Even at the best of times, I’m not a particularly chatty person. On planes, I become much worse; I turn into a sullen and uncommunicative cur, reduced to monosyllabic grunts by a combination of claustrophobia and irrational angst about what exactly it is that keeps planes up in the sky. In an ideal world, I’d be seated alone, fall asleep immediately after take-off and wake only as we taxi to the gates after landing.Of course, this is never the case. More often than not, I’m seated next to effusive grandmotherly types armed with pictures of their adorable grandchildren. Given that most days my adorable son drives me to distraction (or vice versa, but that’s not the point), working up any enthusiasm for other people’s children is never the easiest of tasks.So usually I feign sleep once I board, and keep my eyes shut until the person next to me finds something better to do with their time. Which is why last week, on my way to London for Christmas, I paid no heed to the person sitting next to me until something he said to the steward prompted me to snatch a sideways glance at him. And discovered that he was a Member of the Tribe.My tribe, that is: us Africans who have been dispersed, by fate or circumstances, to the four corners of the planet.The demographics of Israel being what they are, I don’t often get to sit next to a brother on a plane. So for once, I made an effort to respond when he initiated conversation.He was flying alone, which made it unlikely that he had been in these parts on holiday, I guessed. He confirmed as much; he’d been sent over by his employers on business. “And what about you?” he asked.I explained. “Really?” he perked up. “I’ve been thinking about moving here, but it’s been hard to make a decision. God must have sent me to sit beside you.”Hah! God couldn’t have done that, I wanted to say, because (a) it would be tantamount to giving the Devil a character reference, and (b) in any case, God has very little to do with the goings-on in this part of the world.At least, a God that everyone could share. But I didn’t say that, and instead simply asked him to tell me more.His firm in the UK needed someone to head their Israeli operations for a couple of years. He’d made the commute – two weeks in, two weeks out – for a couple of months, but it was taking its toll on his young family.Bringing the family out would be the logical decision, but living in Israel was taking a plunge into the unknown... what did I think? What was the country like? Someone was asking me about whether he should move to Israel. Me, the permanently disgruntled goy.This wasn’t going to end well.Where does one start? With the qualities of the Only Democracy in the Middle East (c). You know, with a quarter of the Knesset doubling as ministers in the current coalition. And with its unique take on the legislation necessary to ensure that the country remains a genuine, pluralistic democracy with equal rights for all citizens.Erm... no. Maybe the economy. You know, it rode out the worldwide recession, remains robust. I mean, if his employers are sending him out here to work, that must interest him, no? But then I’d have to tell him that if he moves here, he’ll probably wind up filling his luggage with deodorant, toothpaste, breakfast cereal, books and the other basics of life – not because one can’t find them here, but because purchasing these things and others here makes the eyes water and the wallet bleed. Still, it could be worse. I mean, it wasn’t that long ago that criticizing the economic absurdities of Israel was considered unpatriotic. Every government looks after its own, after all – its own monopolistic magnates, that is...Then I remembered something. I’d been whining about my life in Israel to a fellow expat a while ago. He’s been in Israel a while longer than I have, and he heard me out patiently before remarking, placidly: “Things aren’t ideal here, far from it. But one way or the other, these issues need to be worked through the system. You forget that Israel is a young country and a young democracy; it takes time to ensure that the apparatus of state is as robust as one would like it to be.”Well, he said something like that. I was a bit tipsy at the time, and I might have misheard him.“So what is it like, living in Israel?” my traveling companion asked again.“It’s complicated,” I replied. “It’ll take a while to explain. But I’m not at all unhappy living here.”And I was about to explain exactly why when the steward turned up. My companion was in the wrong seat, it seemed. And was replaced by a smiling grandmother-type, with a fistful of photographs in her handbag.One other thing: Aside from the Member of My Tribe thing, one reason I was so receptive to conversation was that I was in a good mood. I’d passed through immigration checks at Ben-Gurion Airport without a hitch, for the first time ever (regular readers might be able to guess why). My African friend, however, had run the usual gamut of impertinence and arrogance. It’s always worth remembering that if airport staff treated visitors with even a little more respect and understanding, they’d win more friends. Friends willing to give them – and by extension, the country – the benefit of the doubt.