Category Archives: Palestine

Arrived

Yes, I’m here. Nablus, Palestine. Though, in the last few weeks the world has been pulled out from under me, I am learning to find my feet and make my way. During the last week, I have been hurt in a way that I have never been hurt before. So cruelly, I have been emotionally and mentally destroyed. I have felt, for the past week that I am a robot and have forced myself to participate in daily actions without being mentally present.

My initial promise with this blog was that I would be as honest as I know how to be. At this point, I am certain any blog post I could write would lack honesty. I am still processing what has taken place and am not sure that I am capable of being honest with myself, and accepting all that wasn’t, shouldn’t have been, but is. While I could recount the events that have taken place, these events, void of the emotions and personal events that took place at the same time, would lack completeness. And, as was apparently not clear in my last relationship, intentional omission is an absolute form of dishonesty.

 

Inshallah, teaching, learning, and living here will help me remember who I am, and then comprehend what has happened in a way that is honest to share.

 

Masalama, Hayati

 

The Adventure Continues… a decision made.

I had every intention to return to Ithaca this spring. Every intention. When the lady in the administrative office said “and just so you know if you decide to extend your leave of absence another semester it will be an additional $2…” I cut her off and said, “That won’t be happening.” Her response “You never know.”

If my life were written out as a book that would be seen as a cheap foreshadow, ungracefully included to add some depth to the writing and add a little reward to anyone who read it more than once (who would read a book about my life twice! Of course who would ever write a book about my life, cuz it sure as hell won’t be me.)

Yes, 2 weeks ago, the plan was secure. I had the sweetest set up waiting for me back at Ithaca. I had been rehired as an RA (this time would have possibly been in a bigger room!) and my best friend Chris had been hired in the same area as me, possibly even the same building. I was returning, so I had already planned out programs, even got so far as to create some of the funding request forms, because I was coming back. 14 days ago, I had excitedly picked out my choice committees for the Model United Nations team for the spring, because I would be returning to the team and taking part in this year’s Harvard conference

Perhaps my certainty was seen as a challenge to a higher being, or perhaps to myself. Maybe I was so sure that I was returning that I subconsciously needed to challenge myself. Or perhaps all these examples of confidence in my plan to return, (ie. Not listening when the lady was telling me the procedure for extending my leave of absence and getting a head start on my RA work) was simply a mask of confidence in the plan and an attempt to hide that I hadn’t completely sold myself on the return to Ithaca plan yet. Who knows?

Though to be fair, I am not sure that any other plan was really logically suggested. I mean, if you are in college, you are expected to finish college. That was what was expected of me, or at least what I thought was expected of me, and what I most adamantly expected of myself. Well, not too adamantly, since, in a matter of 2 weeks that expectation has been thrown out the window. 2 weeks ago, I would be going home in December. On the 25th I would be in Pueblo celebrating Christmas with the family, which was the plan, which is always the plan.

But this is not 2 weeks ago, this is now. And now, that plan of returning home, Christmas with the family, and being an RA this spring are drowning in a flood of cold irony.

I have chosen to go to Nablus to teach English for a semester. It scares me that the whole plan can be summed up in one sentence. And that the details would take up only a few additional lines. A plan so simply stated means extending my trip five months, missing the holiday season, not seeing my recently divorced parents for 9 months total.

But those are the negatives; the positives are much more colorful, much more demanding.

The positives are getting the opportunity to live in Palestine. Getting to be in the heart of the most emotional and pain filled battlefield on earth and knowing that everyday what I am witnessing is real. It means getting a chance to continue working on my Arabic in an Arabic speaking society, the most constructive way possible. It means getting to be a teacher if only for a semester, which, as silly as it sounds was always my childhood backup plan if singer, film actor, and Broadway star all failed. It means living in the same city as X for the first time in a year and seven months, which is really just the icing on the cake. Were the cake not there, I wouldn’t change my plans for the frosting. Those of you who know me know I wouldn’t throw away all my plans and follow any man around the world. But the fact that I will get to share this experience with such an amazing person makes the whole idea much more exciting and a lot less scary.

As I have mentioned before, I believe our travels (and perhaps life for that matter) are defined by the people we encounter and the mutual growth that can occur when a positive encounter takes place. I will get the opportunity to learn from young girls every day. To gain an understanding that allows me to, at least for a moment, view the world through a completely new set of eyes. Palestine is depicted in the media as a 2D image. There is death and conflict, religion and hate, but my excursions so far have lifted that flat image off the paper and added a great deal of dimension. It is time now to fill in the details of the design. There is so much to learn about Palestine, about the entire Arab world, and this is my opportunity to be in the center of it all!

