Tag Archives: Bethlehem

TEDxRamallah

So does a whole world, with all its greatnesses and littlenesses, lie in a twinkling star. And as mere human knowledge can split a ray of light and analyze the manner of its composition, so, sublimer intelligences may read in the feeble shining of this earth of ours, every thought and act, every vice and virtue, of every responsible creature on it. A Tale of Two Cities

Well, Saturday was an exhausting day at TEDxRamallah, a day to inspire and educate and share ideas. So I got up at 6am, got ready to be at the bus by 7am, to take us to Bethlehem. Of course, this being Palestine, the buses didn’t leave until close to 7:20, and stopped twice in the first half hour to pick up people who were late to the original bus lot. Then, on the way, when we were close to Bethlehem, our giant bus pulled over to the side of the road, close to a monastery and a large hill… and waited. Our bus driver got out to smoke a cigarette, of course, and there were crowds of people standing outside from other buses/vans. But we couldn’t figure out if there was something significant about the site? And of course no one on the bus knew what was going on either. So after about 15 or 20 minutes of just chilling, our bus driver got back on the bus and we continued on our way.

The event website had stated that registration would close at 9:25 and the doors would close at 9:45 sharp in order to start the event on time at 10am. We arrived at 9:30 at the beautiful Convention Palace in Bethlehem to the longest line I could have imagined! Organization is not the strongest point of events here, so there was just one line for hundreds of people to pick up their badges and event bags from the poor 4 or 5 volunteers. So we waited… and waited… And finally got our badges and bags, and then went to get coffee and find seats for the event to start… an hour late.

But once the event started, it was interesting to say the least. It wasn’t exactly what I was expecting – from the tedxramallah website, it stated its purpose to showcase inspiring stories of Palestine. And there was a great speaker list – Steve Sosebee, the founder and CEO of the Palestine Children Relief Fund; Alice Walker, the first African American woman to win the Pulitzer Prize; Suad Amiry, architect and founder of Riwaq and author; Huwaida Arraf, co-founder of the International Solidarity Movement and many others. Entertainment performers included Rim al Banna, DAM, and spoken word artist Mark Gonzales.

The videos are all online and there are plenty of blogs and tweets about each act, but a few highlights: Huwaida Arraf made everyone cry, I think, as she remembered Vittorio Arrigoni, someone she personally knew and worked with, the Italian activist who was just killed in Gaza. Mohammad al Dahshan is an Egyptian who blogged about the revolution from the beginning. He encouraged us to remember, from the big picture of the revolution, that it was made up of stories from each person who decided to participate. Julia Bacha, documentary filmmaker best known for the film “Budros” about the nonviolent movement in the village named Budros in Palestine against the separation wall, gave a wonderful talk about cognitive dissonance and the importance of being aware of when new information is trying to take hold in our minds given our preconceptions. Khaled Sabawi, president of MENA Geothermal, gave an entertaining presentation on geothermal processes for heating and cooling houses. Alice Walker spoke about her ordeal at the Allenby border crossing between Jordan and the West Bank, which is controlled by Israelis, and how she spoke to her Israeli soldier interrogator like she would to her son – “Do you know what you’re doing? This [occupation] isn’t good for you.”

It was a good day, I’m glad I went, and I hope next year’s is even better. If the goal of the event was to tell stories from Palestine or share the struggle of Palestine to the outside world, I’m not sure I would call it a success. Many of the speakers would say, “well, but you know about that already, as Palestinians, so I won’t talk about that,” whether they were speaking about the Wall, or the checkpoints, or the degradation or humiliation of the occupation… but most of the outside world who might have been streaming these videos don’t know about those things! But, I think there were inspiring stories and stories about success despite the hardship of the occupation and good ideas for the future. I wish there had been more time in between sessions or at lunch, because even though I ran into a few people I knew from outside my usual social circle, it would have been interesting to meet more people. Plus, we made our insanely large badges with our pictures and three key words for people to come talk to us about! Could have put those to good use.

Then, after the event ended an hour after it was supposed to, since it did begin an hour late, we hopped in the bus again and headed through the narrow and windy Wadi al-Nar (Valley of Fire) to get back to Ramallah, around 9:45pm. Exhausted, but having promised friends I would join to watch the Real Madrid-Barcelona game, I met some friends at a restaurant, pigged out on food because the TEDxRamallah conference food was so poor, and then sat sleepily through the game.

