Small Adventures

Pamela Olson
November 30, 2005

Note: This was written just as I was leaving Palestine. A beautiful week in Dahab, Sinai, Egypt followed, and then I went home to my family in Oklahoma for Christmas. I am now living in Washington, DC. I have at least half a dozen major stories still to finish about Gaza, my parents visiting, etc. I will try to post them when they are done.


This is my last week working in Ramallah at my present job. I'll be back home in Oklahoma on December 17, then in New York for New Year's. Then I'll move to Washington, DC, probably for a year or two. Look me up if you're in the area.

I haven't written much in the past few months; when there's the most to write about, there's usually the least time to write about it. Since the 1st of September, I've averaged about 1.5 days off per month. (I define a day off as one in which I can, if I so choose, spend all day at home in my pajamas cooking hashbrowns and watching MBC2.)

But here are a few random stories I've put together since then. More will be coming about Gaza, trips with American friends, visits to settlements, etc., before too long, insha'Allah.

Hidden valleys

On Friday, September 2, I headed to Jenin to visit some beautiful areas up north and check out a newly-opened road next to a famously pretty ravine. The small section of road, closed for many years to Palestinians for the exclusive use of illegal Israeli settlers, is one of the most strikingly beautiful stretches in all of the West Bank. It also cuts the journey from Nablus north to Tubas and Jenin by hours.

The entire area around Badhan and its ravine are impossibly picturesque except for the illegal, ideological, expansionist Israeli settlement of Elon Moreh and its military base sitting on the mountain top overlooking it all.

I often wonder, when I look at all the hilltop settlements in the West Bank, what they see when they look down on Badhan or Ramallah (Psagot settlement sits on a hill overlooking Ramallah's downtown), when they see life going on here. Are they able to blind themselves to the humanity of the residents entirely? Do they just see ants or cockroaches, mere inconveniences to their aims and claims? I suppose many of them must. Just to live there, they'd have to believe they had some strange right to it that transcended the property deeds of those whose lands they'd commandeered.

(A few months later I visited Elon Moreh with an American friend to find out. The short answer is that many simply don't recognize as legitimate anything that's happened since the Old Testament. And their interpretation of the OT is pretty narrow and twisted.

An American woman who was visiting one of the hardline settlements in Hebron had a different view, however: she believes that since Israel conquered the West Bank by force, Israel can do with it whatever it likes, and tough beans for the natives. She said superciliously, "That's the Rule of Civilization."

At that point my irony-meter just spun around and collapsed.

And yet the pesky Arabs remain. Their solution? Put the Arabs in reservations and/or move 'em out. Sharon seems to agree, although he'll call the Walled reservation he's preparing for them, without access to their best land and water, and without control over their borders or airspace, and with minimal and provisional internal freedom of movement, "the Palestinian state." A nice little sleight of hand like South Africa's Bantustans, granting nominal but not actual independence. Even in Gaza, Palestinians still have no control over their coastline, airspace, or exports, and can be bombed at will by Israel. And only Palestinians with Israeli-issued IDs may pass at Rafah.

I'll write more about the settlement visits in an upcoming story.)

The ravine didn't disappoint at all; if it weren't for the army base and settlement up above, it would be a world-class place to hike and climb. The steep rocky landscape with mountain spring water rushing down to the fertile valley below was dramatic and lovely. The West Bank is an old landscape, softened by time. The ravine was a refreshing surge of youth.

After Badhan came Tubas, a regional capital located between Nablus and Jenin, which is relatively unmolested by settlements. Even the five Israeli military bases surrounding it are between six and twelve kilometers away rather than right up in their faces, and fatalities here in the past five years have been refreshingly small.

I've reported on hundreds of incidents in Palestine during the past year, and the incident in Tubas that comes to mind is the 13-year-old boy who was killed on Thursday, January 20, 2005, the first day of the Eid al-Adha festival holiday. It was also the day before my 25th birthday.