In simple terms, I’m not ready to leave yet, so I’m not going to.

Al Khuds/ Jerusalem in Pictures

 

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Al Khuds/ Jerusalem

Al-Kuds (ألقدس)– Jerusalem

I spent the first three days of my Eid trip in Jerusalem, which is known to its Arab population and all Arabic speakers in general as Al-Kuds. I was traveling with my friend Kirsten who I went to high school with and is also studying in Jordan this semester. Both Kirsten and I had more fun than we had expected to have! I hope that I can find the words to describe this magical city, but I realize expressing lack of words really does nothing to help you understand how being in this holy city felt, so I will do my best to describe the experience and allow my pictures to help where words fail.

I’ll be honest, going into this trip I knew next to nothing about Jerusalem as a holy city. I knew the politics of Jerusalem and the role it has played in the conflict. I was aware that while Israel claims Jerusalem as its capital, no country recognizes it as such, including the US. This is why all the foreign Embassies are located in Tel Aviv. I also knew that under the proposed Two State Solution plan, Jerusalem would be an international city not belonging to either country. But, as a relatively unreligious person, I could never fully grasp why Al-Kuds had such a drastic role in the conflict until I visited. In order to enjoy the city, you need not to be spiritual yourself, but have the ability to appreciate the beauty of pure devotion and spirituality in others.

We spent almost our entire time in the old city, which is the most historical part of Jerusalem. We had some small excursions into West and East Jerusalem, but the old city is the heart of Al Kuds and we really found little reason to venture outside its walls. Entirely surrounded by stone walls dating back from the 1500s and surrounded by steep drop offs on three sides, the city was built as a fortress. In its most recent conflict, the wall sustained bullet holes during the Six Day War, the 1967 war between Israel and its Arab neighbors, Jordan, Syria, and Egypt.  Now days, the wall does little to keep armies out. What I find more interesting is what the walls hold in. Israel has fought most of its battle for land by expanding into Palestinian territories and in that way, the “Israeli State” as it sees itself is constantly changing shape, with the most conservative politicians hoping to one day posses all of Palestine. Being strictly defined by its walls, the Old City does not have this flexibility. While the inhabitants may change slightly, the cultural diversity, buildings, and other dynamics remain stagnant within the walls. This creates a sense of permanence that I have not found anywhere else in the area. Everything changes accept for the Old City. Of Course this hasn’t always been true. Following the 6 day War Israel did large amounts of renovations to fix parts of the Jewish area that were destroyed, but in the end of the day there have been Jewish, Muslim, and Christian populations living in the Old City for hundreds of years, and they have continued to coexist regardless of the hostilities felt outside these walls. Again, not to say that there are not hostilities within the city, but as long as the inhabitants want to continue to reside in the city, they must coexist. Within the city there are four quarters, Armenian, Jewish, Christian, and Muslim. While they are called quarters, the divide is in no way even. Muslims, for example are found living in all parts of the city and make up 70% of the inhabitants. The Armenian Quarter is the smallest of the four and Armenians make up the smallest percentage of the city. But, enough with the history lesson, on to the life lessons.

Like I said, I loved the city, so much though that X and I decided to return for a night later in the week. I’m just going to make this in the form of small vignettes. So here it goes.

The Church of the Holy Sepulcher:

It was Friday in the late evening and Kirsten and I were wandering almost aimlessly through the city as had become our way of traveling. With small twisty roads and alleyways that might lead nowhere and anywhere, it really is more fun to just explore and not try to follow the map that the tourist center had provided us with. I was also a tad bit resentful toward that map because it didn’t label Al-Aqsa Mosque, and showed only grass in the section where East Jerusalem is, but what do you expect from an Israeli issued map? So, we were wondering. All the sudden we found ourselves on Via Delarosa walking against a crowd of about 300 people, foreigners, locals, Armenian Christians, orthodox. The most diverse group walking in what first appeared to be an unorganized mob until they all began to recite words in Latin that it doesn’t take a Christian to recognize as verses from the Bible. Kirsten and I stepped out-of-the-way and watched without saying a word completely lost in the moment until the pilgrimage had passed. The event that had gathered Christians of all denominations was the weekly trip following the path Jesus walked carrying the cross leading to his crucifixion. While small groups perform this ritual several times a week, the Friday gathering was both the first and the largest walk that we witnessed. Men at the front of the line carry a large cross, and a man leads the group on the megaphone, explaining the events that took place at the 13 points labeled by plaques along the way. The trip ends at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, which is believed to be the place where Jesus was crucified.

