Category Archives: Fun

The Golan Heights

…feeling it very sorrowful and strange that this first night of my bright fortunes should be the loneliest I had ever known. Great Expectations

Two days ago, some friends and I had planned to go to the Golan Heights. It was my last weekend before my mom arrives (tomorrow!!!) so this was really cutting it close to the wire, as far as I was concerned. The Golan is someplace I’ve been wanting to go for months and months and when my two friends offered to take me, one of them knowing his way well around the north, I was thrilled. The plan was to leave around 7am, since it takes about 3-4 hours to drive up there.

Well, at 7:30 we’re calling my friend whose phones are all turned off… At 8 the three of us who were awake and just waiting decide to grab coffee together while we wait. While we’re walking to meet up, our sleepy friend wakes up and calls us to say he’s on his way. Around 9am, the two show up, but decide they need some coffee. At 10am we’re finally on our way!

The Golan Heights is internationally recognized as Israeli-occupied Syrian territory. It borders Syria and Lebanon. We drove first to the Lebanese border:

Lebanon on the other side of the fence.

It’s almost indescribable how beautiful this part of the country is. It’s so different from anything else I’ve seen here, such beautiful rolling hills (mountains?!), green, lush, breathtaking.

Then you come across this and you’re reminded where you are:

Closed Military Area

We stopped for a photo shoot on this overlook area, which was so much fun, I think we were a little giddy from being in the car for such a long time and then finally arriving! Plus, the fresh air and the view just made me feel alive again.

Lebanon in the background

After a billion photos taken, we drove to Kfar Blum to go kayaking! It was ridiculously fun, all 5 of us piled into one ‘family-sized’ kayak, the boys taking control of the oars, which meant a lot of water fights and an intense rowing experience. What normally takes 2 hours, according to the guides at the beginning, I think took us less than an hour! We also ziplined into the river (SO much fun!). Of course, I got stuck halfway down because the other rope was tangled or something, haha. But then it worked smoothly. There was also a ropes course, which looked really lame from the ground, but was actually intense and a lot of fun!

After we changed from our soaked clothes, we got back in the car and drove south to Tiberias on the Sea of Galilee. It was a beautiful drive, once again.

It was hard to capture from a moving car!

And then we could see the Sea of Galilee. Beauuuuutiful.

From the road, the first glimpses

Beautiful

Then we arrived in Tiberias to eat dinner and walk around a bit.

A park in Tiberias

Taken from our dinner spot. The Sea of Galilee.

We had a scrumptious dinner of grilled local fish and some salads. We walked around a bit, sat on the beach for a bit, and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.

After nightfall, we decided we wanted some knaffeh – the cheese dessert thing that Nablus is famous for – but since we were so far north anyway, Nazareth is also famous for its version of knaffeh. So we thought, why not stop there on the way back? So at 10:45 pm we arrive in Nazareth and stop at what had been recommended as the best place in Nazareth for knaffeh. It was delicious and a perfect nightcap for a great, ridiculous, seemingly impossible day.

We had another two hours to drive home, but when I finally got home at 1am, I was still so content from such a great day. There are still plenty of places in the Golan Heights that we didn’t get to see, so I’ll save that for next time!

Advertisements

It’s May?!

Nowadays most people die of a sort of creeping common sense, and discover when it is too late that the only things one never regrets are one’s mistakes. The Picture of Dorian Gray

Today is May 1. This means, my mom arrives in 10 days (!!!!), we leave Palestine for good (eeeek) to Istanbul in 16 days (!!!!), and I’m back on American soil for the first time in 10 months in 20 days (!!!!!!!!!!!!). I have such mixed feelings right now, it’s pretty ridiculous. I was talking with the other Boren fellow here last night about how much neither of us wants to leave here. This is really the most ridiculous, chaotic, wonderful place I could ever imagine – and it sucks you in like you wouldn’t believe.

So in this past week, I’ve spent a lot of time with friends, in places that I’m going to miss. I also went to Jericho for the first time ever last Monday. It’s a beautiful place, situated welllll below sea level. It’s the lowest permanently inhabited site on earth and is believed to be the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world. Remains of more than 20 successive settlements in Jericho have been unearthed, the oldest dating back 11,000 years (9,000 BCE).

