Category Archives: Travel

Revolution Scars

   *This post is password protected because I think it can be easily misread to reinforce the barbaric/terrorist depiction of Arabs and Libyans that often stems from US hatred and ignorance. This understanding, would of course, be an incorrect interpretation of my message. I chose to reserve it for people I trust know me and my politics well enough to recognize this. I do not believe that the USA culture is any less (and most likely more) violent than what I have witnessed here. This should be understood only as my reflections from my family trip and my frustrations with the violent culture left in the dust of the revolution.*
 

You are with Gaddafi or with the revolutionaries? She had a plastic machine gun pressed to my face and a gang of 3 year-olds equally armed behind her.

“No, I am with her.” I pointed to my aunt. Let her deal with them, I think. Wrong answer. The ticking of the machine gun, child rebels screams, and the swinging of a plastic police baton was all that could be heard for the next several minutes.  Swept up in an experiment with child militarization, I never once gave the desired answer. I was repeatedly given two options. Most times I had a dozen imaginary bullets piercing my skull before my allegiance could be gauged by the overzealous gunkids. My cousin, who left high school to fight in the real rebel army, watched enthralled by his younger cousins. Was that pride in his eyes? Did their play bring back painful memories he’d tucked deep in his manly façade. The teenage boy I had known 3 years ago had discarded his schoolbooks and childhood for a gun. I barely recognized the adult who lay on the cushion now.

The next morning we would see up close some of the repercussions of the war the children recreated in the living room almost every night with great devotion.

We were at the end of our 2 hour journey east.

“See the buildings that were bombed? NATO.” My uncle directed our attention back and forth across Tarablus (Tripoli) Street, the main street in the town of Misurata, a town 200 kilometers (124 miles) east of Tripoli.

After the rebels seized Benghazi, Gaddafi officials had proposed dividing the nation in half granting the east sovereignty, a proposition they hoped would halt the rebels’ progression west. Misurata became a glitch in that plan when it emerged as a rebel strong hold in the western half of the nation early in the war.

“They fought here for almost 6 months, but the revolutionaries couldn’t get past Gaddafi’s troops. Then NATO bombed Gaddafi forces, allowing the rebels to move on to Tripoli”

The front of every sand colored, three-story building was splattered with bullet holes. Most windows were shattered. The street lamps bent over succumb to gun fire, and the palm trees were now tall columns, their leafy tops blown away. Every few blocks was the remains of a structure cut in half by a no-fly-zone enforcing NATO.  Graffiti on tanks read “free Libya” but their eerie presence along the side of the road, abandoned with bullet holes, is a constant reminder of a recent violent revolution that maintains a grasp on the minds of the “free” Libyans.

“That is where his snipers hid, on the top of that insurance building.” My Uncle relayed the battle stories of the surrounding infrastructure as told to him by his wife’s family, Misurata natives.

Trips to Misurata have become a hajj of nationalism. Tripolitans, never having ventured east before the war, enter the bullet ridden city in packed cars with their families to celebrate the victory over Gaddafi’s forces which enabled the rebels to progress on to Tripoli. After moving beyond Misrata the rebels secured the capital and through which the country, a victory that everyone recognizes would have been impossible without NATO involvement. My own mind tackled the need of NATO intervention, a bittersweet savior the need for which had been implanted decades before the knight on a white steed entrance.

“And finally here, the museum.”

The destination for our envoy was a make shift trophy shelf of items seized from the Gaddafi compound, weaponry taken from his soldiers, and other war souvenirs. Out front the massive metal eagle that had once watched over the Gaddafi home in Tripoli stood defiled by spray paint and surrounded by tanks and bombs, all too large to fit into the small freestanding building. Gaddafi’s picture decorated the entrance mat.  Visitors embraced the opportunity to trample his face as they entered, most pausing for additional stomps. Several of the children were particularly enthralled, staying for several minutes jumping passionately up and down. I hesitated, and gently walked across, unsure how I felt about participating in this celebration of death. Had my privileged US life left me unable to relate to my family who find unquestionable joy and beauty in the death of this, despite all his terrible acts, human? Was I disrespecting my family by avoiding the face as I walked in?

