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).
-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.
-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,
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.
-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.
-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.
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.
– 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.
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.
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.
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.