– Post by Jenny K. –
27.10.2018 – Day 31
I wake up to find confused messages by Aydin in our group chat: “What time is it? What is going on? Anyone awake yet? Do we leave in 20 minutes or 1:20 h to Rawabi?” Apparently, the clock was already shifted from summertime to wintertime. In Germany this would usually happen in the night from a Saturday to Sunday. Here they do the time shifting on a Friday to Saturday, which makes sense since Sunday is a regular workday. While it is 7 a.m. here in Ramallah, I check my phone to find that Jerusalem time is 8 a.m.! Just saying, but Jerusalem is only 14 km away and we live in a different time zone, at least for today.
Before we leave the apartment, I take my time for a morning coffee and read some local news on the internet. An online news page says that Gaza fired bombs on Israel and Israeli military stroke back, bombing 80 Palestinian locations in the Gaza strip and demolishing a Palestinian hospital tonight. It also says that in the past weeks there have been several bombings in between Gaza and Israel. I open Google Maps. Gaza is about 80 km distance from Ramallah, our temporary home.
Weird enough for one morning but Palestinian weather somehow managed to skip autumn and in one day the world turned into winter – Ramallah winter, which is around 18 degrees but the cold wind is just freezing. I wear my biggest clothes and yallah go! I guess this is just a little foretaste for what is expecting us in Germany next week.
We take a Ford and drive through the amazing landscape direction Birzeit and above. The ride takes us through hills and we get an amazing view until the Mediterranean Sea. We also see the skyscrapers of Tel Aviv and Haifa. The distance looks like it could be easily crossed by foot. I have seen this view before and still I cannot grasp how small this piece of land is, about which everyone is fighting about. We reach Rawabi – a new planned city – and we find empty houses and building sites. I am confused, I thought this was a super fancy city and people would come running to live and work here. We enter the city center which is basically a shopping mall and there we find shops of international brands – which are out of my salary class – and fancy cafés. There is background music playing like in a fun park and I feel like in one of those outlet stores one can find in the Netherlands. We get a guided bus tour through Rawabi: Planning started in 2007, first constructions started in 2012. Rawabi is not financed by the government, but by a private investor. Until now 1,200 apartments are finished, from which 900 to 1000 apartments are sold. There are 4,000 people living here. But besides security and shop employees I don’t see anyone on the streets. This place seems like a ghost town. In Rawabi, you can find the biggest amphitheater in the Middle East, which fits about 20,000 people. Rawabi also offers a zip line and a park for quad safari. The grass is as green as in Germany and there are no water tanks on the buildings, since they have their own water system. This place doesn’t feel like Palestine to me at all. After the bus tour we visit the tech hub „connect“, which is something like a makerspace. This place is an open office for start-ups in order to enrich Palestinian community. Here we learn that Rawabi offers fast internet connection and good infrastructure, security service and is designed especially thinking of internationals coming here, to give them a sense of safety since Palestine has a rather negative medial image. I have the feeling that Rawabi is a westernized bubble in the middle of an Arab country. I feel critically about this place: Why build a whole new city with all fancy features when you could take all this technology and knowledge and implement them in cities like Ramallah or small villages in order to make living there easier? I discuss Rawabi with one of our fellow Palestinian students. Studying architecture, Rawand is even more into the topic of Rawabi as a new planned city. She tells me that an Israeli architect did the planning for the city of Rawabi and apparently the investor himself calls Rawabi Palestine’s first „settlement“. Funny enough that the word Rawabi, is the Arabic interpretation of the Hebrew word, which means „hill“. So, could it be that Rawabi was actually inspired by Israeli settlements? I am told that Rawabi is considered area B and the investor invites Israelis to live in Rawabi side by side with Palestinians in peace. I have heard about normalization before and now I see it with my own eyes.
We leave the ghost town of Rawabi at 1 a.m. and decide to get some breakfast in the old city of Birzeit. Many of our German fellows have already been there and cannot stop to rhapsodize about the sweet alleys and especially about a little restaurant called Falafel Republic. When we reach the restaurant, I realize there is only space for maximum 20 people and it is packed. We wait outside for more than one hour. And the waiting was absolutely worth it! They serve every dish fresh on demand and show the variety of the Palestinian breakfast cuisine. I had the best breakfast in my entire life!
Back in the apartments, there is no time to rest because my project group decides to finally go painting the hallway in front of the YALLAH! club. We buy some painting utensils and get started. On this now white painted part of the hallway we are going to have a girls workshop to paint the walls in mandala style.
We head back home to get some dinner and then leave for the Ramallah Cultural Palace to see the Popular Theatre’s play “Stories from the time of the white horses”. Razan, one of our Palestinian participants, is an actress there. Although I barely understand a word I enjoy watching the fire in the actor’s faces and in their body language. Razan, I am so proud of you!
28.10.2018 – Day 32
Today, the first ones are leaving the YALLAH! family. Renad is heading back to Germany to start her internship in Cologne and Majid (aka Baba) also leaves with his father (aka Baba) to Jordan in order to spent some father-son time in their house at the Dead Sea. I wish all of you safe travels and see you soon in Germany. In-sure-allah!
