Tag Archives: travel

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.


Catch a Glimpse- moments of my trip in Pictures


Here are a few pictures from my trip so far! I hope you enjoy!

My room

My room in our first apartment! I spent a lot of time printing out my favorite quotes and putting them on the wall. It made the room very home-y. Of course, we had to move from this apartment. I still need to take pictures of my new room...


Petra

&

Wadi Rum

In Petra my friend Megan and I decided to take a donkey up to one of the ruins that we wouldn't have had time to walk to. For 5 JD we both got to ride a donkey. It was a bit spooky. These donkeys aren't very big and they were carrying us up the side of a mountain. Both were quite the experience as I had never ridden either a donkey or a camel before.

What fun would a trip to the desert be without riding some interesting animals? We rode camels in Wadi Rum. I have decided they are the best animal to ride. They are super sweet. The guy guiding us let me take the reins and run with mine for a while. His name, by the way, was Gizella. It is also very strange being so high up in the air.

One of the shops in Petra. I can't help but think of Edward Said when I see all these ridiculous little shops and the idea of the Orient presenting itself as the occident has described it. In normal words, these little shops present the type of Arab artifacts the tourists would like to see, and not legitimate Arab items. At the end I was in a shop talking to some male shop owners. I asked them which of the items in their shop were actually made in Jordan. They pointed to the Dead Sea products and one thing of pottery. The rest they confessed were imported from India.

Most of the ruins in Petra were occupied by Bedouins for years until the Jordanian government decided that they were destroying the history and kicked them out. Now, many return to the ruins during the day to sell small items to the thousands of tourists who pass through.

Wadi Rum is a beautiful natural park where we went to camp. It is a desert. All you can see is sand everywhere and then there are these giant rock formations coming out of the perfectly flat sand floor. These rocks were so much fun to climb on

We went camping at a highly tourized bedouin camping site. When anyone buys a scarf they tie it on your head in the traditional style. But of course, traditionally women would not wear a scarf this way.

At one point we were on a jeep tour where we were riding in the back of these jeeps around Wadi Rum and we got to a place where there was a huge sand hill leading up to the rocks. The sand was very steep! Our guide suggested we go barefoot. Walking uphill in very soft sand is one of the most exhausting experiences! I had to stop several times until I got to the top. Then, of course, we had to climb the rocks. I am proud to have been the only girl to make it to the top of the sand and climb up the rocks.... and I did it all barefoot!

Amman

This is the view of the Roman Amphitheater in town from the Roman Citadel. I love the feeling of being in a place with so much history. It is crazy to be in a part of town and then all the sudden there are Roman ruins! It reminds me of the Old City in Tripoli, Libya.

I find it interesting to look at the way they spell the American names in Arabic. I did eat here once and it was just as disgusting as it is in the states.

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.

“What’s your religion?” and other fun questions en route to Nablus.

Weeks before I left my boyfriend got a job teaching English at a school in Nablus. Of course, I was super excited because this meant I would be 110 kilometers (68 miles) away from him all semester. Of course, what would be an hour drive down I-25, turned into a 9 hour trip, leading me to wonder if it would have been possible to put a more difficult 70 miles between us.

I left to go visit him after my class ended at 4 on Thursday. It was the day before Yom Kippur would begin, so I had been extremely careful in planning my travels so I could make it into the West Bank before the checkpoints would be closed, and would be able to leave and get back for my classes on Monday. My program helped me arrange a taxi to the Sheik Hussein border (known as the Jordan River border in Israel). The taxi passed through Irbid, and some beautiful hilly valleys before it approached the crossing. Once dropped off at the gate, I entered Jordan’s side of the border. I smiled at the man behind the counter, kindly asked if he would put my stamp on a separate paper. He happily accommodated my request, and sent me on my way. From there I got on a bus that would take me over to the building that I would come to know a little too well.

I must stop myself for a second and let you know about the plans I had made before hand. First, I had not brought my Libyan passport after this was strongly suggested by several people in my program. I had also could not tell the IDF my boyfriend is teaching in the West Bank, so I created a slightly not so true alternative to why I am entering Palestine.

