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Sam-I-Am Violin on the streets, fundamentalist Judaism, planting organic vegetables, and the like.

EXHIBIT A: Why I Travel

PALESTINE | Tuesday, 4 March 2008 | Views [1720] | Comments [4]

Anan and the Mosque of Tariq Ibn Ziyyad, Bethlehem. The jungle green color was mesmerizing. Love to see that every day when I walk out the door.

Anan and the Mosque of Tariq Ibn Ziyyad, Bethlehem. The jungle green color was mesmerizing. Love to see that every day when I walk out the door.

In Tiberias, with big plans to ride a bicycle around the Sea of Galilee tomorrow morning. Lots of amazing things are happening, but one 30-hour segment of my time in particular begs to be shared with others. I went to Bethlehem last Friday.
I know, Grandma, you said no risks. Well, I didn't notice any risks. I mean, they let me through the checkpoint without even leafing through my passport. And having escaped the West Bank alive, I can say that there wasn't much risk at all, but the reward was through the roof.
The Church of the Nativity is predictably dusty and tacky and beautiful. And who knows, maybe Jesus was really born here even though Constantine's mother seems to have made every decision there is about what happened where. I had tea with a struggling tourist-gimmick shop owner who was more or less my own age. I wandered around the sorry-looking market/shuk/souq. I witnessed the Friday afternoon prayer, when the entirety of Manger Square filled with prayer rugs and Muslim men outside the Mosque of Omar.
And then, on my meandering way towards an alleged Ethiopian Church cited on the map, I stopped to marvel at a jungle-green-domed church (it later turned out to be a mosque, as shown in the picture above). A passer-by asked if I needed help, and thus a conversation was started. Bashar quickly flashed his badge and said "don't worry, I am from the press" (the comedy of this became clear when he later showed me the quaint little TV station on the hill that he works at). We got to talking, and he wanted to show me around; apparently he doesn't meet many foreigners, because its mostly big Christian pilgrimage tours that come to Bethlehem. So he walked me up Jebel Khleifat. This means "Hill of Khleif", Khleif being Bashar's last name. Their claim is that their family is one of Bethlehem's originals, meaning they have been here since like 2000 years ago. I don't know how you verify this, but allegedly some books in the Bethlehem Museum list their name, and after all, the hill is named after them. The place swarms with cousins.
So I'm shown inside Bashar's home, his older brother Hamza greeting me at the door in his Notre Dame hoodie (he has no connection to the university). I am escorted to the sitting room and served coffee, and a plate of fruit is set in front of me. And we talk. About what I'm doing here, about what the brothers (there are 5 of them) are studying, about Bethlehem and Palestine and the Middle East. The hospitality is already unparalleled when it becomes apparent that lunch is being prepared for me. It's rice and goat meat simmered with tomatos and green beans and things. I don't think I've ever had goat meat before. The father, who is named Abraham Isaac (except in Arabic), stresses that the meal is completely natural. The goats are his goats, the vegetables are from the garden, and it's all natural ingredients. It's nice to know that this is important to Palestinian families (he says its like this in every household in Bethlehem).
Incidentally the father carves quite a round figure, and wears oversized sweatpants with all 30 NBA team logos on them, except they are fake logos. Copyright law must be pretty far-reaching.
So over the course of the rest of the day, I get a tour of the neighborhood, meeting countless cousins and friends, I see Bethlehem's own Al-Mahed TV station (still running on VHS), I blow a 3-ball lead in billiards at the local pool hall (the pressure of an increasing crowd of Palestinian youth watching me eventually broke me), and I go to a houka lounge with Hamza for some musing about life. When we get back, dinner is served, and later Abraham Isaac calls me into the TV room to tell me that while I'm here, I am as Hamza to him (read: like a son). Amazing. I watch a movie with Hamza ('Ghosts of Mississippi' about the Medgar Evers trial) before going to bed.
In the morning, I am the privileged guest of mom and dad at the 3-person kitchen table, for homemade flatbread and some 15 different condiment choices, freshly made jams and cheeses and hummus and olives and whatnot. Then Bashar and his friend and I take a taxi over to Beit Jala to see Jerusalem Open University, where Bashar studies. The culture of this place is such that there is a lot of loitering. Loitering on the front steps, loitering in the cafeteria, loitering in the schoolyard; we stroll back and forth people watching and meeting Bashar's friends. I hung out just talking with Bashar's crew for maybe 3 hours. Certainly the novelty of an American here accounts for a lot of the pleasantries and attention. But there's also clearly just a lot of curiousity about the rest of the world. We did a lot of comparing American life to Palestinian life while I was here. Talking about music, about university, about writing in journals. It's amazing how similar we are. The environments, maybe those are not similar. But we're all curious about the world, we all want to learn about other people (unfortunately some of us have walls built around us so we can't leave to learn about these other people).
And I think the best part, of the whole trip, as I told my mom: when I was getting ready to go, Abraham Isaac insisted that I say hello to my parents from him and his family. And it's so simple, but: what an amazing world we live in, that this family in the West Bank is waving hello from their home to my parents who are complete strangers halfway around the world in Boston, Massachusetts. Beautiful.

Tags: culture, people



just awesome.

  Edward Mar 7, 2008 1:02 AM



Amazing travels, amazing journal, amazing diversity of experiences and people you are meeting. Thanks so much for sharing it all.

Love, Adele and Larry B.

  Adele Mar 7, 2008 7:30 AM


Your stories transport me to the middle east some 30 years ago. Those were some (sic) of the most exciting times of my life. You are changed forever I think.

  Michael Mar 7, 2008 8:09 AM


Hi Samuel,

Your description of Bethlehem and your new friend cum family is awesome.

Many years ago when I traveled abroad, to Italy,England,France,Spain,Portugal, and Egypt, I never had the opportunity to meet and relate with the natives of these lands.

Your eloquent description of Bethlehem and your adventures there leads me to wonder what the next generation can look forward to. Do you think your children will travel to space? What will the environment be like in 50 years? How will human beings live, work, relate with one another? What technical and medical miracles are yet to be discovered?

I think of you every day. I'm anxious to see you again soon and give you a big, big hug. When are you coming home?

Luv, Grandma

  grandma Mar 7, 2008 9:21 AM

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