12 days

I can’t write this post without smiling, a little smugly, at the amazing things I have seen within an hour’s drive of my house here in Ramallah all in the last 12 days.

In the last 12 days:

-I have driven on roads that have Beduoin encampments on rolling hills, intermittent guard rails with breathtaking drop-offs on one side and steep cliffs on the other.  I have breathed a deep sigh of relief on making it to the bottom of the drive (which happened to be down to the lowest point on earth).

looking ahead at the road...

the incredible view of Palestine's hillsides

close-up of sheep grazing on a steep incline

-I have seen this beautiful landscape interrupted suddenly by the ugliness of the occupation, with it’s barbed wire anxiety-ridden stake on the land.  I really hate the way it all feels.

suddenly the occupation is the only view again. This is out in the boondocks of Palestine on the way to Jericho.

-I have taken my family to Jericho, the lowest point below sea level and the oldest consistently inhabited city in the world.


I have seen what are possibly the first walls ever built,

Sufyan and Grandpa with Jericho behind them

and taken a gondola ride to a cafe perched high on a cliff overlooking Jericho city. Not just any cliff…the Mount of Temptation itself.

it's called the Telepherique. Or, if you are terrified of it as I was, the "TeleFREAKOUT."

Up to the cafe on the cliff

What's scary about a little gondola ride? I mean, besides this. This which made me unable to eat my bowl of lentil soup. This which made me unable to converse at the lunch table like a normal person. This that was waiting for me after lunch because it was the ONLY WAY DOWN again.

There I sipped fresh squeezed pomegranate juice and watched Laila sift through beduoin beads beside the monastery built on the site where Jesus was tempted by Satan.

Laila and the beads

the shop keeper gave Laila a fan. She's thrilled about it!

-I have driven through Qalandia checkpoint into Israel and been warned that next time I cannot go through that particular car lane (it’s only for family now as opposed to last week… now this lane is only for people related to one another in the car.  Not friends.  Not this week, anyway.  Who knows about next week.)

-I have walked under Damascus Gate, built in 1537, to enter the streets of old city Jerusalem whose walls date back to the 11th century—at least.

old city below, Israeli settlement above. Yes, that's what I said.

-I have walked several stories down under the old Jerusalem streets into the ancient aquifer and aqua ducts, climbing down rickety, wet wooden platforms to the sound of water dripping and the voice of our young Armenian guide.

inside a water duct

Our own voices were bouncing off the stone passages as we were the only people down there.  Our tour wound up in the very creepy Roman jail where Jesus was held before his crucifixion.  And where, it seems relevant to mention because I was totally uncomfortable about being a tourist in a place of such misery, a great many other people were also held and tortured before their crucifixions or other grisly means of demise.

-I have seen the site where Jesus was crucified, and his tomb, in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

Jesus's tomb

church of the holy sepulcher

– I have been accosted by some jerky teenage boy outside the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.  “Want more babies?”, he said with a thick accent.  I stopped, looked at him and gave him my best “I’m so disappointed in you.”  look.  “Ya, zalameh.  Leish?”  I sadly shook my head.  Jerks are everywhere, but I have to say I have rarely been treated to this kind of rudeness since moving here.  It isn’t the norm.  In the states I would have just kept walking.

-I have been to the tomb of the Virgin Mary, and descended a long staircase into that ancient darkness lit by candles in colored glass.  It was so quiet and calm that I could easily have stayed for hours.

Tomb of Mary

And I was taken by the air of reverence and love for this mother of divinity who was herself divine.  Maybe it’s the reality of living in this part of the world that makes Mary the religious figure seem so real (Mary the mother, Mary the young wife, Mary the Palestinian, after all) or the fact that I’m a mother now so the idea of losing a son feels personally relevant.

entrance to her actual tomb, a door one must bow to get through

Standing near her tomb and the beautiful altar to her, and near the woman praying silently in the darkness nearby, I felt pain for what Mary went through.  The persecution and eventual execution of her child -her child!- brought tears to my eyes.

