Tag Archives: Dead Sea

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!


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.

Catching up

“… because truly to enjoy bodily warmth, some small part of you must be cold, for there is no quality in this world that is not what it is merely by contrast. Nothing exists in itself.” Moby Dick

It’s finally gotten cold in Ramallah! Days are about low-80s with a rather strong wind, and the nights are cooooooooold. I haven’t yet broken out my leather jacket, but I was about to the other night! It was such a rapid sudden change in weather. And yesterday we got rain!! A solid intense rainstorm. It made me so happy. Though when I saw the clouds rolling in, I was in Jerusalem, I kind of thought the apocalypse was coming – it was the first time in 2.5 months that I’ve seen that type of cloud in the sky! I’m so used to clear blue skies, seeing black rainstorm clouds was a little frightening! But it’s been really nice to not sweat all.the.time anymore.

I have been such a bad blogger lately, but it’s because it has been such a busy time here! I’ve been getting myself into a nice daily routine of classes in the morning, coffeeshops in the afternoon to study, meeting friends for a few hours at night and then repeat. But I’ve had some adventures in the past week since I’ve blogged last (of course, there are always adventures here!). I went to the Dead Sea (more below on that), Taybeh Oktoberfest, paid an arm and a leg for a not-so-great pedicure in Ramallah, met with an old work colleague in Jerusalem, and almost went back to Haifa this weekend (even got as far as Jerusalem before we decided to turn around). I’m a little relieved to not be traveling again this weekend, just so I can get caught up on necessities like cleaning, email, and studying.

The Dead Sea – there are no words. It was the most amazing experience, I absolutely loved it. There’s no way to describe how just plain cool is is to just float like that! It’s in the middle of the desert, but because there is SO much salt in the water, the sand is essentially just salt – there are huge chunks of salt as you walk toward the water.

Dead Sea - you can see the white color near the water, that's all the salt deposits!

We paid an absurd amount of money at the Ein Gedi Spa (definitely not worth it!!), because we wanted to be someplace where we didn’t need to worry about leaving our stuff while we floated in the Sea. But, there are much better places and for much cheaper than the Ein Gedi Spa, so that was a little disappointing. For a place that is supposed to be “luxury,” it was far below what we were expecting. And it was also really sad, you took a “train” down to the water’s edge from the Spa building, and they had signs posted along the path of where the water used to come up to in certain years. So you’d see a sign for 1990, where the water used to be then; and then another hundred meters or so and you’d see a sign for 2001 … and the distance to where the water has receded is astonishing and really upsetting. The Dead Sea is receding by a meter a year; the surface has been reduced by a third since the 1960s. This is mainly due to a sharp decline in incoming water from the Jordan River, its main affluent. The Friends of the Earth Middle East, an NGO that brings together Palestinian, Jordanian and Israeli environmentalists, has been working on bringing attention to this disturbing and unspoken-about phenomenon.


You can see the mountains of Jordan on the other side of the Dead Sea. (Sorry for my finger in the top corner!)

But it’s still an amazing experience, and I had so much fun just floating for two hours straight. The water feels.. silky! There’s no way else to describe it. Thankfully, even though I had some cuts, they didn’t sting too badly, but definitely be careful with what cuts you have on your body, or at least prepare yourself for the salt water to really sting. I unfortunately got some water in my eyes, which was so incredibly painful. But, I just stood there with my eyes closed for a couple of minutes and let them heal themselves and it was fine, no residual side effects!

And because we went on a Friday, stupid us, we had to catch the last Israeli public bus back at 2:20, so we really only got about 2.5 hours at the Dead Sea. So I’m definitely going to go back, soon, and do the mud thing (supposedly putting the mud from the sand/sea on your skin is the most soothing/healing/amazing for your skin), and relax more. It’s a beautiful place.


Looking up at the desert cliffs from the Sea (this is similar to what Masada, the fortress I went to a month ago, is formed on top of)

So that’s the Dead Sea, and it’s something that everyone should experience – it might have ruined all other oceans for me, it might be my new favorite place on Earth!

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.

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!

Craziness (and a dentist!)

“On one occasion, during a lull in the shelling, a TV news reporter approached the cellist seated in the square and asked, ‘Aren’t you crazy for playing music while they are shelling Sarajevo?’ Smailovic responded, ‘Playing music is not crazy. Why don’t you go ask those people if they are not crazy, shelling Sarajevo while I sit here playing my cello?'” The Moral Imagination

[Yes, to my IPCR colleagues, I just quoted JPL]

On Friday, we went to Masada, a UNESCO World Heritage site, a cliff side fortress in the Judaean Desert, overlooking the Dead Sea. Built by Herod a bazillion years ago (he reigned from 37-4 BC), Masada is the site of the last stand of Jewish patriots against the Roman army, in 73 AD.

