“That was a memorable day to me, for it made great changes in me. But, it is the same with any life. Imagine one selected day struck out of it, and think how different its course would have been. Pause you who read this, and think for a moment of the long chain of iron or gold, of thorns or flowers, that would never have bound you, but for the formation of the first link on one memorable day.” Great Expectations
Where to begin?! Yesterday, we went to Hebron (al-Khaleel in Arabic), which began with a most ridiculous wait at the service (pronounced ser-vees) terminal. It’s this dark parking multi-level parking garage full of orange Ford or Volkswagon vans. There are no signs, of course, so you have to ask someone (preferably a driver and not someone just waiting around – differentiating the two can be fun) where to stand depending on where you want to go. Since we wanted to go to Hebron (south of Bethlehem), we were told to wait in a corner where all these other people were going. After waiting maybe 5 minutes, a service pulls up – without any real marking except some tiny Arabic on the passenger door – and the crowd all surges forward to try to grab one of the 7 seats. Of course, all the guys push to the front and get in – and that happened for the next 4 service that came through. Finally, one of the other drivers took pity on this Palestinian girl and us, and when the next one pulled up, he pushed all the guys out of the way and let us get on – since we were going only to Hebron and not to Bethlehem. I have never been more terrified in my life. These service are ridiculous! Going 140 km/hr in a posted “70 km/hr” zone, granted no one is going 70, but still. Flyyyyying around these curves – and there’s no way to describe these roads. Up and down these hills – ummm, more like mountains – SO incredibly steep, zig-zagging up the side, maybe 40 degree angle turns. Palestinians are not allowed to use the Israeli roads, which are more direct from city to city, so we were driving on all these back roads, quite a round-about way.
But finally, we made it to Hebron, and went to a friend’s house for a traditional Palestinian dinner. It was so nice to get a home-cooked meal, some meat and rice, salad, soup. Even though not everyone in the house spoke English, everyone was very welcoming. The views were gorgeous:
Then, the interesting part of the night started. Because we got to Hebron so late, we would have only had an hour there. So we stayed longer and after, we were driven to Bethlehem by one person in the family who has a Jerusalem ID and therefor has the yellow plates on the car and is allowed to drive there (another post will come about the inequities on the road). Because that was as far as they could drive, we walked through the Bethlehem checkpoint. What a maze. It’s this huge maximum security style checkpoint, multiple buildings to walk through, multiple turnstiles – and not the DC metro turnstiles, like military base turnstiles. The first ones are all controlled remotely, so you don’t even see any guards at first, you hear this huge buzzer, the light turns green, and you can walk through. (This was around 9 pm, so we waited for about 5 minutes before we could walk through the first turnstiles, there were only maybe 6 of us waiting – I can’t even imagine what this is like during the day.) Then, you put your bag through a conveyor belt just like at an airport, and you walk through a metal detector – again, controlled remotely, no guards around. Then you walk through some more maze-like paths, and finally you get to the passport check.
Once we were through, we had to grab a cab quickly to get to Jerusalem (only maybe 10 minutes away without traffic – yes, things are this close around here!), because we needed to catch the last bus at 10pm to Ramallah. Which, we did, thankfully, catching the last one as it was pulling out of the terminal station. It’s hard to believe it all happened in about 6 hours last night!
Then, because last night started Ramadan, we set our clocks back one hour for the “winter” time. It was a good thing the university emailed me about it, because orientation started today! It’s a beautiful campus, only a 15 minute drive from Ramallah (on another crazy service), set high on a hill, with just gorgeous views (pictures to come later). We have our placement exams tomorrow, then classes start Monday.
So far, I’ve only noticed that “rush hour” happens on the streets around 3pm, when all the shops and businesses close down for Ramadan. The streets were just as packed with people shopping for food to eat at iftar, the breaking of the fast after sunset. Both Ramallah and Birzeit have big Christian populations, so not everyone is fasting, but it’s still not respectful to eat or drink in public, which is easy enough to handle.
The more I see of the country, the more I love. It’s a beautiful place with a lot of history, all of it affecting the people who live here now.