Tuesday, January 31, 2012

e-mail to dad

so much shittah today! shittah means winter. which means rain. i asked the service driver if there will be shums (sun) tomorrow. he said, "shittah bukra!" winter tomorrow!

so no hiking. i didn't really have time anyway. i stayed up late, slept in late, and had this long lunch with the mayor of tubas and all these guys in suits talking about investment in the governorate, and coffee and more lunch and tea and coffee, so now it's 5:15 and i'm just starting my work-evening.

there's a road that goes up to the mountain. if i hit the end of the road, i'd stop, as sad as that sounds. i was supposed to have a couchsurfer from turkey today, but she didn't have time to make it into the west bank. i was going to climb with her. maybe sadiq will climb with me. or just some local. i want to ask the soldier, jason, what he knows about the mine situation. both sides probably have valuable information. the roommate of my couchsurfing host in west jerusalem told me the mines in the jordan valley were left by jordanian forces. i really need to learn more about this.

so no worries, taqlaqish, as they say here. hakuna matata. just tell mom that rode in a service from nablus to tubas in the rain, and she'll forget about the mines.

i just uploaded a video about the demolition orders. i need something more marketable. shway shway, it will come to me.
so many questions right now. all i know is, this website, as basic and template-y as it is at the moment, feels like the most important thing i've ever done. this just needs to happen. fortunately i'm enjoying it too. as a process, making a website gives you all the joys and frustrations of learning a new language and interior decorating. i'm trying to take a lot of short-cuts (using the support forums and copy-pasting code) but i'm getting the basics down, and enjoying the little changes. this is something that will grow, and evolve, but more importantly it's something that will stay. i've never appreciated the internet more than i do now, in this place in the world.

ok, that's it for now. i might be in bethlehem this thursday, for a meeting about preventing demolitions, and i want to see dar al-kalima college, where greta steeber taught. they have an art program and it might be cool to connect with the students, see if they can do any art projects up here. after that, who knows, but i'm going to to make up brochure for al aqaba to put in the bulletin board at the lutheran church at jerusalem.

you know what's funny? i had coffee and strudel with fred and gloria at the austrian hospice (tell mom, we were looking at it but it was jam packed), which is this gorgeous building hidden inside the old city near damascus gate. and we talked for a while about fred's experience at seminex, and he called over to another american gentleman at the next table, and said, "hey, morgan is the great-granddaughter of doc caemmerer!" and this guy responds, "oh yeah, he was my homiletics professor!" ayeee, that was cool. and the strudel was amazing. gloria pointed out that the europeans don't make it so sweet, like the americans. you can actually taste it. so if you guys come over here, we're going to eat some strudel with the austrians. i just have to note, the young man at the reception desk was the most startlingly aryan man i've ever seen. curly blonde hair, blue eyes. i didn't realize until i was halfway to damascus gate that i was singing "tomorrow belongs to me" in my head. in spanish. manana me toca a mi. i was like, what the hell? beautiful austrian boy puts nazi songs in my head?

i spent the next five hours at the "Educational Bookshop," which gloria had recommended to me. it's a little bookstore with a little upstairs area for tables, and all the books and movies and maps are related to palestine and the conflict. i wasn't surprised to hear people around me talking about activism and aid work. i spent five hours there, trying to learn how to code a logo into the website header. made a lot of amateur mistakes, but that's what happens when you try take shortcuts! i ate my second sandwich with lox that day. a friend of mine from ramallah, alison, from seattle, walked in and joined the girls next to me. after sitting by them for an hour I'd gleaned that they were working on a project about the right of education in palestine, as it relates to restrictions on foreigners. i knew a little bit about that. there's so much work going on here. so much research, so many demonstrations, i still have this feeling that if i made a few videos my voice would be heard. why am i so sure? there are so many foreigners here, but they're not talking about themselves. well, i'm sure many of them are blogging like me, but we're not being heard because we're telling the same stories over and over. not that they shouldn't be heard, but our own stories would build the bridges that all this activism talk hasn't been doing. so it's not just ego. i admit i'm pretty full of myself. i just think it'd be effective.

can you tell where i decided to turn your letter into a blog post?
alright, back to the site. gimme three days, three days...
love you,

Monday, January 30, 2012

I'm sitting on the couch in the guest house, two heaters on either side of me. It's all quiet, except for the occasional rumble of jets. It was raining an hour ago, not so heavy, but going from Haj Sami's office to the house I felt like I was walking through a cloud. It was so misty, I couldn't even see the mosque, just the lights at the top. And the leaves on the olive tree were slick and shiny under the street lights. It was one of those moments in Al Aqaba that I couldn't even think of explaining. My camera would never do it justice. I just felt alone...and here that alone-ness doesn't make me feel lonely. It makes me feel lucky. I wish everyone could see this misty hilltop village.

Though...I don't think I'd feel half as lucky without this gargantuan gas heater. I'm going to tweak the village website a little more, then watch Spirited Away on the projector. That's a misty night-kinda movie.

Friday, January 27, 2012


This guy tried to cheat me into paying 40 dinars to get from Amman to the Allenby bridge. I made him turn around and take me to the taxi station, and because it was rush hour traffic and I felt sorry for him, I ended up paying him 5 JD. The shared taxi from Amman to Allenby also cost me 5 JD.

I was in the Jordanian exit terminal, standing around, waiting for me to get my passport stamped, when I saw a girl who looked about my age. I couldn't tell if she was foreign, or Arabic, or Jewish. She could've been a combination of all three. All I knew was, she didn't look phased. I wondered what she was crossing for. It was my first time crossing after dark. We both ended up sitting in the waiting area while our passports were being processed. I was eating donuts, she was eating McDonalds. Stress food?

The passport guy told us to get on the bus. She told me, "ok, let's go" and we found the bus to take us to Allenby. After I was seated and got my passport handed back to me, she asked me where I was going.
"Really? I'm driving to Ramallah, I have a car. You can ride with me if you want."
Her name was Aisha. She was half-German, half-Palestinian, and her father was from Ramallah. She was studying at Birzeit University. I asked her if it was better to cross at night. I had this theory that it would work better because it was harder to deny someone entry when they had no way of getting back to Amman. She told me it didn't make a difference to her, because they usually kept her waiting until the terminal closed. I'd probably end up waiting for her, but I didn't mind.

As soon as we got into the Israeli terminal, I handed my passport over to the first desk. I wasn't familiar with this terminal, it was throwing me off. The guy asked me, "You were born in Taiwan?" I said yeah. He shook his head and marked my security threat level and handed my passport back. After I got through the metal detector, I heard a soldier asking Aisha if she had another passport other than German. She said no. They asked her to wait over there. Her name was Arabic.

I went ahead to the kiosks and waited for my turn. I was mentally prepared for the old terminal, where were we? And it was night, and the place was full. This was weird. My turn came, and I went up to the official. There were two in the kiosks, both wearing kippahs. I handed over my passport and he flipped through it. I dug around my backpack and retrieved my letter from Haj Sami and my pictures with the kids in Al Aqaba. Before he could ask my anything I passed them under the glass. He said, "those aren't for us" and continued typing. I tried to see that as a good thing.

He asked me what I did. I said I was an English teacher in a village called Al Aqaba. He asked me how much time I wanted. I said three months. He raised his eyebrows and said, "well, I don't think we can give you three months..." I said, "but I need three months to finish the course!"
Of course, this was a lie, I finished teaching a month ago, but my situation was much more loosey-goosey now and I needed a stronger reason to stay. The guest house work wasn't strong enough. The man asked me for all of my contacts and their numbers. My new phone only had three numbers in it, so I gave him three. Usually they didn't call them. I spent most of this time studying the difference between one kippah and the other. One was neatly stitched, and the other looked very old and torn. I wondered what that meant.

He told me to go sit down "over there." I was going to get some more questions. I sat down in a waiting section with a bunch of Palestinians. One of the guys asked me, "Where are you from?"
"They only put Palestinians here. Not Americans."
"I know...."

Aisha had gotten up to the kiosks and had been standing there for some time. We seemed to be at the same stage. I was still hoping to go to Ramallah with her. I wasn't confident about the Service schedule and it was nice to have a new friend from Ramallah.

We both ended up in another waiting room, with the group of Palestinian men from before. One of them was talking on his phone in an American accent, "No, don't leave yet, I haven't gotten my passport yet so I'll call you when I know..."
Aisha sat next to me with all her stuff. "What did they ask you?"
I couldn't think of anything out of the ordinary. What was I doing, how long was I staying....I wasn't ordinary, but I didn't really get any trouble.