While all denominations may join the traditional walk in peace, the possession of the Church has not been as tame a process. 5 different churches share possession of the holy site, and moving anything within the church or doing any renovation requires approval from all five churches. (There have been fights started by priests moving their chairs out of the sun!) Two Muslim families are in charge of the upkeep for the front entrance and unlocking and locking the doors everyday in order to avoid more conflict. While I would hope a place so spiritual would exist in peace, being inside it is easy to understand that it is worth fighting over.

Kirsten and I went to the church at night, which while unintentional, was the best decision we made. Throughout the Church there are large brass lights. The walls are decorated with large murals that were enhanced by the absence of sunlight and the glow from the hanging lanterns. Within the church there are different sections assigned to each of the denominations that own the church. In one part there was a very long line of people waiting to get communion. We were immediately accosted by 3 or 4 tour guides wanting to charge us to show us around. We declined and began wondering on our own. At one point we found ourselves talking to one of the tour guides. I have been on many tours over the past 3 months, but also during my time in Europe and the states as well. I have never met a tour guide with as much passion as this man. He explained that he had lived in the Old City his whole life, was a Christian, and could speak Arabic, Hebrew, and English. He led us to murals that we would have likely never saw, and explained the scene depicted as if he were sharing the information for the first time. His religious enthusiasm spilled out into his description. You could tell he was so engrained in his faith that his love had embraced the church in its entirety. As he spoke he was telling us about something he loved so dearly, that we couldn’t help but to start feeling that love as well. I wish every tour guide was like him.

Shops, Shops, and more Shops: AKA we make friends.

Walls of the main roads in the old city are covered with hundreds of small shops, most, catering to the tourists, selling a bunch of exotic looking items imported from India and China and branded with a made in Israel tag. Hundreds of scarves line the walls of each small cubical ranging from 5 Shekel ($1.25) to 80 Shekel ($21.00). The men working at each store lure the mostly European tourists into their shops with enticing calls. “This way to paradise!” “I give discount for beautiful girl!” “All store, 100% off!” Overcome by confusing conversion rates, aggressive sales techniques, and vacation bliss, the people buy all sorts of knick knacks that they probably never wanted. The only end to the stream of shops that look like they have been filled with the props from an Aladdin movie is in the Muslim quarter where the shops cater more to the local population, selling meat, clothes, house supplies, etc. As two girls wandering through the streets we were constantly prey to their sweet talk. Assuming that we couldn’t speak any Arabic, as is true of most tourists there; we had the privilege of hearing all the interesting things they were saying about us. An Arabic response caught each one off-guard. More than once we were invited in for tea and spent hours talking. One evening we headed to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher around 4, (what should have been a 10 minute walk) and didn’t get there until after 7 because we were constantly distracted by shop owners. Many of these people became good friends of ours, and I made a point of seeing them again when I returned to the city with X.

Other Holy Sites:

I would have loved to go and see Al Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock, but because of the Eid, the visiting hours were very restricted, and we were unable to get there during an open hour. I did get many good pictures from a distance.

Just outside of the old city is several more holy sites. While Kirsten and I only saw many of them in passing, X and I got to do some additional exploring. We went to the Mount of Olives, which has been used as burial ground by the Jews for centuries. On the Mount of Olives is the Tomb of Mary, the Church of Mary Magdalene, and an amazing viewpoint of the entire old city. Though this was quite the trek uphill, the view was magnificent!

I also got to see the Wailing Wall, known in the City as the Western Wall. Holy to the cities Jewish inhabitants, the wall is believed to be a direct connection to god where people will come to pray and slip notes into the walls cracks.

