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A Winding Journey With Many Stops The traveler was active; he went strenuously in search of people, of adventure, of experience. The tourist is passive; he expects interesting things to happen to him. He goes "sight-seeing." ~Daniel J. Boorstin

Holy Land: Day 2

PALESTINE | Monday, 7 May 2007 | Views [943]

Wow. This morning was a real wake up call that we are definitely in a foreign land. The Islamic call to prayer resonated across the city, bouncing off each other from the various mosques that are present in the city. It is beautiful, however at 4am, the beauty of it tends to be lost by a tired, confused and very much jet lagged person. So my day started very early. After the call to prayer it seems like the rest of the city begins to awaken as well. The roosters were crowing, the vendors were beginning to move about the city and the traffic began to move. Good morning good morning good morning.

After a refreshing walk through the gardens, letting the smells of jasmine envelop me and watching in awe as the sun rose and reflected off the Dome of the Rock, I was in a considerably better mood. Breakfast was lovely, with breads, zatar, cheeses and jam. I am really enjoying the food in this country.

We went to church at a Melchite church today, it was a very interesting experience as the service was entirely in Arabic with the occassional Greek word from time to time. The incense was overpowering but likewise was the beauty of the frescoes painted on every inch of the cathedral inside. The processionals were fascinating and I really enjoyed talking to the regular attenders over very strong and very sweet coffee after the service.

We also had a fun shopping and money changing experience today as well. I had falafel for the first time and I definitely have a new favorite food. The shopkeepers that we have talked to are so incredibly friendly here, its humbling the way that people recognize that we are tourists and welcome us anyway. We could learn a lot from those here in the Middle East on how to make foreigners welcome in your land...

Another interesting activity that we did today was walk the ramparts of the old wall around Jerusalem. We walked from Jaffa Gate to Damascus Gate in the Muslim Quarter and looked down the wall and the hustle and bustle of the gate and the souks below.

Ahh the souks. Shopping is a new experience here. It is not about the give and take of currency for goods so much as it about a verbal thrust and parry and developing a relationship between customer and vendor. Haggling a price is an artform and is most definitely expected. My first attempt was meager at best and while as I did end up with several nice things, I most definitely paid too much for them...oh well, live and learn. An issue that I have encoutered especially is that I am very aware of my gender here. Not that I feel threatened because I am a woman, because I feel very safe here, but there are certain undertones that seem to be present in the society and culture that dictate what a woman's behavior or role ought to be. For example, I have had comments that are sexualized made toward me when I have been shopping, comments that range the gamut from harmless flattery that is amusing to comments about looking for a "big, strong man, look for big rich husband, you should look for Arab husband--he protect you" to what an American would consider invasion of personal space that is actuality completely normal here. I apparently have a lot to learn.

Our destination tonight is Bethlehem. We successfully navigated the Israeli checkpoint and have entered the West Bank. It is like entering a different, sadder world, when you cross the border and go behind the wall. In Jerusalem, on the other side of the wall, there is a city that bubbles with life, joy, smiles, almost a false sense of carefree. But in Bethlehem, birthplace of Our Lord, despair and struggle, hopelessness and helplessness and the pain of a people trapped in a virtual prison become the landscape. These people are living for a future that has an astronomically high probability of never coming to be. The air is laden with their burden. I can't help but think to myself how history repeats itself but it only gets worse. The wall that Israel has built is our generations Berlin Wall. Only how long will it take this one to fall?

We are staying at the International Center in Bethlehem. It is magnificent and the rooms are lovely, much more then we require for our needs. My heart is heavy as I gaze out our window. We have so much and out hosts have much less and yet they welcome us, mind body and soul. They give from their heart and their generosity seems to know no bounds, they welcome us with open arms. I am humbled by their grace and I feel guilty for what I have, and what I have done, as an American to further their pain. Even if I have not done it intentionally, I know that I am part of the problem. I am a voting citizen of the US and I have incredible power, but unless I dare to use that power to effect change, the situation here will only get worse. Even knowing that, however, I feel helpless. What do I do? How can I help? What can I do that would make a difference?

Interesting note:

Apparently here at the ICB, it is Austrian week. So, our group was treated to a concert of classical and contemporary Viennese music and our first meal in Palestine was Weiner Schnitzel and Apfelstrudel.... :-) travel...it is a combination of culture, spontenaity, and change. you never know what you are going to get!

Tags: bethlehem, holy land, jerusalem, palestine

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