Pamela Olson
30 June 2004

I made it to Ramallah mish mushkila (no problem). The crossing was a cake walk. I just caught a cab to Kalandia crossing, walked across a couple hundred meters of dirt and rocks and market stands, and caught a shuttle to Ramallah. No one checked my passport or anything. It was similar at the Gates of Azzun last time, getting to Jayyous. Either it was a nightmare or it was nothing at all, depending on the mood of the soldiers.

When I got to Ramallah's Main Street, I asked around where the offices of Dr. Barghouthi were. They asked, "Marwan ow Mustafa?" "Mustafa."

A very nice woman named Muzna interviewed me at the al-Mubadara (Palestinian National Initiative) headquarters. Muzna said what they really need now is someone to finish a new website for the Initiative, update the website often with press-releases, edit several translations of pamphlets and informational folders, that kind of thing. More projects will come up as we go, too.

Many Palestinians in the diaspora are not aware that there is a strong centrist movement committed to non-violence and a just and lasting two-state peace in Palestine. According to a recent poll, if Palestinians voted for a new president right now, Arafat would be first, Marwan Barghouthi would be second, and Dr. Mustafa al-Barghouthi of the PNI would be third. Arafat is very old and Marwan is in prison, and the movement is only two years old, so it looks very promising. Even fewer Americans, Israelis, and Jews are aware of it as a possible extremely promising partner for peace.

A demonstration was held the afternoon I arrived, and several Palestinians marched down the Main Street to the town square with signs and Palestinian flags. It is part of a 56-day non-violent demonstration all around Palestine in memory and protest of the 56 years since an-Nakba, the Palestinian Catastrophe, when the Palestinians were first dispossessed on a massive scale in 1948.

Cars trying to get through the town square kept honking at the demonstrators and yelling, "Hey, you hippies! Get a job!"

Just kidding.

Fewer than half the women walking around town in Ramallah wear a hijab, or head scarf. The scarves are quite attractive if done right, or done wrong, depending on how you look at it. You should see the women wearing scarves in Cairo! God forgive me, but many of them look absolutely stunning. Women mostly wear fashionable Western clothing here, but some also wear the elegant traditional long dress/coat.

The only major disappointment so far is that it is going to be a nightmare trying to learn Arabic here. Everyone speaks English! My coworkers, the shopkeepers, the soldiers guarding Arafat's compound... every time I try to talk in Arabic, they answer me in perfect English. I know they are trying to be helpful, but it is kind of frustrating. In the village where I lived last time, only half the people spoke English, so it was just about right. Maybe I'll requisition some kids to talk to, but they'll probably speak English, too.

I found a place to stay for about $120 a month, which is cheap even for here. On the walk to my house, the road has a gorgeous view of a gorge and some hills and the western part of town and Arafat's compound. One end of his compound looks like a giant hand came down and crunched it up and scattered the pieces around because of the Israeli shelling. I walked down the hill and up another hill to the compound and saw an apartment block there also bombed out, looked like by tank fire.

Other than a few places like that, the town is very charming. Built on a lot of hills like Amman, stunning views everywhere, shops and shawerma stands and coffee shops and restaurants and ice cream parlors and markets line the long main street. I can get kunafa (a Palestinian dessert I love) any day of the week for 75 cents.

The houses in my neighborhood and beautiful, look like they are made of cut stone, all very unique but sharing a unified style. Almost all of them have flat roofs and porches and balconies everywhere, usually a yard or garden, big windows with decorative stonework around them. I don't know how it works here, but in Jayyous families often build their houses by hand with the help of some friends. The family I lived with were building an addition next to their house when I lived in Jayyous.

I live on Shar'a as-Salaam. Peace St. I have my own little balcony that has a sliver of the sunset gorge view out in front. More of the view is visible from the roof. My housemates are a Palestinian girl and a Norwegian student of human rights who will, sadly for me, move to Hebron soon. Hopefully I can visit her there some time.

The first night I got here I was invited to a house where some expats live, and we had pizza and beer and watched 21 Grams on a British girl's computer. 21 Grams asks the important question, 'Can a movie thoroughly depress an audience without teaching them anything or making them think at all?' The answer was a resounding 'Yes.' The foreign workers, mostly student-age, were cool, and the pizza surprisingly good, and the last men standing shared a nargila afterwards. Apparently there is a public swimming pool here, too, and on weekends, Fridays and Sundays, my coworkers often go together.

In August I plan to visit some friends in Amman, Jordan, and then swing through Jenin and visit Ammar, and then spend some time in Jayyous again. Getting all my visiting done in one go will save a months' rent. Coming to Ramallah made me miss my friends in Amman and Jayyous that much more.



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