While most museums disguise their promotion and perpetuation of imperial legacies by presenting captured cultural artifacts of far off cultures and neutralizing wars through sterile scientific presentation, this museum did not hide behind a faux objective lens.  Through my discussions with people here, I find that most are so devoted to upholding the infallible depiction of the rebel army  that they couldn’t fathom another form of depicting the recently passed war.

Pictures of the rebels and civilians who lost their lives in Misurata lined the walls. Child art projects from during the revolution simultaneously celebrate the new Libya and cartooned the now deceased leader, who had been hiding in exile at the time of their creation.

Images of blood splattering from amputated limbs served as the prosecuting evidence for the adjacent walls lined with passport pictures of those, both Libyan and not, who had betrayed the rebel cause in the city. A wanted list of vengeance hunting those who’s condemning choice was to fight for the status quo.

The enthusiastic curator, points to different objects. He lifts a cardboard cover to expose a picture of a young soldier in street clothes; he lay sprawled on the street, having taken a bullet to the head, large portions of his mind exploded on the pavement. My grandmother, brought to tears, sat in a chair near the entrance for the rest of our visit simultaneously crying and praying. As her sobs and holy whispers were the background sound for the remainder of my visit to this museum, I found comfort in her response and emotion, for it was the only one visibly displayed by my family with which I could relate.

“This is the best museum ever!” One cousin proclaimed. He didn’t see the nauseous look on my face before he bounced away, his attention now shifting to another missile. “Look”

I simultaneously fought down my lunch and back my tears. Like most USians, I have a fairly high tolerance for gore that has been built up from years of intoxicating violent images in almost every movie or show I had watched. Additionally, my father had never hid the brutal realities of the Arab world, and had often shown his small children videos and photos of Israeli and Gaddafi violence. I was able to glaze over most of the bloody pictures, but my families interactions with the exhibit pushed my emotions over the edge. I could accept the bloody truth of the war, but not the truth of its impression on my family members. The fight for freedom had released another reality, that war stops the hearts of the losers and taints the hearts of the victors.

In the corner, a large screen TV rolled videos of the fighting. The curator had the remote in his hand and was anxiously queing up the video of Gaddafi’s death. My uncle gathered the younger members of the family to watch. My three-year old cousin, who had shot me repeatedly with a fake handgun the night before, squirmed behind her mother, using her mother’s leg as a shield from the gruesome images flashing on the screen. I had seen it many times before. Arab news channels had played it proclaiming Gaddafi’s death. US channels had played it under the guise of news, but with the subtext of Libyan barbarity, and was received as porn for the curious westerner, hungry for images of a revolting east.

The newscasters back in the US had been unable to sympathize with the population that had spent their entire life watching their family members murdered by the colonel bleeding at their feet. The soldiers now enacted their revenge in kicks and pistol whips. I had distracted myself from the video in the past with critiques of the broadcasting and how emphasizing and demonizing the violence used against Gaddafi ignored the systemic violence, the barbarism, in drone attacks and occupations their own nation participated in. The newscasters in the west had always reported the death of Gaddafi with a strong implied conclusion that Libyans were irrational and violent, and therefore inferior in their behaviors. In the museum, my family watched, unrepentant, at the leaders final moments.

“He was a terrible man” they had told me each time I raised an objection. “He deserved to die”. Yes, I understand for the rebels to succeed, Gaddafi would have had to die, but must this death be celebrated instead of mourned as a necessary evil of war? If we cannot extend our morality to Gaddafi himself, then at least to his soldiers who were either socialized to support the fallen leader or so economically limited they sought a soldiers pay. Do their mangled bodies deserve to be broadcast as the inevitable justice for those who opposed the revolution? Could the nationwide mourning not include all the victims in its prayers? Or was there only faith enough for the rebel victims whose faces lined the walls inside of the museum.

