Category Archives: Travel

The Victims

In an article I wrote recently for the annual Newsletter for the International Club at our school, I recalled the events of my first border crossing from Amman to Nablus across the Sheik Hussein Bridge this past October.

I concluded with the following:

“This story is neither the calmest nor the most provoking one I could share. Aadi, عادي , is the Arabic word used for “normal” or “standard.”

When a sound bomb, an empty explosive that creates a massive boom that is used as a fear tactic by Israeli military, went off during class one of my girls said to me “Aadi”.

When we asked a local boy if we could spray-paint the massive concrete wall that divides the Arab lands from those currently controlled by Israel, including some settlements outside of the Green line, he said Aadi.

My experience on the border that day was about the same as each other time I crossed, and when my other friends with Arab names and heritages tried to cross. This crossing was Aadi.

I am not trying to demonize any party in this conflict, but simply pose the question: what are the repercussions for any society, when constant presence of a military becomes Aadi, the norm? A 18 year old girl with an M4 Assault rifle: Aadi, Roads blocked by equally young boys with even more ammunition: Aadi. Fighter jets flying overhead in formation: Aadi.

Occupation has become so ingrained in every life here, that the children don’t wince at the presence of a gun or look at the planes in the sky.”

Since pressing send on the email with my article, I had pushed this thought to the back of my mind, yet today my house mates and I had a heart-twisting reminder of the violent culture that is so pervasive in Nablus society.

“We have a dog” he said as he awoke me from my nap.

Well, similar words had been said multiple times in this household.

“We have frogs” because a kid at school needs us to take care of them.

“We have a bunny,” correction- “We have 2 bunnies.” When the kids at the private school my roommates works at had taken a field trip to Jericho, been permitted to purchase rabbits, then returned them to school at the insistence of less than thrilled parents.

Yet, the announcement of a dog was accompanied by a serene facial expression, and a tone that implied a story worth hearing.

His ears had become healed over stubs on the top of his head, surgically removed by a knife and a human hand. His tail had reached the same fate, only more recently, so its weak body had not yet patched over this wicked damage. His eyes showed resignation and terror. He displayed no will to fight, no bark, growl, or showing of the teeth, even as six humans, (no different from those who had caused him this pain) sat watching him cower in silence.

Immediately, I felt rage at the street kids who would throw rocks at, pee on, and cut up a living thing. While too often people cite the Quran for permitting violence, everything I had read in the Quran, been taught in Sunday school and from my dad so strongly condemned this senseless violence. Yes, according to the Quran animals are on earth for humans to use, yet halal meat, meat butchered according to religious expectations, must include the animal being killed mercifully, without seeing the blade, and to be treated humanely up to being butchered. Surely, the treatment this dog had endured should be shunned by a conservative Muslim community. Then my concluding question from the article I wrote came into my mind.

I began to imagine the kind of life a child must have had to cut the ear off a dog. Of course, I will never know the exact life of that child, but it isn’t so hard to speculate. Most street shabab are around 13 years old. When they were about 4 years old these children experienced an intifada that I can only hope most people live their entire lives without witnessing. Israel occupied the city invading homes. Fatah, the prevalent political party in Nablus developed street militias consisting of young Palestinian men. These militias meekly opposed the Israeli forces. The members of those gangs, many of which finished the intifada in a cell or a grave, were these children’s fathers and brothers. After the physical presence of Israeli militants in the city subsided, leaving more than 500 dead and 3,000 wounded in a city the size of Pueblo, it still remained almost impossible to travel to the city due to road closure. Until recent years it was impossible to drive into the city, and people entering would have to cross a road barrier to board a bus or another car. This suffocated the already war-injured economy of Nablus, that had once dominated the Palestinian market with Olive Oil and Olive Oil Soap.

The dog was found in the old city, one of the poorest areas of town. Martyr posters line the walls with young faces who have died in opposition to the occupation. Faces from 63 years ago, 44 years ago, 10 years ago, last week. New posters are plastered over the old.

Many mornings Ben, or as you know him, Writhnar the Destroyer of Worlds, would announce to those gathered at the kitchen table, the news he had read from his Nablus search in Google news.

“Another Nabulsi was killed outside Nablus last night by settlers.” Like a broken record his words were too often the same. Another young man killed.

Drink tea at a friend’s house, learn of his jail time. Call on a neighbor; learn of how their house had been invaded by the IDF to use as a lookout point. Men born into, raised, and dying in war-torn streets, taught to fight, as a brother, father, friend, enemy….falls.