They'd pulled Aisha aside and asked her, "why do you study in Ramallah?"
"Because my father is from Ramallah."
"But there are so many better universities in Germany and Europe you could go to."
"Yes, but my family is in Ramallah..."
"Why are you angry?"
"Because you're asking me these stupid questions, I don't need your visa. Just give me one week and I'll go to the Ministry of the Interior and get it myself."
"What if we don't give you entry?"
"You're not allowed to not let me in. My family is there."

I stared at her in disbelief. What a complete asshole. I really did get VIP treatment.

I was pulled aside and a young women asked me the same questions over again. I said Al Aqaba, she said what? I said it was near Tubas. Tubas? Umm, between Nablus and Jenin. Ok, she wrote Jenin. How long are you staying in Jenin? Nooo, no, no, I'm not living in Jenin. I told her to write Tubas. Jenin wasn't going to help me here. I was staying in Tubas for 2 and a half months. She wrote, "3 months." She went back to the office, and a few minutes later, brought me back my passport. It had a 3-month stamp in it.

I went through one last kiosk, and then out the door. I decided to wait for Aisha, they couldn't keep her for that long, with all these terminal changes. I decided to call Haj Sami, to ask if the kiosk guys had called him. They had. They'd called him twice, and asked them if I worked there. He said yes, help Morgan!" He had to give them his ID number. It was bad enough that I'd given his name. I felt hot again. I apologized, but he seemed happy that I had the new visa, and I was coming to Al Aqaba in a few days.

I waited 5 more minutes, and Aisha was out. We rode the bus to the Palestinian Authority terminal, then found her car in the parking lot, and drove to Ramallah. She was getting calls left and right from her mother and her friends talking about relationship drama.
"If you stay a little longer, you'll know how fast talk spreads around here."
30 minutes later...
"Habibi, stop, there is this girl here I've known for one hour and she already knows all of my shit! Hele an tizi!"
I understood that as "Leave my ass!"

We went bar-hopping that night. I found myself in a bar with all this crazy stuff stuck to the walls, and Aisha requested "We Found Love" by Rihanna. I thought of all the people on Bourbon Street back in New Orleans, dancing to the same exact song.


On my third night in Amman, I was sitting in a nice cafe on Rainbow Street with a old British guy I'd cabbed with from the hostel (it was kind of random that he'd stuck with me) and my new couchsurfing friend Mohammad (MK) and his friends. I was starting to feel kinda woozy. I didn't know if it was something I ate or if I'd picked up germs somewhere, but my night was over. I just wanted to sleep. So I called my friend Hakim, who I was supposed to stay with that night, and told him I was feeling sick and just needed a place to crash early. He told me he was in a meeting down the street, but the cafe had couches and I could rest there until he was done. So I said goodbye to my British friend Ron, and MK and Osama. Osama actually knew Hakim, they both did work in the field of outdoor adventuring in Jordan. Osama, more for fun. For Hakim, it was his life and profession. I'd been on one of his trips in 2008, a walk/swim through the canyons of Wadi Hassa. It was one of the coolest places I'd ever been.
Anyway, I hadn't seen Hakim in three years, and here I was, showing up in a cafe in Amman, looking like I was going to barf. I wandered inside and saw him hovering over a table of older guys, explaining something. He saw me and came to give me a hug. Yes, this was Hakim. Big, tall, shaggy-haired, wearing sweatpants and the "Homeland Security-Fighting Terrorism Since 1492" t-shirt with the picture of the Native Americans.
"You look sick." I tried to laugh.
He showed me to the couch and threw his jacket over me. I turned over and just about passed out. I listened to their conversation in Arabic and tried to pick out as many words as I could. It wasn't many. Someone brought me tea.
When Hakim finished, he came over and sat on the other couch. He looked amused.
"Yeah, I know. I'm a mess."
"Yeah, just a little bit."
We caught up over tea. I found out the meeting was about trying to establish a federation of all the outdoor adventure tour groups in Jordan. They wanted to put all the groups together under an umbrella with a council. I told him I was volunteering in Palestine, and trying to organize a nature walk as part of the guest program in Al Aqaba. Maybe he could help me.
"Wow. I went to Palestine a few times, never want to go back though."
That was the first time I'd heard that. Everyone else I'd talked to in Amman had either said "ahh, I'm from Jenin," or "I'm from Nablus," or "I'm from Hebron," or "take me with you"....
"I went to Jenin to build after it was bombed..."
"And I played a few basketball tournaments in Tel Aviv. Then I went through Eilat, and they left me standing there naked for 45 minutes."
"Yeah, they broke me, man. When I get over that, I'll go back.

I mean, I know it's stupid.....I know that's what they want, you know? But I just can't..."

My sickness was wearing off, and my head was feeling clear. But I felt hot. Anger, surprise. shame. I knew it happened all the time. But not to Hakim.

Back in college, my friend Becca was grossed out when I told her I'd been with a Jordanian. She'd dated a few Israeli soldiers while she was studying in Jerusalem, and I heard all about it. Sorority talk always bordered on graphic. I just remember something about a quickie in a military base. Everyone was like, "damn, that's so adventurous." And what did I do while I was studying abroad in the next country over? I hooked up with a Jordanian. Her response...."ew, why?" to which I replied, "he's half-Spanish...."

Hakim drove me home and on the way he stopped at the pharmacy. "I'm taking care of you today," he said as he shut the car door and bought Ibuprofen for my headache. Then we bought food for breakfast. I was feeling better, and getting hungry, so he bought me shawarma.

I knew when I'd gotten off the phone with him that afternoon that this was all I needed. I'd been going crazy back at the hostel, with no friends, no schedule, no sense of purpose. Then Hakim called me and I asked, "Hey, what are you doing today?" and he replied, "Well, I've got a meeting at 6, then I'm hanging out with this girl named Morgan, you know her?" and I laughed. The heaviness went away.

I toured his apartment while he bickered with his mother in Spanish. In his room I found two records-the Cabaret soundtrack and Genesis, and Into Thin Air. We watched Office Space, he'd never seen it. It's funnier with someone who's never seen it. The next night we went to a bar that was 80% foreigners. It was Tequila Tuesday. The music was American. I think. The next night some friends came over and played Settlers. Playing Settlers in mixed English/Arabic is really entertaining, especially when the guys keep yelling "I have wood!"
"I have weed."
"It's wheat."
"Oh, ok. I'll give you weed for a brick."
"How about rock for a brick?"
"Oh. hahahah....."

The next morning I woke up and Hakim was gone. I thought, it's time to go back to Palestine. I can't loaf around here. Maybe I'll miss the shared taxis. Maybe I'll miss the bridge. But I can't stay here.

So I crossed, and in the same day found myself sitting in an apartment in Ramallah with a girl I'd met at the checkpoint. Yeah, I just went home with her and hung out with her German mom and her 2-year-old son. Thinking, holy shit, I just crossed. Now what?

This is where a picture of a checkpoint would be.

A few weeks ago I was about to go through Qalandia checkpoint, what my mother called the "chicken run." As I approached the narrow lanes that lead up to the electronically-activated revolving doors, I saw lines of Palestinians squeezed in with their families, waiting for an invisible soldier in a booth to press the button and let a few of them in at a time.

Souli told me, "No, let's go to another checkpoint. This is too much." He started walking away. I pulled out my camera to get a picture of this scene, then I got self-conscious. I felt like taking a picture of animals in a zoo. So I put my camera away. And I walked away, feeling like that feeling might be more important than a picture anyway. It was a terrible feeling.

We went to another checkpoint and it took us half and hour to get there. I wondered why we'd come all this way when Qalandia probably would've taken the same amount of time. I didn't get it. I asked Souli. He told me he couldn't stand in that line. He'd rather drive for 30 minutes. So we went to a quieter checkpoint where there were only 7 people waiting. It still took 30 minutes.

Checkpoint story

Yesterday I learned what it's like to travel from Area A to Area C with an Israeli in your car. Lesson learned: one of you is breaking the law, and that one needs to hide.

Background: Under Israeli law, Israeli citizens can't enter Area A of the West Bank without pre-approval from the army. These are the urban areas: Ramallah, Bethlehem, Jericho, Nablus, etc. Some Israelis defy this law, saying it's only in place to keep the majority of Israelis ignorant about what the army is doing to Palestinians in the Territories.

So here's the story.
*names have been changed


I was in Al Aqaba village on a Thursday afternoon. This meant that the weekend was starting, and I was itching to head into the city (Ramallah or Jerusalem).

