn't matter very much in the end if the work is paid by the municipality or by Halamish.
Rafi is not convinced.
The stench is horrid.
In the afternoon, Salwa's son calls a friend who works for a company providing sewage services to the municipality. The friend loans equipment from his boss. We do not ask questions. After several hours of work, assisted by several men from the housing estate the problem is solved. For the time being.
The friend informs us the sewage system is in bad condition and this type of things can happen again and again. More serious repair works are urgently necessary.
We will send letters to Halamish and the municipality and i guess they will pass on the responsibility to each other.
Shem HaGdolim, they call this housing estate. The "jungle" is what the inhabitants call it.
Later, over dinner at my friend Aisha's*, i tell her about today's developments (earlier she overheard my phone conversation with the municipality). She informs me that when she was working as a nurse, they used to get a special "danger" addition to their salary, when they made house-calls in "the jungle". They were not allowed to go in there alone, only 2 nurses were allowed to make house calls in the jungle together. "If something happens to one, the other one can call for help".
Shem HaGdolim indeed
*names have been changed for the sake of confidentiality