In Search Of Living Stones

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Month: August, 2012

Amman

Last week I travelled to Jordan for a holiday and a Visa run(My visa ran out on Wednesday and I needed to leave, and come back to renew it). Amman is something else! While I’d been to Jordan with my family two years ago, we never made it to ‘Amman. The modern city of  Amman is relatively new, infact, while standing on the Citadel looking over the city you read signs stating that the oldest hospital was built in the 1920’s and the road just below was built in 2005. It was so nice to be in an Arab city that is so modern and delveloped, it is a nice change.

My friend(a Jordanian/Palestinian with an American passport) was also doing a visa run so I was able to hang out with her and stay with her uncle(who decided to go to Egypt a day after I arrived, so we had the house to ourselves). In Amman we went to the movies and a mall. A mall. While there are malls and cinema’s in Jerusalem I haven’t had much chance to check them out yet so this was a treat. H&M were having a sale so we did some shopping and looked at some other stores. I also found a Pumpkin Patch. In a mall, in Amman, in Jordan, on the other side of the world. This got me a little bit excited. We tried ordering McDonalds(they deliver in Jordan). But after several attempts it just didn’t work. What a let down.

Every evening there was a festival being held on the Citadel called Citadel Nights. There was a concert on every night, food and stalls. If Ramadan has helped me appreciate anything, its the summer evenings, its lovely to just sit and enjoy the sights, sounds and smell of the evening. Its like the world comes alive after 8(and Iftar!). I rationalized that this was my vacation, so I shopped for souvenirs and even dressed up like a Bedouin for a photo. At one point a 17yr old girl decided I was her ‘sahibti'(my friend), grabbed my arm, went around to all of her friends and introduced me as such, after walking around for ten minutes she decided that she needed to introduce me to her family as well. Someone very famous was performing that night so the festival was packed! After walking around looking for them for 35-40 minutes we found them in the middle of the crowd. It wasn’t weird, awkward or uncomfortable. I sat with them for 2 hours watching the concert and talking to them. They invited me to have Iftar with them the next day, unfortunately I already had something planned with Areej. I love this part of Arab hospitality.

I also got to hang out with Areej’s family, who just happened to call us before dinner everyday. We never went hungry. We talked, played cards and ate food. At one point we were getting a lift home and my friend informed me that our driver, a relative, was a first cousin of the King. Just casually getting a ride through Amman with the Royal family, don’t mind if I do. On my last night we ate at my friends Aunts house, they were celebrating something(I’m not sure what, they’re always celebrating) and invited their Muslim neighbours to have Iftar with them, on one table there was warak dawali, mansaf and Kanefeh. I think that is what heaven is going to look like.

Thursday morning I woke 10 minutes after my taxi arrived(opps). Luckily I had packed everything and could hop straight into the taxi. I decided to go to the  Sheikh Hussein crossing /North Border,which is not the way I came in and is further away from Amman/Jerusalem. Two days before hand, my friend Erika went for her visa run, to Egypt and when she came back in, they only gave her 30 days to get her stuff together and buy a plane ticket. This had me a little worried,everything about this trip seems to have been hand-crafted by God, but even so 10% of me was a little worried that something would go wrong. Everything went fine, I waited for about 20 minutes while they asked me what I was doing here and where my parents were born. The officials were incredibly nice and friendly, and by the end of it I actually felt like I was genuinely being welcomed, one of the ladies even took her time to write down bus lines and times for me.

I caught a taxi for 50 sheckles that drove 5 minutes down the road to the bus stop, where I caught a 2 hour bus to Jerusalem for 42 sheckles. The bus passed quite a few army bases, and the soldiers going home for the weekend outnumbered civilians 10-1. After the I got over the idea that they weren’t here to check my passport(usually the only reason I see soldiers on buses is to check my passport at the checkpont), I slept for almost the whole 2 hour bus ride. Only to wake up to find my phone stolen. Bummer.

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3 Months on and how I’m changing

On Wednesday it will be my 3 month aniversary of being here. Tomorrow will be 3 months since I left everything, and everyone I know.

I’ll be honest, I never thought I’d make it this far, but now, faced with the idea of going home, I know I’m not ready. As much as I miss my family(And boy do I miss them!), I still have things to do and people to see here. And I know I  have a lot more growing to do.

Already I have grown and learnt so much. In fact, when I look at this photo I literally don’t recognize myself.

This month my flatmate went back to the UK for 3 weeks, which left me at home in Bethlehem by myself. Surprisingly I really enjoyed this time.

I have always been independent, and even though I moved out of home almost two years ago, I am amazed at HOW independent I am here. The small things like catching taxi’s by myself, paying rent, and doing almost everything by myself. Remember that I do all of this in another language.

I also have become more laid back, taking on the spirit of Arabic time(the time you’re given +25-30 minutes) and ‘Inshallah'(God willing). Here, if you are asked a question you don’t want to answer or don’t know, simply reply ‘inshallah’. This effectively leaves everything up to God and clears you of all responsibility. Usually, at home I get stressed about things like plans, and how things are going to work out. Here, I’ve accepted the spirit of inshallah. If I didn’t I think I probably would go crazy.

On Monday I went swimming in the ocean with a woman from the office and her daughter. I have missed the ocean. We ended up missing the last bus and staying at her friends house.