On the way to Jericho, we stopped at the “Sea Level” sign.

When we got to Jericho, we stopped at the Zacchaeus tree – the sycamore tree which Zacchaeus the tax collector climbed up in order to see Jesus walk through Jericho. Jesus called up to Zacchaeus in the sycamore tree to come down for he was to eat at his house. So here it is:

The Zacchaeus Tree!

Then we took the cable car up to the Mount of Temptation, where Jesus spent 40 days and 40 nights fasting and meditating. There is a Greek Orthodox monastery carved into the mountain at the top, which is beautiful. Plus you have panoramic views of the city of Jericho below.

Looking down at Jericho while in the cable car!

The monastery

Looking down at the city. Love the mix: desert, green, dead sea in the background

In the monastery

Apparently these caves were (are??) inhabited by monks since the early days of Christianity

Then, my friend just bought an apartment in a new community complex that is being developed just outside of Ramallah, called al-reehan. So he wanted to show us what it looked like, so we drove over there. This being Palestine, the overseer walked over to our car as we pulled up, my friend explained that he had bought this apartment and wanted to show us. The manager gave us each a hard hat and told us to ‘be careful.’

Then, we drive over to his building, which let me tell you is still being constructed, all wearing our hard hats. The real construction workers, of course, are not wearing hard hats and are laughing at us for wearing ours! We walk into the still-being-constructed building and walk up the still-being-constructed stairs all the way to the top, because my friend bought the roof apartment. It has the most amazing views:

The view. As you can see, the building is still under construction. Love Palestine

The view looking back toward Ramallah

The view on the other side. Beautiful.

Still under construction. Ha!

Then, the rest of this week, I’ve spent a lot of time outside, sitting at the park, reading, trying to get ready for my mom’s visit, and trying to see friends! This past Friday, we ended up by chance at the Ramallah Contemporary Dance Festival, which was a fun afternoon of watching kids’ and young adults’ dance groups dance traditional Palestinian dances. I’ll post about that tomorrow!

Musings

Fear of danger is ten thousand times more terrifying than danger itself. Robinson Crusoe

Well, I have a little over a month left here, only 4 weekends until my mom gets here and we depart for Istanbul and then home. It’s a time to reflect, definitely, and think of what I’m going to say to people that I’m leaving here and people that I’ll be seeing back in the States; to think about what I’ve done here in my 9 months and what I still want to do in my last one. It’s ironic that as I have all this time on my hands, all of my friends here are busy with work, so I’m gearing up to do some trips on my own and with whoever I can wrangle into missing work!

Two trips that I have somewhat planned for two weekends are (1) the Golan Heights, and (2) the Negev desert.

I really want to see the Golan, I’ve heard it’s the most beautiful place, and there are tons of nature reserves and places to hike and sit and enjoy the scenery. I’m hoping to go next weekend, rent a car, get some friends, and enjoy the spring weather here! It’s quite far north – right along the borders with Syria and Lebanon, so we’ll rent a car and drive, it’s about 3 hours from Jerusalem and then most of the parks and sights are within 30 minutes of each other. So, hopefully this will work out! Fingers crossed.

It’s also the two days before Easter, which I hope to go to Jerusalem for, join the masses of crowds to walk the real Stations of the Cross, where Jesus walked before being crucified at the location where the Church of the Holy Sepulchre now is. I can only imagine how ridiculously crowded it will be, though a friend told me, surprisingly, it’s usually not that crowded. We’ll see! I suppose with this Sunday being Palm Sunday I’ll also head to Jerusalem. Maybe I’ll ask around to get a feel for how Easter will be there.

I also really want to go to the Negev desert, there are supposedly some beautiful hiking trails and sights and flora and fauna (and no, I will probably not remember any of the names or be able to recognize any sort of plant that I see, but I can still appreciate its beauty, thank you very much!). That might have to be a trip on my own, because I haven’t heard too much interest from other friends on going, so we’ll see. But I find it hard to resist going to see something like this:

Makhtesh Ramon crater, photo from (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Makhtesh_Ramon)

So we’ll see how that works out. I have some free time on my hands, in any case!