A free tour:

Up earlier than planned the first morning, Kirsten and I began searching for a good cup of coffee and instead found the Tourist Information Center. Hoping to find a city map, we entered, and instead found out about a free tour. Unable to turn down free, we found the tour guide, and along with about 30 others began our walk through the Old City. The theory behind the free tours is awesome. It turns out it is funded by an organization that offers free tours in many European cities as well because they believe that tourists should be shown the places they visit by a knowledgeable local regardless of their monetary situation. The flaw in this tour is that in order to give tours in Jerusalem, you must have a tour guide visa from the Israeli government: AKA you need to be fluent in the Israeli version of history and give tours how they want you to. In this way Israel controls much of the information accessed by visitors to the region.

The bias was so blatant, that it was almost funny. Instead of insulting or degrading the Muslims in the city, the tour guide simply ignored their existence. He didn’t mention Al Aqsa Mosque except when specifically mentioning it was “convenient” that the Muslims chose to make their holy place in the same place as the Jews. While we spent a long time in each of the other three quarters and received in-depth descriptions of what we were seeing, we arrived in the Muslim quarter (remember, this is by far the largest quarter) to hear “We are now in the Muslim Quarter, we don’t have time to stop and talk, so just keep your eyes open as we walk.” He, purposely I’m sure, stopped us to have lunch in the relatively small Jewish Quarter, and took us very close to the Wailing Wall for a long time in comparison to the time of the overall tour.

The perspective of history presented was also very interesting. He divided the history of Jerusalem into periods where it was under Jewish rule, and times where it was under foreign rule, concluding that it had always been a Jewish city.

The power dynamics in the Old City is interesting. Israel controls the information, as seen by this tour, but the Muslims control most of the Holy sites. The key to the Church is possessed by a Muslim Family; the Muslims have control of both the Dome of the Rock and Al Aqsa mosque. And while Israel controls a small portion of the Western wall, it is the entire Western wall that is holy to the Jewish people, but the Muslim quarter is built along much of the Western wall, restricting access to only a small portion of the entire wall.

Karoof Shatan and Eid Travels

Hello all and Eid Mubarak!

I am writing now from the Palestinian Authorities exit point on the Malik Hussein Border (known as Allenby in Israel) returning to Amman after a 10 day adventure in Palestine (11/11-11/20/2010) How I got to this point is a long story, so I figure I better start writing now before I get swamped down with school work upon my return. I left for the border this morning at 7:00 am and when I arrived I was given number 1460 and they were calling number 800. Now they are at 1000, so I could be here a while.

The Palestinian Authority departure building on the border and where I am now. In front you can see the counter that we are waiting to be called up to. Then, they will check our passports and send us on to the Israeli building in a bus.

This week was the Eid Al-Adha (عيد الأضحى) in the Arab world. There are two major holidays in the Muslim religion. The first, Eid Al-Futr ((عيد الفطر follows the Ramadan fasting month and took place very shortly after I had arrived. The Eid that took place over this last week is when Muslims sacrifice a lamb to honor  the sacrafice made by Ibrahim who was told by Allah to sacrifice his eldest son Ishmael. At the last-minute, Allah brought a lamb for sacrifice instead, allowing Ibrahim to keep his first son.

The spirit of the holidays is only comparable to, maybe, Christmas, but the community aspect of the events is unmatched by any holiday in the states. The night before Eid I had the privilege of being in 3 major cities in the West Bank. First we were in Al-Khelil (الخليل) known more famously by its Hebrew name, Hebron. Then we were in Ramallah (رام الله) for a short time before returning to Nablus( نابلس) . In each city we found the streets swarmed with thousands of people. The anticipation and excitement swelling from the crowd was inspiring. I was completely overwhelmed by the sound of loud music, honking horns, and energized chatter. It was impossible to move at times! Children were running around eating candy while their mothers rushed to get the last ingredients for the family’s Eid meal. Teenage boys were hanging out with their friends in large groups. Balloons filled the sky above the heads of the rambunctious mob in each new place we found ourselves.

This is the Lamb that I bought over the Eid. Check out those eyes!

The shops at this time sell stuffed animal lambs in honor of the Eid. Of course, I had to get one. My lamb makes a sadistically MMMMMMAAAAAAAAAAA sound whenever it is touched (and sometimes when it is not touched which is creepy). Its eyes light up a bright green. I named it, appropriately Karoof Shaitan, (خروف الشيطان) or Devil Sheep in English.

Now we are at 1100- It’s a good thing they are calling 100 people at a time. I am quite excited though, I got a large bag of gummy worms at the small shop on the border! Because gummy candies typically have gelatin, it is very hard to find gummy worms in Jordan. These are processed in Turkey and have Beef Gelatin.

