Care packages and Checkpoints.

On the way to Al-Quds

(We have internet problems for over a week, so I haven’t been able to post. One thing I can rely on is the frailty of our internet connection here in Palestine. And by the way, does anyone have any idea how to get baby pee out of a persian wool rug? Elimination (mis)Communication in the Holy Land continues…)

Care Packages
I got my first care packages last week. HOORAH! A surprise digital care package from the incredible momblog that I am a fan of : which made me laugh and cry at the same time and a non-digital one from my friend Tammy that I opened with my kids. We were all really excited because Tammy included some cute Elmo shirts for S and L. They took turns wearing the one with the brightest colors. But later, alone, I got a chance to go back and look at everything Tammy sent and I just had to give in and cry. I think it was the used Trader Joe’s cloth grocery bag she sent that did it. *SIGH* I’m farther from home than I thought I was, I suppose. I’m so grateful for both care packages.
Al-Quds. I swore I wouldn’t, but I did.
I don’t want this to be a tourist blog, but I have to post this experience.
I went to Jerusalem.
We went a back road which took us through some pretty intense areas of Palestine and skirted Qalandiya checkpoint for a smaller checkpoint where we were not stopped (our car had the right plates and our driver had the right look. Thank God because as it was this was the longest I had ever been away from my 16 month old daughter and I didn’t need to add detainment to that time.)

The Drive Over To the Dark Side
Just as we left Ramallah we went through a kind of no mans land. The Israelis claim it as Israel but it is entirely populated by Palestinians and Israel does not allow them to have any municipal services. Trash is just piling up everywhere. Despite the ban on building it seems buildings are going up, though with no services these are only destined to be slums. Kids playing next to the road. Tires for sale. Trash everywhere. And the now ubiquitous sheep.
Later we passed into the countryside and I was able to see Israeli settlements near to Palestinian villages. Pictures below…
We reached Jerusalem after passing through the minor checkpoint that I mentioned. No pictures of that, of course.
Jerusalem might as well have been another planet. I cannot believe that just 5 or 10 miles away from Ramallah life with its dust and stress and insane traffic is this other life: paved roads, light rail service, restaurants, clean bathrooms, tour buses full of western tourists and their fanny packs all awestruck and smiling (the holy land, after all).
I had to catch my breath! This was closer to Austin than I had seen or felt in nearly 3 months. But at the same time I was quite aware that these were not my people.
I was told that often westerners like it a lot in Jerusalem for exactly the reasons you might imagine. But Jerusalem felt creepy to me. For all the cleanliness I could not forget the cruelty of the settlements that I drove past on the way in.
One settlement that I saw (with my own eyes) has hemmed in a Palestinian village to the point of having pushed boulders in front of the original tunnel entrance (the little white sign reads, “Ahlan Wasahlan”–“Welcome”) to reroute the Palestinians to a checkpoint. Here is that entrance:
And the checkpoint they have to go through to get to their own village:
Harassment, dominance, humiliation.
I could not forget the ugliness of the checkpoints.
Or the zealous hysteria that birthed this wall that we could see running far and close throughout our drive.

I couldn’t forget the philosophy of apartheid, the results of which we see in Ramallah every day with the trash, lack of basic services, refugee camps, and knock off products. I personally feel the boot heel of Israel on every shekel I spend in that I would rather buy something better or with less chemicals…but all we can get here is what Israel allows.
Closer to Jerusalem we saw lots of street vendors like these:
This guy sells fresh juice from that brass decanter on his back (note the constant backdrop of trash):
It wasn’t a comfortable experience to arrive in Jerusalem, but once I got to the old city (the Palestinian quarter) it was a fantastic experience. A feast for the senses, as they say.
The old city of Jerusalem is of course a city behind a wall. Inside the wall is a maze of twisting small streets just wide enough for maybe 4 adults to walk side by side-sometimes wider, sometimes more narrow-and often covered by arched stone ceilings just as if you have entered an underground market. Every street is paved with ancient cobblestones and lined with tiny stores. The city used to be divided into streets for textiles, spices, meat, and so on but now the stores are a jumble of products from fresh meat to jewelry, clothing to spices, cobbler shops to cheap toys. We entered through an huge stone archway and stepped down into the darkness of the covered marketplace.
Immediately I felt like I was in an Indian Jones movie (which shows my age).
It took me a while to feel comfortable.
Israeli police brushing past. Greek Orthodox and Armenian Priests walking past. Hasidic Jews walking past. Kids running past. Everywhere a vendor trying to meet your eye or call you over. Carts rolling past either totally empty or piled with bread and other food.

all around are little passageways leading out of the market and up to people’s homes. The streets are so old.

Some beautiful rugs for sale.
And of course I got to
see the Via Dolorosa.
And the church of the Holy Sepulcher.
And the tourist industry does not shy away from holy dollars.
By the end I was LOVING it. I was using the full extent of my limited arabic to get shop owners to say, “For you, because you speak arabic, a good price my friend.” A sure sign that my arabic was feeble…but not that I was getting a good price. Ha! I should say that ALL the haggling was done by my good friend Z who is a native Palestinian and who took me to Jerusalem.

The haggling game seems to go like this:
ask him the price, he answers.
you ask him, “no really, how much?”
he answers a little indignantly.
you say something about how there is no way it’s that expensive and offer a lower price.
back and forth…until the guy is acting insulted and angry as if you are suggesting his goods are no good. but he offers something lower, although he is insulted. you either reach a price you like, or you are ready to walk away.
The problem I had is that I actually wanted to buy some of the things I had to walk away from, and if I had gone back hat in hand to buy them I would surely have lost the battle and the good price. I am vowing right now I will get good at this bargaining. Its just that I am so midwestern! We blush at the mention of money! How much? You might as well be asking what size underwear the guy is wearing!
Mannequin modesty at a dress shop.
The famous sweet shop Jafar (J3far), where I stopped to have this incredible dessert with Z. We had Mtabba’: filo dough wrapped around rich white cheese and soaked in sweet syrup topped with pistachios.
A beautiful spice shop. One of many I saw and smelled.
Nearer the Church of the Holy Sepulcher the streets were open and wider and I LOVED this beautiful door.
Lots of leather shops in the same area.
This part of the Palestinian old city has recently been grabbed by settlers. They simply come and force the Palestinian occupants out. These windows and their Israeli flag overlook the marketplace by the Church of the H. S.
Over all it was an incredible day. I came back to find my kids playing with their cousins and totally happy. I had been gone about 4 hours, the longest L has ever been without me. Faris said she did great—though of course she fell apart as soon as she saw me. S was just happy to see me and bubbling with stories of his day with his cousins. I missed my kids so much, but I’m glad I did this alone. It would have been really hard with a 1 and 3 year old.
This post is long enough. I’ll save the mom group post for next time.

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