Friday, July 3, 2009

On the Way to Work

We are now into the third week of our stay in Ramallah. I think most of us here have gotten ourselves situated and have acclimated very well to life here in Palestine. Together, we've found the local grocery store, good places to buy fresh produce, and have tried many of the local restaurants and bars that this side of the city has to offer. We've gotten to be a pretty tight group, partly because we are all in the same boat here and also because I think we're all pretty compatible. There are disagreements and concerns in any group-living situation, and those have been resolved as they've come. I think all of us appreciate the support group we've formed for each other here. Not to sound too koom-bayah-ish, but we look out for each other. I think the "Ramallah group" is known within our larger group as the one that really lucked out with the living situation and is located in a part of Palestine that actually has a night-life.

We've hosted our fellow students here every weekend, and sometimes during the week depending on the circumstances. So, not only have we solidified as a group here, but we've also been lucky enough to have others came and hang out. At this point we could pretty much be tour guides for some parts of Ramallah because we've been exposed to so much of it. Although I'm sure if you asked a West Banker how much he thought we knew the area, he'd probably laugh and say "very little." Which is probably true, but I can embellish. I think I probably know a sizeable percentage of the taxi-drivers in this city. I take one to and from work everyday, and they're always different. I even had the taxi driver who drove us to the Jimmy Carter event wave to me today from his car as he saw me standing from the sidewalk across the street. Maybe I made an impression? I think it was probably because I was a. American and b. spoke some Arabic. Apparently that's a rare find in these parts. I've learned a lot just in my daily taxi rides and trying to understand the local Arabic that the Palestinians are speaking, which is a lot different than the Modern Arabic I learned in school. Thanks a lot, Virginia Tech. So I can read some newspaper articles and understand Al-Jazeera if they speak slowly, but it's all Greek to me when its colloquial Palestinian Arabic. Great, so I know that Obama spoke in Cairo but not how to get back home after work. I'm exagerrating, but you get the point.

So, my route usually consists of passing through the old city of Ramallah, which I not sure how old it actually is, but it's up there I think. It's almost like a maze of old city ruins glittered with various markets and stores. On the other side are San-Francisco-esque hills that feel like a steep waterslide on the way down. Looking out the window, you can see the rolling hills of the West Bank dotted with clusters of villages and minarets that reach into the sky. Last night, a few of us walked up to a look-out point where we could see the sun set behind the clouds and into the Mediterranean Sea. It was an incredible sight, and we think we might have seen tall Tel Aviv buildings in the distance. I'm still not sure whether it was actually Tel Aviv, but I think it's certainly possible.

Anyway, sometimes I ask the cab-driver small questions like whether he grew up in Ramallah and try to develop a conversation from there, which often leads to stories of stolen land and displacement. Many have told me that their family owned land with deeds issued by the Ottoman Empire and keys to homes that were either destroyed or taken over during the 1948 War. My strategy is to bring up a related subject and have them volunteer the information, in case the subject is too sensitive to discuss. I find it good to have some degree of tact in a foreign land, but most of the time the people here are more than willing to dicuss their opinions and tell they're stories. Many are also very curious to hear my take on what's going on. Last night, I met a man who asked what I was doing here, and then asked what I thought about the situation here. It's pretty clear to me that many Palestinians are curious about outside perspectives regarding the conflict. Maybe this is a result of a lack of exposure to the outside world, since most Palestinians are barred from leaving the territories. Either way, I think that Palestinians here are just as interested about other perspectives as we are eager to hear their take on the issues.

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