Getting to Al-Kuds (Jerusalem)

We arrived in Jerusalem at 11:30 pm. We had taken a bus from the border, at which I was not exempted from my usual fun. (My first trip across the border) However, I would like to believe I am getting smarter. We arrived at the border only a few hours before it closed. Then, Israel shut the border down for about 2 hours, so we spent our time talking with the Jordanian tourist police in their office, who were more than hospitable and insisted that we wait for the border to open in their office and continued to bring us tea. “I insist, sit here. I will send someone to check on when the bus is coming… I insist, have a drink….” Etc. By the time we arrived at the Israeli side, the border was about to close and they didn’t have long to interrogate me. Kirsten went up to the counter first. I figured there was no need for her to be hassled because she was traveling with me. After giving our Hostel’s address, a return date, and answering a snarky inquiry after she had requested to not have her passport stamped (“I can stamp a separate paper, but why?” the soldier asked with a sassy attitude that only an 18-year-old child can muster.) Kirsten was let through. My trip to the counter included the same exact questions, with the same exact answers, but ended with a “You are going to have to sit down and wait. Fill this out.” She handed me a sheet (my favorite souvenir from the trip) that required me to write the answers to all the questions I had grown accustomed to answering in person. Name, father’s name, place of birth, countries visited, etc. However, by the time I had filled out the paper, the border was closed, and the guard returned with my passport with a stamp on a separate paper. After 3 trips in and out my passport is still clean of any evidence that I had ever entered into the lands of the occupier or the occupied.

1200- Getting closer. Though after we leave this building we will likely spend hours on a bus…

After we were let in, we took a bus to Jerusalem, and arrived at our hostel at about 12:00 am. We spent the next 3 days in Jerusalem, and then Kirsten and I went our separate way. She boarded a service that took her back to the border, and I continued on to Nablus, via a bus to Ramallah. In Ramallah I found a Service Taxi going to Nablus. I arrived in Nablus at 1:00 pm. X and all his coworkers were still in school, so I set all my stuff in front of the gate leading to his house, unsure of how I was going to get through so I didn’t have to spend the next few hours sitting on the street. I ended up jumping the wall and then opening the gate from the inside to bring my stuff in.

The next day we went to Hebron and Ramallah. After that we decided to take an overnight trip to Al-Kuds (Jerusalem). I plan to write about each of these in separate posts so I can include enough information and pictures.

1300- Moving faster, I probably should put my computer away now. More soon!

-Sara


Note: After we were let passed this point, we were put on the last bus across the border and the rest of my crossing went quickly and without problems.


Pictures of Nablus

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How I met my Neighbors? Trip 2 to Nablus

How I met my Neighbors? Trip 2 to Nablus

This past weekend I went on my second trip to the West Bank. I arrived at the Malik Hussein Bridge at 10:30 in the morning after taking a service taxi from downtown Amman to the border (8 JD). I was excited to see that it was a quiet day and there were significantly less people around than over the Yom Kippur weekend. Having got my Jordanian Residency, passing through the Jordanian side was as easy as can be, with several bored young men, more than willing to help. At this border it is widely known that the Jordanian officials refuse to stamp passports and as a policy always issue a separate paper with a stamp. Within the hour I was on a bus headed over the bridge and to the Israeli crossing. Two tall Israeli flags separate the Palestinian lands flying a green, red, black, and white flag, from the Jordanian jurisdiction marked by an almost identical flag, different only by a small white star.

I braced myself for what I thought would be another painful crossing. This time I had my story down. I had printed off a map to a hostel in Jerusalem, and even made up a fake half Jewish friend who was studying in Spain and coming to meet me for a weekend of Christmas shopping and spa visits. There were some interesting differences between this border and the Sheik Hussein border that I had passed through the time before. The half dozen booths labeled passport control were run by IDF soldiers, but the people handling the bags, running the security machines, and guiding the people through the various steps to entrance were all Arabs. I don’t mean they looked like Arabs, or they spoke Arabic, no, they WERE Arabs. I don’t know how to explain this. I’m not sure if it is IDF strategy. Since this is not an international border, most people passing through are Palestinians or Jordanians. Perhaps they hire Arabs for this job because they need people to speak Arabic, or perhaps it is because they believe that Arabs are more likely to obey other Arabs without question. I may be reading too much into this, but I just found it really strange. My previous experience had been a border crossing filled entirely with Israeli Nationals, where the idea of speaking Arabic of being Arab made you suspect. Now, I was being directed through the Israeli point of the border entirely in Arabic. Also, all the IDF soldiers at this border spoke Arabic extremely well. It shocked me at first, but then I realized that it was logical that some Israelis would learn Arabic.

