Friday, January 1, 2010

out of europe

Happy New Year!
The overnighter I had to spend in the airport as part of my 27 hour airport/airline adventure out of Europe was made a bit easier by the extra food vouchers that the airline woman gave me for “being so cute!,” the return of my luggage (so I had a hula hoop to pass the time) and my introduction to a Polish computer whiz at the airport cafeteria who gave my trusty little computer a tune up!
We landed in Cairo and I excitedly rushed through customs but was turned back at the counter and told to stand in the other line to purchase a visa. The visa place was also the bank and money exchange. How was I supposed to know that? I think these are problems that I have in most beurocratic locations, don’t you? I was unsure if Trip would be waiting for me at the other side and was trying really hard not to get my hopes up. In my last email to him I misinterpreted the arrival of my flight (military time still gets the best of me, especially when I am tired), but luckily he checked my flight online and caught my mistake.
As I walked out of baggage I saw him stand up and we met eyes. I rushed under the security barracide, dropped my bags and we had a classic, lovers embrace lasting well over five minutes. Smiling from our mouths and in our eyes we walked to the taxi to take us to the hostel in downtown Cairo.
The drive was terrifying. There were only three lanes, divided by two lines, but this didn’t seem to phase any of the drivers who all lurched ahead at very-stop and very-very-go speeds four or five cars abreast. Headlights are something to be conserved in Egypt (even at night) while horns are used with such liberalness that our driver actually began honking along to the song on the radio. Crossing the streets in this mess of a thing called traffic seems impossible. In fact, the first time Trip and I attempted it we failed numerous times; dashing out a bit then back quickly as cars barreled towards us without signs of letting up. Finally we took some advice from the 1986 Bangles hit song “Walk Like an Egyptian” and crossed when some locals did, using them for a buffer, of course.
In Cairo, we saw the pyramids of Giza and a belly dancing show. Both were impressive/strange/overwhelming in their own, very separate ways. Truthfully, most of our time in Cairo was spent at the hostel where after three months of being apart and living very different lives, we shared stories, ideas, hopes, and lots of cuddle time together.
Cairo was loud, smelly and smoggy. After five days we were ready to leave the city for the beauty and tranquility of the Red Sea. The Lonely Planet did not recommend the town of Newieba on the Sinai Peninsula and for that reason, we chose it. As we walked through the streets of Neweiba looking for a beach hut or camping spot we must have developed a huge flag and siren that says “WE ARE TOURISTS!!!” because every car was now a taxi and every home was now a “resort” that we could stay at for varying prices. We took one car up on their offer of a place to pitch our tent for 20 pounds ($4) a night at Camp Flamingo. Slightly hesitate but up for adventure we agreed. As we climbed into the back of the dusty old Jeep and found seats among gas tanks and other gear our fears melted and with big grins we both said in unison, “this is more like it.”
Camp Flamingo consists of 6 small huts about 15 feet from the ocean, a “café” and fire pit, a bathroom and sun-“warmed” showers, and the two small houses that the Bedouin camp owners and extended family live. The wife of the family is actually from Switzerland and the family speaks fluent Arabic and Swiss-German as well as very good English. Even though we stayed at this place for a week, we were never quite able to understand the family dynamics such as who’s children were who and how long people had lived together.
Our time on the Sinai was a much needed romantic getaway for Trip and I. We made no plans, kept no expectations and slept a lot. There was an amazing reef right in front of our tent and we spent lots of time in the water. We saw colorful fish of all sizes, crazy fish with wings, anemones with 18” spikes, water snakes, electric eels, and a myriad of other water creatures that I can’t really describe.
A windstorm came and we decided that it was time to go north, to our real destination: Palestine. We crossed the boarder at Eilat, Israel on the evening on December 30th with relatively little hassle. I was very worried about this crossing. There are many instances where activists have been heavily questioned, detained or even turned away when trying to enter into Israel. But we had no problems because Trip and I had good, matching stories about being average Lonely Planet touting tourists.