There are two sections of the Israeli side of the Sheik Hussein Border crossing. The first is security and the second passport control. It is my understanding that security is not operated by the IDF. The security guards did not wear the uniform, and one man told me operated separate from the Passport control. So, I get in the security line, which should be as simple as showing your passport and scanning your bags. No other people were asked questions or anything. As soon as the security guard saw my name, she asked, the first in what would be hours of stupid questions,

“Do you have another passport?” DAMN! They are good. Fitouri doesn’t even look Arab when written in English, at least not to me. Perhaps she is taught to question all foreign names? I don’t know.

“No”

“What is your reason of travel into Israel?”

“Tourism”

With that she let me continue through to the tigers at Passport control.

Tiger is not a fair assessment at all, really. Passport control is run almost entirely by 18-22 year old girls. With made up faces and flowing hair, they are quite possibly some of the most beautiful girls I have seen. Perhaps they are more like poisonous frogs, like the ones you see at the zoo that are bright colored yet deadly. I handed my passport to the girl at the window. All was going well for about a minute and a half. She asked several procedural questions and accepted my responses without hesitation. I thought I would try my luck,

“Do you mind, I’m a student and I still have a bit of traveling to do. Would you stamp my passport on a separate piece of paper?”

She acknowledged my request and continued with the questions. And then came the bombshell…

“What is your father’s name?”

Ok, so it is easy to lie about your travel plans, you’re major, etc. But at this point I was faced with a dilemma, deny my Arab heritage and have an easier time passing through, or tell the truth, and risk a long delay or possibly being turned back. I couldn’t lie on this one, because in the back of my mind I kept thinking, I shouldn’t have to lie.

“Ezzedin”

Pause.

“What is your Grandfather’s name?”

Shit. Already chose to say the truth, right?

“Mohammed”

The young girls face looked as if I had screamed curse words at her. She said something to one of the girls at the other window, and then sent me down to her.

That is when the real interrogation began. This time, my answers were not accepted and each time I answered, the truth or not, it only lead to deeper questions.

“Where are you traveling in Israel?”

“I’m meeting my boyfriend, tonight in Nablus, and tomorrow we are going to Jerusalem?”

“What are you going to do in Nablus?”

“See the holy sites”

“Where are you staying?, Who are you staying with?, How long will you be there?, What are their names? Why were you in Jordan? Where was your father born? Where were you born? What state? What city?

The questions went in circles, finally she passed me a paper and told me to write down my name and phone number. I put my US home number and my Jordanian cell.

She continued the questions in the sweetest voice you have ever heard, which made me want to vomit.

“Why do you have a cell phone in Jordan” (Didn’t you know, statistics show that 7 out of 10 “terrorists” possess Jordanian cellphones.)

“Because my program provided me with one”

“What program?”

I could already see where this was going. Arabic

“AMIDEAST”

“What are you studying in Jordan?”

What do you think, woman?

“Jordanian Culture, Politics, and Arabic.”

“Oh, you speak Arabic?”

“Very little, I just started studying it.”

And by just started I mean I went to a Muslim Sunday school where I learned the letters, have spent months in Libya (which you don’t know about because you won’t get to see my Libyan passport), have taken 2 full years at my University, and helped create the Arabic Club at my school.

After what seemed like an hour of this badgering I was told to sit down and wait. I sat down next to two American girls. After talking I learned that they went to Berkley and in their hippy ways had failed to make any concrete plans about their trip, during which they planned to spend 2 months couch surfing throughout Israel. When I sat down they had already been there for 6 hours.

Over the next several hours I sat waiting. Every now and then one of the girls would peak their head out the door and ask me another question, usually one that they had already asked. I arrived at the border at 5:30 Israel time. At about 8:30 I began to panic. I had been warned that the checkpoints into the West Bank would be closing, and no one was sure what time exactly. A call from my boyfriend sent me to tears when he suggested I turned back because I probably wouldn’t make it into the West Bank. By this time the Border was almost completely empty. The IDF soldiers were sitting around laughing and playing with each other while drinking coffee and pop, and I was sitting alone in tears. One of the girls, who I am very indebted to came over and started talking to me.

“You are a young pretty girl, you are supposed to be happy, not sad”

I explained to her my situation, and she assured me that people were often held for several hours, but they were always let in. She also seemed shocked when I said that the checkpoints would be closing because of Yom Kippur.

“But the Arabs do not fast on Yom Kippur and they need to get out, so why would it be closed?”

