Author Guest Post - Matt Rees

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Readers, please join me welcoming Matt Beynon Rees, Author of The Omar Yussef Mysteries, who will be guest blogging here again today!

Baksheeshed to the Bone
By Matt Beynon Rees

It turns out Jesus was right. I know, because I found a Good Samaritan.

Really, he was a good guy, and he actually was a Samaritan. There’re still a few of them about.

In January, my new Palestinian crime novel THE SAMARITAN’S SECRET was about to be published. To help promote it, I decided to film a video clip using many of the locations from the story, much of which unfolds on a West Bank hilltop where the last remnants of the ancient Samaritan tribe live. There are just 370 of them, high above the violent city of Nablus, near the site where they believe their ancient Temple stood.

My friend videographer David Blumenfeld and I headed from our homes in Jerusalem to shoot the video. The day before I’d spoken with a Samaritan priest to arrange some meetings and to be sure the enclosure around the Temple wouldn’t be locked.

“That depends on the money,” he said, in Hebrew. (The Samaritans mainly speak Arabic, but they also have Israeli i.d. cards and speak Hebrew. On their Sabbath, they speak nothing but Samaritan, which they believe is ancient Hebrew.)

As a journalist, I’m not accustomed to paying to interview people. “How much?” I asked.

“How much do you think?” he ventured.

Oh, no, we’re about to get all Middle Eastern, I thought. I hate haggling. “Well, let’s say 200 shekels.” That’s about 60 bucks.

He scoffed. “A thousand.”

I made noises to show that such a figure was painful to me. “Five hundred.”

“Five hundred,” he said. “See you tomorrow.”

When we reached the village, Kiryat Luza, the day was clear and sunny. The priest met us at the museum he set up in his living room and we filmed a few scenes alongside his trove of photos and old documents. Before we’d finished, he took out a receipt book: “I’ll do your receipt, shall I? What did we say? A thousand, wasn’t it?”

“No, it was five hundred.”

He started to tell me about how much work we were making him do. I gave him seven hundred and let it go.

Now, the priest was supposed to open the gates to the Temple compound for us. But somehow, after I’d paid him, that duty was delegated to another fellow. As we filmed, he complained that he needed to go home and eat. (The Samaritan village is about the sleepiest place I’ve ever seen. If anybody up there had anything pressing to do that necessitated hurrying me along, I’d have been very, very surprised.)

So as we left I gave him 100 shekels and thanked him with my warmest collection of Arabic words of praise.

“Something for the other guy,” he said, pointing at a figure lurking near the gate. “He had to wait too.”

I peeled off 20 shekels more. It hadn’t been this bad since I was first in the Middle East as an innocent 19-year-old, shucked for “baksheesh” by every Egyptian within a mile of the Great Pyramid.

David and I had filmed for four hours in a ridiculously hot January sun. I had read my cue-cards in five different languages, and I’d been fleeced until the leather on my wallet started to look raw. Sustenance was in order. We went down the slope to the village to look for food.

“The Good Samaritan Restaurant” would’ve been a good bet, you’d have thought. But it serves no food – only whisky.

Next door, the “Guests and Tourists Paradise” was open. Three men smoked cigarettes lazily at one of the tables.

“Is it possible to eat?” I asked.

A tall, thin young man rose and welcomed us. We sat and took a couple of Cokes from the fridge. There was much muttering among the three smokers. Two of them disappeared up the street. “I think they’ve gone home to get Mamma to make our lunch,” I said to David. Certainly no cooking took place in the kitchen at the back of the restaurant.

The tall man smiled and nodded. We waited…and waited. But the food did come, and it was good.

As we left, the young man told me his name was Samih. His father was the High Priest of the Samaritans. He gave me a free poster with historical information about the Samaritans and smiled very broadly. Then he counted out my exact change.

I left a nice tip.

Matt Beynon Rees’s latest Palestinian crime novel The Samaritan’s Secret is published by Soho Press. His website is

Thank you for that entertaining post, dear Author! Readers, your thoughts / comments are most welcome.

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2 People said

  1. I love stuff like this to read and watch. Right up my alley!

  2. Congrats! You have something here.


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