In coping with the war, the dominant narrative in Libya has clinched relentlessly to an understanding of the war biblically entrenched in good and evil. The rebels cannot be comprehended outside of angelic perfection. As often done in war, the rebels and citizens of Libya had diluted the brutal reality of death and war by dehumanizing those at the other end of their 17 year-old soldier’s gun. Those dressed in green, often from the neighboring town, were repeatedly described as not Libyan and not Muslim through the duration of the war. The same justification echoes now. They weren’t like us and they wanted to kill us.  Do they seek to convince me, or themselves?

My hope for Libya is contingent on destroying the boundaries between the good and bad in the narrative of the revolution and post revolution politics. In order to move on from war and into creating a new state, Libyans must accept the limitations of all new leadership and their own potential for corruption. Accepting the imperfections of the military, and thus the fallibility of the rebels’ side of the conflict, would open up the opportunity to understand that Gaddafi forces were composed of humans, their neighbors and family, capable of logic, emotion, and even good. Rehumanizing the ‘enemy’ is the emotional cost of rediscovering our own humanity, that is the nuances and contradictions that make us less than perfect.  They must recognize the rebel faults from during the revolution, including the massacre of surrendering or captured opposition, lynching of non-Libyans suspected of fighting with Gaddafi, and other impulsive actions unjustifiable even in the midst of war. Perhaps even recognize that all aspects of Gaddafi’s existence were not dripping in Satanism. It is, of course, recognizing the complexities of the individual that allow us to understand the corrupting abilities of power and the power of the structures that lead some people to act beyond our own rationalization and comprehension.

Without accepting and acknowledging the humanity of all the characters in the current war narrative and the resulting government, a humanity that includes a susceptibility to corruption and vengeance, Libyans will leave  the most powerful agencies in the nation vulnerable to unregulated abuse, flourishing within a false belief in Libyan Rebel exceptionalism. The people must be cognizant of their leader’s capability to behave against their will, against their morals, to keep history from repeating itself. After all, Gaddafi’s 42 year presidency started with a revolution.

Breaking down the binary framing will allow for another crucial realization: The enemy of my enemy is not necessarily my friend. Third party influence, even if accepted should be heavily scrutinized. People here are already wary of US involvement and NATO’s role in the revolution. But the USA will exploit hesitancy. A stronger stance is necessary if the nation is to maintain any of its sovereignty in a mostly US dominated international scene.

These hopes live in the little part of me that believes, or needs to believe, in any agency for Libyans and Libya. Are the only roads to nationhood strictly routed like the guiding rails at a slaughterhouse by impeding capitalism, lust for oil, and other factors, dictating a determined, unknown but likely unfavorable, outcome?

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Ithacan Article

Today the Ithaca college school newspaper, the Ithacan, posted an article about my decision to travel to and teach in Palestine on the front page of its accent section. Here is the online edition if you are interested! 🙂

http://theithacan.org/19317

Israeli/Hamas Prisoner Exchange Reinforces Lack of Value for Palestinians

NOTE*** It is not my preference to reduce humans to ATM transactions. Trust me, if I ruled the world, things would be different. I am simply saying, that the use of humans as bargaining power, in itself reduces the prisoners to currency, I simply ask that we take the metaphor a step further to understand the implications of the exchange rate****

 

Today, the front of the NY times read “DEAL WITH HAMAS WILL FREE ISRAELI HELD SINCE 2006”. (Small variation in the online title)

Why doesn’t this article read “Deal with Israel will free over one thousand Palestinians” The title alone implies that the most significant implications of this decisions is the freeing of one. ONE. man. The accompanying picture is of the Israeli soldier’s friends and family who are, understandably, shocked and excited to the point of tears at the news.