I reached the front of the line and passed my passport to the young girl behind a glass barrier. The person before me had been asked the only too familiar questions. “What is the purpose of your visit?” “Are you going to the West Bank?” ”How long will you be here for?” In my head I had rehearsed my answers to these expected questions. The girl looked at my passport for what felt like a year. Then came my relief.

“You are one year older than me!” She said.

“You have the same birthday?”

“Yes.”

YES! Talk about luck!

She asked me where I was going and if I was going into the West Bank.

“No.” Of course I am.

Then she asked “Do you mind if I stamp your passport?” I found it interesting that she asked each person this, instead of just assuming it was ok unless they asked otherwise.

“I would rather you didn’t, I’m a student, and I want to be able to travel elsewhere.”

There was a moment where you could tell she was deciding if this was valid reasoning or cause for suspicion. Finally she said,

“Ok, I need you to fill this out.”

And after I answered some basic questions I was through with no problem. Amazed by the simplicity of my entrance, I proceeded through and boarded a bus to Jericho. I learned in one of my classes that Yasser Arafat had proposed the “Jericho first” plan during the peace talks leading up to the Oslo Accords. The Israeli representatives had suggested the “Gaza first” plan suggesting that the first step should be giving the Palestinian Authority the Gaza Strip only. Arafat feared he was being pushed out of the West Bank and requested the small, insignificant town of Jericho in addition to the Gaza strip as a symbol of the Palestinian claim on the entire West bank.  It was therefore one of the first cities to be under Palestinian Authority control. Once in Jericho there are services lined up going to every major city in the West Bank. As Arafat saw Jericho as his key into the West Bank, it has remained a key transportation hub, making the West Bank easily accessible to the thousands of people who pass through on their way to other West Bank cities.

From there I got in a Service headed to Nablus (45 shekels) and sat patiently working on my sewing for 20 minutes until the car finally left. I arrived in Nablus way earlier than I thought I would.

The next day was a school day, and I was excited for my opportunity to go to the school with my boyfriend and meet his students. He teaches at a school with kids from 1st grade up to 6th grade. We arrived early in the morning before any students were there. Standing out in the courtyard area the students began to arrive. I spent a while talking to some girls in Araglish. Children are the best people to practice speaking with. They don’t hesitate to correct you and they use simple sentence structures and vocabulary, so they were easy to understand. I was a curious specimen for sure. They were asking a million questions about me. It is hard to explain that I am from Colorado, go to school in New York, study in Amman, am visiting Nablus, and my dad is from Libya, especially when my language skills are so limited.  That is a lot of different places to keep straight!

My day was filled with watching classes, talking to many different children, and even playing a game of Kurat Al Kudm (soccer  (قرة القدم .Talk about a humbling experience, being completely schooled by 8 and 9 year olds at a sport! It was so much fun though.

That night I went to a public high school where some of the English teachers do an English and Sports program where they both teach English and play various sports with the kids. This was a special occasion. The English teachers were playing a game of soccer against the best players selected from the program. I arrived with my boyfriend and was immediately concerned that this was going to be an extremely uncomfortable situation. The private school was in a “rougher” part of town and I was the only girl in the courtyard. It was me, the English teachers, and about fifty High School boys. I sat alone away from the group and began to watch the game.

As I watched, I noticed every few minutes the boys in the stands slowly were moving closer to me. Before I knew it there were seven or eight sitting directly behind me. They were giggling and joking with each other just like American boys their age. I kept my eyes on the game, but slowly started listening into the conversation. Big surprise, they were talking about me. I’m sure their initial assumption was that I didn’t speak any Arabic. As I listened I picked out the familiar words used in talking about a girl. Gazelle, camel. Believe it or not these are compliments. They were trying to work up the courage to say something to me. Finally a brave boy asked me what my name was. I responded in Arabic. Well, that confused them. I spent the rest of the game speaking with these boys. I laughed with them as they cheered on their favorite teacher and asked them questions about the game and their school. They of course had as many questions for me as I had for them. The same “where are you from? Where did you learn Arabic?” that I had been asked that morning, but also some newer questions. “Are you married?” I’m used to this question from taxi drivers really meaning “Do you want to marry me so I can get residency in your country?” But the intent of this question was different. I think they were trying to work out the situation I was in within the context of their culture. There were no female English teachers there, so I must have been there watching one of the men. And I don’t live in Nablus or have any family there, so who was I visiting. A male? And a woman would not travel to visit a man she wasn’t married to. So it really was a logical question. At this point hardly anyone was watching the game, in which the mostly outplayed teachers were using the advantage of also being the referees to keep the score to a less humiliating level.

