Category Archives: School

Palestinian Pocahontas

“The dew seemed to sparkle more brightly on the green leaves; the air to rustle among them with a sweeter music; and the sky itself to look more blue and bright. Such is the influence which the condition of our own thoughts exercise, even over the appearance of external objects.” Oliver Twist

It’s been a busy last week! I took my last final yesterday morning, so I am officially done with classes until January. This also means I’ve been here a little over three months now. And this also means that a decent number of the friends I’ve made here are starting to leave, as their three-month tourist visas are up. So, it’s a little sad, but it’s been a great three months — and now I need to really get started on my research! And get ready for my visitors coming soooooonn! My birthday passing made me really miss my friends back home and I cannot wait to have my friends here.

On a happier note, we also actually had a Halloween party! Not like you could find a costume here in Ramallah but we went to the fabric store and my roommate ended up making me a Pocahontas costume… and herself Minerva, the Roman goddess. It was a good mix of people and some came costumed and others didn’t, but it was fun to celebrate a holiday, especially a ridiculous holiday like Halloween, here. If I can find pictures from other, more responsible picture-takers, I’ll post them. Now, I just have to find people to celebrate Thanksgiving with!

Otherwise, life has been pretty boring. The staff at the local cafes/bars have started recognizing me and my orders, and when I don’t order an argilah, they ask me if I’m feeling sick… but actually I got an argilah for my birthday! So now I don’t need to spend all of my food/drink money on argilah out at cafes anymore. Life is complete. And now that the weather has gotten colder (though it’s back to 80 degrees today…), I think people here hibernate for the winter, so I will be just content in my apartment with my argilah, and my new slippers that came in the mail from my parents! Now I just need to find some comfy sweats…

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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.

Shopping

“Moderation is a fatal thing, Lady Hunstanton. Nothing succeeds like excess.” A Woman of No Importance

So it’s the week before Eid al-Fitr, the big Muslim holiday celebrating the end of the month of Ramadan. This means, well, that things are crazy. There are more people in the streets of Ramallah than I have ever seen before, and at all hours of the day and night! The shops are ridiculously chaotic with everyone buying presents and sweets. Eid will fall on Thursday or Friday night, depending on the moon.

So we decided it would be a great idea to go shopping yesterday. I really needed some new clothes, having worn the same three jeans and essentially three t-shirts since I got here over a month ago. Plus, I had no idea what to really pack before I left, and I sadly did not pack enough fashionista stuff to go along with the everyday Palestinian girl!

So we started off with a list of home decor things to get for the apartment, which of course we ended up crossing off only a basket and a kettle that my roommate bought at the supermarket on the way home… Instead, we crammed into tiny clothes shops, elbowing our way to the clothes racks, fighting to try on the right size, if it’s marked at all. It was crazy fun! Though really exhausting.

And I thought that was crazy busy. On my way home from Birzeit last night around 9:30, it was like it was noon in the middle of the day. Cops were out in full force, directing traffic around closed off streets so that people could walk in the streets, because there were SO many people out! The weather was wonderfully chilly with the sun down, all the shops were open, people who had been fasting all day had clearly already eaten their iftar… it was so much fun! They had a big stage set up in the middle of al-manara with a live band/singer, people crowding around, dancing, walking down the streets. Entire families, with kids sitting on their dad’s shoulders, were shopping.

I decided that we were idiots for shopping in the middle of the day like that, and we definitely should have shopped at night, like everyone else!

So because it’s Eid in a few days, school has given us off Thursday-Monday, which is so exciting. We’re planning a big trip (over to the Israeli coast for Haifa, Akka, and the BEACH; then inland for Nazareth and the Sea of Galilee, and then Jenin)! If I can only get through this test tomorrow…

Politics

“And he gave it for his opinion, that whoever could make two ears of corn, or two blades of grass, to grow upon a spot of ground where only one grew before, would deserve better of mankind, and do more essential service to his country, than the whole race of politicians put together.” Gulliver’s Travels

It’s been pretty low key days recently, I have a test next Wednesday so I’ve been attempting to memorize vocab, millions of vocab words. Though somehow studying yesterday with a classmate at a coffee shop ended up being one hour of testing vocab flash cards and two hours of smoking argileh and trying to figure out this logic game that our waiter gave us to solve (well, he bet us we couldn’t solve it, which of course meant that we had to prove him wrong… which we couldn’t).

It’s really interesting how informed and politically passionate even young people are here. I’m lucky to have had friends in DC who also are nerds and have long conversations about the meaning of life, etc, while out for a drink. Especially in DC, it’s a politically-charged locale, but worries about what you say ending up in the media or coming back to haunt you later often stifles certain discussions. And that is just not the case here. My roommate and I were out for drinks on Thursday night to celebrate the end of the week and the table next to us had three young guys, at least two of them internationals (and one definitely American – love how that accent sticks out here). Now, three young guys, Thursday night, beautiful weather, outdoor bar/patio… talking about the intifada, America in Afghanistan, Hamas-Fatah split, etc etc.