After a team meeting with half my project team, we go for lunch at Abu Hammam. And as usual, we are then running late for the workshop in the YALLAH! Club. Today is a mandala session for girls. As I wait alone in front of the house door, waiting for my team members to go to the YALLAH! Club, a young man, maybe my age, approaches me out of nowhere. He holds out his hand to me saying “Salam aleykum!”. I return the greeting saying “Wa aleykum salam!”, not intending to shake his hand. He watches me with big eyes and insists on giving me his hand. I obviously don’t want to, because he is a random person and I don’t know him. He murmurs something in Arabic, still insisting, then turns and grunts “Anti scharmuta!”. I have no clue what that means. I say “Ma’a salama!”, and watch him leave. Later I find out that he called me a bitch. For not shaking his hand! I have seen many Muslim woman not shaking hands with men because of their religion. Those would never be considered a bitch, but women of dignity. Then I also learn that blondes here are randomly mistaken for whores. I guess, I will never find out what really made him call me so, but for now I think it is just his macho-ego that got hurt. Well, that’s karma, bitch!
In Al-Amari refugee camp, we finish the painting of the wall while there is the workshop going on. After that we are having a team meeting with our YALLAH! Club volunteers and the child center administration. Everyone is very motivated and has a positive attitude towards the project and I am very proud to be a part of it.
In the evening we are invited for dinner at Omar’s place. As I help preparing the table, I feel like preparing for Christmas dinner, it looks festively. The YALLAH! family sits together at the big table, eating and talking about the day – I am going to miss this! After the food we play Just Dance, sing along to music and play card games as we hear gun shots from the close by refugee camp.
29.10.2018 – Day 33
I am having breakfast with Razan at Zeit ou Zaater. It is a typical morning: We drink tea with mint, eat a typical Palestinian bread with cheese and zaatar and talk about how fast our time in Palestine passed by. We talk about boys, God, the world, politics and occupation – there is no day without talking politics and occupation! When we pay for our breakfast, the cashier points at a special bread at the counter: “This bread is in the shape of Palestine. In the middle you see a cherry tomato, representing our capital Jerusalem. The mint leaves show our beautiful nature. As you can see, the back sesame are settlements disturbing our earth, the white sesame. If you like, I can cut it for you in the borders of ’48 or ’67. If you take two, you get Gaza free!”, Razan and I laugh, thinking this is a joke he just made up for us, when he points out to the little Palestinian flag sticking to the bread, saying that the bread’s name is indeed Palestine. A perfect composition.
We walk back to the apartment and see Al-Manara square packed with people. Razan tells me they are demonstrating for their pension rights. Palestinians do not only suffer from the occupation, but also from their own corrupt politicians.
Mohammad comes over to our apartment to interview us about our time in Palestine. He asks me about my weirdest experience, my favorite memory and my favorite place I have been to. Apparently, all my answers are related to food. Only after the interview better answers come to my mind. Thinking about the weirdest experience, I remember that – unfortunately – we have had quite a few incidences with Israeli soldiers. My favorite memory must have been the afternoon I spent with the German girls in the Turkish hammam. And my favorite place must have been Birzeit’s old city with its charming and small streets – also because of the restaurant Falafel Republic, which brings us back to food, just sayin’. What also made my time in Palestine very special were the many invitations to our friends’ homes. I enjoyed visiting them at home and getting to know their families. We were spoiled by each and every one with amazing homemade food and Palestinian hospitality.
In the afternoon my Al-Amari team has a meeting to discuss project work and what we reached so far. We decide to take a taxi to a restaurant called 3Ramallah (speak: A’a Ramallah) and work there because we didn’t have lunch yet. I have crispy eggplant, spicy potatoes and of course a tea with mint (speaking of food again!). I send a food picture to my family and my mother answers wondering if I am doing anything else besides eating in Palestine. And the answer is: YES, MOM! We work very hard here!
In the evening we decide to go to a bar in Ramallah Tahta (Old City), called La Grotta. A colleague from the Goethe Institute kind of invited us. It is a very small place which used to be a prison a long time ago. The air inside is smoky and people are sitting a little squeezed but the atmosphere is comfy. Again, I feel like in a parallel world, people drinking alcohol and there are many internationals. My highlight is as the waiter puts zaater spiced popcorn on our table. And then I don’t know exactly why, what and when it happened but our colleague starts sharing Bailey’s shots with us. One round… a second round… a third round… We were having the time of our lives. Now I can proudly say that Sarah R. and I reached our goal of experiencing Ramallah night life. Then its midnight, which means that it’s the other Sarah’s 25th birthday! We sing Happy Birthday and everyone in this tiny bar sings along. Things only get weird when I switch to singing a Polish birthday song and out of nowhere another person sings along. Those Polish speaking people are everywhere! When it’s time to go home, someone of our group says that the bill has been taken care of. Wow, thanks! We leave the bar delighted, waiting for Julian, who is still inside. We are laughing on the street as Julian comes storming out of the bar: “Ehm guys, there are still 210 Shekel on the bill”, we look at him like he lost his mind, telling him someone took care of paying already. “Well, apparently not. 10 beers and two Cokes are not payed yet…”, bewildered we look at each other, there is a moment of silence and then we burst with laughter.