Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Visitors, Birthday, and Cyprus... Oh my!

Things are crazy around here right now! A dear friend from college, Emily, arrived in Palestine for a month long visit, then I celebrated my 23rd (sheesh, I'm old!) birthday, then I was in Cyprus on a retreat for all of the Europe & Middle East staff, and now my parents are here and we are traveling around exploring the West Bank.

I would just like to take a moment to rave about how wonderful things have been over the last month. When I arrived in Palestine, I made a very conscious decision not to do much traveling. Since this is essentially an open-air prison for those living here, I did not feel that it would be fair (or polite) for me to go in and out of Israel. My neighbors, friends, and host-family do not have this right, and I felt that if I wanted to truly immerse myself in this community and live in solidarity with these people, that I should forgo this right as well. Therefore, I have, as much as possible, stayed in Bethlehem and Beit Jala, and not traveled in Israel or much in the West Bank. I wanted to be present in my local community, and I am so happy that I made that decision, because I feel that it has truly enhanced my relationships here.

Now that I am coming to the end of my time here (only two more months!) and have people visiting, I am doing all of the traveling that I have not done over the last 9 months. Having Emily and my parents here has been absolutely wonderful. I've been able to play tour guide a little bit, and we are exploring some of the things I have never seen.

Emily and I did a lot of exploring in Jerusalem for the first few days she was here. After living in India for the last 7 months, she was super excited to eat french fries, and insisted that I pose with them.

This is my judgmental face.
The Church of the Holy Sepulcher 
Later in the week, we traveled to Tel Be'er Sheva, which I saw two years ago when I was in Israel. We had a bit of a ridiculous bus adventure, and finally made it to the archaeological site, which dates back to the 10th century BCE. We took the bus from Bethlehem through the military checkpoint into Jerusalem, then the light rail (similar to the metro or subway, except that it's all above ground) from the Old City to the Central Bus Station in West Jerusalem, then a bus from there to Be'er Sheva, then a taxi from the city to the ancient site. It's times like these that I really miss my car, but am so grateful for the generally well structured public transportation system in the Middle East. The site was so incredibly beautiful, and I had a fantastic time exploring!

In a water storage tank hundreds of feet under the village. 
I am the ghost of ancient Be'er Sheva. Obviously.
Camel herd!
We also had a chance to walk around and see a portion of the wall in Bethlehem.

I know, I'm not a very good rhino.

On my birthday, I went to work. Super exciting, right? It was actually totally wonderful. I got a lot of "kul cene u inti salme" greetings, which directly translates to "every year and you (female) peace" but I think "peace to you every year" makes a bit more sense. Some of the students brought me a cupcake so I could blow out a candle, and then Emily and I got shwarma at my favorite little place in Bethlehem for dinner. Afterwards, my host family threw me a surprise party! The kids had helped to bake me a cake and they were so excited about it. We then played Uno while the kids played with my camera. It was the perfect little birthday.

Me and 3 year old Layal

Bishara insisted that we hold up our Uno cards while he held his truck. 
Natalie (9) and Lubna (11)

Cyprus was incredible and beautiful. We left Bethlehem at 2:30am on Thursday, and got to the airport around 4am thanks to some stops at checkpoints and other general confusion. Unfortunately, we were flagged at security and had some pretty intense security checks, including a private-back-room body search. It was absolutely miserable, but it gave me a new understanding of the ways that Palestinians are humiliated by "security measures" that are mostly just racial profiling and/or harassment.

The MCC Europe and Middle East staff retreat was fantastic. I was able to reconnect with the other Middle East SALTers, some friends who are Service Workers, and some incredible staff members! I had such a restful time swimming in the Mediterranean, surviving my first bee sting, laughing with my coworkers, and taking naps on the warm, breezy beach. It was a little slice of heaven.
View from my hotel room.
On the way back through customs at the Tel Aviv airport, all of my other coworkers got through, but I was somehow flagged. I was detained and interrogated, and unfortunately Sarah, Bassem, and Rachelle had to wait for me on the other side of customs for about an hour. I was then released and sent on my way. Again, it gave me an understanding of the terror that Palestinians must feel when they are brought in for questioning. Honestly, I was scared. Huge men yelling at me in Hebrew is not what I wanted to be experiencing at 2 in the morning. Cognitively, I knew that they wouldn't hurt me or arrest me because I'm an American, but I can't imagine how terrified I would have been if I hadn't had my US passport to hide behind and therefore didn't have any guarantee of my safety.

For the next week, I'll be traveling around the West Bank with Emily and my parents, but when I come back, I'm sure I'll have some interesting stories for you all!

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