That night there was a concert at my church in Jerusalem. If I took public transportation, the trip would take about three and a half hours (Al Aqaba-T ubas-Nablus-Ramallah-Jerusalem). I was hoping to catch the last taxi out of Tubas, and it was already 4:30.

I dropped into Haj Sami's office to let him know I was leaving. I saw that there were two men from Jerusalem interviewing Haj Sami. Since my taxi hadn't arrived, I sat in on their conversation, which I couldn't understand, because it was mostly in Hebrew.

I introduced myself to the two guests. One was Israeli, from Jerusalem. The other was Palestinian, also from Jerusalem, and he spoke Arabic and Hebrew. I told him I was going to Jerusalem, and he said, "excellent, come with us, just wait until we're finished." I was thrilled to cut down on time/money/effort and hang out with these guys, so I took out my laptop and did some website work until the interview was over. Then we said goodbye to Haj Sami, who was surprised I was going to Jerusalem so suddenly. It's never easy to say because he isn't allowed into Jerusalem with his West Bank ID. He told me to tell everyone about the demolition orders, which the Israeli army had just issued the village. I said I would. Then I got in the car with the Israeli and the Palestinian.

As we left Al Aqaba, we exchanged stories. Eyal*, the Israeli, was doing research for Oxfam on the Jordan Valley. He lives with his partner in Germany, and does freelance research. Oxfam picked an Israeli, he presumed, because he had access to settlers. So he'd been doing interviews all over, partly in response to an effort by the World Zionist Organization and the Israeli Ministry of Agriculture to double the size of the Jordan Valley settlements, and increase their water allocation, which is already disproportionally high.

We were driving through Tubas, and headed to Nablus. This was the route I would take in a Palestinian taxi. I knew it was illegal for Eyal to be passing through Area A, so I asked him where this lawlessness came from. He laughed. He was born into a very liberal family in Jerusalem. I asked him if he'd served in the army, and he said no. He faked insanity. I couldn't imagine this nice-mannered man coming off as crazy, so I asked him how he did it. He said it wasn't that hard. If you take your political views, and stretch it into paranoia....the point is, the army doesn't want to recruit someone who isn't motivated, so they don't expend much energy on combing through the fakers. I asked Eyal if his "insanity" shows on his record, and he said he had to re-take a driving test, but the only implication now was that he couldn't get a job at the Ministry of Defense. Not a big loss.

"Not for the self-haters," I said. He laughed.

I was able to converse with his friend, Mohammad, a little bit in Arabic, but mostly I spoke to Eyal in English, and he translated to Mohammad in Hebrew. We talked about normalization and the Knesset and the occupation. I made a reference to Arab Israelis and he corrected me, "most of them prefer to be called 48 Palestinians." Ok, that's the first time I was lefted by an Israeli...

We stopped in a village so Mohammad could pick up some vegetables at a roadside stand, and Eyal told me about his brother, who wanted to start up a publication to save Hebrew from Zionism. He wanted to undo the transformation of religious Hebrew into a colonialist language. I asked him if where he would draw the line, and how the language would get filled in without that transformation. He said it would be difficult. He said he thought Hebrew wasn't a very important language anyway, and it would probably die out soon.

"Wow, that's a very controversial statement..."

"Haha, I'm just saying, I wouldn't mourn it..."

He added that a lot of American Jews are taking an interest in Yiddish, because they want to get in touch with their Jewish roots without being Zionist. I'd heard from someone else that Yiddish is a much richer language. I only know it from movies, where people throw bits of Yiddish in with English. Eyal said it was a very humoristic language. I could see that.

Mohammad got back in the car, laughing, telling us that the vegetable vendor referred him to a stand down the street where he could get a better price.

We took the road that skirts the city of Nablus, and headed towards the Israeli Huwarra checkpoint, which sits between Area A and Area C. We would be traveling on the big Area C (Israeli-controlled) highway the rest of the way.

Most of the time, I don't see soldiers standing at the checkpoint. Usually there's one or two soldiers protecting the settler bus stop, but none in the circle itself. This time there were 5 or 6 soldiers, and as soon as they spotted Eyal in the front seat, they started waving their hands and yelling "whoa! whoa! whoa!"

I thought we were going to pull over, but Mohammad didn't stop. He just kept going. I thought, that's risky. But would they chase after us? Mohammad put in a CD and started blasting it. What was that for? Eyal said maybe him and I should switch seats. In case they come after us and are looking for the Israeli in the front seat. Mohammad agreed, so he climbed in back, and I climbed in front. Shit, I thought, what had I gotten myself into?

Mohammad explained he was playing music so he could say he didn't hear the soldiers. No one came after us. Twenty minutes passed. We were headed for Tappuah junction, an even bigger checkpoint, so I guess it was good that Eyal was less visible now. As soon as we approached the junction, the soldiers were in front of us, waving for us to pull to the side. One of them was on the phone. The soldiers at Huwarra had called them.

One of the soldiers came to Mohammad's window. They were arguing about whether Eyal and I had switched seats. Eyal was identified as "Jehud," Jewish. I wondered, what if he wasn't Israeli? No big deal, send him on his way?

Mohammad was identified as being from Jerusalem. They asked for my ID, and I opened up my purse carefully and took out my driver's license. I did have my passport, but I'm not obligated to show it if I'm not leaving the country, so I don't. A soldier asked me to open up all the compartments of my backpack, and my duffle bag, and my purse.

I could hear them interrogating Eyal and Mohammad. Their excuse was that they'd been in a settlement, Elon More. I was trying to keep up with what they were saying, in case I was asked anything. Maybe I could say I was Couch Surfing in Elon More (??) or that I was hitch-hiking and they'd picked me up.

Immediately I decided I can't lie. Not only am I terrible at it, but the chances of matching our stories on the fly were slim, and I was opposed to the idea of lying about my life here. It goes against the whole reason I'm here, which is to be honest about what I'm doing, because there's nothing wrong with it. Just like there's nothing wrong with Eyal conducting research in the West Bank. He didn't even do his research in Area A, he just had to pass through it. I wanted to tell him that I met Eyal in Al Aqaba village, and they were giving me a ride to Jerusalem. But I couldn't. They were lying their asses off to avoid getting arrested. And with every added suspicion, they just looked worse. Now the soldiers probably thought they were in Area A, and they were lying about it. They must have been up to no good. No! Actually, the man was just doing research that implicates your government in land and resource theft!

I checked myself. Who was I trying to save by telling the truth? These soldiers are told to catch Israelis in Area A and then who knows what, they get arrested or fined or something. Obviously, this had never happened to Eyal and he wasn't sure how to handle it.

I had no qualms about telling the soldiers I live in Al Aqaba, and I'm headed to Ramallah, I could even give them crap for making me miss my Wednesday night Lenten Soup and Study night in Jerusalem, which was actually true. I want them to know I live a semi-normal life under their occupation. That's a small, but not insignificant victory for me. But I couldn't let them arrest Eyal. I made my mind up right there not to say a word. I hoped I had the right to remain silent.

All in all, I was really pissed off. I watched the cars and army jeeps in the roundabout in front of us, I watched the settlers going to and from the bus stops, and getting on settler busses covered in Hebrew letters, and I looked at the giant metal menorah that had been blazing like the Olympic torch over Hanukkah. You're all acting like a bunch of children. You, soldiers, standing around with your guns looking for people who look like Jewish traitors. You, settlers, whom the soldiers would consider "good Jews," standing at the Jewish-only bus stop, hopping on Jewish-only buses. You, Mohammad and Eyal, lying about the music being too loud and doing research in Elon More. Tell them you drove through a Palestinian city!

While we were waiting quietly in the car, I wondered out loud, "what if there was a huge wave of Israelis who went to Area A and drove out of the checkpoints, and all got nabbed, and all got sent to prison...that would send a big statement, wouldn't it?" Eyal smiled, and told me not to hold my breath.

A senior-officer-guy opened my door and asked to search my bags. He asked me basic questions like do I speak Arabic and where I'm from and what I'm doing here. I found it really difficult not to answer. Fortunately, he didn't ask me how I knew Eyal and Mohammad. After an hour or so of waiting, he decided he believed their story, but warned Mohammad about going into Area A. Why Mohammad? Why the Arab?

Mohammad told me, and Eyal translated, that it did help that we switched seats.

I decided against going to Jerusalem. Souli was in Jaffa for a few hours and had asked me to meet up with his Polish couchsurfer, who was wandering around Ramallah, and I was exhausted from working on the village website the whole night before. So it was home to Ramallah.

They dropped me off at Jaba checkpoint, where I caught a yellow Service to Ramallah, and walked to Souli's. 