And of course some day trips back to Nablus and Jenin and I absolutely have to go to Jericho, since I’ve unfortunately never been in my 9 months here, which is practically a sin.

This Saturday, I’m heading to Bethlehem for the TEDxRamallah conference. If you’re familiar with TED talks, it’s this for Palestine – bringing together inspiring individuals on stage from within Palestine and beyond from at least 10 different disciplines to enlighten us with inspirational stories of Palestine. It should be a fascinating day, so I’m uber-excited. Check out the link above, like most TED talks, I think the speakers and performers will be posted online, plus the website has this interesting section called “Palestine Stories,” which is pretty self-explanatory. Enjoy!

Life is crazy

“I was something that lay under the sun and felt it, like the pumpkins, and I did not want to be anything more. I was entirely happy. Perhaps we feel like that when we die and become a part of something entire, whether it is sun and air, or goodness and knowledge.” My Antonia

I know I’ve been a bad blogger recently, but I promised myself that I wouldn’t blog about mundane things, like, “Today I woke up and ate cereal.”

So, my life has been somewhat hectic but for the most part uneventful. Which has kind of been nice! I feel like I’m getting more into the rhythm of things here, balancing out school and research and hanging out with friends. I had a test in my formal Arabic class yesterday and a test in my colloquial Arabic class today, so I’m glad to have those over with. I did, unexpectedly, also have a lot of fun this weekend, so I’m still trying to work out the right balance, of not feeling guilty for being here and having fun while still

studying and finishing my research… When I figure it out, I’ll let you all know!

The weather is still disgustingly hot, above 90s. Friday is supposed to be 97 – and we’re headed to the Dead Sea! I’m so excited to be back on a beach, and really more excited to actually experience the Dead Sea – the lowest elevation on the Earth’s surface on dry land, with 33.7% salinity, which means you just float. It’s so dense you just float. I am so excited.

But, from this coming weekend, I am most excited about Oktoberfest at the Taybeh brewery. Taybeh, the town, dates ba

ck 5,000 years before Christ as Biblical Ephraim, making it one of the oldest places in Palestine. In October 2005, they held the first Taybeh Oktoberfest to promote local Palestinian products made in the village to boost the economy and deal with hardships imposed since 2000. They used Taybeh beer to entice foreigners and locals! Taybeh is the only Palestinian beer – and honestly, I think it tastes like Budweiser, so I’m a biiiig fan. As the Taybeh website quotes from

Logo of the Taybeh Beer company

Image via Wikipedia

Reuters: “They don’t have their own state, but they have their own beer–Taybeh”

So between a shopping trip tomorrow in Jerusalem, the Dead Sea on Friday, and Taybeh Oktoberfest on Saturday, this weekend is gearing up to be good. I haven’t traveled much recently, so it will be really nice to see something new and actually enjoy this hot weather! And I promise to charge my camera battery and actually take some pictures this time around.

Danielle Steel… in Arabic

“Men always want to be a woman’s first love. That is their clumsy vanity. We women have a more subtle instinct about things. What we like is to be a man’s last romance.” A Woman of No Importance

Speaking of romance, yes I found Danielle Steel books in my university bookstore. In Arabic. Sitting amongst Charles Dickens and Joseph Conrad and Shakespeare, there they were! So of course I had to stop and look and see what else is stocked (I only went in to buy index cards, which of course they didn’t have). The bookstore also had Eclipse, also in Arabic, and a couple of recent-ish fiction books in English. I was pretty entertained that the books they had in Arabic were romance and vampire books. What I really wanted to do was take a picture of the books, but I thought that might be pushing it. Maybe I’ll sneak in during an off-peak time and try to snap a photo of it!

