Tag Archives: Ramallah

Nablus

In our nature, however, there is a provision, alike marvelous and merciful, that the sufferer should never know the intensity of what he endures by its present torture, but chiefly by the pang that rankles after it. The Scarlet Letter

Nablus is a beautiful city in the northern West Bank. I’ve been before, but I’m beginning my final countdown of cities that I need to visit again before I leave. It’s a city that has a lot of pain and suffering from the two intifadas, and has a much different vibe than Ramallah, or really other West Bank cities.

My friend, who is from Jenin and spent time in Nablus during the second intifada, and has taken me around Nablus before, was able to join us again for the afternoon. When we first arrived, we went to this hidden restaurant that my friend had told me about – though he wagered that I wouldn’t be able to find it (stipulation: I was not allowed to ask anyone), and if they hadn’t actually recently posted a sign outside with the words “mud3am” or ‘restaurant’, I definitely would not have guessed where its location was. But, the food was delicious and cheaaaaaaaap and we ate a lot. My other friend who joined had never been to Nablus before, so after eating, we began the basic tour around the Old City, a labyrinth of alleyways and markets and houses and stores. We stopped at the hamaam, the Turkish bath, al-Shifa, which was built in 1624 to have some coffee and tea. We walked around, and as he had done for me before, he showed us the intricate alleyways that connect houses and apartments, a true maze of interconnectedness. This is one of the reasons the IDF wouldn’t enter the Old City of Nablus during its incursions during and after the second intifada, because the risk of getting lost or cornered was just too high. My friend, who lived in the Old City, said it took him 3-4 months to remember exactly how to find his house!

Then we grabbed a service taxi and went up to An-Najah University, the largest and (some argue) most prestigious university in Palestine. It was founded in 1918 as a school, then became a college, and then a university in 1977. Between 1988 and 1991 the Israeli military declared the university a ‘closed military zone’ and it was shut down. As with other Palestinian universities, when the Israeli military shuts them down for extended periods of time, the faculty and students meet for lectures and classes at homes and other private places.

It’s a beautiful campus – well, two campuses, actually, a new and old, to account for the massive number of students. There are over 16,500 students in 19 faculties.

view from An-Najah University over the beautiful countryside!

the view again. sigh.

The library - farrrr nicer than the one at my grad school!

We walked around, my friend had actually gone to university there so he knew his way around and, per usual in Palestine, all the security guards and faculty and administrative people (at least those who were there during his time there many years ago) remembered him and welcomed us warmly. Of course, we were quite a show for the actual students who were hanging around campus, two American girls taking in the sights! But it was fun, and a wonderful view of the mountains of Nablus, and it was great to see another Palestinian university to compare it to Birzeit, where I took classes.

the campus

Then of course we went back to the Old City and ate knaffeh. Having thoroughly stuffed ourselves, we hopped into the service back to Ramallah.

Back in Ramallah, one of my best friends here, a Palestinian, it was his last night before leaving for 6 weeks in the States on a cultural exchange program. Which, if you recall correctly, I will actually already be back in the States by the time he returns to Ramallah. It was really the first serious goodbye, and really very difficult to handle. I got home after saying hugging possibly for 5 minutes straight, and started thinking about all the good times we had together here, both just one-on-one time and also all the group times our friends had together, over the past 9 months or so. All of our weekly brunches at the same exact restaurant, all of our trips together, all of our movie-watching nights and hanging out at restaurant nights. Of the people here who made me feel less like a tourist, this guy is one of those who tops the list, though the list is blessedly long. I’m not really sure I’m going to be able to say goodbye to this place or these people.

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.

Nature

It was one of those March days when the sun shines hot and the wind blows cold: when it is summer in the light, and winter in the shade. Great Expectations

As the weather increasingly gets better, I become less inclined to want to stay in class! Thankfully, this is the last week of class, and then I have about a month and a half of my own free time to maybe volunteer, definitely explore, travel, and enjoy myself. I have really loved my Arabic classes, don’t get me wrong, and I have definitely learned a lot from them, but as the last week winds down… I feel that common desire of all students to just.be.done.already.

So this past weekend, a bunch of us took advantage of the good weather and went out to nature (yes, the second weekend in a row for me!). Really, we hiked a little to a patch of grass where we could set up our bbq and blanket, and I looked out into the hills of the outskirts of Ramallah, and thought to myself, “How am I supposed to go home after all of this?”