Wednesday I went to Safa’s house for lunch. Safa’ is a friend come family, on the way to her house she made sure I was free for the day. Just as well I was, because she then informed that she had already told her mother that I would be attending her parents wedding anniversary dinner. I spent the day at her house eating amazing food, baking cupcakes and playing card games. It was like therapy for my homesick soul. Then we went to her parents house where I ate my weight in sweets.

Friday I caught up with my Israeli friend, Bat’el. Bat’el is one of the many people who has stayed with us in Australia and seeing her for a few hours was really nice. This was the first time since being here that I have seen any of my Jewish friends and I was quite apprehensive about some of her reactions to me living in Bethlehem. After her initial shock and usual questions, ‘is it safe?’, ‘Are there nice people there?’ she seemed to be okay. This was so nice to hear, and I love being able show people from both sides that the other is not a monster.

After that I had a few hours to kill in Jerusalem before church, so made the brave decision to go into the Old City. It was worth it. I sat at the wailing wall as the sun went down watching the Jews mark the beginning of Shabbat. I then fought my way(going the ‘wrong way’) through the thousands of Muslims making their way to Al-Asqa mosque to break their fast and have Iftar(the evening meal). It was such a contrast to the peacefulness at the Wailing Wall, but just as beautiful.

Saturday morning I woke early and walked to Manger Square to catch my bus to the Jordanian border. I still can’t get my head around it, I just drove to a different country! Because its Ramadan everything is closed during the day, but evenings becomes like a party! But this also means that if I want to drink or eat anything I have to hide away in my hotel room or go to the one cafe that is open, it is so hot here that not being able to openly drink water is difficult. I also am doing touristy things, but doing them alone just feels different. I like having my dad around to explain things and be amazed at things with me.

I am learning to enjoy being by myself and discovering things by myself.

I am learning to listen to other people and their stories.

I am learning to walk slowly and enjoy the journey.

I am learning to smile(but not too much, boys here will take ANYTHING as a hint).

I am learning that saying one word in Arabic will have everyone convinced(or at least telling you they are convinced) that you are now fluent.

I hope you have a fantastic week and see God’s hand in everything.

Camels, Little Girls and Ramadan

This week my social life has been rather low-key in comparison to the last few weeks. Which is nice considering how crazy its been.

Tuesday I had dinner with some friends who are about to leave. Its been such a privilege to get to know them. On Wednesday my mum called the office and we talked for 45 minutes, it was nice to have an uninterrupted call and just be able to talk about everything and nothing. It felt like I was just down the road catching up on things, we hadn’t talked in a while because of camps/skype playing up and I didn’t realize how much I missed it. It was really nice.

On Tuesday I watched the Olympics, the swimming was on. A New Zealander was competing, he came second to last. The commentator was also Australian, so I spent most of my time mimicking their accent and my Palestinian friends joined in. Wednesday night, while walking home my friend pulled over to give me a lift. We ended up going to the desert to chill with some camels and Bedouin kids. After we went for dinner to a really nice new organic restaurant with lights strung up in trees, hammocks and a bonfire.

Thursday my co-worker invited me over to her house for dinner and meet her daughter. Ambreen is Pakistani/Iranian who was raised in America and is Jewish. She’s married to an American Jew. Dinner was delicious.It was so nice to get out of the West Bank, just for a night to hang with some Jews. Living in the West Bank plays on your mind, crossing checkpoints can get depressing and its easy to create an image of all Israeli’s in your mind.

Shiraz is 2 and one of the cutest girls I’ve ever met, and I spent a lot of my time playing with her. She speaks a mixture of Hebrew and English, her mum mostly speaks English with her while her dad mostly speaks Hebrew with her. Ambreen and I played an alphabet game with her putting letters together, and when her dad came home they played an Aleph Bet game naming the characters. So cool to watch and over all a refreshing night.

Because it was after sundown(when the Arab buses stop), I caught an Israeli bus to the closest stop and walked to the checkpoint . A women got off the bus with me and started walking, after a while I notices that she didn’t try talking to me, so I knew she couldn’t speak English(people are usually quick to show-off/practice their English, much like I am with Arabic). So I started the conversation in Arabic, it was great practice for me and she was interesting to talk to. When I got home, I realized that I needed food and the next day was Friday, not many shops would be open. So, because its Ramadan and everything is open late, I did my grocery shopping at 11pm.

Traffic jam in Bethlehem.

Friday, after cleaning my house, I headed out to church. At the moment its Ramadan(remembered this the hard way while eating fruit in the street on Monday), and Bethlehem has actually moved the time back one hour so that they didn’t have to fast for so long. Friday is already the holy day for Muslims, Friday during Ramadan is when they all go to pray at Al-Asqa  Mosque(Islam’s third most holy site). When I left my house at 5:45 the traffic was unbelievable, and as I walked to the checkpoint I noticed that I was going against the traffic as hundreds and hundreds returned back to Bethlehem. In fact they even opened the special driving gate(usually reserved for presidential convoys) for everyone to come back in. Usually I catch the bus to Damascus gate, but they traffic was so crazy that we had to do a couple of U-turns and actually be dropped off down the road. Damascus Gate was a hive of activity and it was nice just to watch.

Church was great, afterwards we went out for dinner and were served Ramadan treats, a piklet filled with cheese. So good.

Until next time x