They asked if they could have my name to look me up on Facebook. Thinking this was a harmless request, I wrote my first and last name out in a notebook they had handed me. At this point there was a crowd of 20 or so boys all around me. As soon as I had finished writing it, they all reached for the page, resulting in a torn notebook and several people shouting trying to get a hold of my name. I was uncomfortable with this excessive attention, but I was enjoying our discussion and learning from these boys. I took another paper and wrote out my name about ten times. I then gave the notebook to one of the older boys to distribute them. Of course, I returned home to find several Facebook requests from my new friends. While I realize being Facebook friends with these people who I have only met as a rambunctious mob on one occasion is the most artificial form of friendship out there, it is satisfying to have a way to maintain a connection with these young boys who are only 6 or 7 years behind where I am in my life, yet are living in such different circumstances. Being able to look at their pictures and send them messages allowed me to see each one on a more individual basis. I related with them much easier than the younger children I had met at the school earlier that day.

After the game I walked through the school very quickly. This high school is one of many funded by the United Nations. A peek into a classroom showed dirty floors and upturned desks. I tried to picture myself sitting in one of those classrooms for several hours every day and trying to learn. I thought about the public school that I had visited in Amman less than 100 miles from where I stood. The classes were clean, the desks upright. The whole ambiance of this place was off.

On Sunday (a day later than planned) I returned to the border to cross back to Amman. This time there were few people there, but I was still stuck waiting in the crossing bus for 2 hours. We aren’t sure what the problem was exactly, all we were told was that there were some problems at the crossing ahead of us. After that I arrived in the Israeli building just in time for the electricity to go out, which left me waiting for another hour. Nablus is 110 km (68 miles) from Amman. This is about the same distance as Castle Rock to Boulder, a fun day trip I have made many times. Yet at least 3 hours of border crossing, three separate passport checks, three bag scanners and security screenings alienate these two neighbors from each other.  As long as I reside in Amman these people are my neighbors, even if it took me hours to get to their town.

This is a mind-blowing perspective. I spent several hours trying to cross a border that is a shorter distance than from my house to my school. I realize that this is both a strategy and a result of poor cooperation between the three entities at the border. The bags that were initially scanned by Jordan must be rescanned by Israel, the bus sent off by the Palestinian Authority must be searched by the Israelis. I am not intending this to sound accusatory, as all three (the PA, Jordan, and Israel ) participate in this redundant bureaucracy, but rather as an observation.

It is, however, also strategy. As mentioned before, most of the people passing through this border are Palestinians and Jordanians. It is in Israel’s best interest to limit the crossing of these people over the border as much as possible. Freedom of mobility for the Palestinians means less control over the population for Israel. By making the crossing time consuming and difficult, people are going to cross the border less often.

As I finally reached the Jordanian side of the border two men asked me where in Amman I was going, to see if it would be logical for us to share a taxi.

“Sharra Mecca,” (Mecca Street) I told them.

“Where on Sharra Mecca” he asked, “that is where I live as well.”

Well it turns out that they live on the same exact street as me in the building across the street, and they know my landlord. Talk about a small world, with more than 3 million people in Amman, what are the odds that I would meet my neighbors at the border crossing. We got to our street, and they invited me into their house for barbeque chicken. It was a delicious meal and I was so happy to meet people from my area of town.

I had made it home, safe, yet not satisfied. My first time in Nablus I hadn’t got to meet many people from the city. Now that I had met many people, many children, I’m not sure how to interpret my emotions. Nablus, and the West Bank as a whole, are living breathing places. This isn’t just the battle ground of a sixty year old war, but the home of 6 year olds. Like I said, I’m not sure what emotion I felt being there. Was it pity, and if so, why? Was it anger. Well I know there was anger, but I don’t think that was all of it.