Saturday, January 7, 2012

Today I took a walk.

Today is Friday. Friday's a sleeping day. I slept until the end of Friday prayer, about noon, took a shower, then I didn't quite know what to do. I didn't have any food in the kitchen, and I was really hungry. Maybe I could walk down the street and someone would invite me in for lunch. That might work. I got out of the compound, onto the main road, looked left, hmmmm, should I go to Tayasir? Or should I go right...towards the demolished road? That would be a shorter journey, then I can turn around, and walk to Tayasir.

So I walked down to the demolished road, and stood there for a while. I was feeling extremely unproductive. I knew that Tayasir checkpoint was somewhere behind that road, but I'd never just....walked around. So I decided to walk to the checkpoint. Hey, I'm just taking a walk! To the checkpoint. Maybe I'll go a little farther, so it doesn't look like I just decided to walk to the checkpoint. Because the soldiers might find that strange.

It was a beautiful walk. Everything is green here, even in the beginning of January. It rains for one day and poof, green stuff everywhere. I walked down the demolished road, and it just ended at the regular, paved road between Tayasir and the checkpoint. That's not as interesting. Oh well, checkpoint-or-bust. I saw two men on horses on the hills above me. I wanted to ride a horse. Maybe they'd wave at me and invite me ride one of their horses. But they didn't. They just kept going. 

So I was walking along the paved road toward the checkpoint, and all the cars that passed me were like...what? What is this blonde girl doing walking down the highway? I don't know, I'm just walking. I took some videos of the scenery, and I was tempted to go off-roading and walk through the fluffy, green hills, but I was worried about landmines and I couldn't see the goat trails and really, I just wanted to walk through the checkpoint. So I kept going. But I kept looking at the hills and wondering if the visitor program in Al Aqaba could offer walking tours. They would love that. Maybe horseback riding tours. Stop thinking about horses.

I saw the military camp first. It was a small one, with a fence around it and a watchtower. Then I saw the checkpoint. A big sign read Slow-Barrier Ahead. They call the checkpoints barriers. If only I could get rid of this barrier! It sounds much nicer. I wish I could get rid of all of my barriers. I admit, this was a little intimidating. The barbed wire fences, the concrete watchtower, that meshy, flappy material that makes it look like the watchtower is actually in a jungle, even though it's quite obviously a watchtower. This isn't a checkpoint for walking. It's in the middle of nowhere, so it's for cars. No one walks to this checkpoint. Like you're not supposed to walk up to a drive-thru window. Sometimes you do, but it doesn't feel quite right.

Anyways, I walked down the side of the road and down the stairs (the non-driving passengers have to get out of the car and walk down the stairs to the right) to the pedestrian checkpoint. I could see the soldier at the little kiosk in the middle of the road, his job was to check the drivers and the vehicles. I couldn't see anyone in the pedestrian kiosk. The windows were dark.

"Hello?" I asked. I didn't get a response, but I heard a crackling mic, indicating that someone was trying to respond but couldn't quite figure it out, so I went ahead through the revolving door. I saw the soldier through the hole in the glass, and gestured toward the metal detector-"eh? eh?" He waved me through and I set off the buzzer.

I turned to him. Now what? He was in a little tinted glass cave.

He said, "phone?"

I took out my phone, and my camera, and put it on the table, and walked back through.

Beeeep. Ahhh, my keys. I took my keys out and walked back through.