And that's where I am now, clicking away. I was going to go to Bil'in, but it's too tempestuous outside. I don't even want to leave the apartment. As fun as adventuring is, sometimes you just need a place where you can lounge around in pajama pants. Especially after an experience like that.


So I've put myself in the position where I have two blogs, one for...anything really, and one for the guest house. Here's the link:


Anyway, I'm in the process of making a website for Al Aqaba, and the guest house blog is just a link on the site. So I have more personal freedom with the blog, but it still needs to be professional because it represents the village and Haj Sami. Alright, but this is my personal blog, and I just have to share this.

Last night I was in Tubas having dinner with a family. This man, Hakam, runs a TV/photo studio in the city, so he's up in Al Aqaba sometimes, shooting footage for Palestine TV. He was there when the demolition orders were delivered, and he asked why I never visited his studio. It's true, I had flaked on my last visit, so I promised to come the next day. Haj Sami told him right then, "She loves makloubeh...." har har, thanks Hah Sami. So I was invited over to have dinner with Hakam's family the next night.

His family lives in an apartment above the studio, next to his brother. He introduced me to his brother and I saw that there were also four Koreans there. I'd met a Japanese woman who lives in Tubas, but it was rare to see any foreigners there. They seemed very excited to meet me, and I was happy to see that they'd made it all the way up here, but Hakam was eager to shoo me into his apartment and introduce me to his wife and kids. He and his wife wanted their daughter to practice her English with me, and were prodding her to ask me quetsions. She whipped out her English for Palestine book and asked me, "what do you do on the weekends?" Good lord.
We ate makloubeh, and it was heavenly. Everytime I finished my plate, they heaped on more, because I haven't learned to leave food on my plate. I think I'm just incapable of it. Then we drank juice and watched the 6 o'clock news from Palestine TV. Haj Sami was on the screen, talking about the demolition orders.
Then the Koreans came in, because Hakam's brother was leaving to see his grandmother, or something. They sat down and I saw that they had a guitar with them. Cool, to travel with a guitar, seriously. One of the guys was playing from a book, it looked like a hymnal. I asked, are they Korean songs? Or "misihiye?" Christian? They replied, yes, we are Christian. I told them I'd been to Seoul once and walked around E-Day market, turns out one of them lived next to E-day. I don't remember their names, but I'm not trying to lump all Koreans together. Remember this :)
They were two pairs of siblings, and cousins. They asked me why I was here, and I said I was working in a village, and I just love Palestine. One of the girls lit up, "me too! I love Filisteen!" That made me smile.
I took some video of the two girls, asking them questions about why they were here, what they love about Palestine, what they miss about home, what their favorite word in Arabic is, I'm hoping to make it part of a film on foreigners in the West Bank. Baby steps. But they were very eager to help. Two of the guys were giving Hakam a massage, and contributed, "the people here, very warm, very kind...."
After we'd been there a while, one of the girls asked me when I was going, I said maybe 30 minutes, and she said "oh. see, we don't know where we are staying tonight." Interesting. Well, I said, "come stay with me, I live in a guest house!" They said they didn't have any money, I said if they supported Al Aqaba in some way, they could stay anyway. They were very appreciative.
Before we left, they wanted to sing a song to the family, as a gift. One of the guys strummed on his guitar, and it was a beautiful song. It sounded just like a worship song in English. A worship song? I realized they were all reading lyrics in Korean, but they were a transliteration of Arabic, and they were actually singing in Arabic. Ohhhhh. Their accents made it difficult for me to understand, and maybe it was traditional Arabic, but I could imagine it had something to do with Jesus. I wondered if the family understood. I watched the mother, she seemed to enjoy the music, but she wasn't smiling. I thought of my time in Jordan, someone told it was illegal to try to convert people to Christianity, that this issue was taken very seriously. These guys weren't in trouble or anything, but I wondered if at some point they would run into the wrong people and shit would hit the fan.
Anyways, they finished and everyone clapped. Then we started to go, the taxi was outside, and one of the girls, said, oh, wait! I forgot to give her my gift. She was holding a piece of paper. Ok, I went outside and waited for them. I waited for 5 or 6 minutes, while the driver got impatient, and then they all piled in, and we went to Al Aqaba. Apparently the driver had seen these guys in the Ramallah taxi station. Small world!
So we got into the village, and Haj Sami heard us arriving and came out to greet them. They put their stuff in the guest house and then we met Haj Sami in the office. There we talked and Sadiq came to join us, and Haj Sami told them about the situation and asked them, "why does the Israeli army want to damage the houses in Al Aqaba? All the time we talk about the peace!" and they sat there and mused for a while. One of the girls then told Haj Sami and she would pray for his health, and for Al Aqaba. Then they all approached him. "Are you religious?" one of the girls asked.
"Yes, I am a Muslim," he answered, smiling.
"Ahh, ok, so you know....Jesus loves you...." and she took out her paper.
Oh man. I didn't know what to do.
"Jesus, yes, he is in the Quran, like Moses and Abraham....nabil, what is nabil?" he asked Sadiq?
"Hmmm...what is nabil?" Sadiq asked me
"Prophet." ahh yes, prophet.
"Jesus is malak," the girl replied. He is king.
Hmmm. Haj Sami seemed to be taking this pretty well. One of the guys was massaging his shoulders and the other was massaging his hands. Haj Sami liked that. Now I realized why they were doing it.
The girl said a few more things about Jesus, and Haj Sami pointed to the paper and said, "I know this paper, they did this in Jericho, at the church, when they try to heal me, they try to make me walk, I know this paper, you can take this paper, I know this paper...." He dismissed it, jovially, then added, "but this, you can keep doing this," he said to the massagers. Sadiq and I burst out laughing.
Then they all touched Haj Sami and started their "gift." It was a prayer. I sat there and listened. It was in Korean, I could tell Haj Sami was like, wtf, but he was being a good sport. Then the words got faster and louder and they were each saying their own thing, mumbling or yelling or gasping for air, and Sadiq and I weren't smiling at each other anymore, just staring at the ground, lips pursed, eyes wide...I felt bad. It might look like I brought them here for some special reason. Whatever it looked like, it was going to be a sore subject, and I was walking a thin line as it was, trying start this visitor program and put something concrete in place, and now this.
Haj Sami nodded and said thank you and smiled, but as we locked up the office and said goodnight, I could tell he was simmering a bit.
We spent a bit of time up in the guest house. One of the guys re-strung my guitar, apparently I had put the wrong stright on my E-string, and strung it backwards. Whoops. They played some guitar and learned some new songs, then they asked me when I first loved Jesus. Oy. I talked to them about feeling Jesus in Palestine, going to the church in Bethlehem, getting my friend's prayer request sent out in the church in Jerusalem, singing in a church choir in New Orleans, a bunch of things that didn't really answer their question, but kind of skirted it. Every time they felt unsatisfied with the answer, one of them told me their story about how they used to drink and mess around, then their friends prayed for him and they found God. I just nodded, "that's great." And that was the end of that. They went to bed and I stayed up until 4am trying to figure out how to make a website. I got the basic structure down, then passed out for a few hours.
I woke up to the next morning to more songs. My guests were gathered in the other bedroom doing morning worship. I sat and listened for a while, then asked i they knew English songs. One of the guys started singing "How great is our God..." and I joined him..."sing with me, how great is our God, and all will see how great, how great, is our God." Wait, we knew the same songs? When I was a teenager I had a Bible Camp crisis, wondering why I sang all these songs without believing in the words. I knew at least 100 of them. For two years of New Orleans church choir I just let it go. I just like to sing with people. And harmonize. And make people happy. And be involved. I told this born-again Christian with the megaphone on Bourbon Street that that's where I see God, and he told me I was lying to myself. We talked for an hour while drunk people cussed him out and told me to stop wasting my time. I knew he was right. Maybe I saw what I was looking for, but was I looking for God? Maybe not. Maybe I don't care to answer this question. I just end all these conversations with "I feel so blessed, to be in this place, with these people, doing what I'm doing." So many people don't have that, am I still supposed to feel like I'm lacking?
Anyways, they signed my guest book, wrote some Korean on my whiteboard, and we took some pictures for the website. Honestly, I liked these guys, and I liked that they stayed at the guest house. Though, these nice friendly feelings were mixed with accusations that I was just thinking of PR, and being a diversity whore. I arranged for the group to take a Service taxi from Al Aqaba to Ramallah, which is a pretty sweet deal, thanks to Abu Karam. Haj Sami was in the office, and I decided not to say goodbyes. They invited me to a party in Bethlehem on Saturday, with Tae Kwon Do demonstrations and stuff, I said yes, maybe. They departed.
I went to the office to talk to Haj Sami about the website.
"Where the Korean??" he asked.
Ramallah, I said.
I went to type the URL into his computer and he pinched my neck from behind and pretended to strangle me, "why you bring them here?? this is not good! i can't sleep all night because i think about this!" I said I was sorry, I didn't know, all the while laughing with Tahrir the secretary and feeling relieved because he wasn't actually pissed. At least, not enough to let on. But I still felt bad.
Then I spent a few hours gathering logos and information to enter into the website. I found a few tutorials online, and I realized I would need some help with coding. Maybe someone in Ramallah could help me with that. Maybe that was a good excuse to take off. Truth is, I get antsy every Thursday, because that used to be the start of my weekend. Now I have no schedule, but I want to leave on Thursdays anyway. A big reason was a church service in Jerusalem.

