Tag Archives: Palestine

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!

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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!

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

Baby it’s cold outside

“Yes, as everyone knows, meditation and water are wedded forever.” Moby Dick

Today, it rained!!!!! For the first time since I’ve been in Palestine (except for that mini-rain we had for like 30 minutes back in September), it rained today. There has been mild panic about the lack of rain in a country that experiences huge water problems in the first place, and for a locale where the winter season supposedly is just a continuous rainstorm.

And today, I woke up to the wonderful sound of rain and the most cloudy, depressing-looking sky. Remember, I haven’t actually seen anything other than bright blue sunny sky for 4 months now. It was glorious (knowing that tomorrow and almost the rest of the week is supposed to be sunny probably contributed to my happiness at today’s gloominess). You can really feel the chilliness in the air from inside our apartment – the building being stone means it always feels at least 20 degrees colder inside than it actually is outside. Waking up to the rain and cold made me very happy, if nothing else for a different perspective of being here and not sweating under the brutal sun.  It also gave me fair justification for spending the whole day inside.

Doing all of this research and reading and writing, I often WANT to get out of the apartment, but that means spending hours at cafes, and there are unfortunately limited numbers of cafes to rotate through. Plus, of course, I have my favorites that I like to go to on a regular basis but feel kind of silly for spending hours and hours, day after day, at the same two places. And that also means spending money, because I can’t just sit at a cafe to read and write for 6 hours and only buy an Arabic coffee! So it’s a delicate balance of wanting to get out of the apartment, and fully knowing that I can spend all day at my kitchen table, eating my own food, making my own coffee… So today, I didn’t even need to go through the daily battle I usually have with myself! I just wanted to enjoy the damp, chilliness in my sweats, with a big cup of tea, and my piles and piles of pages of research.

And that’s exactly what I did.

Tel Aviv… and Gaza?

“If you could say, with truth, to your own solitary heart, tonight, ‘I have secured to myself the love and attachment, the gratitude or respect, of no human creature; I have won myself a tender place in no regard; I have done nothing good or serviceable to be remembered by!’ your seventy-eight years would be seventy-eight heavy curses; would they not?” A Tale of Two Cities

Well, there have been some adventures lately! Very unexpectedly, we got an invite to spend the night on the beach in Tel Aviv Thursday night, which of course sounded like so much fun. So we got to the beach around 2am on Friday morning. Thank goodness we had a car and someone to drive us – though we did have trouble getting through Qalandia checkpoint on our way. The soldiers picked two people out of our car and made them go walk through the checkpoint, though they were changing shifts and it would have meant waiting another at least half hour. So we turned around and went through the Hizme checkpoint, a little bit out of the way, but not too shabby. When we finalllllly made it there, it was so much fun! It was so crazy, the beach is just open for everyone to sit, drink, sleep, play in the ocean, all night long! So we swam – it was kind of cold… – and sat and had fun, and even though it felt like it was a bazillion hours that we were there probably because we didn’t sleep at all, we actually left Tel Aviv around 7am to drive to Ashqelon, a city just north of Gaza, where our friend’s brothers live.

Tel Aviv sunrise!

Ashqelon was beautiful – the beach was wonderful, really calm, beautifully clear water. And crazily enough, it was so surreal, you look down the shoreline, maybe a mile – it seemed really close – you can see the buildings of Gaza City. Not unclearly, not just the outline, not hazy, you can actually see the buildings of Gaza City. It’s so unbelievable that we’re hanging out in the ocean and you look to your left and you see the blockaded water stuff, you see military aircraft overhead almost continuously, and you hear the sirens going off every now and then.

We only stayed at the beach for two hours or so, and then went back to our friend’s brothers’ house and they cooked us the most delicious meal, and perfect food for not-having-slept-for-36-hours! Local fish, rice, homemade sauces, olives, bread… absolutely mouth-watering.

We finally got back to Ramallah around 4pm on Friday, after which I had about an hour to get ready for my friend’s going away party, but our cold water was not working! So I couldn’t take a shower without scalding burning water… which meant I took my first ever bucket shower. My roommate was very amused. It’s a very difficult thing to do! Plus, you all know I’m not the most coordinated person in the world, so it was a struggle. But our water is back on now, so hopefully that’ll be the first and last time!

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…