When I met him I called him "Your Excellency" but he replied: "Henri, just Henri" and shook my hand. From that moment, I think, our new friendship begun. I always claimed that culture is the bridge between states and it is indeed a true fact. I was invited to the official ceremony of the Croatian embassy in Tel Aviv to celebrate their National Day where I was introduced to His Excellency, Henri Etoundi Essomba, the Cameroon ambassador to Israel.
When I asked Henri, who's serving in Israel almost 12 years, if he knows Jerusalem, he said to me that except of the official ministries he's not familiar with the city. So while we where eating some of the traditional Croatian food at the reception he agreed to visit me in Jerusalem and to go with me to a culinary tour in "Mahane Yehuda" market and else were. Henri arrived on Friday, the most busy day in the market, because the Jewish Israeli residents of the city are preparing themselves to the "Shabbat", the holiest day of the week. Leaving the car in a parking near by we started our tour, reaching almost immediately to a joint understanding that food, as part of culture, can provide an excellent bridge to bring states closer to each other. Apart of that, Henri left his jacket in the car and left his destiny in my hands trusting me. I thought it was a good opportunity for him to meet "normal" people and not diplomats and to have conversations with them, and so he did.
As I told him that my intention wasn't to show him buildings or to speak about history, but to introduce him to the people who come to the market and those who are working there, Henri was glad and later, when he left Jerusalem, he called and told me that I made his day by doing so. Wondering in the market we met the pensioners in the "Small Iraqi Market" playing the traditional "Shesh Besh" game (originally Farsi) and throwing the dices. They greeted Henri and spoke with him. Motivated by that I believe the charming good person, the ambassador with the warm heart, continued to greet other people, took photos with them, helped them in some humoristic way to sell their goods and received explanations on products which he never saw in his life, like the "facus", the Arab version for a cucumber.
One of the people we met told Henri that he should be aware of the fact that the Israeli uses their brain and achieves multi achievements in many fields. So then Henri told me that this is one of the reasons why he appreciates us, the Israeli. We spoke about Africa, about the role which maybe Africa should take by participating in leading the world order. "I think that first the Africans should push themselves up and not to wait until other will come to push them," told me Henri and added "Africa is having a major process in which its results will be shown within five years or so. Cameroon was part of the United Nations Security Council and now Angola is part of it".
Sometimes I think that we skip Africa so we shouldn't forget that it is the largest continent in the globe. Hey, we should respect Africa and not keep treating it as a third world. Nonetheless we should encourage the African nations to take their destiny in their hands and to motivate their residents, especially the young ones, to study and to earn knowledge. But as Henri mentioned they should start with the self recognition of their power. At that point we stopped to eat the Jerusalem Humus with Falafel, spoke with the owner and few customers and I felt that this was the first time which Henri felt that he was really in the heart of Jerusalem with its inhabitants. This was also Henri's opportunity to eat fresh Humus not like those which are sold in the supermarkets stores.
That was the moment I shared Henri with my idea to produce a book about the diplomatic corpus in Israel, named "Stewed Diplomats", which each diplomat would be able to present himself by a poem or a short story added to his favorite or traditional dish and with my photos. My plan is to produce and publish the book and to make an event with all the participants in order to create a bridge between all of us. Food, poetry, literature and photography - all in one book, but the important thing in this project is the added value which will bring all of us to a conclusion that we are all look alike even if we don't speak the same language or having the same color or religion.
So, I'm not a prophet but I'm sure that in the near future Africa will make huge steps to become a great power by itself; I see no reason why it shouldn't but until then I'll be waiting for Henri and his other African ambassadors colleagues to visit Jerusalem in order to enable me to keep my promise and to invite them to eat the Jerusalem grilled meat in "Mahane Yehuda" market. Please forgive me for not inviting you as well.