Some people think I have a death wish because:
- Strike 1: I’m a female traveling alone
- Strike 2: I visit “dangerous” countries i.e. Colombia, Morocco, Bosnia
- Strike 3: I sleep in stranger’s houses
obviously, that’s bullshit.. hello it’s called LIVING the drea.. not HOPING TO DIE. and while yes, i’ve had some scary incidents while traveling because every country has its creeps.. (NYC especially)... i’ve experienced so much kindness and generosity from the people that I’ve come across.. especially in more so-called “dangerous” places where they actually go the extra mile to make you feel welcomed.. so i’ll take my chances and skip out on the all-inclusive resort at some tropical paradise (SNOOZE) and venture off into a place with a dynamic history and culture that I’m actually interested in and learn something from them.. which is exactly what I did this weekend in the West Bank (Palestine).
After some initial hesitation about venturing into Palestine.. mostly because I was confused about whether I could go there and what areas were off-limits I remembered that one of my high school friend’s, Urooj, interned in Palestine last summer so I reached out to her for more info. She directed me to her Palestinian-American friend, Hady, who was visiting the West Bank at the same time I was in Israel, but unfortunately he was going in the opposite direction as me so we couldn’t meet up. Speaking with both of them though gave me the confidence to log onto Couchsurfing and seek out someone who lived in the West Bank. i got a number of responses back from really nice people and decided to stay with a wonderful and kind father/husband/teacher and overall great guy, Mohammad, who lives in Ramallah (capital of Palestine) and meet up with Layla, a beautiful half Palestinan, half Nicaraguan for lunch in Bethlehem
There are not enough wonderful things I can say about my experience with them both... Mohammad and his amazing family welcomed me with open arms and treated me with so much kindness.. it really felt like i was at home, which was comforting since i’ve been apart from my family for so long and i’m missing them tremendously… Layla was just an incredible spirit with so much optimism and wit, despite all the pain and trauma she’s dealt with in her life.. both of them told me they wanted to show a different side of Palestine that’s sadly often goes unreported by media…
Muhammad was very warm and chatty.. always explaining something or pointing things out in order for me to better understand traditional Palestinian customs and traditions.. we went out one night where he introduced me to more young Palestinians.. i even got to watch some of the men dance dabke, which had super complicated foot work and MANNNN.. it looked like a workout..
he had a very loving home, with a very happy family :) His wife made the most delicious foods and even taught me how to make maqlaba, which is a traditional Palestinian dish made of rice, chicken, veggies, and tons of delicious spices.. His two beautiful little kids gave me huge hugs, chased me around the house, and we had a little dance party (while watching Frozen, which is apparently universally loved by all little girls!) He had a wonderful flat.... i even had my own room with a balcony that had a stunning view of the city :)
We also met up with some other foreigners and went to a coffee shop filled with locals to watch the Super Cup match between Barcelona and Bilbao.. needless to say, people were in complete shock that Barcelona got CRUSHED… again.. just your average sports bar more or less in any part of the world…
The next day, I ventured into Bethlehem, birthplace of Jesus but now a predominantly Muslim city.. i really wanted to get a look at the apartheid wall, including the Banksy graffiti and Layla was kind enough to offer her local expertise and take me around :)
We met up at Afteem for lunch, which was delicious.. and shared beers, hummus, and stories.. she by far is one of the strongest, most incredible, and HILARIOUS females i’ve ever met in my life..she had me laughing so hard one moment, and tearing up the next.. She had an interesting perspective on the whole conflict, as a half Palestinian who could pass as Latina, though she was a proud to be Palestinian
she was born in Nicaragua, but moved to Palestine with her father at a young age. … she told me how they struggled, and how they are unable to move freely, even within their own lands, due to the difficulty of obtaining a Palestinian ID card, which they need in order to move around and is issued by the Israeli government.
She lived on a farm till she was about 19, which is when she decided to escape the traditional life. She moved to Aida, one of the refugee camps in Bethlehem, where she lived for 1.5 years.. it became her home where she made friends and built herself a new life.. but also where she witnessed terrible atrocities against the residents and loss people she loved… she told me a story about a 10 year old boy who used to sell postcards and was shot in the neck by an IDF soldier during a demonstration in the streets.. she took me to the very spot that he was killed. She also brought me to the main street of the city, where there was a mural commemorating the 264 Palestinian children killed in 2014… there was a wall with all their names, underneath the huge key gate that symbolizes their "right to return." When Israel first occupied Palestine, many Palestinians carried the keys to their home, thinking that they’d be back home in a few days. it’s been almost 70 years.. the huge key was at an exhibition in Paris, when someone tried to buy it for $1 million.. the Palestinians were outraged and when it returned, they put the words “not for sale” at the top of the key...
i’m still trying to take in all my experiences in Israel and Palestine thus far.. it’s been an extremely interesting few weeks, meeting so many people who all have so many different experiences and stories.. what struck me was the fact that Israeli and Palestinians both have told me, everyone they know has been affected by this conflict.. everyone knows someone whose died, whose been injured, whose lost something or someone.. on my way back to Jerusalem, while crossing the border, I started crying while watching some IDF soldiers interact with some young Palestinian guys.. the soldiers were asking the Palestinian guys to get off the bus so they could check their IDs and the Palestinian guys were initially resistant, but eventually got off the bus. Neither the Palestinans nor the Israelis could have been older than 20, but yet here they were dealing with such a serious issue that no one, but especially no young person, should be forced to face.
I don't have a solution to this conflict but I do believe both governemnts need to implement mandatory Hebrew and Arabic classes (they're currently the official languages in Israel, yet no Israeli I've met can speak Arabic fluently) communication is key.. without being able to speak with one another, how can you build empathy and understanding? People are people and we need to see pass labels in order to find peace.