Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Palm Sunday

Some very persistant boy selling water...

The wall

I did the Palm Sunday walk on the Mount of Olives yesterday!

What I liked most was that every twenty feet there would be another group singing another song in a different language or style. If I'm here next year I'll bring my guitar and find all the American Bible camp kids (because there were people who were more obnoxious than that).

I CouchSurfed with my friend Matthias in the Old City the night before, so all I had to do was roll out of couch and walk up the market for a few minutes and I was at church. I was feeling a bit sick so I got  fresh orange juice across from the church and it was 18 shekels! That moment made me appreciate Ramallah.

Church proceeded nicely, though I couldn't help but remember my congregation back in New Orleans, waving their palm leaves in that big, bright chapel. This chapel was ancient and rocky and cavernous, a bit more badass, but I was missing the folks back home and most of all the gospel made me think again about organizing a gospel tour of the Holy Land. It was done before from Louisiana. This would take a lot of planning, but gospel and's too good.

Anyways, during the service, Fred announced that there was a Palm Sundy walk on the Mount of Olives. I should've known, all I had planned was to go to the Educational Bookshop and hunker down with my laptop for seven hours, before going to dinner at the Tantur Institute near Bethlehem (in Gilo actually, which is a settlement...) but I guess, if there's a lot of people doing this walk....that would be fun.

A lot of people? Holy moley. I think all of Christiandom was there.

So here's the story. After hunkering down at the bookshop for few hours, I made my way to bus 75, which goes from the Old City up to the Mount of Olives. Today it was a big bus, and it was packed full of foreigners and nuns and priests. Some more foreigners and priests jumped on the bus as it pulled away and thought, I can't be that late. At least these guys are with we arrived at the top of the Mount, and I realized I was going to get a little toasted today. The weather was gorgeous, too much so for my three layers. So I started shedding and saw my friend Ben, who works at the Tent of Nations farm in Bethlehem and two of his friends. We followed the crowd together, and ended up at a church, where I lost them and watched the service on my own. (you can see this on the upcoming video). Then I processed out of the church, listening to everyone singing worship songs in Arabic. I particularly liked one called "Shukran lillah," Thanks to God, if that's what it's called. It was particularly joyous.

I walked with local Palestinians, either Jerusalemites or Christian West Bankers who had special permits for the holidays, I walked with American youth groups, who reminded me a lot of the rebuilding volunteers we got in New Orleans, not of typical visitors to East Jerusalem, who were mostly political, hipster types. Holy Week was certainly an acception. I saw some groups wearing t-shirts or hats that read Israel Holy Week 2012, and I wondered who their guides were and what they'd been told about the local Christians. I don't think a local Christian tour would put the word Israel on their shirts, though it would make it easier to get the group through the airport. Maybe freedom of movement had something to do with it, but I got the impression that these guys had chosen the wrong tour company.

It wasn't a very political march, not like the Christmas walk in Beit Sahour, Bethlehem. I saw that some palm leaves had little Palestinian flags attached to them, but no big flags or speeches. But halfway through the walk I saw a group of people standing on the sidewalk, across from a contingent of Israeli soldiers (coincidence?) holding signs representing their parishes in the West Bank and Jerusalem. They read:

Parish of Bethlehem
Just 9km outside Jerusalem

and Bethlehem and Taybeh and Jenin so on. They were trying to remind the Jerusalem tourists that the Christians of the Holy Land are Palestinians, that their West Bank cities are safe to visit, and that they consider their Jerusalem parishes to be located in Palestine. That sign was the most controversial. And it can (and is) seen as a very threatening statement. I don't consider it to be. If the Christians of Jerusalem are Palestinian Arabs, why can't they say they worship in Palestine? The narratives are overlapping, not mutually exclusive, unless you go with the Zionist Greater Jerusalem ideology, where there is no other narrative, just a minority population with 5% of the municipal budget. That really can't stand, no, no....

So I processed among this massive crowd, trying to get some good footage before my battery ran out (why do I always forget to charge it??) and I did get good footage but like always, I go crazy at the beginning of the event and at the end...well, it involved everyone descending down onto the Old City, and it was a mental picture I'll never forget :) By that time I'd found two of my American church friends, and we stuck together until the end. By the time we got into Lion's Gate, we were tired and thirsty and hungry and ready for some grub.

I contemplated joining them for pizza up at Fred and Gloria's because that food was so much closer, but I reminded myself that I signed up for the Tantur dinner tonight and it would be much more productive to meet new people. Even though I was so tired I felt drunk. I bought a large bottle of water and hopped onto the 21 bus to Bethlehem.

I almost nodded off several times, and I half-expected myself to sleep through my stop and end up in Bethlehem. But I kept tabs on the street signs, and when I recognized the big Tantur campus, I clambered off. I walked around the corner to the entrance reading "Tantur Institute" and I made my way up the hill to the campus. As I climbed I looked left and saw the sprawling hills of Jericho and Jordan. What a gorgeous view! Unfortunately, perched in between us was a settlement, a particularly ugly, blocky one that could only have been hastily assmebled in annexed East Jerusalem. Then I saw the snaking concrete wall on the other side of the hill, and realized that Tantur didn't really fit here. When I first saw the Gilo address, I wondered why they chose that location. But sometimes the location just happens around you. I could already tell this was an oasis of sorts, and that the surrounding wall and settlements surely influenced what went on inside.

It was a beautiful facility, and about 30 people showed up for dinner. I think they were mostly Australians, here for a Holy Week program. I talked with two people from Brisbane, and one Brit.

The culture shock didn't come from the two bottles of wine on each table, or the big group of foreigners I found myself in. As I made my round at the salad bar I spotted three types of dressing. Salad dressing! omg. I haven't even seen salad dressing since I left the States. I went for the Ranch.
"What's over on the other end?" one of the guys asked eagerly.
"Pork!" replied another.

Ok, this was just too much. I'm not even a huge pork fan, but I indulged. I hadn't eaten pork since September. So I ate a ton of food, and drank a good deal of wine while my table talked politics and asked me questions about Al Aqaba. I felt like I had a lot of local knowledge to offer, it was really fun.

So after the brownies and coffee and final glass of wine (one of the women made me finish the bottle with her) (seriously), I met with the director of Tantur, Tim, and talked more about my work and the possibility of joining up with this goup later on in their program. Maybe Galilee...that would be fun.

Then it was already 8:00 and the busses would be stopping soon, so I traipsed down the hill and to the main street where I'd gotten off the bus. There was a small 21 bus waiting by the road, so I made my way over to it, but a big 21 bus rolled by and honked at me, so I got onto that one instead. There were only a few people in there. It was surreal, coming from the darkness into that almost empty, well-lit bus, like I was in Totoro or Harry Potter. Of course my mind was wandering, I was five glasses deep and the extra caffeine didn't help. Or it really did. I thorougly enjoyed that ride. At one point a Fairouz song came on, and I asked the driver the name of the song. He turned it up and started singing it. He told me it was something....hawa. hawa means wind. I was going to conjure up something profound like "daiman an al-tabieh," always about nature, Fairouz, but then my favorite Fairouz song came on and we both went to town on that one. "Keefak inta, mala inta!" (it means how are you, oh you...)

Then I got off the bus at Damascus gate and walked to the other station and found a few remaining 18 busses.

And you say I have to stay
I'm not too Amrikeen,
Just take me to Ramallah
On the old 18...