Because your country has oppressed the Palestinians to the point where they have resorted to acts of desperation that makes your government concerned for security reasons.

She began to mobilize making phone calls and talking to the other guards to find out about the checkpoints. She did discover that the checkpoint I had planned to pass through was closed, but there was another check point that was going to be open all night that was a little ways away. One of the soldiers escorted me so I could go to the place to exchange money. Another wrote out directions for a cab driver in both Hebrew and English. Then the final run of questioning hit.

This scrawny little girl, who had been the meanest so far, yelled to me where I sat from 15 or 20 feet away.

“Why does your boyfriend have a cell phone here?”

Reassured that I would be let through by the other soldier, and by the fact they had been helping me, my answers became bolder.

“Because in American currency it was dirt cheap and he wanted to be able to call me for cheaper.”

That’s what happens when your economy is entirely dependent on mine.

“What is your religion?”

The room got quiet. All the girls who had been helping me stared at their comrade. One girl said something in Hebrew that sounded like a protest to the question.

“I don’t have a religion.”

“You know, Christian, or Muslim….”

Yes, because there are only 2 religions in this world.

“My father is Muslim, and my mother was raised Christian if that answers your question.”

“What is your boyfriend’s religion?”

I get at this point that she doesn’t give a fuck what we actually believe, but wants to know how we were raised.

“He comes from a Christian family.”

In the Middle East not having a religion isn’t really an option.

She retracted back into the office, and within a half an hour of the border crossing I was presented with my passport and a stamp on a separate paper allowing me to enter the Zionist country, and the occupied Arab lands. My posse of new found friends had at this point arranged for me a taxi that would take me all the way to Nablus for the steep price of 600 Shekels ($162.00). I negotiated this down to 550 Shekels ($148.00), but the cab driver refused to go lower because it was after 10:30 at this point and it was risky to cross into the West Bank. This taxi driver was Israeli, and because of this was not permitted to take me into Palestine. He passed me off to a Palestinian driver who took me the rest of the way into Nablus. I arrived in Nablus at 12:00 am, approximately 9 hours after my journey had begun.

Reflecting over this trip I found 2 specific points very interesting.

1-      Because in general, Israelis cannot enter the West Bank and Palestinians cannot travel out of the West Bank easily, information does not travel between the two populations. This allowed the Israeli population to have access to the actual hours of the checkpoints, while everyone in the West Bank had been told and believed that all the checkpoints would be closed.

2-      I found it interesting that while the Israeli Government/ IDF were keeping me from entering the country; it was IDF soldiers that were reassuring me and helping me make plans and arranging taxis for me. This was a reminder that in any country where military service is mandatory, there are going to be soldiers who aren’t dedicated to the actions of their government.

Once in Nablus the trip was really enjoyable. The city is very depressing. I learned that Nablus had been destroyed during the second intifada and up until recently still experienced nightly raids. The population had been forced to live their lives in fear. The physical structures had clearly been through war, and writings and drawings on almost every wall were a reminder of the pain this city had been through, or rather, is going through. I have spent years researching the facts, attending and even running protests, arguing with friends, but no matter how much you think you know the conflict, it is impossible to feel the conflict. What I felt when walking down the streets of the old city and seeing pictures of martyrs on the walls was only a taste of the feeling that is occupation. A feeling that every kid on the street was born into and lives with everyday. I repeat the mantra echoed through the Zionist organizations prior to the creation of the state of Israel. Visit Palestine. If you are in the region, visit. If you aren’t, go someday. Because there is nothing you can read, research, hear, that will teach you how it feels to be in the occupied lands.