He was playing with other children in the street, probably thrilled to be outdoors on a school day, when Israeli Jeeps passed and began shooting at the children. Maybe the kids were playing with toy guns or tossing stones, as the soldiers claimed. A 13-year-old with a rock on a holiday playing in his own street is apparently an executable offense here. He was shot in the back with live ammunition as he tried to run from the invading Jeeps and was buried in his new holiday clothes and shoes.

Every holiday seems to have its share of children shot by Israeli soldiers. This year on the first day of the Eid al-Fitr holiday, a 12-year-old boy in his own neighborhood in Jenin was shot in the head by an Israeli soldier and killed. The soldier claimed that the boy was playing with a toy gun that looked real. For this he executed the child on sight.

His grief-stricken parents decided to donate the boy's organs, and six Israelis received them.

There has been no talk of an investigation or punishment for the boy's killing. Even Captain R, who riddled that little girl in Gaza with so many bullets last fall, was recently cleared of all charges.

The land around Tubas is lush and gorgeous, green and cultivated, with a few stone ruins dotted here and there. It's located on a high, hilly plateau overlooking the Jordan Valley, idyllic as a Renaissance painting, verdant as a Hidden Valley Ranch dressing label.

After that I went on to Jenin for a bit, but it was Friday and everything was closed, and my contact didn't have his cell phone turned on. So I headed back to Nablus, where I hung out with an Aussie friend and watched Wag the Dog on MBC2. We were both bemused to think that it was made before the Bush administration took power.

The next day I hiked around Badhan, as I mentioned in a previous email. I got up Sunday morning and went directly from Nablus to my office and worked until Thursday, when I went to Gaza for six days to witness the Strip before and after disengagement. I'll describe this later. It was amazing but exhausting in every way.

Snake 'n the grass

I worked the two days after I got back from Gaza, and then on Thursday, September 15, I stayed the night in Jerusalem so I could catch the next day's 7:00 a.m. bus to Eilat. It was time to renew my visa.

The crossing into Egypt wasn't bad. The border girl asked the usual dozens of questions, and when I said I planned on leaving Israel on December 16, she warned me that I'd only get a one-month visa on the way back in.

"That's what you think," I thought. I planned to take the boat across the gulf from Nuweiba to Aqaba and cross from there so I'd get the necessary three months.

I arrived in Dahab, an inexpensive Sinai resort town, around 4:00 p.m. and grabbed a bite to eat. Then I caught a cab up north to the Blue Hole, from which a camel trail leads directly to Ras Abu Gallum, a Bedouin camp/village on a flat spit of land between the mountains and the Gulf. It was getting dark, but I had a head lamp, and I figured an empty camel trail would be pretty tame.

I walked with a Bedouin guy part of the way and was offered tea and a place to stay at another smaller camp along the way. But I declined, itching to see the place where I'd spent such wondrous times exactly two years ago.

One odd thing about the eastern part of the Sinai is that you never really see the sun set. The mountains to the west gobble up the sun long before it hits the horizon, and the day fades lazily away without anyone really noticing it. The sun was behind the mountains, but not down yet, when the translucent, almost-full moon rose in the east over the dusty rolling Saudi mountains in a hazy pale pink and blue sky.

As the twilight deepened and the moon began to shine more confidently, its reflection on the silky calm gulf waters took my breath away. Gently, brilliantly, the soft white moonlight glittered off the bottomless clear aquamarine gulf and shone like a spotlight on one area in the middle, like a stage where spirits dance. The reflection trailed in a shimmery line toward me like a path.

The Sinai is a haunted place, and I mean that in the best possible way. It's where the spirit world goes to hang out, it seems. It's their French Riviera. I have no trouble believing someone named Moses felt a great presence here.

The moon climbed higher and grew stronger as I made my way north, and finally the Bedouin camp was in sight. Instead of following the trail all the way in, I decided to cut down to the beach at the entrance and walk along it a bit. For old time's sake.

I put my hand on a boulder to steady myself for the jump down to the beach, and as I did, I heard a sound that made no sense: an unearthly hissing, in stereo, crescendoing rapidly, seeming to come simultaneously from many directions at once and yet from one compact space near my head on the rocks.