Once again, you would never find pictures of the thousands of Palestinians who will be celebrating the return home of their own family members. It is blatant bias, such as this, that goes over the heads of most USians and that reinforces the importance of some people over the others. In this case, it is the value of ONE Israeli militant over 1027 Palestinians.  Denied their humanity, the Palestinian Prisoners are only significant in that they were the trading power to free the Israeli. Not humans, but a currency. A currency with a painful exchange rate. While someone benefits from a drastically imbalanced exchange rate in the economic sphere, no one would argue that having a weak currency is beneficial in the international market. Hamas took their foreign investment to the bank and received a large number of their local currency in exchange. Yet, the implication is, that on the large scale, what Hamas entered the figurative bank with and left with was of equal value. 1000 Palestinians to 1 Israeli. Hamas had to participate in this exchange, but by doing so, it reinforced the inequality.

I have often heard people, regarding this issue, complain that Hamas is being selfish to demand 1000 prisoners for one man. However, the disproportionality of this ratio was not established by Hamas. The US and Israel have long operated under the mentality that a small number of Israelis are significantly more important than a large number of Palestinians. In the 2009 invasion of Gaza, the over one thousand Palestinian casualties, most of which were children and women, were justified by the need to “defend” Israel from rocket attacks whose combined casuality implications are minimal by comparison.

Israel and the US happily accept the 1000:1 ratio when it works in their favor, and US and Israeli media validate and encourage the inequality through their journalism. Hamas simply monopolized off of their unfavorable place in the equation and, in this small example, benefited from it.

Why does the US, which likes to pretend that it cares about human rights and will approach MANY different issues under this façade -Darfur, Libya, Somalia, to name a few- refuse to approach this issue in that manner. Should the headline not read “Israeli/ Hamas prisoner deal results in the freeing of 1,028 political prisoners.”

The answer, (to me at least) is that the US does what is in its own best interest, and then finds a media angle to cover it up. Enter Iraq in the name of Freedom, Libya in the name of Human Rights, and blindly support Israel in the name of Democracy. At the same time, label democratically elected Hamas a terrorist organization, continually violate the UN Declaration of Human Rights, and fund the occupation (lack of freedom) of the Palestinian territories. Our hypocrisies are evident, and the motivations behind them, apparent.

In a healthy society, the role of journalism would be to expose them, not to propagate them.

 

The Online version of the Article

Using Another’s Words When I Fail to Find My Own

One of the most blatant reminders that you are in the west bank is the massive, concrete wall that separates Israel proper from the Palestinian territories. Built along Israeli’s re-imagined version of the green line- readapted to claim new lands- this barrier slices through land disregarding tradition, ownership, families, and UN declaration. I saw the wall many times, and twice stopped and walked along it. Each time I was overcome with an emotion that never formulated itself into a coherent post, so one of the more glaring reminders of occupation has had little mention in the too many words I have posted over the last year. (I did post some pictures, which can be found here!)

Luckily, I have Ben , who has done a wonderful job at often providing words (and posts) when I fail to find my own. Besides being a firefighter, known for saving an entire orphanage (if you don’t know what I am referring to, read this!), a brilliant and compassionate human, and a damn good teacher, he is also an artist. Ben composes melodic and gorgeous poetry, which he will happily perform for a good cause, or the relentless pleadings of his “flat”mates in Palestine. Here I include the poem he composed following our trip to the Wall, as well as a video of another piece of his. If you find Ben as amazing as I do, I recommend you like him on facebook! Also, I must brag, that the friend he falsely refers to as much wiser than himself in the last line is me. Though, rather than proving my wisdom, this line simply juxtaposes his powerful articulation with my crude assertions.

