Monday, December 6, 2010

Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, Israel to Ramallah, Palestine to Jerusalem to Tel Aviv, Israel


Last night, or rather, far too early this morning, the humidity up on the roof woke me after just a few hours of sleep. Looking through the mist, I heard a familiar sound- rain drops on walls and windows. I smiled. So cozy and warm in my little nest of blankets… wait. In my little nest of blankets on the roof. I poked my head out from under the blankets, and all of a sudden, the sky was collapsing and all of the rain that had not fallen for nearly two months came pouring out of the clouds. It took me about thirty seconds to gather everything essential (aka not waterproof) up into a sheet, a minute to climb down the ladder and lower myself down the wall to the apartment’s terrace, so that by the time I was inside, I was completely soaked. Luckily I had moved most of my stuff into the apartment the day before, to avoid awkward questions from the visiting landlord and angry exchanges with a new tenant who has partial ownership of the upper roof, but being woken up and soaked at the crack of dawn? Not so fun… plus the challenge of finding a warm place to sleep in the apartment (Tal, I may or may not have taken advantage of your empty mattress- but I did put a water glass under a leak, saving your room from flooding, so we can call it even?) in the wee hours of the morning. I think this is Israel’s way of telling me it’s time to move on…

While I have been in Tel Aviv, though, a few significant holidays from the land of Hummer’s, Starbucks, and Walmart took place: Halloween, Martina’s birthday, and Thanksgiving. Read on…

Halloween, it appears, is a holiday only popular in America. I found only one Halloween-related event happening in Tel Aviv on October 31st, so I knew I had to pull something together on my own. The fact that I had met not a single American, with the exception of Patty- and Texas is arguably another planet, not just another country- since I left Poland nearly two months earlier, was not particularly heartening. However, Halloween rolled around and in walked a student from Kentucky, traveling through Israel after studying Arabic in Cairo. Speaking of which- if you know of a really good, Arabic-intensive language course (MSA and Egyptian Arabic as well) in Cairo, or maybe Damascus, I would LOVE to hear about it. Email me- Anyways, I had my American partner in crime, and we decided that in true Tel Aviv-United States fusion, we would “carve” a jack-o-lantern sandcastle out on the beach. After a bit of strategizing and a lot of digging we had something that resembled a pumpkin rather well. I was satisfied.

The next “holiday” was Martina’s birthday. Martina, from Sweden, seemed to think that birthdays are not a big deal. I have since taught her otherwise. After sleeping over half the day (even for Martina, who sleeps more and in more random places than nearly anybody I have ever met, except perhaps Sarah Pincus, this was a lot of sleeping), we gave Martina small presents (despite her insistence that she did not want presents, I felt it was necessary to inject at least a little of America’s hyper-consumerist culture into the day) and journeyed around to various Tel Aviv favorite spots, including the beach restaurant next to one of our sleeping spots, Max Brenner Chocolate Restaurant where we enjoyed some very excellent chocolate foods, Bjorn’s increasingly crowded apartment (at various points there were as many as six people sleeping in the small two-bedroom apartment- and there were only enough mattresses for three, technically), our favorite bar, and some particularly inviting alleyways. Even Martina had to admit it was a nice birthday. I felt very proud.

Next: Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving at home is always a little tricky, because the primary food item is of the animal nature, and thus, as a vegetarian, I do not partake. However, stuffing is essential. But I had no idea how to cook any of this… and then Bjorn decided to schwenk on Thanksgiving Day! What is schwenking, you ask? I suggest you educate yourself on this important cultural activity of Saarland ( but if you are short on time, from my limited experience and observations, I can tell you this: the schwenker is a special swinging grill indigent to the Saarland region of Germany (debatably its own autonomous zone, but that argument is for another time), held over a fire by a tripod. “Schwenker” can also refer to the pork most commonly cooked on the fire, though in Tel Aviv fashion, we schwenked kebab, pita with hummus, and pita with eggs primarily. (For other international schwenker events, past and future, check out: There is also the schwenkmeister, in this case Bjorn, though we all got to practice swinging the grill and even my four-year-old friend Laila got the hang of it by the end of the evening.

Later on Thanksgiving evening, I headed back to Sarah Robins apartment, and came across a gathering of extremely stuffed American teenagers and a table full of leftovers. Though the pie was finished, everything else was delicious: wild rice, green beans, two (!) types of stuffing, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, and a couple of non-vegetarian things. Hummus has contributed to the healthy development of my food baby, but I think I made some real progress toward its growth after my multiple-meal Thanksgiving evening.

