CHRISTMAS WITH ARABS AND JEWS * excerpt from the book Wings and Wanderlust

Athens, Greece. What was my loneliest Christmas became an awesome experience.


eastwind memoirs
By Bernie Lopez,


Excerpt 14
This is an excerpt from the book Wings and Wanderlust, the Art of Discovering Your Inner Self, a true story of the daring adventure of a Filipino Programmer in New York turned drifter, hitchhiking 25,000 kilometers for 3 years across Western Europe and North Africa. More than a travelogue, it is a guide to discovering one’s inner self.


CHRISTMAS OFFER. Send this book to friends anywhere in the Philippines as a Christmas Gift at a click of a mouse, no muss, no fuss. Only Php 400, including shipping, sent directly to their homes by JRS courier in 2 to 4 days. (US/EU longer, $30). Email the author at on how to order the book.
But first read the excerpt below, and decide if the book is worth it as a Christmas gift.


when your sojourn
reaches a sudden dead end
ask a passing gentle flower
to stay awhile
it is the genesis of the life force
carrying seeds that would
explode into towering trees
before it wilts and decays
the flower tells us that eternity
is really contained in the present
just as your darkness is contained in the light
one step, that is all you need, to cross the chasm
serendipity is bumping into
water when your throat is dry
or into kind people
when your spirit is dry
it is ironic that at the time
you want something so badly it is elusive
at another time you don’t care
it falls on your lap out of nowhere
My first winter was spent in the Canaries where I had a brief romance with Maria, the Spanish drifter, and where I lived a monastic life for a month in a cave in Lanzarote. From the Spanish Riviera, I suddenly decided to stop my journey and go to New York to attend my sister’s wedding. That was just an excuse. Actually, I had this gnawing fear of loneliness during Christmas.


My second winter was spent in Athens. I stayed at the cheapest hostel in town where African Arabs of all kinds stayed, Sudanese, Egyptians, Algerians. There was also a New Zealand couple and, strangely mixed among the Arabs, was a Jewish girl. There was a war going on in the Middle East, but, in Athens, Arab and Jewish drifters mixed freely. They did not care about the war.


In Athens, it would be my first Christmas away from home. I did not like the prospect. Weeks before Christmas, I knew I would get homesick. I was preparing myself mentally for it. I was thinking I would get drunk with the Arabs at the hostel so I could forget my loneliness. Or I was thinking I would look for some Filipino seamen in Piraeus where they all were. I didn’t mind spending Christmas on a ship. At least Filipinos around would probably help me get over this feeling. It was Christmas eve and my depression loomed.


I collected money from the Arabs at the hostel, announc­ing a midnight drinking party. Everyone agreed, includ­ing the Jewish girl. It was retsina all over again, the Greek wine, aviation gas to me. But being Christmas, we also bought some vodka and gin and mixed them all up for a terrible bash. Arabs and Jews normally did not cel­ebrate Christ­mas but the holiday feeling was in the air in Athens, so we had this grand party at the hostel. Arabs also normally did not drink. Not this bunch.


At eleven o’clock in the evening, we were all pretty drunk. I was depressed and homesick and the Arabs and the lone Jewish girl could see it. They were trying to comfort me. After all, I was the only Christian in the group. At half past eleven, I stood up, wobbled a bit, and quietly sneaked out.


I did not tell them I wanted to go to a church for the midnight Mass, something I had done my entire life on Christ­mas. I walked along in the streets towards the church. I felt guilty that I was going to church drunk but I thought it was better than not going at all. It was my refuge from my loneli­ness, the warmth of church with many people singing carols. The momentary silence of the late evening in the streets after leaving the noise of the party stabilized me. All of a sudden, there was solemnity.


The church was crowded and to hide my being drunk, I simply stayed outside the church beyond the huge front doors. I stayed behind the crowd which was spilling over outside the church. I wanted to receive communion but decide against it. Not in my state of inebriation. It would be irrever­ent. I just prayed and sang ‘O Little Town of Bethlehem’ with the crowd. Bethlehem was just a stone’s throw away. I felt better.


Almost at the end of the mass, someone elbowed me. It was the whole gang. They followed me to church and wanted to commiserate with me. They wrapped the vodka and gin in paper bags to hide it. They giggled when I saw them. I felt embar­rassed as the others might see this bunch of drunken Arabs in a Christian church. But then again, I was touched. Friends who did not believe in Christmas believed in friendship. They came to Mass to share themselves with me on this precious day. I was almost in tears.


I was late for Mass anyway, so it ended soon. We left and were rowdy in the streets, shouting and singing, as we went back to the hostel. They sang strange Arab songs. My loneli­ness disappeared.


“Hey, guys, thanks. I really appreciate it,” I said.
“We’re all in the same boat, Bernie, remember,” the Jewish girl answered. “We’re all away from home. We have to stick together. Especially in our moments of pain.”
“Thanks,” I embraced her and the guys hooted, pushing us to each other.


We slept at about three in the morning only because there were no more to drink and the stores were closed. Everybody filed back to their rooms. My first Christmas away from home was not bad, only because of friends who were not even Chris­tians. I would never forget that Christmas, this melting pot of religion and culture.


Email the author at to get the book.
Book Cover
Excerpt 02 – BRAWL IN A PORTUGUESE BAR, Vila Real de Santo Antonio, Portugal
Tired from hitching, I peek into a noisy village bar. The bartender beckons. I enter and there is dead silence. I play the guitar and hell breaks loose.
Excerpt 03 – PILGRIMAGE TO FATIMA, The 7-day 80-km hike, Portugal.
In search of myself, I drifted through Europe and ended up making a pilgrimage. No tent, no umbrella, just a sleeping bag, beach sandals, and a 1.5-kilo backpack.
Excerpt 07 – A SWEDISH DAMSEL IN DISTRESS, Canary Islands.
Evading security, I sneaked into a tourist beach at night. From atop a tall 5-star hotel, a maiden saw me fixing my sleeping bag, and, like an angel, descends into my realm.
Email the author at to get the book.
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