“Isn’t it splendid to think of all the things there are to find out about? It just makes me feel glad to be alive – it’s such an interesting world.” Anne of Green Gables
I am so tired, so I won’t post much today, but I wanted to let everyone know that I made it to Ramallah safely and am in my new apartment now (with fast internet!)! Today’s travels included: a sherut (shared taxi) in Tel Aviv, an Egged bus to Jerusalem (full of teenage Israeli soldiers with AK-47s), a taxi from West to East Jerusalem (to the Arab side), a bus to Ramallah (through the checkpoint), and a hellish walk from the city center to the apartment in blazing heat and two huge suitcases.
The sherut: Tel Aviv was pretty good about having major signs with Hebrew, Arabic, and English. Except for their public transportation which is completely in Hebrew. So these shared taxis, or sheruts, some travel up and down the same bus lines, are a little more expensive than the bus (one flat rate, a couple shekels more than the bus), but hold 13 passengers. I figured it’d be easier to shove my two huge suitcases onto a sherut instead of a bus, plus with fewer passengers to make mad by my lack of Hebrew. Well, that was a great idea, except the hotel concierge only told me that I could pick it up on the street over, but not where along that street… apparently because it picks up anywhere. So I’m walking along, trying to be inconspicuous but probably failing miserably, as it felt like it was already a 100*F, and I’m wearing clothes that I thought would be appropriate for Jerusalem – so pretty conservative. Because it was Tel Aviv, I was wearing a short sleeve t-shirt, but I had a button-down shirt to put on for Jerusalem and Ramallah. I find two older ladies standing on the side of the street under a tree, next to a bus stop, so I figured they must be waiting for a sherut. So I hesitantly ask, “sherut?” which earns me two blank stares. Finally one of them takes pity on me and tells me in English, “sometimes they stop here but you’d be better waiting over there” and points at the bus stop. I say, “to get to the central bus station?” She sort of nods and says “take the 4.” Now I’m confused – take the 4 bus? I wanted the sherut! (Add to this that besides it kind of looking like a minivan, I have NO idea what a sherut looks like) Finally, I see a red/yellow/white minivan with a 4 on the front of it, and one woman in front of me waves her hand to flag it down. It passes by, as does the next one. The woman in front of me starts yelling at the second one that passes, just as another one stops. So I run (well, run as best I can with two suitcases and my huge purse) to get in line after her. The sherut driver curtly nods yes as I ask if he stops at the central bus station. So I get on. I have no idea how much he says it costs, so I just pass forward a 20NIS. (That seems to be my forte – I never know how much they say it is, so I hand over the 20NIS which seems to be a small enough bill that I can get change for and no one gets mad that I’m handing them more than necessary). There’s no rhyme or reason to the sherut stopping – if there are seats, the driver stops to pick up a passenger. If there are no seats, he keeps driving. He stops when someone asks him to. Of course I had no idea where to ask him to stop, and some nice young girl took pity on me and told me where to get off and asked the driver to stop when he needed to.
Then, the Egged: The Egged is Israel’s national public bus transportation system, and also what Israeli soldiers take to and from their weekends off from their posts. This means it’s reliable, cheap, and easy… with lots of really young kids with machine guns. It is disconcerting to say the least. I’m used to, being in DC, security, police, secret service, a decent number of people with weapons, but this is another story. There are no superiors around – these are kids between like 19-23, hanging around the bus station, eating, talking, kissing their significant others, all with an ak-47 slung over their shoulder. When I got on the bus to go to Jerusalem, I would say a little over half the bus were soldiers with guns, placed in front of them, on the seat next to them, wherever. Perfectly nice – one guy helped me put my suitcases in the bus’s luggage compartment – but kind of scary nonetheless.
the bus to Ramallah: I had read in my guidebook that the buses to the northern portion of the West Bank took off across the street from the Jerusalem Hotel. Yes, these are the completely ambiguous directions that I’ve been following the past 2 days. Everything is “oh, just a block from that pharmacy” or “across from the hotel.” So I had my taxi driver (who I picked up after I got off the Egged bus at the depot in West Jerusalem) drop me off at the Jerusalem Hotel, then asked a waiter in the outside restaurant portion of the Jerusalem hotel where the buses to Ramallah were – and he waved across the street and said, “you want number 18.” I’ve felt incompetent all day long, really, so I figured, ok, I can figure this out. Across the street is this huge parking lot, with easily dozens of “buses” which are really just white minivans, holding about 15 passengers (very similar to the sherut in Tel Aviv). There’s no ticket place, though there was a building that said “police” and I debated about going over there to see, but there were these guys just hanging around and I didn’t feel like battling that without some Arabic language prep. So I go over to one of the drivers and ask for the bus to Ramallah and he says “Number 18.” So I wander about the parking lot, lugging these suitcases around, mind you, and sweating like a pig, and find like 10 of these vans that have the number 18. I finally find one that has some people mulling about, and an older guy asks me “ila Ramallah?” and after I nod, he pops the trunk on one of the vans and helps me put my suitcase in. When I enter the “bus” the driver says in Arabic what I think is 19NIS, so I had him a 20 (ha!) and he gives me change. Of course, I have no idea if it’s correct change because I don’t know what all these coins count for, and I also am not positive on my Arabic numbers to know what he said originally. But I take it – it’s still really cheap!
Anyway, I’ll wrap up here, just to say that the bus trip was quick, we weren’t stopped at the Qalandia checkpoint (apparently you’re only stopped on your way back to Jerusalem), but it was creepy to drive through. I sat next to a very nice man from the Old City in Jerusalem, who pointed out Mount Scopus and some other interesting sites on the drive. Then, as I was struggling with my bags on the crowded and not-well-paved sidewalks of Ramallah city center, some very nice guy took pity on me (seems to be a theme) and actually walked with me pulling along one of my suitcases for 15 minutes until I got to the supermarket where I was meeting my new roommate. Which, I am so grateful he did because I had only a vague idea of how to get there and there was no way I could have pulled those along myself, though I would have just called a cab, I suppose.
It’s been a whirlwind of the past 2 days! But I’m here safe and sound! Posted some pictures on facebook, so check it out.