The day after the original international schwenkmeister (Bjorn) departed for Saarland, Martina and I headed out of Tel Aviv and toward the Jordan River… that is, Jerusalem and Ramallah. Martina had heard about a workshop in Ramallah that we might be interesting, and we decided to check it out. We spent the night before the workshop in Jerusalem to avoid having to wake up super early, and of course, we slept on a roof there… Jerusalem is significantly colder than Tel Aviv (perhaps not actually much colder, but when you sleep on exposed rooftops, you notice even the slightest alterations in temperature and humidity). This roof belonged to a hostel, though, which was a nice change of pace from the Florentine rooftop bubble, and we did our best to convince everybody we met to go to Tel Aviv and stay in Florentine. Jerusalem reminds me of Washington, DC, in the sense of the low-rise, all-white-stone buildings. Though DC is divided up by wide-sidewalked avenues and parks filled with monuments and mid-Atlantic-specific foliage and Jerusalem seems to have developed from a desire to tone its inhabitants’ calves, between the local sport of dodging other passersby on tiny alleyways and the stair-filled passageways, walking around each of these cities gives me a similar feeling.

Upon sitting down in a conference room with the other workshop participants in Ramallah, we had to go around and say our names, where we were from, and why we decided to join the workshop. After two English/Kiwi guys stated their desire to make a difference on the ground, get their hands dirty, help the suffering Palestinian people, I felt a bit intimidated- I just came to be exposed to another perspective on this conflict, and had no idea upon joining of the history or activities of the hosting organization, which I think is called International Solidarity Movement. About half the workshop sessions were illuminating for my purposes, and the rest of the time we discussed how to avoid being blown up by poorly directed sound bombs, “rubber-covered steel bullets” (it’s true that the rubber bullets were actually steel bullets covered with rubber), and tear gas bombs, as well as how to physically avoid arrest by, for example, lying on top of one another and going limp, and finally, what to do in case of arrest. Though the specific knowledge I gained from those parts of the workshop are probably not going to be useful in my life, seeing footage of the demonstrations and non-violent work of the organization was fascinating and it really gave me a sense of the on-the-ground reality of the current situation. We learned that people here have been programmed to react violently or through endless negotiation processes, and efforts at non-violent resistance are often met with confusion or sometimes just violence. Though the organization claimed that they did not determine the definition of legitimate resistance, the general opinion on Palestinians throwing stones at Israeli soldiers was that it was symbolic, and therefore non-violent. This seemed a bit off to me, so I pushed further, asking if the Palestinians intended to hit and injure Israeli soldiers if possible, and the workshop leaders said that yes, they did, but compared to Israeli weapons, stones were pathetic. While I agree that the deck is loaded in favor of Israel in terms of weapons, somehow I can’t see how hurling stones at human beings with the intention to cause them pain is not violent. My overall conclusion coming out of the workshop was that conflicts don’t make me empathize with each side, believing each to be valid and “right,” but rather, conflicts make me feel that each side is “wrong” and should handle the situation better. Kind of harsh, yes, but whoever decided to fight fire with fire in the first place must have been insane- don’t they say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results?

We also learned a bit of Arabic (ana nabatiyah means “I’m vegetarian), some Palestinian customs about drinking coffee and tea, not pointing the soles of the feet at a person, and male-female relations. After the sessions finished for the first day, Martina and I wandered around suburban Ramallah. We both agreed that if it weren’t for the inordinate number of empty lots filled with trash, Ramallah would be a really beautiful place. I also spotted an Arabic billboard for Ben & Jerry’s, so my life is now complete.

I’m choosing which books to have my familia bring me when we meet up in a couple weeks in Vietnam, so if you have any book recommendations, please let me know, and I will send them out to find them. English books in Israel are not cheap unless you stumble across them secondhand, and I’m guessing I won’t have a good selection in Southeast Asia. So… anything good you’ve read lately, anything you think is relevant to my experiences this year, or anything you read at my age that you think I would benefit from or enjoy- email me!

A belated public happy birthday to my brothers, Alex and Ben, and my soul sister ISABEL O WALSH, and a pre-emptive strike: happy birthday Mr. Esteemed Guatemalan Honorary Consul to New (ton/ England?) (questionable). How old are you now, sixty-five?


And a last note… I am sitting in my favorite cafĂ©, Casba, and I just watched a waitress apologize, out loud, to the dog she bumped into. Dogs in Florentine are like cows in India… but still—that was definitely one of the more “Florentine” interactions I have witnessed.

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