Thursday 21 May 2015

Getting to Abu Dis part 1


A couple of weeks ago, I made a decision that I think only people who feel they've been offered a unique opportunity make. I was offered a chance to travel to Palestine and volunteer with the local community. For those of us in the world that care passionately about the situation out there, being offered something like this is sort of equivalent to an astronomer being offered a trip to space.
The only catch was that I had to make my decision in a of matter hours, the other volunteers had already been out there for a month and I was only lucky enough to go because they had funding for one more person. I said yes, of course. This meant I needed to give notice at my job, move my things out of the flat I was staying in, book a flight and say all my goodbye’s in what felt like seconds. Those couple of weeks are now a bit of a blur. Leaving my life in London behind didn't feel like much of a sacrifice for what was essentially an opportunity I had waited years for and had never fully believed would ever come my way.

Sitting in Luton airport waiting for the flight to Tel-Aviv, I felt strangely calm. Almost like I was just heading off to another day at work. The flight was one of the smoothest in my life, but it did feel a lot longer than five hours. Still, I suppose that’s what Easyjet does to you.

Soon, it was time for the inevitable airport security experience. Having an Arabic surname like mine meant that the odds of simply walking through customs were pretty slim. Sure enough, the welcoming smile that lit up the customs officer’s face as I approached the desk with my British passport quickly disappeared as soon as she read my full name. The questions then followed... Relatively normal ones to begin with.” Is this your first time in Israel? What is the purpose of your visit? How long are you planning to stay?”  Then gradually less normal. “What is your father’s full name? What was his father’s full name? What nationality is he?”  It seemed strange that she would be so interested in my father’s family, given that they weren't actually the ones visiting the country, but nonetheless I answered everything politely. I was then told to go and sit in the waiting room while she kept my passport. There were several others in the waiting room, including one girl who was on her own and didn't look much older than 16. She was crying.

Not feeling reassured, I sat and waited for about 20 mins before another woman came to find me. I followed her into the office and was asked the exact same questions again. She wasn't particularly unpleasant but it felt quite frustrating to give the exact same information a second time, as if the first time was supposed to be some sort of rehearsal. She also wanted all of my contact details in the UK before telling me I could go. “Brilliant, that wasn't so bad” I thought, assuming that was the end of it. It wasn't. I then had to sit in the waiting room for another 45 mins before a third woman came to find me. All of the same questions followed once again but this lady was a little more aggressive. She wanted more specific information about my father, as well as all of my UK contact details again and ALL my email addresses. She was very clear about that. Then it was time for another hour in the waiting room, before finally being given back my passport and a small paper which turned out to be a visa (which they didn't bother to mention) and shown the way out. 

It suddenly hit me that I had no idea where my suitcase might be, since it had now been almost three hours since we’d landed. I was very happy to find it waiting for me by the baggage claims, grabbed it an bolted for the door thinking what a good call it was that I had planned ahead to spend the night in Jerusalem rather then head straight for Abu Dis. There would have been no buses at this time of night.

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