Should it be surprising then that these men hit their wives and their kids? No, it isn’t because the Quran says you can beat your wife (only with light force that doesn’t leave a mark according to most translations.) Young boys showing up to school with bruises on their bodies. Is it from their father? Or another street boy who was hit by his father?

Just yesterday a boy pulled a knife on one of our female teachers who worked in one of the refugee camps. Earlier in the semester, a student pulled a knife on another student for insulting his mom.

Though, as I focus too hard on the traces of violence, I fear I am demonizing this deep-rooted and astonishing culture. Nabulsi people are some of the most hospitable and morally ground people I have ever met. Aside from being deeply rooted in their faith, (which I view as a testament to their morality, yet others argue explicates the violence) the people here have a strong sense of community and family, work hard in school and show genuine interest in the wellbeing of strangers. Violence is in fact the break from the norm that stands out like an infectious disease-spreading over its victim. It is a foreign specimen intoxicating the local breed, and its victims are everywhere, including curled up in what was once a rabbit hutch on our porch.

 

http://www.euronablus.eu/eunab/index.php?option=com_content&view=section&layout=blog&id=8&Itemid=70

THIS is cultural exchange!- Guest post by Writhnar, destroyer of worlds.

***Caution!!! This post goes there. Gramma, PLEASE STOP READING NOW! I try to keep all adult topics to a minimum, but this gorgeously crafted (and highly fictional) piece was too brilliant and hilarious for censorship. Not to mention, I have heard Ben’s crazy stories and I know he would use all methods of rioting, boycotting, etc. to oppose my censorship if I tried to do so. Enjoy this piece but take it lightly.***

“Suck my dick”. Never had the words been spat with such vitriolic affection. But as Sara used those 3 most eloquent lexical items in response to some simple request it was clear that no English Language sentence would ever sum up her character, personality and life philosophy with such aplomb. It was also clear that my guest column on her blog had been given the clearance tobe rated 18. Which is probably referred to as “Rated R” in that strange backwater of a cultural wasteland that our emotionally stunted cousins from across the pond insist on calling home.

Allow me to backtrack for a second. “Guest column?” I hear you cry en masse “Didn’t we already have to put up with one of these from some cynically bitter and sarcastic Canadian?” Well, yes, you did. And now you are to be treated to a second one written, appropriately enough, by some cynically bitter and sarcastic Brit. Eventually, perhaps, we’ll gather a collection of narcissistic, bitter young men from every country in the world to infect these pages with their barely concealed self-loathing and anger. A United Nations, if you will, of sneering sarcasm and poisonous prose.

My name is Ben, I am twenty six years old and I teach with Sara in Nablus, Palestine. But that sounds so mundane, so for the purposes of the next few hundred words or so let’s pretend that my name is, in fact, “Writhnar, destroyer of worlds”, that only three people know my real age and two of them were killed in mysterious circumstances involving a herd of bison and a Satanic cult, and that Sara and I met when I was busy saving hundreds of orphans from a burning building while she stripped to her underwear in an effort to seduce me, ignoring the plight of the burnt and smoke-coughing children I was in the process of rescuing.

Skip to today, just a few hours ago. There I sit, perusing that modern oracle of social activity, the almighty facebook, when it becomes apparent through Sara’s own shameless self promotion of her blog that Adem has been allowed to write and publish a guest column. Fury fills my normally placid heart and I begin to demand answers. Why has Adem got a guest blog? Why is Adem special? Is it because he’s Canadian? What makes Canadians special? Is it the maple syrup and moose sex? I bet it’s the maple syrup and moose sex, isn’t it Sara? If I eat sauce from a leaf and indulge in bestiality do I get special treatment? I think I spotted a lemon tree and a stray cat outside, will that do?

At this point Sara agrees to let me become the second guest column writer on her beloved blog. Ostensibly on the promise that I’ll stop referring to moose sex but secretly because she respects me as a writer, values my opinion and can’t stop thinking about that magical day she set fire to an orphanage in order to make my acquaintance.