Not the best picture, but the only one I have from the conference!

Easygoing life

Talking nonsense is the sole privilege mankind possesses over the other organisms. It’s by talking nonsense that one gets to the truth! I talk nonsense, therefore I’m human. Crime and Punishment

My female friends and I joke about how being female and walking through the streets of Ramallah is kind of a ego-boost. The stares, the funny comments… though the funny comments are usually only funny if they’re said in English (I’ve recounted the “Good morning, teacher,” comment I got in the middle of the afternoon in Nablus last fall). Otherwise, Arabic is a pretty indirect language, in a cultural sense. You don’t ask or request something directly. You don’t say what you mean directly. So imagine my surprise when, last week, I’m walking to class in the morning, it’s 7am, I walk by a group of shabab (young guys), just standing there watching everything go by. [Background information: the slogan in the Arab revolution protests recently has been: “alshaab yureed isqaat alnizam” – the people/youth want the overthrow of the regime”] As I walk by, one of the guys in the group says, “alshaab yureed… hiya binat!” (the guys/youth want this girl!)

I almost died laughing. I didn’t want to break out into laughter in the middle of the street, plus I had no one to share the absolute joy of such a creative pick-up line with. In addition to the fact that I didn’t want to encourage these young guys to continue their staring and making comments at women who walk by. So I laugh-coughed into my hand and continued walking to school. Needless to say, it was a good morning.

This past Saturday, some friends and I went to Bethlehem, a place where I’ve been multiple times before. But it was a very nice day, we walked through the Church of the Nativity again (we had a friend who had never been to Bethlehem before with us), and the Arab guard again let us sneak down the back way to see the birthplace of Jesus to bypass the incredibly, disgustingly long line. But Bethlehem is a beautiful, little city, and I love the fact that this man who owns a scarf/haTTa store just off Manger Square recognizes me even though I’ve only been to his store twice before (both times around Christmas time). And he still gives me a great discount.

Since I now have all this free time on my hands, I’m hoping to do a lot of traveling throughout the West Bank and Israel, little day trips and whatnot. Just yesterday, I went with some friends back down to Hebron, which I’ll write about tomorrow since it’s an intense little city and deserves a full blog post.

PS I don’t want to leave this place and the people. I’m coming home in 6 weeks with quite a scarf collection, my argileh, some beautiful jewelry, and the most amazing memories I ever could have imagined having.

And so it is

“Nature never appeals to intelligence until habit and instinct are useless. There is no intelligence where there is no change and no need of change.” The Time Machine

Tomorrow classes start back up! I’m quite excited to be back into a routine, and back in the classroom. It was good to go to the university on Saturday and register for classes and run into a few friends from last semester. Apparently there are quite a few of us who are returning for the spring semester, which is a good thing considering I skipped orientation last week so I haven’t met any of the new kids! I’m also still in my Arabic book club, which is kicking my butt, but hopefully I’m getting a lot out of it. My lying skills are probably the best they’ve ever been – pretending that I understand something that I really don’t has become an art to which I aspire (just joking, kind of).

On Friday, I had to go to Tel Aviv for the morning to pick up my friend’s passport from a European embassy. My friend is Palestinian and so for the most part is not allowed into Israel or Jerusalem. Palestinians can apply for permits – whether for religious reasons (which are quite difficult to obtain, and then I think are valid just for Jerusalem and for certain days/hours), or through their work. The permits that are actually obtained are quite arbitrary – you could get a permit for an entire weekend, or you could get a month-long permit that is valid only until 7pm every night. My friend received one of the latter permits for the month of December. Since he is planning a trip to a European country in February, he applied for a visa and dropped his passport off at that embassy back in December when he was able to. His visa wasn’t complete until after the new year, meaning that he was unable to pick up his own passport in Tel Aviv because his permit had expired and there’s no guarantee that he’ll receive a new one for January. So I went and picked it up at the embassy for him, which was a piece of cake, and spent a little time in Jerusalem on my way back.

I’m attaching some pictures of the ridiculousness that was Bethlehem on Christmas Eve. It was fun to just get copies of these pictures from my friend yesterday and looking through them, remembering that I was there… it just seems surreal!

Manger Square Christmas Eve

Our walk to Manger Square on Christmas Eve, the way was PACKED with people and cars all going the same direction along the same narrow alleyways!

Manger Square at night Christmas Eve

I’m back!

