Violence, conflict, displacement and political unrest are just a few of the words that rush to mind when
Along the road to Ramallah, our taxi skirted through barren hillsides, past dusty towns and through sluggish military checkpoints. Halfway there, the driver requested fare for the passage. Since I was clueless as to the cost and my Arabic is virtually non-existent, the girl sitting next to me leaned over to interpret. I introduced myself and learned her name was Rana, and we happened into a seamless conversation that focused on her English studies at An-Najah University and my travel plans. Slightly disturbed that I was by myself and had been for the last few months, Rana questioned me on what I was planning to do next.
When I told her I'd be traveling to
The weary traveler and my inner self were bursting with delight at the thought, but my outer voice customarily declined. My rebuttal proved completely unacceptable in her book and after a bit of back and forth, it was decided: I would go the next day to this stranger's village, meet her family, eat her food and sleep in her home. With the flickering flutter of the tongue, I’d found a transient home in which to rest my body, intrigue my mind and fascinate my wanderlust for a few days time: the West Bank of Palestine.
The next morning, we met at my hotel in Nablus. As we walked through the weaving cobblestone streets and under stone archways, Rana explained the history of conflict in
The rest of the day was spent as planned: we wandered and shopped along the meandering walkways of the market; we drank cardamom infused coffee and sampled delectable sweets endemic to the region; we traveled to the university where I met her professors and toured the campus; we carefully studied political art displayed by students that portrayed their daily hardships, their desires for political independence and their longing for national unity; and, we explored aisles of the library where Rana told me the names and books of famous Palestinian poets for me to read in the future. I began to devour every word she spoke about
Before departing for her village that afternoon, I bought some kunafeh (Palestinian dessert) and a small bottle of locally mixed perfume for her mother, as thanks and appreciation for their hospitality. When we arrived at her home, I noticed a yard full of olive, tangerine, lemon and fig trees, as well as a few winding grapevines, all growing around a modest, two story concrete home. Walking into Rana's home, I met her two younger brothers, her younger sister and her mother. Her father was at work as a window washer in Tel Aviv and would be gone for the week. Her other brother, closest in age to her, had been in an Israeli jail for the last 17 months and would be there for the next two as well; I didn't ask why.
After a few minutes of joking with her siblings, her mother called us to the table for an array of Palestinian delights. Seasoned chunks of chicken were placed over large pieces of flatbread, lightly drizzled with local olive oil and adorned with ground up zaatar (thyme, sesame seeds and herbs). Roasted almond slivers rested gently upon the surface herbs, beckoning our taste buds to indulge in their mighty earthen flavors. Bowls of mysteriously smooth yogurt dressed the edges of the table and balanced the flavors on our palates. When was my last home cooked meal?
Looking out across the hillside we could see the lights of their mosque hovering gently above the town like a Klieg light. In the other direction, the three siblings pointed out the lights of the Jewish settlement camps that were equidistant from our spot. These camps have been a major point of contention in the prospect for peace in this region. It amazed me that I was seeing one so close in a territory that I thought was completely Palestinian; below the camps was a large concrete partition that helped to keep the restricted area just that. We turned back toward the village and watched the sky while the last bits of the sun dipped quietly into the horizon behind.
The rest of the night was spent laughing, watching Bollywood films, discussing the Qur'an and giving me gifts. Every hour or so, Rana would approach me with a new gift for me or for my family. Her only moment of reproach was when she noticed that my bag was too full to receive any more. I, on the other hand, had little to offer her in return, since I had been living out of a backpack for the last four months, though she, of course, expected nothing. I settled on giving her a bandanas, of which I had two. Although it was only a two dollar item, I explained its importance to me and she accepted with gratitude. We spoke of a day when I might meet her brother, whom her mother said I resembled. Rana said he would enjoy taking me many places in
The next morning, we shared a phenomenal breakfast of fresh pita rounds, richly flavored hummus, local tomatoes, cucumbers, olives, zaatar, two types of cheese and locally pressed olive oil. I stuffed myself silly, knowing full well that my day to come would be long and arduous. We exchanged contact info, said our goodbyes and just as I came, I left, on my own to travel the country. I caught a taxi to Jenin and then to the northerly most point of the West Bank, before spending an hour crossing a prison-like checkpoint on foot. I then spent the next few hours hitchhiking to
While standing by the empty roadside waiting for a ride, I couldn't help thinking about my family and friends that I missed so much. While on the road, days or weeks can sometimes pass before you meet anyone that can remotely resemble something like a true friend. At times it weighs heavy on your shoulders and at others it doesn't. But in those last two days, I was given comfort from a stranger and her family that immediately turned into friendship. Whenever I hear a report about
I owe it to her to listen.
About the Author With family support and encouraging friends, John has travelled to over 50 nations and counting. Using his experience in education to fuel the costs, he’s taught abroad and in New York for almost five years. John continues to pen his travels, while living and working as an educational consultant in New York City.
About the Author
With family support and encouraging friends, John has travelled to over 50 nations and counting. Using his experience in education to fuel the costs, he’s taught abroad and in New York for almost five years. John continues to pen his travels, while living and working as an educational consultant in New York City.