June 25, 2008

Jericho, Palestine

Always interested in the full picture, I had originally planned to visit the West Bank, but after my four hour airport interrogation, I decided that my passport was too unfavorably loaded to make the attempt. Without an understanding of all the territories actually involved, I was passing the sign for Jericho on my way to Jerusalem and decided to make the right turn to see what this very old city was about. Before long I approached a checkpoint, now knowing I was entering Palestine, and decided to try my luck and get through which was surprisingly very easy. The police asked me where I came from, if I was Jewish and never once checked any documents to see if I was telling the truth. Once inside, I immediately had the feeling of being pulled in the direction of something mysterious and at the same time safe. The drive to the center of town, which was brimming with the Arabic culture I was missing so much, was on a wide, underdeveloped road with non-functioning traffic lights and the financial discrepancy from before the checkpoint to after became instantly apparent.
There was a calm in the air and I felt comfortable walking the streets with my camera, taking photographs in the waning light, happy to be saying “Marhaba” instead of “Shalom” once again. I started talking easily with people whose hospitality was tangible and I parked myself in a cafĂ© with locals who were curious to hear of my travels and history. I spent the early evening chatting away, filling up on the free falafel sandwiches they offered and taking my caffeine buzz to new levels with the amount of tea and coffee being brought out. I went to make a phone call on the street and started speaking with an older man who was thrilled to use his pretty-good English and he invited me back to his home around the corner to meet his wife and children and continue filling me with caffeine. The simple home and courtyard in which we sat was full of life and activity of a family very much in tune with each other and we all spent hours talking in the open air of the hot night. Realizing the time was getting late, Abu Shakar asked where I was spending the night and I confessed I was just riding the coattails of the day and had not planned for such a stop. Without hesitation he invited me to spend the night with them as a guest and I certainly couldn’t resist the opportunity to have myself a Palestinian Slumber Party.
Eight of us packed onto mats in the same room sharing a late night snack of yogurt and pita, watching as the family flipped channels on the T.V, folded laundry, laughed, and changed from Arabic robes into pajamas with sheep printed on them was an experience that made it’s way into the very fabric of my DNA and I awoke in the morning in quiet tears amazed by the warmth and generosity of the people I had just met. I was the one who rolled up in a rental car, obviously flush with enough cash to get a hotel room, but they were the ones who only saw another human spirit to connect with and treated me as if I was a member of the family. On the way out of town I started thinking why it was always the people who had the least that gave the most and the people who had the most usually gave the least. But then I started remembering the events of the last day and chuckled when I realized this thinking was backwards. These people were truly the ones with the most and they gave just as much as they had.

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