And that’s not the first time I’ve seen that happen here. No matter where you are or what you’re doing, people – young, old, male, female – are talking politics or the conversation inevitably is drawn to politics. After we got home that night, we then had another two hour discussion with a Palestinian on the feasibility of a one-state or two-state solution. Surprisingly, maybe for me because all that is discussed as viable in the US is the two-state solution, most Palestinians I’ve talked to have said the only solution they can picture is a one-state solution. If Palestine were given its own state, it would be too carved up territorially-wise to be a functioning state. I’m really looking forward to hearing more opinions and thoughts on this, as the negotiation talks wind up over the coming weeks and months.

So back to studying, though maybe a little side trip today to the Qalqilya zoo, the only zoo in Palestine!

And I leave you with a comic I found rather amusing:

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!!

A new week

“Men who look on nature, and their fellow-men, and cry that all is dark and gloomy, are in the right; but the somber colors are reflections from their own jaundiced eyes and hearts. The real hues are delicate, and need a clearer vision.” Oliver Twist

After the ordeals this weekend (failures of transportation, teeth, internet, blackberry service – all the modern amenities!), I was ready to be done with living here. But, I got a couple nights of good sleep and a couple days now without any major catastrophes, and my spirits have picked up! Part of that is due to this being a new week, it’s always good to start things afresh, and my new apartment. My new digs are in a really nice neighborhood, and the walk to and from al-manara, the city center, is much quieter (and a little cleaner!).

The view from my new apartment kitchen window!

My new 'hood at sunset

This also means finding a new supermarket. I tried one out today right by my new place – not as close as the supermarket to my old apartment was, but close enough. They had a huuuuuge selection of stuff (and they were also unpacking a lot, as were all the stores in Ramallah, so there must have been a big import allowed through). But this supermarket had … dun dun dun… peanut butter!!!! It’s the first time I have ever seen peanut butter here!! It didn’t look very good, and I probably will never buy it (I’ll rely on my parents’ care packages, thank you very much), but I definitely laughed out loud when I saw it. They also had:

TIDE!!

Tide! Laundry detergent, transliterated of course.

It’s also exactly a month ago today that I left DC, and it’s crazy to think about how much I’ve been able to do, and travel, and see in just that short amount of time. But, it’s also a little incentive to really focus on what I came here to do – learn Arabic and do my research. We finally received our student IDs today, so I can access the university library. Not only is the library at the university supposed to be a really great resource, it also has AC… which might change my life forever.

…Homework?!

“I like them to talk nonsense. That’s man’s one privilege over all creation. Through error you come to the truth! I am a man because I err! You never reach any truth without making fourteen mistakes and very likely a hundred and fourteen.” Crime and Punishment

Between yesterday and today, I probably made over a hundred and fourteen mistakes! Though I’m not sure I’m even close to the truth yet… Yes, Arabic classes have started. Yesterday, there was some confusion over the location of our fusha class, so the professor ended up canceling it before 5 of us, who had been waiting in the building listed, finally went back to the office to ask after 30 minutes. So that was a little frustrating, but it gave me an extra day to review some grammar and vocab, which was much appreciated.

So because classes start at 8am, I leave my house around 7am to walk the 15 minutes to just a little past al-manara, the center square of Ramallah, to the service parking lot. Because there are so many people (students, professors, admin) who take the service to and from Ramallah and Birzeit, there is a separate parking lot just for that. Which makes it nice – I don’t have to go up to each bus and ask where they’re headed – they’re all headed to Birzeit. Now, there’s a town next to the university that is also Birzeit (bir in Arabic means well and zeit means oil, so it translates to well of oil, referring to the wells in which its inhabitants historically stored virgin-pressed olive oil). So, the service driver will ask, just before the university street, if people in the service want the “jam’a” – colloquial for university, it’s good I figured that out early on…), and if we do, then he drives up the hill and drops us off right at the student gate.

A lot of the students in my program are living in the housing provided by the university in the town of Birzeit. I went to a house of a student in my program, and the views were breathtaking:

Looking out from their house

Again

Yesterday, the first day of class, since my first class was canceled, I only had the colloquial class, which seems very basic and will be a good review, while learning how to actually speak to people on an everyday basis. Then, after class let out, I had to get back to Ramallah to get a passport photo taken, which I was only vaguely aware of one store that some other students had gone to, though none of them could remember exactly where it was located. Thankfully, after just wandering down two streets, I found it! It was a lot of running around, back and forth to the university and to Birzeit town, plus a little stop at the Arab Bank (yes, again! and no my money was not there yesterday, but I was reassured it would be there by today. I didn’t have the heart to check!)

Something I really love about being here in Ramallah and the West Bank, as soon as shopkeepers or even students you talk to on the service discover that you’re from the US or Europe, they immediately say, “Welcome to Palestine.” And not in a touristy-trap kind of way, but genuinely, you are welcome in Palestine. It’s so crazy, you would never hear an American in the streets of DC tell a clearly foreign person, “Welcome to America.” I just would never think of that! But the hospitality and happiness (?) that Palestinians show to foreigners is something I’ve never experienced before. Now, on the other hand, sometimes when I’m walking by a group of young men on the street, as they’re staring me up and down, they will say in a more “sexually-nuanced” way, “welcome to Palestine,” but it makes me think of the creepers who go up to little kids in the streets and try to lure them away with candy or a balloon… I really want to tell these guys that that’s not the way to catch a girl’s attention!

So yes, like the post title says, I do have homework and should be going to do it.