So here I am, searching for a topic. I have already dismissed the idea of a long and detailed post on Manchester United’s amazing comeback against West Ham yesterday in an enthralling Premier League clash that saw Wayne Rooney rediscover the form that makes him one of the most lethal strikers in the world. Partly because I begin to bore even myself when I discuss football at such length but mostly because I’m assuming Sara’s readership is mostly made up of North Americans upon whom such a post would be wasted as they struggled to identify the word “football” as referring to a game played largely with one’s feet. And without such a mess of padding and helmets that one might as well stick a big group of athletes in padded cells, throw in an oddly shaped ball,
televise it (with an advertising break any time someone inhales, exhales or blinks) and call it “sport”.

So in order to play to the audience Sara had so delightfully offered me I thought I would need to look closer to home. A mutual interest or shared fascination between me and you, the reader. Suddenly the spotlight turned from the outside world to the apartment in the West Bank in which I currently reside. It focused a little, its narrow beam illuminating one individual in particular. Sara would be blinded by such an intense and brilliant light if she wasn’t, in this metaphor, bound to a chair, gagged, blindfolded and utterly terrified by the unwieldy chaos I may be about to bring to her blog.

My first thought was of developing a Freudian analysis of Sara’s facebook page, from the distinctly phallic connotations of the way she’s “grabbing wood” in her profile picture onwards, but it seems a cheap jibe and although I know Sara loves the way we ridicule each other on a daily basis, I think she’d just be offended if my insults got that lazy. Next I wondered if we should, collectively,perhaps, psychoanalyse Sara’s ridiculous compulsion to swear. I mean, I’m no silver fucking tongued angel of innocence myself but this girl takes the biscuit. Or cookie, for my American friends. Casual swearing is one thing, I might even argue that the sparse and well deployed use of a cuss word can add infinitely more emphasis to one’s speech than its omission, but addressing a class full of Palestinian schoolchildren with the phrase “Whaddup, mother-bitches, are we gonna fuck shit up today or whaaaaat?” goes a little far for my liking. Regardless, I decided that affliction was one for her counsellor, and the authorities, to deal with and possibly not appropriate content for an online publication that might later be used against her in a potential lawsuit by some disturbed child’s understandably shaken parents.

So instead I find myself perusing her creations on this typically twenty first century indulgence, aweblog, in order to find inspiration. I’m immediately struck by the way her mastery of the language weaves its way through carefully constructed passages and intelligently thought out arguments. I’m then struck by how little she has chosen to write about her time here and the topic of my blog is chosen.

I don’t know if it’s born of laziness or perhaps a horribly frustrating case of writer’s block that has led to such a lack of updates. If I’m honest, dear reader, I must confess that I believe it’s a symptom of nothing more than her inherent contempt and disrespect for you, her readership, on a very personal and individual level. Clearly you are blessed to be reading the words of a columnist who actually cares for each and every one of you, like a litter of lost puppies found, scared, alone and neglected in a dark corner of cyberspace. Don’t worry, everything’s ok now, Ben is here to care for you my loveable, if shambolic (and possibly diseased) pack of mutts.

So Sara’s time in Palestine will now be told as it should be, through the eyes of someone who lived it with her, who rode the rollercoaster alongside her, comforting each other at the lowest lows and hiding the crack pipe from each other when everything got a little too high. Here’s the story the world should know, the one that will be told for generations, though possibly only as a cautionary tale of warning against the dangers of “Perfect”, the cheapest brand of vodka in Palestine. Here is Sara’s story:

Sara came to Palestine on a chariot of heartbreak and betrayal that would leave even Judas Iscariot claiming she’d been harshly done by and his mate Jesus asserting that she should forget all this “other cheek” crap and wreak some decidedly violent revenge. Her emotional plight was one that would have broken a different person, far away from home and confused by the strange accent of a portly British man who she had been forced to share an apartment with.

But where some would have cracked, Sara strode on. An inner strength, obtuse stubbornness and insistence on playing a particular Helen Reddy song on repeat to the point where even a note of that tune is enough to make an entire apartment in Nablus threaten to kill the person playing it, refused to let her quit. A teacher she had planned to be, and an amazing one she would become. Her teaching skills were not limited to the classroom, though. She became the Arabic reference to all the plodding ignorant souls who trod heavily into her life, unable to even order a cup of tea in thecorrect language. She even managed to educate me, a self confessed theatre snob, on the wonders of musical theatre. Never before had I realised the acronym “OBC” referred to anything other than countries such as the USA and Palestine, I simply thought she was talking about “Old British Colonies”.