I departed from Palestine Sunday morning. I took a service to Jenin, and then do to a miscommunication that I still can’t figure out, I ended up on a second Service that took me to the Malik Hussein (Allenby Bridge) border crossing. This meant going from Jenin, back through Nablus to Jericho to the Border. Woops! This apparent curse, turned out to be a blessing. Foreigners are only supposed to travel through the Sheik Hussein border because that is where they issue Visas. My visa, still good for 3 more days, allowed me to cross through the Malik Hussein border, an experience few foreigners have. This Border is used almost exclusively by Palestinians, and the condition was reflective of the degree Israel respects its neighbors.  I quickly passed through the Palestinian Authorities side of the border. The next stop was the Israeli point. We were herded onto large busses with about 50 people. The bus drove up to a gait and parked behind a line of five identical busses. Lucky to be sitting next to a Palestinian woman who had been born in the United States, she explained that the IDF only let through one bus every 15 minutes, or at least it was supposed to be 15 minutes. In reality it was much more inconsistent than that. It was about 2 hours before our bus was let through. At that point there were 8 busses lined up behind us. The bus was hot, crowded and had no air-conditioning. Who knows how long the people in the last bus waited for? That bus took me to another building that was dirty and full of booths to check passports. The IDF agents were unhelpful and stern. Then one told me to go to another desk because I had an American passport. That desk took me to a different room for foreigners. This one was clean and empty. After paying a ridiculous exit fee of 167 Shekels ($45.00), I was let through with no problem. I waited about 1 hour for a bus, which took me to the Jordan entrance.  Entering Jordan was Hassle free, and I shared a taxi back to Amman with three other people making the cost only 8 JD ($11.00).

                It was more than worth it to go to Palestine, but the shit they make you go through to get there is, well, Shit. I have never felt more devalued and humiliated than I did entering the country, and all they did was ask me a bunch of questions and made me sit in a room for several hours. The occupation has destroyed the lives of MILLIONS of Palestinians. Whether it is by forcing them to leave their homelands and seek refuge in surrounding cities such as Amman, or by depriving them of fundamental rights and destroying their towns.

I have included a lot in this post, but if there is anything else you want to know, or would like me to elaborate on something, please post a comment and I will be happy to respond.

 ألحرية لفلسطين

 Freedom To Palestine

Sara

Amman A Boat and other Adventures in Jordan.

Salaam! Peace!

One month and two days after arriving in Amman, Jordan, it feels like I have been here for years. Not meaning that the time has gone slowly, but rather I have developed a routine that has transformed me from traveler tourist to resident. I have finally found a solid route to and from school. I have found the local grocer and know how the store works. I have decorated my room to make it feel more home-y. Then, two days ago we had a scary incident.

The Attempted Burglary

I’m deep in a dream when the doorbell rings. My mind incorporated the ring into my dream and I stayed fast asleep. An hour later, the doorbell starts ringing nonstop. I roll out of bed and wake my roommates. We walk to our living room and hear half a dozen male voices outside. 3 girls vs. 6+ men. We calculated the odds and decided we didn’t want to go outside without knowing who was out there, and what they wanted. So, we decided to go up to our landlords apartment from the inside stairs. He wasn’t there, but from upstairs we could look out the window and see a cop car in front of our apartment and our landlord outside. We went outside to find every male on the block talking loudly and quickly in Arabic.  Our neighbor who before this incident we had never met explained the events of the night. He was going to bed when he looked out the window and saw a man creeping around our house and looking in our bedroom windows. He knew that it was American girls living there, so he went outside his house and kept watching. When he saw the man start to go into the glass entry way of our apartment, he caught him and called the police, after ringing our doorbell, which was the first ring I heard.  Now, our front door has a regular lock and two bolt locks on the top and bottom, so chances he would have gotten into the house are very slim, but it was a very scary experience. The most freaky part for me was being woken up abruptly in the middle of the night to someone violently and continuously ringing our bell. As a result of this incident, we are going to move to a different apartment that will be on the 2nd floor, instead of the first.

Other students and Classes:

I was shocked when I arrived to find out that there are only 11 students total studying abroad with AMIDEAST, a much smaller number than I was expecting. Five men, six women. In my Arabic class there are only two of us. My content courses have anywhere from three to nine other students. So, while the small number was initially disappointing, it has allowed for me to have a more intimate connection with the other students. Within 2 weeks most of us had become great friends. As I mentioned in a previous post, I am used to being surrounded by more liberal leaning peers. Many of the other students have drastically different political beliefs from me which sparked many intelligent and passionate debates. This has been such a great experience, but a challenging one because I have become so accustomed to liberal assumptions in my daily life. Our group selected the team name of Amman a Boat, hence the title of this post.

