Sunday, December 18, 2011

12/18/11: Arab Jerusalem, The West Bank, And A Traumatized Sister... Part 2

Ahlan W Sahlan Ramallah! 

I have to preface this post by apologizing for the lack of pictures. I was more concerned making sure Ida didn't pass out of nervousness than I was concerned with taking pictures, so my words will have to suffice for this post :-). The day had finally arrived to take Ida into the West Bank and show her the city of Ramallah. In the beginning I thought this would be a really fantastic way to broaden her horizons and show her a taste of Palestine... Looking back now, however, I realize that this might not have been my most amazing idea ever.

We woke up around 8am on Saturday morning, headed down to the dining area in the hotel for an amazing feast of a breakfast, I briefed Ida on what kinds of things to expect in the West Bank, we checked out, stored our bags at the hotel, and were off to the Arab busses that travel between Jerusalem and various West Bank and Israeli Arab cities. However, with my directional aptitude, it took us a little bit of time to find the busses. I could tell that Ida wasn't so comfortable walking around East Jerusalem, but this discomfort was nothing compared to what she felt in Ramallah. Of course, here I was loving life and feeling completely comfortable in my primarily Arab surroundings.

When we finally found the correct busses we boarded and were on our way to the West Bank. We drove right through the heart of East Jerusalem, past the separation wall, through Qalandia checkpoint, and on to Ramallah. During the drive Ida was glued to the window and her face had an expression that can best be described as a mix of fear of the unfamiliar and a sense of being completely overwhelmed. It was as if she were entering completely alien territory... which, in fact, she was. For me this was nothing, for her, this was a big step. As if she wasn't uncomfortable enough, once we got off the bus, in the heart of the busy shopping district of Ramallah, the stares and cat calls began. Ida was probably the only Blonde in the entire area, she was certainly the most pale skinned and touristy looking, and people just reacted as if she didn't belong. By default, because I was with her, I was exposed to that same treatment which was very foreign to me.

To make matters worse, there was this very strange man who was following us the whole time whispering things to us that I was very glad Ida could not understand. I was not worried, since I knew this was harmless heckling, but she was very frightened and uncomfortable, and my lax reactions to his stares and actions was unnerving to her. I had a tight hold on her the whole time, took her into a few shops, walked her through the big produce market, and took her to the main square (where they were playing amazing music), but the combination of the heckles, stares, and the creepy man who was following us was a bit too much for her. I could tell she just wanted to get out of there and we headed back to find the busses to Jerusalem. To make matters a bit worse, when I was asking for directions to the bus (in Arabic) and the creepy man overheard and tried to show us the way. I let him get a comfortable distance in front of us before we proceeded. We were going the same way so we tried to be strategic about avoiding him.

We finally found our way back to the busses, jumped inside, and Ida absolutely looked like she was about to pass out. She kept checking her pulse, taking long, deep breaths, and I knew she just needed to get back on the other side of the border. I learned a valuable lesson that day. I may have this profound love affair with all things Arab, but a part of the reason for this is that I am so comfortable in their surroundings. When I am alone, or even when I am with other people who look Middle Eastern, I NEVER experience the treatment that Ida experienced. I don't get cat called, heckled, or even bothered, and if someone starts acting in a way I deem inappropriate I merely start speaking my broken Arabic and all ill treatment ceases because they think my origins are Arab. This was not the experience Ida had and I can understand her discomfort.

In all honesty, this was a very trying experience for me as well since I was treated like an outsider because I was with an outsider. Just like Ida I was also very ready to get back across the border and home to Tel Aviv. I suddenly found myself feeling like a foreigner in a place I used to feel completely at home in. Granted, this was absolutely because I was with Ida, but nevertheless I found myself greatly missing "Israel". When we made it back through the checkpoint we went back to our hotel, ate some lunch, calmed Ida's nerves a bit, and then caught a sherut back to Tel Aviv. We both just wanted to get home and Ida was so relieved when we were on our way back.

In the Sherut I had to put my music on and just relax after that stressful experience. I was so worried about Ida that I tensed up almost the entire time we were in the Bank. As we were driving back I was completely overwhelmed with a feeling of happiness and excitement at the fact that I was going home. As crazy as it sounds I love my life here in Tel Aviv more than anything and I found myself not only missing the city, but also missing my apartment and the boys very much. I had only been away from home for a day but I really did miss them. I have no close family here in Israel and every day these boys are becoming just as important to me as immediate family. I have learned that when you are stressed or overwhelmed you just need to be home with the people who make you feel the most comfortable, and though these boys are all very different, and though I love them each very differently, at the end of the day I can't think of any group of people I would rather be with. Needless to say, Ida and I were extremely happy to get home.

It was an experience I am glad that I could give to Ida, but one that will definitely not be repeated. She was able to see a new place and for that reason alone I am very glad she agreed to come with me. I think it is so important to experience new things, even if they might be a bit uncomfortable, and I hope that she understands the value in this even though it might not have been her favorite experience. With the help of God we were safe and made it home with a little stress as our biggest problem. We took it very easy yesterday night given the day that we had, and just spent time around the apartment. Today was another easy day filled with homework, cleaning, reading, and a lot of relaxation. I am about to have one of my busiest weeks this week so I want to make sure I am rested (especially because I am sick with bronchitis).

Tomorrow is my long day at class, Tuesday I am traveling back to East Jerusalem for the day (this time without Ida) to help the Palestine-Israel Journal with a conference on the Palestinian Israeli conflict, Wednesday I am going on a class trip (with Ida) to Akko for the day and evening, and Thursday and Friday are Ida's last nights in Israel so we will be doing big things! With all that, it is good I spent the entirety of today at home!

Stay tuned for some good updates!
Ma-Assalame Ya habibs <3,
Jordana Simone 

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