|Beit Sahour, 2009|
When you’re as white and as blonde as I am, standing out in the Middle East isn’t hard to do. Neither is making a spectacle of yourself. I continue to do both on a daily basis. Today I got stuck in a gate at the checkpoint between Jerusalem and Bethlehem. I am probably the only person in the history of this conflict to get stuck in that checkpoint without the help of an Israeli soldier. (The dialogue went something like…Don’t worries, guys. I got it. You look busy. I’ll just detain myself…). They have a series of revolving gates that are just big enough for one person to walk through. They only go forward. If you try to push them back, they lock. Well I went through with two suitcases and my laptop bag and my bag got caught in the gate and I tried to push the gate back and my bag got stuck, essentially imprisoning me. The man behind me was laughing too hard to help, but it was nice to have an appreciative audience. After what seemed like an eternity of intense swearing and pushing I managed to get through, much to the dismay of the very bored Israeli soldier in the booth watching me. I think he was sad that the entertainment didn’t last longer. So that was fun.
|Bethlehem Checkpoint, 2009|
The other thing I don’t recommend doing is wearing cheap plastic flip flops on slabs of stone. You’ll probably slip and fall in the market in front of the entire town of Beit Sahour. I did. It’s my way of making friends in foreign countries. Normally I use my outstandingly clever wit to entertain people (ha), but since I’m about 3 million light years away from mastering Arabic I have to resort to getting stuck in checkpoint gates and falling down steps. So far, so good. I made three new friends today because of my complete lack of physical grace.
The reason I was in the checkpoint in the first place is that Lufthansa lost my luggage in Germany (what gives Lufthansa? Favorite airline ever messes up for the first time!). Luckily they were able to track it down and then deliver it to Jerusalem. Since Israelis technically aren't allowed into the West Bank (it's complicated), I had to walk through the checkpoint, pick up my luggage, and walk back through. Other than that the trip over here was…well…the plane didn't crash and the wine was plentiful so how bad could it have been?
My place is really nice if not a little too spacious for just me. A lovely furnished apartment, complete with a poster of 2-Pac. The flat is on my friend's family’s property, and as soon as I put my bags down on Tuesday night my friend ushered me upstairs to the family home and introduced me to everyone. Her mother sat me down at the kitchen table and immediately started setting plates of food in front of me. I think I might have eaten my weight in stuffed grape leaves…which is good because I'm scared to use the stove in my apartment (I have to light it with a match, and for some reason this frightens me. I really think I might blow something up...and by "something" I mean me) and since that night I've been eating cucumbers and tomatoes almost exclusively.
Overall things are going well. I'm adapting and making friends easily enough. It's a small town so I feel like everyone already knows me or at least of me. I get a lot of stares walking down the street which makes me feel self-conscious and vulnerable, but I'm slowly getting used to it. The children's stares are my favorite. Although they do look terrified. I sometimes have that effect on people. I love just wandering down the narrow streets and feeling the weight and significance of the history on all sides of me. Sometimes I wander into the church of the Nativity and just watch people come and go. Today is Friday so mostly everything is closed, and the plaza in front of the main mosque is full of people and parked cars.
As I conclude this e-mail, I am looking out over the desert as the full moon illuminates the landscape. I can make out the crescent moon identifying the mosque and the lights from the Israeli settlement across the way flicker with a hesitancy of being that their owners never show. The church of the Nativity rises up behind me. The shadow of the cross falls across the square. The landscape struggles to exude a peace that its inhabitants have very rarely known.