She became a student, too. Improving her own Arabic both at a grammatical level and, more importantly, by dedicating an entire page of her notebook to some of the most obscene and offensive insults the language has to offer. I had never thought of it before, but I’m proud to know somebody who is familiar with the Arabic for “I’m going to rip your leg off and shove it up your ass”. In fact, I think it’s an association my life was lacking until this point. She also took up guitar lessons, forcing herself to attend at the end of long days when the most effort I could make was to open another bottle of illicitly procured wine in this dry city.

There have been losses along the way. We still mourn our beloved pet rabbits, Backflip andVelveteen, who died in mysterious circumstances. I’m not suggesting foul play at all, but let’s just say that in the absence of a reliable autopsy we can only assume some cold hearted Coloradan murdered them in their sleep.

She has travelled, danced, joked and imbibed her way around the West Bank and helped to create a sanctuary of a kitchen area where no subject is too taboo and no accidental innuendo is allowed to go unnoticed. She has acquired a coffee machine where some thought the task impossible and she has retained a sense of fearless adventure that will doubtless one day see her killed by a sting ray while filming for a new television show in Australian waters.

So, for fear of allowing this to turn into some hippy love fest that destroys my own deliberately crafted facade of detached cool, I shall simply sum up by saying that Sara has proved herself to be a good housemate and a wonderful friend. Vomit, clear throat, brush teeth, get back to the insults.

What will come in the next month is an even more exciting thought than the memories of the previous two. Trips have been planned, ideas discussed and, as always, if we can rely on nothingelse we can rely on the fact that Sara will drag the rest of our ragged bunch into some adventure or other. She’ll probably get us lost, possibly get us killed and undoubtedly get us drunk but we’ll all come out of it (potentially) with a story to tell. And if we do manage to survive through some odd combination of good fortune and the pity other people may take on us, I’d like to come back to report on such happenings here on Sara’s blog, if she’ll allow me another go.

We Want You!

Hello to the 60 or so people who read Ms.Fitouri’s blog. I am one of her colleagues at Teach for Palestine and when I joked with her about giving me a guest column I never expected I’d have to do it. Now I’m stuck writing this column on her laptop with the s key that sticks. I’ll just treat this column like I did my university work, wait until the day of the deadline and make something up.

How did I become a teacher in Palestine you ask? Well great question let’s run with that. When I was in university there would always be job fairs at the student centre. The usual business companies and what not would try to convince you why accounting was fun or how marketing was a creative process where you picked an old top 40 song to sell hotel rooms. The two that promised travel with little requirements were the military and teaching English abroad.

While Canada’s military might is not on the level of the USA’s juggernaut it still exists. They promised positions in exotic locales like Fort McMurray or Afghanistan and if I reached the rank of captain I may even get to use one of the 10 guns my armed forces own. The only problem with making this choice was the whole following orders thing. Maybe if there was a war in an interesting place I’d of signed up.

Teaching abroad stood out for me because I could go interesting places where I didn’t know the native language and demand that youth and adults alike speak English. Most places just wanted me to be a native speaker and have a degree not really carrying about much else. It was like being an imperialist or signing up for Vietnam. They needed bodies, especially in South East Asia, and if I could string together a sentence with an America, Canadian, Australian, or British accent I was a candidate. Well game on.

I’d encountered ESL teachers before in Beijing when I was there for a semester abroad. They complained about their students, talked politics, and when toasting all used different languages. The few I hanged around with knew all the best places to eat and bizarre vacation spots. Nothing compares to going to a zoo and feeding a tiger a live goat. The life they lived seemed fast and reckless, which I was used to, but done in a foreign setting, which made it seem hilarious. A night out involved; translating strange texts, eating insects, drinking Chinese moonshine, arguing with a butcher about the price of dog meat, entering karaoke competitions and having Nigerians offer you strange powders. Definitely something I could get used to.

Teaching in Palestine isn’t like teaching in Beijing. We do complain about are students and talk politics, but none of the crazy Chinese antics are found here. I’ve started looking at jobs in Beijing. I also might try Latin America or Africa after this.
I think that has killed enough space to make Sara happy. She isn’t around right now so I can’t ask. Let’s just assume it is. The Blue Jays won yesterday 13-3 against the Minnesota Twins which was awesome. Go Jays.