Ramadan:

Arriving in Jordan during Ramadan has been one of my most cherished experiences here so far. Some of my peers found it very annoying because they were not permitted to eat or drink in public and all the restaurants were closed during the day, but I really thought it was beautiful. Because Ramadan was in the summer this year, the schools didn’t start until after Eid. During the holiday month the entire city alters its daily routine. The majority of people sleep-in until late afternoon and stay up until sunrise for the first prayer of the day. Having fasted in the states for several years, I never understood the magic of Ramadan until I found myself in an Arab country.  There are very few examples of an experience that almost everyone in a society experiences.  My Arabic teacher tells me that his children are too young to fast, but he can’t get them to eat during the day because they want to fast like everyone else.  There is a strong sense of camaraderie here that connects a child on the street with a stranger walking past, the store keeper, with his patron. There is a sense of responsibility and understanding for each other. For example, everyone looks out for the children here. They talk to them in the streets; they will touch their heads and play with a child that they don’t know at all. It’s this bond that would make a neighbor tackle a burglar to protect girls that he has never met. This may be me fantasizing about the Jordanian and Arab Culture. I can’t help but wonder, if Americans had shared experiences, such as Ramadan would many people in the states feel less alone?

UPDATE: My New Friends

After getting my cellphone and my Jordanian number from AMIDEAST I contacted my friends that I had met on the plane. They immediately insisted that I come over to their house the next night. My roommate Kate and I hopped in a taxi, and had them give directions to the taxi driver over the cell phone.  Once in their apartment we were served plates of desserts and fruits. The next night we were invited over for dinner. Um Tarek prepared Munsif, a traditional dish of Palestine and Jordan that includes lamb and rice.

This is all for now. I have much more to share, but I feel it needs to be in a different post.

Getting to Amman.

5:30 am- Amman, Jordan

السالام  عليكم, أصدقائي!

Hello, My friends!

Right now I am sitting in the dark in the lovely Geneva Hotel in downtown Amman, Jordan. With equal thanks to Jet lag and the call for prayer outside I am wide awake. In a few hours I will be going to the AMIDEAST office for my Arabic placement exam and a blood test (HIV positive? Out of the country.) While I am anxiously awaiting my first official AMIDEAST interaction, my journey has already been an exciting one!

Denver, CO- August 20th, 2010- 1pm

I arrived at DIA for my 2:50 departure to find that my flight had already been delayed until 4:00. Confident in my originally 3 hour long layover in Chicago and my ability to navigate airports quickly, I was excited to see the delay because it meant extra time with my mom. We spent the extra hour walking around the airport and then I headed to my gate…to find that the flight had been delayed an additional 20 minutes. At this point I was unsure about my connection, but the lady at the gate said it wasn’t time to worry, so I sat down and began studying Arabic. It was only after another 20 minute delay that she came to me and said my connection in Chicago would not be possible and that she had rerouted me through London which would get me to Amman on the same day (the 21st), but 6 hours later than planned. She also pointed me toward an old Jordanian couple who spoke very little English and asked if I wouldn’t mind keeping an eye on them, since our once direct flight to Amman from Chicago now included a 6 hour layover in London. I don’t know what you think about Heathrow, but it is not a place I want to spend 6 hours in. The son of the elderly couple approached me about helping his parents. I explained in Arabic that my father is from Libya and I study Arabic in school. I don’t know whether it was his parents desperation to have help in the English speaking world, my flawless Arabic (hahaha, yeah right!), or more likely his confidence that an Arab Sister would take care of his parents better than some random American or better yet the airline, but he seemed confident as we departed. Another woman joined our group at the gate attendant’s direction and our posse of four boarded the airplane.

Chicago, IL- Aug. 20th , 9:00 pm

Now, realize, the only reason we went on to Chicago is because of the promise of a night flight to London, but as all good airport dramas go, this flight was, of course, canceled. Upon arrival we learned that we would be spending the night in the city of Chicago. Correction, the Hilton Hotel right next to the Airport, which isn’t really in the city. I collected our groups passports (أعطني جواز سفر, من فضلك ( and began arranging our hotels with the airline. Our daylong adventure had become more epic and I was now responsible for the travel of four. The elderly couple had wheelchair assistance arranged for them, and with the help of the airport personnel assigned to push them, I was able to get us checked in to the beautiful Hilton hotel with vouchers for meal passes. Most Muslims believe that it is acceptable to break your fast during travel for health reasons, but the older generations, including two of my new companions, are more religious with their fasting. I respect this decision, but it made my job much more difficult. Our meal vouchers were only valid during specific hours, meaning only the dinner voucher could be used after Iftar.