“It is on December nights, with the thermometer at zero, that we most think of the sun.” Les Miserables

My deepest apologies for being so long away from the blog. It’s been a hectic month of November! My research is getting underway, but most importantly I had a visit from one of my best friends, which was somewhat last-minute. I was really beginning to miss home and friends and family right around my birthday in October, so this visit was perfectly timed. Though it was a rather busy week when she was here! How do you decide to fit 4 months of activities/life to show someone who is here for 8 days?!

Day 1: Her flight landed at 9am. I planned to leave Ramallah around 7, get to Jerusalem, take a bus or a shared taxi to the airport (I had been told that there was a direct Arab bus there), and be there to greet her as she walked into the airport. Calamity # 1: the Arab bus doesn’t end up leaving Ramallah until almost 7:45, waiting to fill up with people; there’s traffic at Qalandia; I don’t get to Jerusalem until 8:45. 8:45, people! Her plane lands in 30 minutes! I ask my bus driver if there’s a bus to the airport, he tells me no. I’m frantic now. I run to the main street and flag down a private taxi, who overcharges me to the extreme, but he could smell my desperation, I’m sure. I make it to the airport at 9:20, while checking on my blackberry that her plane landed 10 minutes early. I run to the guard standing outside the airport doors, who has to take down my passport number and run me through the metal detector before giving me directions to the arrivals terminal. I make it there, and almost start bawling as soon as I see her walk through the gate! We then took the train from the airport to Tel Aviv, though we got off at the wrong stop (all the announcements are in Hebrew!!!), and ended up walking for 2 hours just to find the beach (which I just kept thinking HAD to be close!). We finally get to the beach, eat some lunch at a beachside restaurant, my friend falls asleep in her chair while we’re waiting for the bill to pay (yeah, service isn’t a strong point), and we collapse on the beach. Then, two hours later we begin our transportation to Ramallah – cab to the bus station, bus to Jerusalem, cab to the Arab bus lot, bus to Ramallah, walk home. The trooper that my friend is, she drank a red bull and was able to come out for the Ramallah nightlife and enjoy that ridiculousness.

Day 2: we slept in and went to the Ramallah souq for the last one of the season, bought some jewelry and honey and walked around an art exhibit. Went to Jerusalem in the afternoon and walked around the Old City for a bit, before meeting up with a Palestinian friend who had gotten a permit to be in Jerusalem for the night, for dinner. Back to Ramallah that night.

Day 3: Bethlehem! My first time there also, so an adventure of course. A ridiculous ride in the service, we’re dropped off at this parking lot, I have no idea where to go to get to the Church of the Nativity, so we follow this group into the parking lot and into an elevator, assuming they know where they’re going. This really nice woman from the service takes pity on us and starts speaking to me in Arabic, and I was very happy to be able to have a full conversation with her – she declares that she’s Christian, “like us,” she grew up in Bethlehem but her husband and she now live in Ramallah, and she ended up walking us all the way to the Church, completely out of her way, and pointing out other sites to us on the way! The Church was ridiculous, full of tourists, and kind of hard to navigate. All the guards were very surprised that it was just two of us and not a part of any tour group, but that worked to our advantage when one guard allowed us to enter through the exit to see the spot of Jesus’ birth, instead of waiting for 2 hours in line with the tour groups!

After we wandered a bit, went to Shepherd’s Field, the place where the shepherds saw the Star of the Nativity, with very cool caves to explore and a beautiful chapel, and then we headed back to Jerusalem – after walking through the Bethlehem checkpoint. We met up with another friend and traveled to Haifa that night.

Day 4: we had planned to take the subway system up the mountain to get to the Bah’ai Gardens, but when we walked there in the morning, the guard told us the entire subway system was down (and we though the DC metro was bad??). So we took a cab, who of course dropped us off like halfway down the mountain from where we were supposed to be, so we walked the rest of the way up. The Bah’ai Gardens were just as beautiful as last time, and I’m glad I got to see them again, though the Dome was still under construction! Then we went to the beach, and then back to Ramallah that night.

Day 5: Jerusalem sightseeing day. We saw just about everything.

Day 6: Dead Sea. We spent the night before in Jerusalem at a friend’s in order to get an early early start to our Dead Sea trip, since my last experience with the Dead Sea was so miserable. So yes, we were at the beach at 9:15 in the morning. Of all the days to be overcast, the morning actually looked like it was going to rain! So we started off with putting the mud all over our bodies, waiting for it to dry, then washing it off. The weather finally starting heating up, and we were able to float for hours, there really is no way to describe how fun/crazy/weird it feels! We stayed until the mid-afternoon, got back to Jerusalem, hung out for a bit, then got back to Ramallah that night.