Golden. Then I gathered everything back in my purse and looked back at the soldier. I pointed to the road..."ok? finished?" He asked me something in Hebrew. I knew it was something like "where are you going? what are you doing? why are you here?" but I shook my head, what?
"Lama?" I volunteered, "why?"
 He nodded his head, yes.
 I said, "I live there" and pointed to where I'd come from, Al Aqaba.
 He said something else in Hebrew. I said, "Ani lo midaber avrit." I don't speak Hebrew. Anglit? The other soldier, apparently there were two in there, yelled to the car-checking soldier-"Jason! sal;dkfns;lgsal;hj anglit!" Jason, that doesn't sound Israeli. He couldn't help them, he was busy. So soldier #1 asked, "where are you going?"
"I'm just walking" and pointed to the road.
"To where?"
"Nowhere. Just walking. And coming back."
"Ah, ok. Sorry." He waved me through.
I walked away from the booth and down the steps to the road and the mic crackled on again..."sorry."
I smiled. "It's ok!"
I kept walking. After a minute an SUV passed through the checkpoint then slowed down beside me, and the Palestinian man asked me, "Tihki Arabia?" you speak Arabic?" and I said, "y3ani, shweya, a little." He asked if I wanted a ride. I said "la shukran, bas, bamshi, no thanks, I'm just walking" He said something about Bardala, and I said, "no no, I'm not going to Bardala, ard....just looking at the land." He said I could look at the land from the car. I laughed, "shukran la, no thanks but thanks!" Ok, haha, bye, and they drove off. I wondered what that conversation looked like to the soldiers at the checkpoint. I imagine they think I'm threatened by Palestinian men. Palestinian men seem to think I'm threatened by Palestinian men.

I kept walking. I could see the hill to my left, the hill I've always wanted to conquer. It seemed much more reachable from this side. Maybe things are just closer than I thought. Maybe everywhere is in walking distance if you have the time. Anyways, I could conquer that hill. Maybe the more sporty visitors would enjoy that too. There must be quite a view up there. I waited until I was a little further away to take a picture of it. Checkpoints don't like be photographed.

I kept walking. I saw a herd of cows. No one was watching them, they were just walking, like me. They had cool faces. I tried a few times to get a picture of a cow looking at me, but every time I stopped moving, they got bored and starting walking again. Finally, I got one.

I walked until I came to a sign saying "Danger-Firing Area-Entrance Forbidden." It was off the road, to the left, but I decided I was tired and should probably start walking back. I'd been walking long enough so that it didn't look like I was just going through a checkpoint for the heck of it.

I walked up the hill, back toward the checkpoint. I took a picture of the hill again, with burned tanks under it. I hadn't seen those before. Were they part of a training exercise? Or did tanks get blown up here, once upon a time? Maybe they were from the days of the border skirmishes between Israel and Jordan. Or, what the Israeli military called Israel...and Jordan. I need to learn more about this period in time. It factors into the debate about Israel keeping the Jordan Valley as a security buffer. But irregardless, they need to do this anyway, otherwise the Arabs would be too close to the other Arabs.

 I saw the checkpoint again, and it was such a cool view with the hills to the right, but I put my camera away because there was another watchtower in the mini-camp and I was the only person in the vicinity. No funny business. I walked up to the street kiosk, where two soldiers were sitting with their AK-47's, listening to the radio. One stood up and asked, "you speak English?"
"Alright, talk to me. What's goin on?"
I smiled sheepishly. "I'm just...going for a walk." 
"You visiting?"
"No, I live here."
"I teach English in Al Aqaba."
"Ah." He explained to the other soldier.
 "I want to learn Hebrew," I said, "it's driving me crazy."
"Yeah, well, I want to learn Arabic. Do you have ID?"
"Yeah, I have it all. I usually give my Driver's License, but I have my passport too." I handed it over.
He looked through all my pages, the Jordan stamps...."you American, huh...where from?"
"Umm...." I really couldn't think of it. "Seattle."
"Oh, nice. I'm from LA, originally. We came here 9 years ago."
"Wow....and now you're in the Jordan Valley."
"Yeah, well, I'm kinda in the army."
"You live here all the time?"
"Yeah, that's my camp."
"All week? You don't go home?"
"Well, sometimes on the weekends...hey , I gotta take care of this..." a car had just pulled up.
"K, see you later..."

I kept walking. I wondered if I would see Jason again. Maybe I'd take another walk soon and just be like, "hey, what's up, Jason?" I bet they have Facebook at the camp. I could easily have been his friend back home. I wonder if he thinks the people of Al Aqaba are the enemy. I wonder if he's ever seen an American at his checkpoint. I think he's really bored.

I walked back to the demolished road and realized I hadn't eaten, and was feeling a little woozy. So I didn't walk up to Al Aqaba, I walked straight to Tayasir to get some groceries. I think on the way someone might invite me in and feed me. And that's just what happened.