No matter what I might believe or not about the historical accuracy or religious importance of her story, this woman sacrificed and suffered and her tomb was appropriately somber and beautiful.

-I have walked through the garden of Gesthemane where the olive trees still bloom and bear fruit as they have since before Jesus was born.  For the first time in my life I was moved by the story of Jesus facing his own mortality, such as it was.

The olive trees were so ancient, almost cartoon like with their gnarled trunks, having witnessed it all.

-I have walked into the Basilica at the garden of Gesthemane, too.  It was lovely.

-I have been interrupted while drinking a cappuccino by an Eastern European (?) couple who wanted to find their way to the Wailing Wall.  The woman kept gesturing to her eyes and running her fingers down her cheeks (we had no common language).  We finally figured out she was gesturing “tears”.   She tisked at all the stray cats as she walked away.  There were about 12 of them hanging out outside the coffee shop.

-I went to the Wailing Wall.  It was extraordinarily unsettling with it’s metal detectors and 2 layers of armed guards at the entrance.  I didn’t get close enough to take a decent photo of it.  I was uncomfortable.

-I went to the Dome of the Rock, but it was during prayer time so I was turned away at the door by 2 armed Palestinian guards (though they did allow me to snap a picture) who seemed kind of irritated that we wanted a peek.

-I have stopped on the way back into Ramallah and gone into the walk-through part of Qalandia to see the human cattle chutes.

this could be part of your daily commute! FUN!

And last but certainly not least, I had a visitor these 12 days who instigated all this sight seeing.  My first visitor from home, and probably my only visitor.  I can’t tell you how fun it was to take another set of middle class American eyes through life in Palestine!  It did my soul some good to have the familiarity and comfort of someone I have known my entire life here in this place where everything is so foreign to me, and to hear questions similar to those I was asking when I first got here what seems like a lifetime ago.  It really seems like a different life ago.

This morning my visitor left.  A taxi took him to Tel Aviv at 7:am.  My kids are sad, and I am sad and homesick.  Now we will start moving back into our normal routine, putting things back in their places, filling the absence with talk about all the fun things we did.   What an amazing 12 days.


10 thoughts on “12 days

  1. Such an amazing place you get to live in and explore! I love your stories and pictures to go along with it.
    I have nominated you for The Liebster Award for blogging – you can read more about it at my blog if you wish. Have a great day! 🙂

  2. I echo Tammy, WOW!
    The cliffside cafe and Mary’s tomb, the olive trees and the garden of gethsamane all look like life bucket list experiences. Did you stay in Jericho or Jerusalem overnight or were these all daytrips? I really wish my kiddos were older so I could (guiltlessly) travel out there to see you and go to these amazing places. So glad you’re making the most of your time in such a beautiful part of the world.

  3. Wow….. I’ve been to Jericho, and I must say I was too chicken to take the cable car (plus the price was discouraging! Hahaha). From your pictures, I think I will go back and and experience the view for myself…. =)

    • Marie, I could have written an entire post on how totally freaked out I was on that Telepherique. Man did my yoga practice ever come in handy. I am told I was visibly shaking. I found the view from the top incredible, but I didn’t so much as peek at the view on the way up. So if you have the nerve to go back and experience it I am behind you 100%, but I won’t be doing it again. You must live close that you could go back again? Nice.

      • I do live (relatively) nearby, on the other side of the fence. Getting to Jericho takes some effort, but I must admit it is nothing compared to what you have to go through. As a foreigner, I can enter your area, and visiting Ramallah in the near future is also one of my goals. It would be nice to meet you there =)

      • Yes, do let me know when you are coming. There is a fantastic little coffee shop we can meet at. I would LOVE that. Let me know if there is any planning help you need from this side of the fence. Just email me: colorofgravity at gmail dot com

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