Thursday Jan. 26 4:00 Upper Room outside Zion Gate, Benedictine Brothers of Dormitian Abbey

Seriously, doesn't that sound cool? Anyway, the guest house was dirty and my stuff wasn't packed so I didn't know if I'd make it in time. Typical Thursday dilemma.

To be continued in the next post....

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Demo orders

Today, two men from the Israeli Civil Administration, accompanied by an army jeep, delivered 17 demolition orders to homes and animal barracks in Al Aqaba.

I walked up to the SUV as they were pulling away from a chicken coop they'd just sentenced, and gave them a surprise video interview.

Civil Adminstration guys: What's your name?
Heyy, what are you doing?
No, you're not, you're driving! Did you just give an order?
For demolition?
Yes, maybe...
No (something in Hebrew...)
No permit? Tashrihh?
Yes, no tasrihh...no permit (like ahh, now she gets why we're here)
Why is that important? Why do they need a permit?
They started laughing.
Where are you from?
The U.S...
Ahhhh, Seattle...where do you live?
I live here! I have a house here!
Wow.....ok...how old are you?
How much time here?
Four months...
Are you married?
No! Why are you here? Don't you know Haj Sami?
Yes, yes, Haj Sami, in the wheelchair!
Ok, yalla, let's go, drink coffee or something...
They declined my offer, and drove off, followed by the jeep.

When I played the video back I sounded embarassingly jovial, I guess I was trying not to look like an activist. For the rest of the day I compiled a list of things I need to learn to say in Hebrew, like, "you're responsible for giving permits here" and "how would you feel if your home was destroyed?" and "do you think these people have any right to be here at all?" and "how do you sleep at night?"

I filmed from afar for the rest of their visit, and talked to Sudki and Raya and Abu Abed and everyone else who was hanging out, watching the SUV and jeep climb around the village. Afterwards they collected all the demolition orders that had been left in doorways, and delivered them to Haj Sami in the office, who signed them all and called a meeting with the governor of Tubas.

While my videos were uploading, I decided to go for a walk, maybe up the mountain. On the way I saw Haj Sami, who was talking to a reporter from Tubas, who was filming two children who lived in a house that had just received an order. When they departed I was invited up to the house for tea, which turned into mujadhara (something delicious with rice and lentils), then coffee, then more tea. I took videos of little Mohammad, Jawaher, and Ahmad. Mohammad was the mischevious older brother, Jawaher loved her soccer ball (How old are you? "I don't know!" and shrugged her shoulders...it was so cute) and Ahmad, the little toddler in sweats, could entertain himself for hours with a wheelbarrow.

Their mother invited me in to sit under a blanket, and we watched Tom and Jerry. It was a two-room house made of concrete blocks. I was served fresh goat cheese and bread from the tabun. It was insanely good. After a while I said I had to go but I wanted to come back. There was a picture of Ahmad on the website of one of my visitors, and I wanted to bring my computer to show them.

Before I got back to the guest house, I saw Haj Sami outside the kindergarten. He was waiting for the cement to arrive for the foudations of the new playground. I wondered if the process had been sped up because of what had happened this morning, or if we were just on schedule. Things move fast around here. I got some photos and video of the colossal cement-pouring machine, then went back home to work on video editing. My computer can't take much more, I've spent most of the last 7 hours just waited for it to stop pausing.

Tomorrow I'll finish the video, and there are at least 20 people coming in for a visit and a big lunch. Haj Sami's family has been coming in and out of my kitchen all day. My fridge is full of chickens.

Ok, 2:30. Time to turn in. I need to write a more official report on today.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Hey, I just got a few comments without names. I understand why you're saying these things. If you have a problem you want to talk about, send me an e-mail at mobach18@gmail.com. I can answer your questions.

The Wank

"Early morning westbank bound"

Haha, my friend from New Orleans posted this on Facebook and I was confused...what was he doing in Palestine? But no, this is the bridge from New Orleans to the West Bank of the Mississippi River. We used to call it the Wank.

Most memorable Wank experiences:
-Seeing Chicago live at GretnaFest for 10 bucks. Highlight of my life.
-Cleaning out Hope Haven, our short-term volunteer housing for Catholic Charities. It's an old, Spanish mansion, and doors kept mysteriously locking behind me. eeeee.
-Going to a slip-n-slide party and discovering my fire-ant allergy. First trip to the ER!
-Chaperoning a seventh grade trip to Barataria Wildlife preserve with Ranger Stephanie, who gave us a lecture about how terrorists want to harm our national symbols because they hate our freedom. Oh Ranger Stephanie!

At a 4th of July party I saw a guy wearing a t-shirt with this:

I was tempted to go buy one, but I don't think I'd get much wear out of it over here. The West Bank means the west bank of the Jordan River, so it's just a leftover name from the Jordanian occupation. People don't use it much, except while they're explaining the "situation" in Palestine, separate from Gaza. So maybe the idea isn't so cute.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Back in the Batcave

I'm back in Al Aqaba after 10 days of absence. As soon as I collected the key from Haj Sami and opened the guest house door, even though it was a rainy, dreary day, I felt this surge of energy that I always feel when I come back here. Yeah, all my stuff is here, the view out the front door is stunning, I finally have peace of mind to get some work done, it's NOT Ramallah, I have a pirated copy of No Strings Attached to project onto the wall if I get sick of working....

For today that means working on the blog I started for the guest house. It's almost caught up, I only had to post eight or nine entries describing the visits we've had since I've been here. This is just a more fun version of the Guest Book, really. Anyways, it was long overdue and I've been having fun collecting all my media to post, even in Zamn Cafe, which has become my creative black hole. I just futz around on Facebook or read the news, or count Souli's cigarettes...the other day he wanted to sit in the non-smoking section and I was like, "whoaaaa." Then I realized he was just avoiding the annoying guy upstairs. The one who dresses like a lumberjack and has no social skills. Downstairs, Souli had to entertain himself with the well-to-do Palestinian women chatting around us ("they're congratulating their friend on losing weight, haha...")

So...creative black hole. Right now I'm eating pasta carbonara (full of questionable but well-sauteed items I found in the fridge) and blasting Men At Work. I started out with the Outfield's Your Love, then iTunes recommended this song to me:

Considering I'm next to an Israeli Air Force base and I just read a headline like this: Report: Israel to Give U.S. Only 12 Hour Warning Before Attacking Iran, it seemed entirely appropriate to crank up the volume. Hey, no problems with a welcome-home 80's dance party...

Jump down the shelters to get away
The boys are cockin' up their guns
Tell us general, is it party time?
If it is can we all come

Don't think that we don't know
Don't think that we're not trying
Don't think we move too slow
It's no use after crying

It's a mistake, it's a mistake
It's a mistake, it's a mistake

After the laughter as died away
And all the boys have had their fun
No surface noise now, not much to say
They've got the bad guys on the run

Don't try to say you're sorry
Don't say he drew his gun
They've gone and grabbed old Ronnie
He's not the only one saying

It's a mistake, it's a mistake
It's a mistake, it's a mistake

Tell us commander, what do you think?
'Cos we know that you love all that power
Is it on then, are we on the brink?
We wish you'd all throw in the towel

We'll not fade out too soon
Not in this finest hour
Whistle your favourite tune
We'll send a card and flower

It's a mistake, it's a mistake
It's a mistake, it's a mistake

Just waiting on a few pictures for the last GH blog entry. Now I'm going to plug in the projector and watch Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher sort out some real problems. haha.

Excess Baggage

BBC Radio-Excess Baggage: The Occupied Territories of East Jerusalem and the West Bank

This is a cool radio program featuring three women who traveled through E. Jerusalem and the West Bank over the last decade or so, for various reasons (solidarity, journalism, performance, festivals...) and are talking about travel in Palestine. Check it out!