Until it Falls

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I am Wise, but It’s Wisdom Born of Pain

1 year and 364 days after he and I started dating, he broke up with me. 3 days before I travelled across the world to Nablus, Palestine, with the naïve dream of spending a whole 3 months with him after what was, for me at least, the most painful year and seven months living apart, he decides he doesn’t want me anymore. I was destroyed. My towers were crumbling down. Then, as the plot in my love story thickens, I find out that while I was spending my time wishing we were together, he had already gotten over me and by the time he broke up with me, I had been replaced. Yes, replaced.  In a plot so cruel that only reality could compose it, she has the same name as me, is full Arab, and one of my new coworkers. (At the time he informed me of this, I was living in the same house as her) Yes, my life had turned overnight into a living nightmare. For days it seemed the only positive thing that could come of my wretched state was that someday I could sell my story to become a Hollywood film, or at least a lifetime movie.

A day shy of 2 years. Too late to not get on the plane. Sara doesn’t quit even after being discarded like a day old newspaper.  I thought I was too special to be replaced. Well, I was wrecked. Am wrecked.

Cruelty is augmented when its source claims to love you, and stings for longer when that love is reciprocated.

As important as a love, he had become a best friend.

Sanity in the Most Insane Form

I spent an entire week sleeping and crying. Here I was in a new place, a place just a week earlier he had promised we would experience together, and I couldn’t get out of bed. I was nauseous at the smell of food and completely alone. How that week did not include me drinking myself to death or conclude with me on a plane headed to Ithaca, NY will forever be a testament to my inner strength.

Then the new teachers arrived. As they pulled up in the car I was thankful for the five distractions that lugged their bags into the house. Our clan of teachers is the least homogenous group I have ever had the privilege to be a part of. We were all different colors, sizes, and ages, have drastically different senses of humor, tastes in music, and experiences, yet, so far at least, we all seem to fit together like a puzzle.

I bonded with my new friends using the fear of future regret as motivation to begin building friendships and for the first time, I smiled. I laughed. For hours at a time I hid the tears. My new roommate had the best attitude and could rarely be seen without a smile on her face. The new boys were crazy exciting and amazingly supportive. But still I could barely eat, I had no focus, and I felt like the pieces of garbage that litter each Nablus street.

Struggling from malnourishment and a substantial decrease in desire, my mind struggled to comprehend the labyrinth I had somehow gotten myself into.  Who was I? Why had I trusted another person so much that his violating that trust (at an explosive magnitude) could so utterly destroy me? How could anyone that I loved so much, and would have done anything for, be so selfish?

My new friends were a distraction and offered shoulders to cry on, gentle words, and encouragement. With nights of sacrilegious conversations in the kitchen, newly created inside jokes, and always a hot pot of tea being made, there was the perfect amount of insanity to divert me from going insane.

A Rational Mind

I walked out of bed one morning to find a new face in our living room. Every now and then you meet someone and immediately know that this is someone you will miss once they were gone. Linda was one of those, and in fact she was gone quite soon as she was only volunteering with TFP for one week. A beautiful combination of a Turkish mother and Palestinian Father, Linda holds herself with pride. And, while many would point to her elaborately styled Hijab as evidence of weakness and submission, she is one of the strongest girls I have ever met. Though, she did suggest I don’t put my private life on the internet, an ignored suggestion perhaps soon regretted, I have to share just one more personal story to illustrate how Linda worked her magic.

I must backtrack to Christmas.

The Story of the Kindle

As X always loved to read, he was disappointed that he wasn’t able to get many books in Nablus.  I realized at this point that a Kindle would be the perfect Christmas present for him, since he would be away for a full year. The problem was, since I was in Amman, there were no Kindles to be found. I was determined, so I contacted his sister about splitting the costs. Then I asked my mother to please order a Kindle from Best Buy ($200) then mail it to me ($50). My mother happily helped because she realized it was important to me. Then I had to spend 5 hours hassling to get it out of Jordanian Customs and paid $40 in taxes. This entire process had already taken 2 months arrangements, a lot of time, and money, but it was important to me because I knew he would love it when I gave it to him on our trip to the Dead Sea scheduled for the weekend before I returned home to the US. But then, he cancelled the trip the week of, and simply suggested that I leave whatever my present was for him in Colorado. Ouch. Incredibly disappointed, I tried hard to be the understanding girlfriend and kept trying, I asked a friend of mine who was going to the West Bank for Christmas if she would carry it across the border and deliver it for me along with some other goodies I’d hoped would make him smile. Here I had spent a lot of money, enlisted my mother and a friend’s help and managed to get a Kindle to him in the fucking occupied territories. But I wanted to because I loved him.

