Wednesday 24 September 2014

Welcome to Palestine

I met the other volunteers at the airport. We were all feeling excited but very apprehensive about the boarder crossing. One of the guys was feeling particularly nervous and stated that he was a bit worried about a book he had in his hand luggage. 'What book have you got?' 'The ethnic cleansing of Palestine'. 'Right'. Someone else then dropped in that he had 'The Politics of Genocide' in his main bag. This might get interesting.
Once we landed, we gathered together, braced ourselves and walked towards passport control. I was up first. The young Israeli woman at the desk asked me about the purpose of my stay. She wanted to know what visa I was getting and how long I'd be here. I showed her the contract and she seemed to accept it. Just as she was about to hand my passport back to me, we heard 'Abu Dis', 'Abu Dis', heads turning and a man came over to investigate. They were suspicious of us. 'Are you with her?' she asked, pointing to one of the volunteers. She held onto my passport and talked to her colleagues about what to do. My fellow volunteer showed the contract to the person at her desk and soon they agreed to let us through. The others followed soon after and we were in. In less than 10 minutes. We couldn't quite believe it. 
Yes, we really were in. We got the Nesher bus to Jerusalem Hotel. On arriving at the hotel, I was struck by the strong sweet smell of jasmine. This scent, the warm evening air and the sense of relief came together in this moment and made me feel like I had finally arrived.
Once we turned away from the glamour of the Tel Aviv roads, past Jerusalem and into dusty Palestine, we met Abed. His warmth was evident immediately and I felt instantly welcome. He talked to us about the Palestinian situation and about the struggles that the local community has faced. His wife had prepared maqluba for us (a rice and chicken dish), and we ate hungrily whilst his stories flowed. The fridge was stocked with tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, hummus, cheese, eggs, pears, peaches and guavas. I was very happy.
In the early hours of the morning I was stirred from a deep sleep by the call to prayer. Surreal, exciting and almost eerie. I had arrived in the Middle East!

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