Friday, January 20, 2012

European Envoys: Blacklist Israeli Settlers

The European Union is trying to do a few things:

-block violent settlers from entering the EU
-boycott settlement products and construction (including in E. Jeruasalem)
-encourage Palestinian Authority activity/presence in E. Jerusalem, and diving Jerusalem as the capitals of both Israel and Palestine
-discourage the normalization of Israeli control over E. Jerusalem, saying "don't go to E. Jerusalem with Israeli diplomats, security, etc..."

I don't know what will come of this, but read the comments below the article. As always on YNet, they're the most telling....

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Re-Entry #2

The exit from Palestine:
(Right now I’m sitting my friend’s apartment in Amman, listening to Immortal Technique)
Last Saturday, I woke up at Souli's. His cousin, Minwar called and it agreed that he would bring us breakfast and drive Souli to Zamn Cafe. I'd already decided that I wasn't going to Zamn, I'd already slept late and I hadn't planned very well for my crossing. Once I got to Tubas, how was I going to get to Mehola checkpoint? I don't think anyone goes from an Area A Palestinian city to the Israeli border...so I wasn't going to have to wing it. Going through Israel was out, since it was Shabbat and the busses to Beit She'an weren't running until sundown. I was going to say nightfall. Nightfall. Sundown. what literal words.
Minwar drives a taxi, and is always on call if Souli needs to get around Ramallah or out of town, to Hizma to see the family, for instance, which we did the night before. We ate fried fish and fried eggplant and french fries and it made me think of New Orleans. Then Souli left me alone to bond with his sisters, and three hours later we were all snoozing in the dark and he had to come and collect me.
Minwar and Souli have a funny way of speaking together, it sounds like they're singing. While I was getting dressed and packing up my stuff, I could hear Minwar saying "Morgaaana, ruhhi al-urdaaaana." (Morgan, going to Jordan...) Then he'll throw in a high-pitched "bastanak!" (i'm waiting for you!) because he's waiting for me to eat breakfast and I sang a song called Bastanak in the taxi the first time I met him in November, and he likes to bring it up..a lot.
I went out and joined them for hummus and ful and falafel, and listened to them sing-songing like brothers will a million inside jokes. I just remember Minwar telling me, "Morgaaana, insh'allah tiji haaaana," which means hopefully you come back here! We all laughed, Souli and I a little nervously. He's been telling me, "I think you'll get the visa, that's my feeling."
Minwar dropped me off near Manara circle, where I said goodbye to Souli and started walking to the Service station. I walked up the ramp to the garage and looked around for Raed, the driver from Tubas/Tayasir. He did one trip to Ramallah every day, usually early in the morning, and I was hoping to catch him before he went back north, so I wouldn't have to take two Services. Unfortunately, my phone had died the day before so I couldn't call him to arrange the ride. Souli gave me his spare phone, so I could put in my SIM card, but all my numbers were gone.
I learned from the other drivers that Raed had left just 30 minutes before. Ok, Nablus it is. I hopped in the Service to Nablus, which took one hour. I was starting to get bored of this trip, but I looked out the window and admired the hills between Birzeit and Luban Sharqia, and looked at the settlements like an old nuisance, no longer a shock. I counted license plates...white with green letters for Palestinians, yellow and blue for settlers. Palestinian, Palestinian, Israeli, Israeli, Palestinian, Palestinian, Palestinian, Palestinian, Israeli, Palestinian, Palestinian......the main roads are Israeli-controlled, but most of them (gee, thanks) are open to Palestinians. It always amazes me to see how they share the road, like how a Palestinian can drive just behind a settler, and vice versa. Part of me expects a massive game of bumper cars.
We passed by Tappuah junction, the entrance to a bloc of settlements, and I saw two Palestinian men standing a dozen meters from the settler bus stop. They don't have a bus stop, so they wait on the shoulder of the road for a Service. Then I saw a Palestinian woman standing alone under the settler bus stop shelter, because it was raining.
(Haha, this rap song that's on is going, "no matter what you think, occupation is not victory!")
We got to Nablus, and I hopped into the Service to Tubas. It was a 30 minute trip. When I got to Tubas, I called my student Orwah, who met me at the Tubas station and explained to the driver to Bardala that I wanted to go to Mehola checkpoint. He agreed to drop me off there for 7 shekels extra. So I was in a Service with 6 passengers headed to Bardala, and I had my own destination.
The taxi took us through Tayasir and past Al Aqaba. I'd been in Ramallah for 5 days, supposedly "making my way to Northern crossing to Jordan" because I thought I'd have to go through Northern Israel. Turns out I could've gone from the village in one hour. Ah well.
The Service had to go through Tayasir checkpoint. I wondered if Jason was on duty. I wondered if he would try to talk to me. I wondered if I would want to respond. But I realized I was closest to the door, and I wouldn't stay in the Service like the lucky American, like I did at Hamra checkpoint that one time. I got out, and before anyone could tell me to stay inside, I made my way down into the pedestrian checkpoint. I got up to the revolving door and said "hey," like, "can I move forward?" Then I looked back and saw the six Palestinian passengers that I'd been riding with. They were all standing some dozen meters behind me, waiting. They had to wait over there? I felt like such a jerk, strolling ahead. But the soldier waved me in, so I went through the revolving door, and put my stuff on the table by the metal detector. I could hear soldiers chuckling at me. I went through the metal detector and saw three armed soldiers, standing outside the tinted cave where the soldiers on duty were asking for my ID. I handed over my passport, wondering if the soldier would notice that my visa expired today. One of the three soldiers outside asked, "where you from?" I said, "USA."

"What do you have in there?"
"Umm, clothes, and a laptop."
"Let me see."
When the soldier behind the window gave me back my passport, I took my backpack and opened it for the other soldier.
"What are you doing here? visiting?"
"I teach English over there" and pointed toward Al Aqaba."
"Oh. Is it nice?"
(I'd gotten the same question from a soldier who boarded my bus from Nablus to Bethlehem. He'd singled out me and my brother and asked us, "what are you doing in Nablus? Just visiting?" "Yeah..." "Is it nice?" He smirked.)

I waited outside the checkpoint while a few from my Service were going through. "Tal! wahad a wahad" Come! One by one! Then I walked toward the Service, which had gone through the road checkpoint and was waiting for us. I stood by the door while the passengers came down, one by one, and got back in. The last two were a father and little son. They were holding hands.

(The rap song that's playing now: "It's not racism, it's stay in ya place-ism")

The Service continued on to Bardala. The Jordan Valley is beautiful, and it seemed to be in full bloom. I'm sure in two months it'll be even more beautiful. I saw several more of the concrete blocks that read "No Entry-Firing Area," and wondered how outdated they were, and if there were landmines in there. Then I actually saw a sign over a barbed wire fence that read "Danger-Mines."

Our surroundings were getting more and more tropical, then we finally saw Jordan in the distance. We passed Ein al-Beda, and fields full of produce. Palestinians provided the labor, settlers got the profit. In front of Ein al-Beda, there was the fimiliar red sign that read, "Entering this village is illegal for Israelis."

Then the Service stopped, and the driver looked back at me. We were at the checkpoint. I paid my 14.5 shekels and got out. The Service turned around and headed into Bardala. I looked at the checkpoint, it wasn't like the one in Tayasir, it was big, and colorful. It was for settlers. I started walking toward it. I wasn't sure where to go, probably to the kiosk where the cars went through. Then I realized this wasn't a walk-up checkpoint either-there was a soldier headed toward me, motioning at me to stop. I stopped. What could this blonde girl have in her backpack?

“Where are you going?” he shouted.
“Beit She’an!” I replied.
He relaxed, and motioned me across the lane to the neutral ground (is that just a New Orleans term?). Two other officer-looking people were also headed toward me.
One of them asked where I came from. I said, “Ramallah, then Tubas….”
“I teach English near Tubas.”
“Ah.” I followed them behind the road kiosk to the pedestrian terminal. Two young female soldiers were hanging out outside, and they looked amused. They yelled something at the man I was with, something I understood like, “Who’s this?” The man replied good-naturedly, something with “Tubas” and “Beit Sha’an.” I wasn’t a common sight. But I spotted a soldier accompanied by a little German Shepherd and it was uncontrollable, I shouted “puppy!” All the soldiers laughed.
I got into the terminal and put my bags through the conveyor-belt thing. A pretty, young blonde soldier waved me through the metal detector. Then she took out my laptop and ran it through again. We were alone in the room. She asked me, casually, where I was coming from, I said I was American, but I came from Tubas today. She made that familiar face, like “weird.” She asked me more questions, then I asked, “Where are you from?” She said, “me?” Yeah, of course you! “I’m from just there, Beit She’an.” She didn’t have far to go for work. I wondered if there was CouchSurfing in Beit She’an. I wondered if I could ever meet her there, maybe she could show me around. She looked about eighteen, nineteen.