Christmas came and went. I kept wondering what he was going to do for me. I anticipated a package in the mail. Perhaps he would give it to me once I arrived in Nablus.

Nothing.

Next day, still nothing.

Nothing.

Nothing.

With each passing conversation, each passing day, Christmas disappeared further into the past yet he gave no mention of any gift for me, though he did thank me for his Kindle.

It wasn’t until a month later he broke up with me, yet he had blown off Christmas.

In one of our two terrible conversations we have had since I got here, I brought up Christmas, and how he had blown it off. He said he hadn’t and that he had a gift for me. Feeling a little less hurt I put my hands out to receive an unwrapped, no note included, Keffiyeh, which is a scarf. They cost 20 shekels (approximately $6). He bought it at a factory that he had gone to with a group of people, which I am fairly certain included my replacement. They had gone several weeks after Christmas.  It wasn’t the price of the gift that hurt. It was the effort, or complete lack of. While I had tried my best to make sure my gift said in a million ways, I love you, his was a fuck you.

-Back to Linda-

I explained this story to Linda on one of my better days, seriously trying to ponder how any human could receive a gift so clearly wrapped in affection (including a hand stitched case) and reciprocate with a gift no better than a last-minute airport present purchased out of obligation.

That is when she said it. “Could the $200 Kindle/20 shekel scarf be a metaphor for your entire relationship?”

and then I realized how right she was. I had always been willing to put in the $200 effort and constantly received a 20 shekel response. (Again, metaphorical, it wasn’t the price that was the problem, of course)

“You are not a 20 Shekel girl”

Her words resonated for a moment. She was right. I am not a 20 shekel girl. The thought was empowering and allowed me to fully open my tear swollen eyes, which coupled with dark shadows from days without sleep had become a part of the new face that cast back from the mirror on the days I had bothered to get out of bed and check my appearance. Why had I let myself be used and treated like trash? Why had I ever allowed it to get to a point where I could be thrown away?

While I was so caught up on what I deserved in comparison to the effort I put in, I hadn’t realized the truth. He didn’t deserve me. He doesn’t deserve me. Even now, he doesn’t deserve the tears I am crying at 3 am because I can’t sleep from the pain, so I’m writing a blog post instead.

During Linda’s few days with us in Nablus, I quietly celebrated my first day not crying in 22 days. A small triumph.

As I prepared to send Linda off in a taxi she said to me “stay strong, super woman.”

Head up

Yes, I still cry most days. And each tear is another drop that I will never forgive him for. I still question my value after being treated like dirt. I wonder why I wasn’t worth treating with the decency I wouldn’t deny any human, let alone someone I had claimed to love.

My girls have become the light in my days. This past week we began learning to sing I Am Woman by Helen Reddy. While the bright young ladies I have the pleasure of teaching love the lyrics and music, they’re oblivious to the fact that teacher is relying on their singing to keep her sensible, especially since 2 rooms down, the new girl is working with her girls. My roommate and coworker is not so oblivious, and laughs at our class as we belt out.

I have started making my own relationships with the people to which, 3 months ago I was simply the girlfriend, and with the new people who never knew the two of us.  I have sat at the same restaurants we had both gone to together, but this time with better people and now, I no longer wish he was sitting in the chair next to me.

Soon, Nablus will not reek of him, but will smell the sweetness of home and true friends.

I hope to find my smile again. The one I see when I look through old high school photos. I’ve joked with the people here about wanting to be re-virginatized from the realities of the world.I feel like I have aged 10 years in the past 6 months, referring not only to being romantically burned, but also to the pain I have seen in many of my friends’ (locals and foreigners) eyes when they tell about their time in prison, their abusive ex-boyfriends, and a yearning for a home that does not include large guns and sound bombs. The high school Sara knew that things don’t end happily ever after, but she didn’t believe it. Somewhere between “Once upon a time” and where I am now, that reality has set in. Getting out of the country expedited the realization. The high school me is a stranger. I value the wisdom I have gained from travelling. And while I’ll flirt with the desire for innocence, I know that it is both impossible and unprefered, but it must be possible to recreate the emotions of joy and hope that I see in my younger eyes with what I know now.

Oh yes, I am wise
But it’s wisdom born of pain
Yes, I’ve paid the price
But look how much I gained
If I have to
I can do anything
I am strong(strong)
I am invincible(invincible)
I am woman

Salaam, Habibi

Sara

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.