There aren't any words

It was a great afternoon of sun, laughs, friends, and food. Hard to disagree with that.

Even though at one point, we were literally surrounded by sheep. There are lots of sheep that roam through Ramallah and the hills surrounding the city (it still amuses me when our service back from university in the middle of the day is stuck behind a herd of sheep just meandering their way down the road). So it shouldn’t have been a surprise to get invaded by sheep, not once, but twice, this past Saturday! And yet, sheep look really adorable in pictures and from far away, but they are kind of frightening animals when they’re that close to you – and that undomesticated! They are eating machines.

the shepherd definitely didn't care about our freaking out over the close proximity to the sheep!

Really, they surrounded us on all sides!

Even though it got quite chilly with the wind, some of us braved it out (honestly, I’m always cold anyway!) and stayed to brew coffee over our homemade bonfire (no, I had nothing to do with that construction) and watch the sunset. It was definitely worth it.

Happiness

Perfection.

Then on Sunday some friends and I went to Jerusalem, walked around the old city and a little through West Jerusalem. Surprisingly, there was no trouble at the checkpoint and life seemed back to normal (after last week’s bus bombing attack). I bought two homemade leather bags at this stall in the old city, and my friend, the bargaining queen, struck such a deal with the owner I almost thought he was going to cry (whether out of lost sales or because he was so happy she could bargain so well, I’m not sure). I got my two bags for 300NIS, or about $85 – really, in the States, each of the bags that I bought would probably have been sold for $200 each. My friend got three bags, including one messenger bag to fit a laptop and all, for 600NIS, or $170. Ridiiiiiiiculous. And amazing.

(I actually started writing this post a couple days ago and just realized I never posted it, so I’m finishing it now!) I made it through this week’s classes, finished my 15-minute presentation on Algeria in my amiyya class, and now just have my final in my fusha (modern standard Arabic) class on Monday! So tomorrow, it’s supposed to be like 85 degrees in Tel Aviv, so some of us are headed there for the beach! Saturday, I think we might head to Bethlehem in the morning, do some walking around the wall and some sightseeing, then it’s our friend’s going away party in the afternoon. Sunday… I should probably study!

Catching up

“I shall take the heart,” returned the Tin Woodman, “for brains do not make one happy, and happiness is the best thing in the world.” The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

Well, it has been a crazy time here. I have finished my thesis for my graduate school program, hence the long absence from the blog. In addition, I only have two weeks left of Arabic classes, and less than two months left here. It’s so hard to believe everything that has happened in the past 8 months, how much I’ve learned, how much I’ve changed, how comfortable I am here, and how I’ve come to love feeling some discomfort in life …

I haven’t been doing too much recently besides writing, but I have been able to spend some time with friends. My Palestinian friend received a permit to go into Israel until 7pm at night, so we took advantage of the good weather two weeks ago and went on a Friday:

 

park in Jerusalem

beautiful weather, beautiful place

On Tuesday, March 15, there began a youth protest in multiple cities throughout the West Bank and Gaza, calling for unity among Palestinians. There have been demonstrators in al-Manara, the main city square of Ramallah, consistently since that day, and they are still there today. Each night, the demonstrations get co-opted by government forces, but violence has been limited (though still present through disproportionate force by the Palestinian security forces).

 

It took me a few tries to get this picture right, but I love it. Demonstration, Ramallah, March 15

Yes to Reconciliation, No to Division

Only Palestinian flags were flying

This is a short blog, but just to let you all know I’m alive still, and tomorrow I’ll post with pictures from Sunday, when some friends and I went down to Nabi Musa in the desert, sat on a cliffside far away from the rest of humanity, and had a nice afternoon barbeque…

Updates

It is a most miserable thing to feel ashamed of home. Great Expectations

Things have been very busy since school has started up again, in the middle of writing my thesis, and catching up with friends who had left for the holidays.

But probably the topic most on the mind here right now is the Palestine Papers, some 1,600 previously secret documents that al-Jazeera has obtained, a decade of meeting notes and internal documents of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. Al-Jazeera has been ‘leaking’ these documents since Sunday and, while for the most part things have remained calm in Ramallah, there is a general sense of confusion, betrayal, sadness, etc. It’s important that this information is presented, and I think everyone should go and read for themselves or watch al-Jazeera’s coverage of it. The Guardian, a UK news source, has also been given access to the documents, so you can check out their articles on it as well here. I’ve heard very different opinions from my Palestinian friends, some of whom think much of it (claims that the PA negotiating team offered was willing to concede illegal Israeli settlements in Jerusalem, was willing to compromise on the right of some 5 million Palestinian refugees’ right to return, etc) is taken out of context, and some who believe that this is proof of the weakness of the PA in negotiations. Definitely go check it out.