Day 7: we had an easy morning and went up to Nablus for the day, to eat and walk around, so she could see another West Bank city. Easy day, and some friends came over that night when we were back in Ramallah.

Day 8: the beginning of the end. We left Ramallah at 8am and made it to Nazareth at 1pm. A grueling day of travel, for a couple hours of sightseeing – though Nazareth is a beautiful city! We spent the night, and left the next morning for Tel Aviv-Jaffa.

Day 9: I also love Arabs. Our hostel owner in Nazareth had told us that it’s better to take the shared taxi to Tel Aviv, since it’s cheaper and faster, and he told us it would be easy to find them on this particular street. We walk over there and of course can’t find them, so we decide to grab a sandwich first. The owners of the sandwich store, Arabs, start talking to us about where we’re headed and when they find out that we couldn’t find the shared taxi, after our sandwiches are done, one of them walks us directly to the office and makes sure the drivers there know that we want to get to Tel Aviv! So we make it to Jaffa, walk around the Old City, through the markets, and start our walk along the beach to Tel Aviv. We end up getting sidetracked at a cafe on the way, and sit there for a couple hours, enjoying the sunset and the view.

We spend the night on the beach, and go to a cafe at 6am to eat breakfast and then I put her in a taxi to the airport.

A wonderful trip and it made me miss my friends back home so much! My friend took all the pictures, so I’ll post some as soon as I get them from her.

Also, a post on Thanksgiving-Palestine style soon to come! Happy belated Thanksgiving to everyone.

7 weeks in…

It is an uneasy lot at best, to be what we call highly taught and yet not to enjoy: to be present at this great spectacle of life and never to be liberated from a small hungry shivering self – never to be fully possessed by the glory we behold, never to have our consciousness rapturously transformed into the vividness of a thought, the ardor of a passion, the energy of an action, but always to be scholarly and uninspired, ambitious and timid, scrupulous and dim-sighted.” Middlemarch

It’s so crazy to think that we’re halfway through the semester of classes already! Most of the kids in my classes will go back to the States in about 7 weeks. It makes me think of all the things I still want to do and all that I’ve already done in my first 7 weeks here.

A condensed list of what I’ve done/learned:

– How to buy bananas and tomatoes from the market
– How to withdraw money from the Arab Bank
– How to walk down the street without freaking out at every group of young guys
– How to go through a checkpoint
– How to cook (basic) meals without an oven
– How to go to the dentist (you might mock, but this was difficult!)
– How to live without my family and friends nearby (still difficult!)
– Met some fascinating people, Palestinian and foreign alike
– Visited: Jerusalem, Hebron, Haifa, Akka, Nazareth, Jenin, Qalqilya, Masada
– Felt more like Ramallah is home

A short list of what I still want to do/learn:

– How to buy more than bananas and tomatoes at the market (in progress)
– Try to speak more Arabic
– Oh, right, my research
– Make Arabic coffee at home
– Cook more (hopefully with the more ingredients that I learn to buy!)
– Learn the names of all the different flavors of argila so I can try them!
– Meet more fascinating people (or just regular people too, that’s ok)
– Taybeh OKTOBERFEST (October 2-3!!!!!!!!)
– Visit: the Dead Sea, the Golan Heights, Bethlehem, Nablus, Jericho, the Negev, Petra (Jordan), the Sinai (Egypt)

I really like more and more of this country the more time I spend here. Ramallah can sometimes be a bit much, a little bubble of fun and carefree attitudes. It can sometimes feel a little too much like DC. This is no third-world country, I live quite a life of luxury here with a beautiful apartment and these wonderful cafes to escape to. And it’s good to enjoy it and have fun! I probably learn more Arabic when I’m out at a cafe with new friends and I listen to conversations (creepy eavesdropper!), or I learn new words on the streets, than I do in my classrooms. So while I might feel guilty for going out this past weekend (ok… twice), especially when I have two tests in exactly a week, I tell myself that, technically, I was also “studying” Arabic. Enjoying myself and studying don’t have to be mutually exclusive!

Adventure!

“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:

Looking down at Hebron, from the house in the NW of the city

Sunset in Hebron

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.