Then she had me go in a back room, and stand with my arms out while she checked me with the portable metal detector. It beeped on my bra, but she let it go. It beeped on my belt, I took it off. It beeped on the button on my jeans, and she yelled something to her colleague. Her colleague yelled something back. She asked me to take off my pants.
“All the way?” I asked.
She motioned, down to my knees.
She checked the inside of my pants, and around my crotch. Then she said, “ok,” and left through the curtain. I pulled up my pants, and grabbed my belt, and came out from the curtain. She said I could leave out “that” door. I walked outside, and realized there were no taxis, like I hoped there would be. I went back to the soldier. She asked, “you need a taxi?” I said yes. She gave me a piece of paper with a phone number on it. My phone wasn’t working. I was probably in Israeli territory now, so my Palestinian SIM card wasn’t working. She helped me find the right number, and called from her phone. She handed it to me…

“Tihki Arabia?” the man asked.
“Shwey,” a little, I answered, a little proudly.
“Wein ‘dek truhi?” Where do you want to go?”
“Al gisr Sheikh Hussein…bsir?” The Sheikh Hussein bridge, is that possible?”
“Bsir, bsir….istani…khamstash daqiqa…” Yes, wait fifteen minutes….
I figured this was just some random guy from a taxi station on the Israeli side. I wondered how far the bridge was and how much it would cost. I waited on a bench outside the terminal. One of the soldiers, a rather good-looking Ethiopian man, asked me if I was anxious. I said no, I’d just never made this crossing before. He continued pacing around outside the terminal. I watched the other soldier with his German Shepherd. He seemed to be very fond of his dog. I remembered the German Shepherd in Bil’in. She had gotten away from the soldiers during the commotion at a demonstration and my friend adopted her. He was very fond of his “soldier dog.” She had eight little puppies when I saw her.

The call to prayer began from Bardala, just over the hill. I wonder what the soldiers thought when they heard this sound. I imagined being in a little fortress surrounded by enemies. I thought of my Google search. When I was trying to find hours for Mehola crossing, the only results were “Mehola Junction bombing.” It happened in 1993. Never again.

A couple rolled up in a sedan. Damn, maybe I could just hitch a ride with them. One of the checkpoint employees, another young woman, spoke to them in fluent Spanish. They couldn’t be settlers, could they? I threw out a quick, “hablas espanol?” to the man, and after ten seconds he turned around and said “si, y tu?” I nodded. Not really true, now that Arabic was starting to kick Spanish out of my head. The couple was from Spain, just driving their rental car around the territories. Maybe they knew it as Judea and Samaria. They seemed nice. After the checkpoint people searched the car with mirrors and a German Shepherd, they confiscated the vehicle and took it into a garage. The couple seemed a little confused. I don’t know what happened to them, because my taxi arrived and whisked me away. The driver’s name was Rami, and he seemed to know the checkpoint people pretty well, he shouted out a few greetings in Hebrew and they responded, laughing.
Rami’s English wasn’t great, so I spoke to him in Arabic. I’d never been this far north, it was very green and tropical and beautiful. My text message to Souli hadn’t gone through, so I asked Rami if we were still in Palestine. He said no, Palestine khalas, over. We were in Israel. But he called the farms around us settlements. What a fuzzy world we were in. Rami was from Nazareth. I was excited about that, I wanted to visit Nazareth. Yalla, he said. He could take me to Nazareth for a few hours then to the crossing. I told him I wanted to cross before night, it was already 2:30. He said I could cross, then come right back to renew my visa. I told him I wanted to stay a little longer in Amman to make the crossing easier, insh’allah. “They don’t like volunteers,” I said.

“Ahh…I see.”
He asked if I was married. I said no. Boyfriend? Maybe. Palestinian? Maybe. He said he wanted to marry an international, or an Israeli, so he could move around more freely. I told him I’d try to get more foreigners to Palestine.

It started to rain.
“Geshem,” said Rami. “matar…in Hebrew.” Rain. “Btfakr….ebriye hilwa?” Do you think Hebrew is beautiful?
“La (no)…..me bhebbu (I don’t like it)….bas….Arabia wa Ingleezi (just Arabic and English).”

I asked him how much he wanted…he said for a volunteer, 250 shekels. I didn’t doubt this was his normal price, for a lone American traveler on Shabbat, when nothing else was working. 65 bucks for a 30 minute ride. Ouch.
We rolled into the terminal, and again, Rami seemed to know all the guards. They bantered in Hebrew. He dropped me off and told me to go to Window 2, then Window 7. I paid him. I went into the terminal, bought an ice cream bar, then went right up to Window 2. The exit tax was 103 shekels. That was better than Allenby, which made you pay 175 or something. Then I went up to Window 7 and stood there munching on my ice cream bar while they stamped my passport. Right next to my October 14th entry stamp, was a January 14th exit stamp. Nah, it didn’t look like I was going on a visa run!
All in all, this crossing had gone a lot more smoothly than I expected. It was a strange feeling, this ease, coupled with the anticipation of my re-entry. That would not be so easy. I exited the terminal through a squeaky clean Duty-Free shop that was blasting hip-hop. I paused by the Maltesers. My student in New Orleans, Dajonna, pronounced Day-janay, loved Maltesers when I brought them back from the Duty Free shop in Tel Aviv last January. Maybe this would be my last chance to pick them up if I didn’t make it back in. I shook it off. I’ll get back in! And they have Maltesers in Amman, come on.
I exited, and waited on a bench outside the Jordanian bus terminal. It was raining harder now. I sat there, looking at the Israeli terminal, surrounded by palm trees. The woman next to me was a nun with an Egyptian passport. She was talking on her cell phone in Arabic, “I’m waiting for the bus, I’ll be in Amman soon….”
The drivers got into the bus and waved us up. It was a 5 shekel ride. We went 10 meters then waited at the gate for about 15 minutes, before it was opened. Then we crossed over the Jordan River, and into the Jordanian entry terminal. At the terminal, I got my Jordanian visa renewed, 20 dinars, then got my passport stamped, then changed my shekels into dinars. At one point in time I was hesitant to explain, even to the Jordanians, what I was doing in Palestine. But so far in my experience, I’ve gotten the same welcome at Jordanian terminals as I have at the Palestinian Authority terminal. My presence there was a-ok.

I left the Jordanian terminal and wandered around for a while before finding a checkpoint employee. Wein al-taxi? Biddi aruhh al-Amman. Over there, he pointed. Just private taxis. I was afraid of that. There were no shared taxis, like at the Allenby crossing, because this crossing wasn’t for Jordanians or Palestinians, just foreigners. I looked around for the Egyptian nun, maybe she would share a ride with me. But I couldn’t see her. So I walked to the taxi station. Fortunately, it was a legit office with a guy behind a counter who wrote me out a receipt, so I knew I was getting a set price. But it was 39 dinars. oof. 55 bucks. I paid him and followed my driver to the taxi. Thus began our hour-long journey to Amman.

We made some conversation, the driver was nice. He was from another city, As-salt. I told him I could see As-salt from my village in Palestine. I think that’s true, maybe it’s another city in Jordan. He stopped and got us coffee. It had a lot of cardamom (hel) in it. Delicious. He offered me a cigarette, and I actually accepted. I like smoking in cars. I like putting the cigarette out the window and letting the wind carry the ash away. But I couldn’t pretend to be a smoker. The motion of it is still strange to me, and I don’t breathe in as deeply as people who smoke all the time. But it gives me a high because I don’t do it that much. Like argheelah, but argheelah can make me nauseous after a while.

So we smoked together as the taxi climbed up the mountains over the Jordan Valley, and I spent a good portion of that ride filming out the window. The sun was setting behind where I’d just come from, Israel/Palestine. I kept hearing the word “Israel” in my head, because there were rays of sun shooting down on the valley, and it looked like a postcard of the Promised Land. It looked like something out of the Ten Commandments. I wondered why that was my automatic reaction. Couldn’t epic beams of light be shooting down on Palestine too?
We got into Amman. I didn’t recognize any of the streets we were on. I didn’t know how long I would be here. Eventually we were in Wasat Al-Balad, and found the Jordan Tower Hotel. I walked in and snatched up a dormitory room that no one else had reserved…for 9 JD. Including breakfast and Wi-Fi, that’s a sweet deal.
So there I was, finally alone in my private dormitory room, catching up on my correspondence, with only the sounds of sporadic traffic outside. I had no sense of schedule, no sense of purpose. And my plan for once I got back into Palestine wasn’t that much more concrete. What am I doing? I couldn’t stay in Ramallah with Souli forever, I couldn’t plop down in Al Aqaba forever. What was my goal?