I have to note that this was a change in plans from a few months earlier. Originally, Trip and I agreed to join the Gaza Freedom March organized by CodePink ( However, the organization closed registration to the event earlier than we expected and with over 1,400 international participants, could not make any exceptions. Initially, we were both devastated about this information but accepted that it was out of our hands and probably for the best that we did not participate. Getting back into Isreal after having a Rafah crossing stamp (the Egypt/Gaza checkpoint) would have been very suspicious and would have probably removed all chances of entering again as “tourists.” Also, now that that time for the march has arrived, the Egyptian government is refusing entry to participants (and everyone actually, the crossing has not been open for years due to “security concerns” for Egypt). Not only that, march participants have been detained in their hotels, arrested on the streets and heavily censured by the Egyptian government. As of my latest update, 100 march participants were granted access to Gaza, two being from Oregon! They were chosen out of the 1400 because of their Palestinian heritage.
So Trip and I crossed into Israel, hitched to Jerusalem (hitching is surprisingly easy and common in Israel) and went to the house of a friend of a friend named Melanie.
Melanie is from the States and moved to Israel two months ago in what seems to be a long term relocation. She is very nice, and welcomed us into her home without hesitation and great hospitality. There is a warm shower, washing machine, and a twin bed for Trip and I to share. With sand stuck in my hair and between my toes I found her apartment to be very wonderful.
There is a catch. Melanie has three roommates, two guys and one girl (we have not yet met the girl). Having roommates is not the problem, I support communal living fully. The catch is that one of her roommates comes from an American family that moved to Israel as part of the Zionist movement and he was raised in a settlement and now works as a security guard for Jewish families that live in the Muslim quarter of the old city. Her other roommate is an aspiring Israeli politician and he tried to “one-up” Trip with his own stories of mainstream eco-tourism travel that became so obvious and annoying that I ducked out to “use the restroom” and spent the hour chatting online with my dad and Teresa. Melanie, while very fun to chat with, also has some interesting ideas. She calls International Solidarity Movement “really really radically left.” One thing ISM does is connect international volunteers to local Palestinians as escorts to school, olive fields, and across checkpoints because these are often scenarios where they are targeted for racist violence by the Israeli Defense Force or armed settelers. If this is what is considered “really really radical left,” why isn’t she questioning her roommates job of escorting Jewish residents of Palestinian territories?
Just being at this house one night has made Trip and I both very uncomfortable. It is hard not to be honest about one’s viewpoints (even when they are backed up by the United Nations or straight up facts). At first, Trip really wanted to leave the house and stay at an activist hostel. I understand his feelings but at the same time, see the value in staying another night.
We made the decision to come to Palestine/Israel for many reasons. The most PC of them is that the viewpoints we will meet here will be unlike any we can encounter in the United States, a book or news report and that these experiences, shocking and abrasive as they may be, are valuable in the greater context of understanding this crazy crazy place. So we stay.
At this moment, we are sitting in a café bookstore in East Jerusalem. The bookstore sells only political books about the middle east, in particular the conflict of Israel/Palestine. We are thrilled to find this place and purchased a new book called The Question of Palestine by the famous Palestinian author Edward Said. If anyone is looking for a book to read about the conflict, he is a great place start, I also recommend the book The Lemon Tree for a more autobiographical approach. In a few minutes we will finish our tea, put away our computers and walk back through the walls of the Old City, past the multitude of outdoor markets, falafel vendors, hookah and tea bars, shops selling the most beautiful scarves and shawls that I have ever seen, and the entrance to the Dome of Rock mosque and the Jewish Wailing Wall (where the prophet Muhammad ascended into heaven to join Allah and where Abraham nearly slain his son in sacrifice for God ,in the Muslim and Jewish faith, respectively)…these two places happen to be the same, or right next to each other at the moment, lending some insight into the religious battle of the conflict and back to Melanie’s apartment in the trendy garden district near the Presidential Palace for Shabbat dinner. Tomorrow we rise early for the International Solidarity Movement two day Palestinian solidarity training.
I am hoping that in this New Year we will all be inspired to question current authorities, find the roots of unhappiness and hate, and create surroundings which foster trust, understanding and energetic idealism. Lots of love from the Holy Lands.

1 comment:

  1. I'm really proud of you, Jasmine. You are doing a wonderful thing. Much love and respect! - Leila Luna