So far, nothing has changed daily life here. Though there are mannnnnyyyyy more people just in the streets in main Ramallah (the offices of al-Jazeera were protested against yesterday in Ramallah), and a much higher police/security presence around town, daily life is continuing. I think people here feel like these Palestine Papers show that, really, Israel holds all the playing cards in negotiations, that even if the PA were to offer all of these concessions to Israel, they still refuse a deal, because Israel knows they hold all the power… I think that’s something the coverage of the Palestine Papers is missing, blaming the PA for betraying the Palestinian people, when what power does the PA have to begin with?

Between these documents, the coup d’etat in Tunisia, the nomination of the new Prime Minister of Lebanon, protests in Egypt, there has been a lot of political change (turmoil?) in the region.

Otherwise, I’ve seen two good films in the past couple weeks. One was “The Wind That Shakes the Barley,” a film by Ken Loach, about the civil war in Ireland with many, many similarities to the situation in Palestine – that a divided people will never win. Similar to claims that a British general said, during the war, that Britain doesn’t need to defeat the Irish, let the Irish defeat themselves by splitting up, that the Palestinian people, divided as they are between the West Bank and Gaza, will defeat themselves before Israel. Very, very well done film.

The second was “One Family in Gaza,” a 23-minute, extremely powerful (SAD) documentary film. The director, Jen Marlowe, filmed a family talking about their experience during the Gaza War/Operation Cast Lead in Dec-Jan 2008-2009. It’s free to watch on vimeo, so click the link above if you have time and watch it.

It’s December?!

“Grown ups love figures. When you tell them you have made a new friend, they never ask you any questions about essential matters. They never say to you, ‘What does his voice sound like? What games does he love best? Does he collect butterflies?” Instead they demand: ‘How old is he? How many brothers has he? How much does he weigh? How much money does his father make?’ Only from these figures do they think they have learned anything about him.” Le Petit Prince

Palestine is a great place to be a foreigner, I’ve decided. If you need something, have a problem, and don’t know where to go or what to do, all you need to do is turn to the person next to you on the street/in the cafe/on the bus, and they will bend over backward to help you out. This happens on a daily basis – as I often have no idea what I’m doing – but a few recent examples:

– In Bethlehem a couple weeks ago, the nice woman in the service with us walked us all the way to the Church of the Nativity, though it was rather far out of her way, just because we didn’t know how to get there, chatting the whole time about her life and what else there is to do in Bethlehem.
– When we’re waiting for the bus to get to Jerusalem from Ramallah and there’s a huge group of people rushing toward the bus to get on, as soon as one of them notices that us poor foreign girls aren’t as comfortable pushing our way to the bus, will take pity on us and herd us, arm encircling us to protect our silly Western notions of personal space, onto the bus.
– I can’t even count the number of times I’ve asked a shopowner (whether in Ramallah or in another city) for directions to a certain place, and they’ve walked out the door with me and down the street to explain exactly how to get there [n.b. this is also a function of no street names or discernible directional features], the whole time joking with you that it’s going to cost you 10NIS for this.
– Yesterday, in Jerusalem I was a little further out from the Old City, where I was going to meet some friends, and I needed to catch the Arab bus the rest of the way. Being unsure exactly if I could pick up the bus on this particular street (they just pick you up off the side of the road if you gesture to the bus driver, there aren’t any designated “bus stops”), I saw an older woman waiting on the side of the street. Since this seemed like the customary “wait for the bus” position, I simply went up to her and asked (in Arabic yes!) if she was waiting for the bus to Jerusalem, to which she replied yes and began a nice little conversation about where I’m from and what I’m doing here.

These are just a few, silly examples of the complete and utter trust you feel in the people here. I would never in DC just hop into a van unsure of exactly where it was dropping me off or how much it cost or really anything about it, just on the basis of a couple men in a parking lot telling me that it’s the service to Nablus. And then the driver handing you a business card with his number on it, so that if you have trouble finding transportation back home, you can just call his personal number and he’ll “work it out for you.” And ahlan was ahlan to falasteen (welcome to Palestine).

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.