CA: Cultures Clash on Road Trip



Their pairing sounds like a half-baked Hollywood pitch for a reality show:
She's an Israeli Jew, he's a Muslim from Jordan. Let's pack them in a car
and head them down the West Coast on that most American of pastimes, the
summer road trip.

But while the Sierra Club-sponsored roadie that stopped Tuesday in San
Francisco is ostensibly about hyping hybrid cars to the 18- to 24-year-old
demographic, its reality hasn't been a complete joyride through the redwoods.

At least, not when decades of Middle Eastern political history gets thick
inside the Toyota Prius.

"He's the mediator," said Ilana Meallem, the 26-year-old Israeli, referring
to Brendan Bell, their Sierra Club chaperone and an American Christian.

"And of course, as a typical American mediator," 26-year-old Jordanian
Mohammad Taher said dryly, "he always sides with Israel."

Uh, pass the Fritos.

Meallem and Taher may view some things differently politically, but both
realize that their generation must cooperate to tackle a common regional
problem: environmental issues. They live in a place where water is the
stuff of wars.

To that end, both are students at the Arava Institute for Environmental
Studies. Located on an Israeli kibbutz near the Jordanian and Egyptian
borders, Arava brings together Muslim, Christian and Jewish students in an
attempt to break down the political and cultural barriers that get in the
way of solving environmental problems.

As part of their graduate studies, six Arava students are spending the
summer working at Bay Area nonprofits. Meallem and Taher are at the Sierra
Club, paired to preach the hybrid gospel during a 14-day road trip from
Seattle to San Diego.

Theirs is a road trip unlike many others. The British-born Meallem is
effervescent, smiling easily and engaging with the crowds she's seen.
Sporting dreadlocks and a nose stud, she's a poster child for those young
drivers the campaign is seeking...

 


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