THE WALL

Once in Berlin I saw it spelled out
In letters so high they seemed to shout
“The world” it said “Is too small for walls”
So I eagerly wait for this one to fall

An ugly grey line pushes over the hills
Destroying the beauty of the land that it fills
And standing in front of it, dwarfed like a child
By its imposing nature and its sheer massive size
I see intimidation and a needless divide
So I lean my head backwards and I look to the sky
And there, just for a moment, I find some peace
In the creatures that soar and that glide above me

The birds fly so freely over the top
Of this thing that’s constructed only to stop
People moving and living as they might like
But the birds see no walls in their free open skies.

The feeling here, though, is not just depression
This isn’t just a symbol of hateful oppression
For a construction founded on racism
That seeks to create a fake prison
Has been reclaimed and given a new heart
By the spraypainted collage of words and art

For if we’ve learned one thing from our history
It’s that one of the things that makes us unique
Is the way we create beauty where none should exist
And the way we find hope and a way to resist.

So as I witness this concrete, so long and so tall
I comfort myself with the knowledge that walls
Are never built to stick around
And that this one, too, will come crashing down.

So to quote a friend much wiser than me
On the nature of inevitable decay
“One day we’ll all be buying a piece
Of this stupid fucking thing on eBay”

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Pictures of the Rescued Dog

While in Palestine I wrote this post about a dog that our apartment had rescued of the streets. (read it here) During his short stay in our apartment (a tough situation as it is forbidden to have a dog in a  Muslim home, and there was an entire Muslim family living in our same building) he was given the name Conrad. I thought I would share some pictures of him with you.

As for Conrad, we gave him lots of food to give him some strength and then my roommates released him on the wealthier end of town where hopefully he will be safe. 

Better than Good

The poster on Ms. Amy’s classroom wall read “Better than good”. Crafted by students as a class project, the girls were given words such as ‘Phenomenal’ and ‘Fabulous’ to use instead of the mundane ‘Good’ which is almost as over used as ‘Fine’ , the nationwide taught response to ‘how are you?’ In an empowering moment the girls had, on their own accord, included ‘I am’ all over the poster. Yet, convincing the individual girls here that they are better than good, has proved to be more of a challenge than the poster’s creation would imply.

We had planned a field trip to what is within Nablus debated, but internationally recognized, as the best Kanafeh shop in town. After seeing how the kanafeh was made, we pulled our students into the small hole in the wall to engage in what had become an at least weekly tradition with Amy and I, tasting and evaluating (aka just eating) this Nabulsi tradition.

“I can’t eat Kanafeh” one protested. After prodding the truth came out. “Because I’m fat.”

I looked at the properly thin 14 year old before me. “But I am bigger than you, am I fat?”

“Yes, but it’s OK because you are older.” Ouch.

I remembered the 14 year old me, who was thinner at the time, but didn’t feel any thinner. For some reason I assumed that removing dating from the scene and covering hair with a scarf would remove these pressures, but here this girl was struggling with the same weight expectation that had burdened me at her age. (And, while not as large of an insecurity, bothers me now.)

What seems to have become a universal demand on women to be stick thin and deny their appetites for, in this case, this delicate, cheesy, sweet weighs down on both our shoulders. Is it any surprise? As USian movies and TV shoes are mailed, downloaded, and illegally burned across the world, our anorexic, airbrushed actresses are becoming the envy of the young girls here, and while they will never be blonde, have blue eyes, or a seductive American accent, at least they can strive for skinny. Skinny is something anyone can be, and no one can be enough.

Handmade Mother’s Day Cards in hand, the exuberant girls were being herded to the front for a picture. As most girls anxiously awaited the camera’s flash, molding their practiced smiles for the camera, Tala held back.

“No picture”

“Why?” I asked Surely it wasn’t for religious reasons as Tala’s older sister was already posing with her card.

“Because I am not beautiful.”

Not beautiful. By the age of 11, not only had Tala developed and accepted a definition of beauty, but had confirmed that it was not her. I looked at her wildly curly hair and large eyes. Her features are bold and defining. To her, all the positive traits I could mention would not convince her that she was worthy of the term beautiful. Before hitting puberty, she was convinced that her appearance was sub par.