Now, similar to the Palestinian concept of time (see earlier post), there is no real concept of standing in line. This can be frustrating, as you can imagine, like today when all I wanted to buy was a notebook and two pencils at the bookstore. There are two female students standing at the cash register asking for textbooks (like at UVA, you’d go to the corner to get those bounded reader books – not you, E-schoolers). So I wait for the one cashier to get their bounded readers for them. During that time, about 6 more students came into the bookstore, took one glance at me, rightfully decide that I have no idea what is going on, and crowd around the cash register. They are polite in kind of waiting for each other to call out which reader they each need (if you can be polite in such a situation?), but there’s no concept of “I was here first so I get waited on next.” This whole time, I’m standing exactly where I had been for the past 5 minutes, waiting patiently for my turn. Ha! Silly foreigner. So one of the female students leaves from her perch at the desk, and I quickly slide in. And as soon as I catch the poor cashier’s eye, I wave the notebook and two pencils at him and directly hand him my money! Success.

Even though I have no idea how much a notebook and two pencils cost, so I have no idea if he gave me correct change back (like most places, there’s no computer or scanner to scan prices, and no receipts). But, really, there’s just a trust thing here.

And on my way home today, there must have been a new shipment of imports at my supermarket and I was thrilled to be able to find actually packaged lunch meat!!! I’m not really sure which type of meat it is (I could tell the other package was salami but I didn’t want that), but I have been searching and searching for packaged lunch meat. The only other meat I’ve seen is at the butcher shop, and I don’t really want to go buy a chunk of meat to cook – as I only have a stove top and a microwave, plus it’s just not as convenient as pulling out a slice of lunch meat to put on a pita with hummus. Which is exactly what I did as soon as I got home from the supermarket today!!

Gearing up

“All is in a man’s hands and he lets it all slip from cowardice, that’s an axiom. It would be interesting to know what it is men are most afraid of. Taking a new step, uttering a new word is what they fear the most.” Crime and Punishment

I definitely feel more comfortable sightseeing than I do just attempting to go grocery shopping. Grocery shopping requires, to me, looking up the Arabic words that I want to remember (and because I don’t have a guidebook for Arabic, I only have my huge Arabic-English dictionary, this requires me google-translating from English to Arabic, then because I don’t really trust it, using the root from google translate and finding it in the dictionary and attempting to remember how to conjugate what I want to say). Then, it’s the standing in the aisle sounding things out and trying to figure out what to buy, and ultimately… trying to speak Arabic to the cashier, who inevitably will not understand me because I do not know the informal, colloquial. I don’t understand it, and I definitely don’t know how to speak it. So I’m standing there with my arms full of groceries, saying in the fusha, the formal, the equivalent of Shakespearean English, “o good sir, would thou please indicate the price of these goods?” The bewildered look of the cashier would be funny if it were not directed at me.

Last night, we went to Jerusalem, the City Center this time, which is outside the gates of the Old City and is much more modern/new. The sidewalks/streets are still cobblestone, but it’s beautiful and everyone is out walking, eating outside at restaurants, talking, drinking. We went to get out of Ramallah and get a good meal and this ice cream that my roommate had been talking about for an entire day. We also had this chardonnay from the Golan Heights Winery – very tasty! And Goldstar, an Israeli beer, which is a little darker than the Taybeh, the Palestinian beer. It was really nice to walk around and not be ogled at for looking so out of place, and just relax a bit. I really liked this part of Jerusalem – lots of shops and it’s easy to walk around. Apparently, there’s been this streetcar-type public transportation that has been in the works for like 7 years now (which reminded me of the H St. NE streetcar debacle in DC), which looks like it would be a nice way of getting around – it seems like a lot of the track work is already laid, right in the middle of the main street.

Today I got an email saying that if Ramadan starts on Wednesday (tomorrow) then time in Palestine goes back one hour. If Ramadan will start on Thursday, then the time goes back one hour on Thursday. It’s still iffy when exactly Ramadan will start, as the Islamic calendar is a lunar calendar, as opposed to the solar Gregorian calendar that Westerners use, and Ramadan begins when the first crescent of a new moon is sighted. So sometime in the next two days, I’ll only be 6 hours ahead of DC!

Tonight, we’re headed to Hebron, which should be very interesting. It’s the West Bank’s most conservative city and also has the most people. There’s also a huge ultraorthodox Jewish population and subsequently a very large presence of Israeli military guards.

And then tomorrow, orientation for school! Only if today I can find the bus station to get up there…