Go to sleep, Morgan. Go to sleep.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Week of Prayer for Christian Unity

If I get back in, I might spend a week CouchSurfing in Jerusalem so I can attend all these services. This would be really interesting...

Week of Prayer for Christian Unity

A week of daily services at the various churches of Jerusalem in relation to similar programs throughout the world: sponsored by the World Council of Churches and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. See http://www.oikoumene.org/en/programmes/unity-mission-evangelism-and-spirituality/spirituality-and-worship/week-of-prayer-for-christian-unity.html

Theme for 2012: We will all be changed by the victory of our Lord Jesus Christ (cf. 1 Cor 15:51-58)

Saturday Jan. 21 5:30 pm Church of Holy Sepulchre led by Greek Orthodox

Sunday Jan 22 5:00 St. George Cathedral Anglicans

Monday Jan. 23 5:00 St. James Church Armenians

Tuesday Jan. 24 5:00 Redeemer Lutheran Church

Wednesday Jan. 25 5:00 Latin Patriarchate Catholic

Thursday Jan. 26 4:00 Upper Room outside Zion Gate, Benedictine Brothers of Dormitian Abbey

Friday Jan 27 5:00 Ethiopian Church

Saturday Jan 28 5:00 Coptic Church

Sunday Jan 29 5:00 Greek Catholic Church

This is a great opportunity to experience other worship traditions of our Jerusalem Christian community, to express our unity in this ever-shrinking community, and to accompany local Christians of various churches. All are invited.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Re-Entry #1

Two days ago....Saturday the 14th. The last day for my Israeli tourist visa. I would've crossed the border the day before, but this is one of those realms where I get superstitious, so Friday the 13th was out. I decided to listen to my friend Palden's advice: Go to Amman, and wait until the time is right. If you wake up one morning with the right feeling, cross the border.

This is my dilemma in a nutshell. I'm a volunteer in the West Bank. To get into the West Bank, you have to go through an Israeli terminal where an agent will ask you "What is the purpose of your visit to Israel?" and "Are you traveling in the West Bank?" and "Do you know anyone in the West Bank?" My answers would be, I'm not visiting Israel, yes, I live in the West Bank, and yes, most of my friends here are Palestinian.

That's not going to fly. Everyone is telling me to lie, act like a dumb Christian tourist, say I'm learning Hebrew, say I have an Israeli boyfriend.

I did it twice, and I won't do it anymore. I know people get turned away for teaching English in the West Bank, or studying at a Palestinian university or working for aid organizations that don't have enough international pull. These people are seen as security threats, because Palestinians are lumped together as the enemy. I won't perpetuate it. It's humiliating to me, and it's humiliating to my friends. As much as I want to get in, I can't cross over into occupied territory, look that occupation soldier in the face and lie and tell them how much I like their country, and their language, and their men. I like Palestinian men. Their sense of humor, their devotion, their family values, the way they play with children, and the way they swear, walla...

And I love Arabic. So I'm going to give my soldier a signed letter from Haj Sami, pictures of me with the kids in Al Aqaba, and tell them that I find beauty in Palestine. 

The common response is "good luck!"
I'm sitting in a hostel in downtown Amman, it's 5:23am and morning prayers have already been called. I just talked to a good friend on Skype about significant others who cheat. I sent him a cheating song from my Livejournal days, when every dramatic event had to be tied to some lyric or other. Then I flipped through months of my LJ. I remember that even while I kept it, I cursed it. Because I wasn't living life to the fullest, or I wasn't channeling my emotions productively. After I let it go, I blamed it for dooming my early relationships, because blogs are the only things keeping 16-year-olds from really getting it...?

Now I'm finally seeing it as an archive, and a pretty thorough one. I posted in that thing every day! Sometimes twice!

I felt compelled to re-post this post, in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

May 12, 2004
1:45am: [Private] morgan+lack of sleep+sugar+history homework=
i like studying the civil rights movement. it's exciting, like a story unfolding. i like social history. not units where this country makes a treaty with that country or bombs the hell out of another country. you can't really see beyond that. psychology is so much more understandable. who cares if one power-hungry man makes a national decision with the help of his administration? with civil rights the people had the influence and the president was a spectator. it was tragic, but at the same time, there was so much potential for change. the white people hated black people because no matter what went wrong in their own lives, they still had it better than someone, they still had dominion over something, and that was about to get taken away. then there was a generation of people who were being punished for weakness and inferiority they never even witnessed. hate was inherited, not inspired. you can trace these emotions into every home in america at the time. you can see the story in every face in every picture and understand why....you could've been one of them. and all of a sudden it's not all black and white anymore. it's not good vs. evil. it's the freedom and enslavement issue all over again. it wasn't just for the freedom to vote, or to sit anywhere on a bus, it was the white man's freedom from hate. while reading the packet i found myself mentally cheering everyone on. dare to love, people! everyone was a prisoner....

and i'm a prisoner of insonmnia. sweet jesus.
Current Mood: thoughtful

Thursday, January 12, 2012


In my first year of AmeriCorps, I worked at Operation Helping Hands, the building branch of Catholic Charities-Archdiocese of New Orleans. I didn't really know what I was in for-I applied for a teaching position with Notre Dame Mission Volunteers (under AmeriCorps) and found out that there was only one spot available-in construction. All I knew was that I wanted to live in New Orleans, and the rest was history.

Just recently, Nola.com just published an article announcing the end of Operation Helping Hands.

So here's my tribute:

Inventing new paint colors
My last paint job on Ursulines, down the street from my apartment. It took me 2 days to make this orange color because I didn't realize the yellow was paint and the red was DYE. I was stuck with some variation of salmon pink for at least 20 trial coats....hey, but it turned out quite nicely.

House on Colapissa St.

We would arrive to Magnolia around the same time our friend got off his night shift at the pumping station. 9am? Time for a beer.....

It's not that fun to lie down on laminate flooring, unless you just installed it!
Ms. Kathy's barbecued chicken and cheesy potatoes.
Texturing at Telemachus St. (pronounced TelemAchus, like Burgundy is pronounced BurgUndy)

This was actually really fun. And throwing texture on the wall hides all your mudding mistakes.

Tiling 101 at Magnolia

The other Colapissa house....two doors down.

Interior/exterior crew at Colapissa 1 (the lemon merangue house)

Franklin St. (Upper 9th Ward)

Caulking at Franklin

Crew from Dayton
When it's raining, or there's not enough work to go around, you get to paint doors at OHH. I thought this picture was artsy.
Drywalling at Telemachus
Painting vinyl siding at Fern...ugh vinyl.
First week on the job, tiling my first kitchen floor, and sweating balls.
Preparing for laminate flooring at Law St.

Painting Zohar's house on S. Rendon. This color was called Krewe de Menthe.

Leaving a hand print on the wall...
Farewell picture...:(
I didn't realize this color was shiny gold until the sun came out. It made me want to paint a big fleur de lis on the side of the house...
Immaculata group
John in the attic
So many ladders
Michigan crew at Telemachus
Need I explain?
This is us at the 7:30 morning meeting. More realistically, 7:43, or 7:55.
The fam.
Mudding at Touro St...
My first paint crew, with Willie...on Peach St in Hollygrove. It was so cold that week the paint froze on our brushes.
After his lady friend identified his house as "that pink house on the corner," our homeowner called us and said he'd buy the new color, but this had to go.
Working with Parkway Partners, we got to landscape for our finished houses. We could do three houses in a day. The relatively instant gratification was nice.
These guys made it into the Catholic Charities magazine.
Russ finally gets to strangle Georgio.
Scraping paint at Ms. Sharon's house on Gentilly Blvd.

Chowing down on Taco Tuesday.
Enjoying the (almost) daily snowball from Stop Jockin, the best place in town.
Posing on the forklift

Finishing up Ms. Kathy's house!

Installing windows at Green Dream II

I got my family to float dirt rock on their Christmas break...
Covered in paint and caulk

You can't tell, but I'm 30 feet up on a ladder jack...that was a scary afternoon.
Final walk-through at Telemachus, just before we handed Alma her key!
Shoveling critters at the OHH Crawfish Boil ("burl), celebrating the end of hell month (spring break season)
Green Dream II