You can't possibly understand the difference between East and West Jerusalem until you actually experience both places. Firstly, Israel has never felt like a foreign country to me. Sure they speak a different language here, sure the people act differently, eat different foods, have different mannerisms, and so on, but I have never felt far away from home. Naturally, because Jerusalem is controlled by Israel, I figured that East Jerusalem wouldn't be wildly different than the other places within the city I have been to. I mean I practically lived in the Old City, so how different could East Jerusalem be... Well, I was in for quite a surprise. If Palestine were an established state, I would be right smack in the middle of its capital. The Old City is maybe a 10 minute walk away, but in that 10 minutes you enter and exit completely different worlds. Here in the East there is no integration of Jews and Arabs, or at least it does not feel that way, there are no signs in Hebrew, everything is in Arabic or English, Muslim women with their traditional clothing roam the streets, while groups of Arab men stand and talk on street corners. If I didn't know any better, I would think I was in Jordan or Egypt. Aside from the slight culture shock, I managed to find my hotel and get settled in.
The hotel is simply wonderful and I am so happy to be staying here. Though it is slightly tucked away in a corner, and the outside doesn't boast great appeal, inside it is quite charming. When I first entered the hotel the man at the desk knew exactly who I was, was extremely helpful and kind, and got me all checked in with no problems. After a few minutes, another very sweet man came to help me with my bags, took me up to my room, and made sure I got settled in and knew how to work all of the appliances. Upon entering the room I couldn't help but notice how quaint it is. I have a little hallway where the bathroom is, and a step up to the bedroom where there is a very cute little bed, a fridge, two desks, a closet, and a TV. One thing is for sure, I'm very glad I'm thin or I would not be able to fit in the bathroom. I honestly don't know how people who aren't slender manage, and I say this without jest or sarcasm. The sink is practically in the toilet and the shower is practically in the sink. It is quite an interesting arrangement! And for some reason they want you to throw the toilet paper in the trashcan instead of the toilet... not sure how that is going to work out...
After getting all settled in and unpacked, which of course I did while listening to my Arabic music (hey, when in Rome!!), I decided to see what kind of TV they had here. Again, thinking that this is Israel, I assumed the TV would be similar to what it was like in Tel Aviv... WRONG AGAIN! The subtitles here are only in Arabic, they have a few movie channels, no American news (the only news in English is Al-Jezeera English), news stations and channels streaming in from Jordan, Lebanon, Dubai, Syria, and so on, and plenty of channels that play Arabic music videos! Not complaining at all :-), but again, there is nothing here that even remotely feels like I am in Israel. As I turned off the television the Muslim call to prayer rang out through my room. I turned off my music so that I could listen to the beautiful sounds of the prayers, and for the first time I truly felt like I was visiting a completely foreign country.
After testing the TV, making myself some coffee (since they provide a lovely little water heater and an assortment of coffees and teas), and skyping with my grandparents, mom, and dad, I was on the brink of passing out from starvation so I decided to go down to the hotel's famous restaurant. Now, I must admit, I have never eaten out alone in my life. I'm more of the "if I have no one to eat with I'll pick something up and eat at home". However, since this whole trip is about new experiences and trying new things, and because I don't have food and I'm not about to go out and walk around at night in an unfamiliar (Arab) place, I decided to take my kindle, go down to the restaurant, get myself a table for 1! The restaurant was absolutely gorgeous. When I first entered I noticed an authentic wood fire oven (they are known for their pizza), there was a smoking and non smoking section, and a huge bar. Everything in this hotel is so clean and kept up (which is not always a guarantee even in the nice parts of Israel), and the restaurant was no different.
In honor of my flying solo, I decided to treat myself to a nice pasta dinner (mushroom fettucini) and a glass of red wine. I feel that whenever I see movies where a woman is eating alone she always has a glass of red wine, so why should I be any different :-). It was all very European. I ordered my dinner, pulled out my kindle, talked to the waiters for a few minutes, and then enjoyed a lovely, delicious, and quiet dinner. I made a pretty big dent in the book that I'm reading (Voltaire's Candide), and had a very fabulous solo dining experience. When I was finished with my meal the waiter came with my check and informed me that my wine was on the house; compliments of the restaurant's manager!! I got free wine and I didn't even speak to anyone in Arabic! Who knows what will happen when I actually start talking to them more! It's a good thing I liked eating out alone so much since I will probably be doing it quite often in my month here.
After my meal, as I was walking up to my room, I noticed a few things that starvation had blinded me to on the way down only an hour or so before. When I say I feel like I am in Palestine and not Israel, it is not just because there are no Jews or Hebrew here. It is recognized as Palestine here, at least according to the hotel decorations; there is not even a slight mention of the world "Israel". I honestly feel that if I say to someone here that we are, in fact, in Israel, they would argue and say we are, in fact, in Jerusalem, Palestine. Of course I will clearly not being testing this theory! Right outside of my room there is a beautiful hallway adorned with various fountains and pictures welcoming guests to Palestine, needlepoints of Israel with Palestine written above, and so on. It was very interesting to see these decorations to say the least.
It is a whole new world here, and with a new world comes new adventures. I am so excited to be here experiencing an entirely different culture and way of life. I may only be 10 minutes away from the Jerusalem I know and love, but I feel like I am in a whole different world. I'll just say this, I will have absolutely no problems finding people to practice my Arabic with! I may be a bit uncomfortable at first because it is so unfamiliar to me, and I will have to buy a whole new set of clothing items (my short shorts and tank tops don't quite work here so well), but I am so excited to embark on this journey, start an amazing internship, and have a month living in a beautiful hotel smack dab in the middle of Arab East Jerusalem.
With God's watchful eye (inshallah v baruch Hashem) I will be safe, learn so much, meet amazing new people, and have the absolute time of my life!
Masa Il'Kheir ya asdeqqa,