But, beyond some interesting excavated columns/stones, etc – well, it’s hard for me to get excited every time I see some ruins, everything in this country has ruins – there were three interesting things. One, these beautifully intricate mosaics, very well maintained, from Herod’s time, had stunning colors and delicate designs. It’s crazy to think that something can survive for that many thousands of years, whereas buildings built now crumble at the threat of an earthquake. Two, the view was really extraordinary. My camera battery died, of course, as soon as we arrived, so I don’t have many pictures, but I should be getting some soon from my friend.

Dead Sea - and the mountains on the other side are in Jordan (taken from the bus)

View from Masada looking down, 450 meters, to the Judean Desert and the Dead Sea

Looking up at Masada from the cable car we took up (we walked down the snake path coming back)

But lastly, the story is wonderfully haunting. There was a Great Revolt of the Jews against the Romans, in 66 CE, and a rebel group conquered Masada and lived on the mountain. Masada was the last rebel stronghold; in 73 or 74 CE the Romans laid siege to the mountain. After a few months, the rebels lost hope, and their leader Eleazar Ben Yair convinced the leaders of the 960 members of the community that it would be better to take their own lives and the lives of their families than to live in shame as Roman slaves. So ten men were picked to kill the others, then one of those ten men was chosen to kill the other 9 and finally to kill himself. Supposedly two women and five children who had been hiding in the cisterns survived the mass suicide and told the Romans what happened that night, which was also the first day of Passover.

So a depressingly beautiful place, and you really feel alone while you’re there (there are a decent number of European tourists, but looking out into the desert – there is nothing). It was really really hot, and our decision to walk down the snake path at 12:30 in the middle of day was not the smartest. But we survived and after a hugely disastrous attempt to return to Ramallah, we finally made it Friday night.

On Saturday, yesterday, I was reading the newspaper and eating some cereal, when I felt something crack off my tooth. I have a mild (… ok, really an intense) freak out, when I realize I really need to do something about this. The university has a clinic for students, so I decide to head up there, even though it’s already 1:00 pm on a Saturday afternoon. While the university is open on Saturday, it’s Ramadan and so things are really only open until 2:30. Well, I figured, I might as well try. So I get there right around 2, and walk into the clinic and ask for the dentist. “She’s just finishing up now. You can sign up for an appointment on Monday,” I was told. “Monday?!?! I really need to see a dentist now, something cracked off my tooth!” “Well, there are appointments available for Monday morning,” the receptionist insisted. So I ask for a referral of a dentist in Ramallah. She replies, “Yes, there are many dentists in Ramallah, you can go now and find one.” Somewhat frustrated at this point, I try asking again for the name of a dentist. Confused, she reiterates that there are many. I attempt to explain to her that I don’t know where they are, or which dentist is perhaps better than the others, or might know English, and then ask her if there is some way I can look up, or search for, a dentist. Stubbornly, she insists, “There are many dentists, you can find one.”

Really, I wanted to break down and cry. So I sign up for an appointment for Monday after class, and head over to my program’s office to see if I could get a referral there. But, of course, the office is closed down already. So I head back to Ramallah, as actually I was supposed to be moving to my new apartment yesterday. I get home and pack my stuff up and get into a cab. Once I’m at the new place (after some confusion with the taxi driver over where I wanted to go), I get a text back from my friend, who is in my university program and had a filling put in by a dentist last week, who gave me the name and number of her dentist. At this time, it’s 4:30pm, and I’m skeptical that anyone would be open for business, but I give it try. And actually, the dentist answers! She tells me to come in whenever, she’s in the town of Birzeit, I tell her I’ll be there in an hour, and I bolted out the door.

So, all in all, I got it fixed and paid only 80NIS, which is something like $20, for the filling and for the anesthesia. Unbelievable. Then, because I finished right at the time of iftar, there were no services to Ramallah, so I grabbed a taxi, which charged me almost the exact same amount of money (70NIS!!!!) to get back to Ramallah!! I was so mad, and argued with him (as best I could in colloquial!), but alas I ended up paying him. Then again, I was planning on paying so much more for the dentist that I felt not so bad paying that much for a cab.

So my first encounter with the medical system here in Palestine, and it seems, like everything else in this country, you just never know what will happen. Your dentist might be open at 5:30 on a Saturday night, while a wedding procession is going down the street in front (yes, that did happen).