After placing our stuff in our rooms, we headed down to the sports bar to find some food.

My new friends-

The next 24 hours were spent killing time in a hotel. This is where I really began to appreciate the company I had. As we sat waiting for dinner I began learning about the people my trip had acquired before I left my state. The older woman was introduced to me as Um Tarik رقاط ام (which translates to the mother of Tarik) I learned that out of respect, women are often referred to as the mother of their first son. While their official first name remains what it was at birth, they are referred to, almost exclusively as the mother of their son. Um Tarik noticed the Palestinian flag keychain that Chris and I had made before our protest hanging on my bag. She said Filisteen, (the Arabic pronunciation of Palestine) and her eyes lit up. She then explained, in araglish (a new hybrid that was the official language of our trip) that she is from Palestine. WOW! Talk about right up my alley. It turns out that the people I had assumed were Jordanians were actually all three Palestinians. The elder couple showed me their Jordanian resident cards. Under country of birth was Israel. I said “Israel, ugh, msh qways” (No good) and they smiled. I knew we were going to be friends. For years I have researched the conflict in what most of the world identifies as Israel. I had read about the thousands of displaced people. These facts, which until a few minutes before had been just statistics on paper, had become so very real. To the best of my understanding, the elderly couple had left their home in Palestine in 1948 when Israel was first instated. Known as Al- Nakba النكبة (the catastrophe) in the Arab World this brutal period marked the displacement of more than 600,000 Palestinians from their homes. Many sought refuge in Jordan, Lebanon, and the other surrounding Arab states. Few realize that the creation of a home for the Jewish people meant a loss of a homeland that generations of Palestinian Arabs had worked to create. This history which I had read and quoted had materialized before my eyes in the form of my fellow travelers. The old man’s card said he was born in 1933, making him only 15 at the time of the Nukhba. Regardless of the fact that they had been systematically removed from their homeland when they were still very young, they still referred to Palestine as home.

The third member added to our group was Um Kalid  خالد ام . She was born in Jerusalem, as were her 3 boys. While her boys were all very young, she and her husband had taken their family for a short time to Kuwait, and then on to the US. Much of her extended family still lives in the Holy Land. She had been living in the US for 27 years. Her husband had died ten years after they had relocated to the US. Um Kalid lives with her youngest son in Lakewood, CO.

Chicago- 6:30 pm August 21st (The date I was supposed to arrive in Amman.)

After spending hours laying around the hotel it was finally time to head down to the airport. That morning I had called the bell station to arrange wheelchairs for my elderly companions. The man assured me that plans would be made but to call at 5:00 pm for confirmation. At 5, I received a confused voice saying that my wheelchairs would be there at 7:30 and that my call wasn’t necessary. I corrected them that the chairs needed to be there are 6:30 and that we would wait in the lobby. At 6:30 the Bell captain explained that he could not get us wheelchairs, but that the shuttle from another Hilton was coming to drop us off at the terminal where there would be wheelchairs waiting. After waiting out in the sun for 20 minutes, we were put on a shuttle. Then the worst happened. The driver had not been instructed that we were going to the terminal, and he began to take us into the city only 2 hours before our flight was supposed to depart. Infuriated that the impatient bellboy had sent me miles away from the airport with two walking impaired elders, I called the Hilton and explained the situation. The lady on the end apologized in a “what do you want me to do about it?” sort of way. We hailed a cab and were relieved that the driver spoke Arabic. The same Arab family bond that obliged me to help my fellow Arab travelers tied the driver to us, and he got us to the airport as fast as possible. After minutes of persuasion, he agreed to take the fare that he was more than willing to wave for us.

Once at the airport, Royal Jordanian took care of us like the Hilton and American Airlines had failed to do. They provided wheelchairs, checked us in a timely manner, and best of all, spoke Arabic. We boarded the plane, slept most of the 10 hour flight, and arrived in Amman without any problems. I found the AMIDEAST representative and hugged my friends goodbye. We parted, but only after I promised that I would call them when I got a phone and arrange a dinner at their house for the best authentic Palestinian food. I can’t wait!

It is now 7:30. I must finish getting prepared for the day ahead. Until next time, habibi.

سلام من الاردن

Sara Fitouri

سارة الفيتوري