It is unfortunate that these girls are struggling to adhere to an impossible image. That after only 11 years, she could look in the mirror and find faults. Technology has entered us into an international age. The words of this blog are no longer limited to my diary as they may have been in the past, or even a local newspaper. As I press post these words are instantly sent throughout the world. Similarly, the movies that the Hollywood industry creates are no longer simply destroying the body image of the blonde hair and blue eyed population from which the actors and actresses were selected, but also that of the gorgeous young women in our classrooms who are, to me, way better than good.

The Unwanted Pilgrimage

We exited the elaborate courtyard whose massive walls surround some of the holiest sites for the Ibrahimic religions. To Muslims, this is the location where it is believed the prophet ascended to heaven. The site is extremely protected and many people try and are unable to enter. Having attempted multiple times to enter during the extremely short and oddly timed tourist hours, we, myself and a friend I had met at the hostel, had decided it was time to play the Muslim card, that is, use the fact that we come from Muslim families to get into the beautiful holy sites. For my friend, this was literally a card. She possessed one of the controversial Turkish ID cards. Heavily criticized for including the bearer’s religion, it was that small crescent moon and star on her card that had allowed her easy access into an area many religious pilgrims never step foot in. My US passport had offered no religious evidence, obviously, but my Arab name and Arabic quickly convinced the guard who had greeted us with the only too familiar “Closed today, Muslims only,” to let me in. So, head scarves in place, we had entered into the peaceful sanctuary about an hour before.

A small sample of the beautiful Byzantine art

A small sample of the beautiful Byzantine art

I was immediately mesmerized by the elaborate Dome of the Rock. Each inch of the massive structure is intricately designed with Byzantine art,and the gold domed roof, the staple of the Jerusalem skyline funded during renovations by Jordan, shines with a faith instilling vibrancy. Entrance into the Dome is prohibited, and while strict rules such as what religions can enter at what times, who guards the doors, and what places are off-limits are irritable to the curious visitor, it is diligent adherence to these rules that keeps the city from breaking out into violence. In fact, it was Ariel Sharon’s visit to the Temple Mount or Haram Al Sharif, (the name of the courtyard used by Jews and Muslims respectively) after Yasser Arafat refused to give up either the holy site or East Jerusalem during negotiations, which set off the First Intifada (Palestinian uprising) The solid rock under our feet was unsettled ground, and as I tried to capture the glow of the gold roof, its demand was no wonder to even myself, one of the biggest religious pessimists.

We had moved on to Al Aqsa Mosque. We had entered the prayer area and were hit with a calm wave of energy, a sensation similar to the feeling of entering an air-conditioned room after being out in the heat. The comforting feeling of entering the prayer room in a mosque had beckoned us in from the political controversy that remained all around. The women’s prayer room was humble. Every few feet another small book-case was overflowing with copies of the Quran, the Sunnah, and the Hadith. A few people had been scattered about the room praying quietly while we looked around.

Our final stop had been the Marwani Mosque. Known to some as Soloman’s Stables for the short period it had been used to hold horses during the Crusades. The mosque is located below ground. Recent renovations by the Israeli government underneath Al Aqsa have left visible cracks throughout Marwani, causing large protests from Muslims worldwide.

We exited through one of the 11 gates around the courtyard, slipping out near the Muslim quarter. The rain was beginning to fall, and we found ourselves seeking shelter under a falafel stand. Sick of falafel, but happy to be out of the rain, I ordered a small cup of humus and purchased a kilo of fresh pita bread. As we waited out the rain, we began speaking to an older Arab gentleman. After finding that I spoke some Arabic he began with the usual list of questions, the answers to which revealed that we were both of Arab origin, with Muslim fathers, and were, of course, therefore Muslim.

He immediately pulled us into the rain and beckoned us down the street to a location he didn’t find the need to share with us. Happy to have learned I am from Colorado, he began ranting in Arabic about the Colorado River, which he had seen on TV.

“It is a big river, but not as big as the Nile or the Amazon. “ He continued as if he did not hear my repeated inquiry as to where we were going. This sort of event may seem strange, but very often we were ushered into a shop for tea or cookies, so we followed without much question.

After about 5 minutes of walking down the soaked and muddy rock road of old Jerusalem we found ourselves at another entrance to the courtyard, whose wonders we had just experienced less than 30 minutes before. At this point what was going on became clear.

This man, upon discovering our Muslim heritage had taken to escorting us on a pilgrimage to the Temple Mound/ Haram Al-Sharif, not realizing that we had already been into the site. “Muslims only” came the warding off by the soldier at the gate. The old man approached the IDF guards and began explaining to them in Arabic, that while we do not look Muslim, we were in fact, and that they needed to let us in. The conversation that ensued included 2 languages and zero communication.

“Shukran Amu, bes….” (Thank you, Uncle, but…) I said to the old man, but he continued to argue with the guards, one of which had begun demanding our passports from us to see if we were Muslim.

“Amu, we went to Al Aqsa already,” I paid great attention to make sure I got the past tense correctly in the Arabic sentence so if he didn’t understand that we had already gone, maybe the guards would.

“Bil Araby” (in Arabic) He demanded that I communicate with him in Arabic. I was speaking Arabic. And very simple Arabic even.

At this point the guard was getting impatient. Having acquired my companion’s passport and religious verification, he turned to me.

“Give me your passport.” The old man continued to speak to the other guard in Arabic asserting our religion and insisting our admittance.

“I don’t want in.”

“Give me your passport.”

At this point surrendering my passport seemed easier than arguing. Was it because I was a woman that they weren’t listening to me, or because none of us spoke fluently the other party’s native tongue? Here the guards who spoke Hebrew to each other were speaking Arabic with the old man, but English with us. I was speaking, or I guess attempting to speak, Arabic with the old man, and English with the guards. And the old man was speaking a bit of English and Arabic. Regardless of the words being spoken, none were being heard.

I handed over my passport, which did little to convince the guard that I was Muslim. Having quieted the guard for a moment, I returned my focus to the Old Man, but he wasn’t listening to me, but rather waiting for the verdict on my entry from the guard.

“Recite the Quran” the guard demanded looking up from my passport

“I DON’T WANT IN!”

“If you are Muslim recite the Quran”

“No”

“Yalla, Al Fatiha” He demanded me to recite the first Surah in the Quran.

“Yalla,” the Old man echoed the guards command.

“FINE!” I gave in and at a speed hastened by my frustration and bafflement, I recited the most famous verse of the Quran. The guard, satisfied, gestured toward the gate. And submitting to our fate, we followed the old man into the familiar courtyard. Once inside the old man welcomed us and pointed out Al Aqsa Mosque. Satisfied in his success at taking two Muslim girls on one of the most significant pilgrimages they can make, he left out the gate.

We stood in silence staring at each other before we broke out laughing. Here we were at one of the most worshipped places, where thousands of Christian pilgrims are denied entry every day, especially on Fridays such as today when no tourists are permitted in due to Muslim prayer. In fact, many Christians have covered their heads and tried lying to get in (hence the recitation test). We had been lead there, and despite our drawn out resistance, been forced into the sanctuary.We took one last walk around the grounds then exited through a different gate.

Later that day, as we wandered through the mystical old city, we unintentionally started down one of the many small roads that end at one of the gates into the too familiar mound.

“Closed. Muslims only” came the call like a broken record.

“We know.” we giggled as our response puzzled the guard. We turned around. “All roads lead to Al Aqsa” became our old city wanderings mantra.

All roads lead to Al Aqsa.