The hair on my neck stood up, and I swung my head lamp around just enough to see a writhing, coiling, sand-colored mass looking as alarmed as I felt about four feet from my head. I withdrew my hand and walked away evenly, my ears burning, feeling for some reason as mortified as if I'd walked in on a couple having sex, and a lot more terrified.

The terror came and went quickly as I realized I was safe just seconds after I realized I was in danger. But the burning in my ears lingered.

I approached a group of three or four Bedouin men sitting on mats sharing tea between the first line of huts and the beach. They motioned for me to join them and offered me tea. I told them about the snake, and they asked what color it was. I pointed at the sand and asked in Arabic, "Is it dangerous?"

One of the old men laughed heartily and said, "VERY dangerous!" (Ah, fi khaTar KTIR!)

Er... Ha ha?

Soon one of them offered to sell me some herb, but I wasn't about to fall for the old buying-herb-in-the-Sinai trick. I'd sooner buy ice in Antarctica.

Sure enough, within minutes of declining to buy, I was offered a nice fatty, gratis. Maybe it was the exhaustion of traveling since 5:30 a.m. all the way from Jerusalem to B.F.Egypt, and having a near-death experience on top of it all, but one puff and I was gone. I raised my eyebrows at the guy who'd rolled for me, and he smiled knowingly.

I looked toward Dahab. The mountains in the west vanished to a point just where the lights of Dahab softly glowed, where the sea, sky, and mountains met. Two Septembers ago I was here during the new moon. Now the moon was full. Every time I blinked, my old memory from the darker new moon days would be replaced by the present scene, with a bright moon suddenly in the sky, lighting up the hills and changing all the colors.

I had some stale bread and runny cheese for dinner and then retired to a khousha (grass hut) for some desperately-needed sleep. It lasted until the sun cleared the khousha next to me and started shining at me through my roof the next afternoon.

I felt stunned and exhausted by the pace of my life of late, and I couldn't bring myself to do much of anything but sit around and occasionally scrounge for food and water and herb. I went snorkeling for a bit, but some of the young men from the village kept trying to pick up sea creatures and show them to me, which is illegal and damaging to the fragile life. I stopped snorkeling so they'd stop doing that. And there weren't any glow spots in the tiny surf this time of the month; they only come out when there's a new moon.

By Sunday morning I couldn't wait to get out of this twilight zone and back to a place where I could just buy a cup of tea when I wanted it instead of having to make friends with someone and pretend to be interested in buying some of their beadwork in order to get it. I was grumpy, hungry, and in desperate need of a shower. I'd gone to Ras Abu Gallum to be alone and at peace, but I wasn't afforded the personal space I craved, my head hurt from speaking only Arabic, and there was no place to go to the bathroom. Peeing was done on a strictly ad hoc basis.

I got started around 9:00 a.m. and walked until 11:00. When I arrived in Dahab, I sat down at a seaside cafe and ordered exactly what I wanted: garlic mashed potatoes, a boiled egg, and guava juice. My stomach was so shrunken from two days of eating basically nothing that I couldn't finish it. But sitting there by the sea under the sun with a full stomach, sipping my sweet NesCafe ma' halib (with milk), I felt infinitely content.

I ran into a few of the people I'd done my rescue diver course with in February. One of them, an Egyptian Coptic Christian, invited me to a get-together that night with some Palestinian-Israeli friends (Palestinians who live inside Israel and have Israeli citizenship, often called Israeli Arabs). It was strange hanging out with them. There was kind of a Western edge to them. They were more polished and distant and well-fed than Palestinian Palestinians, and one wore an enormous gold crucifix.

The next day I got up early to catch the bus to catch the ferry from Nuweiba, Egypt, to Aqaba, Jordan. The usual hassles and long waits ensued, and the boat was hours later than it was supposed to be. The foreigners banded together to try to make sense of things and complain to each other about the meaningless posted schedules and the asinine bureaucracy. I didn't make it to the border with Israel until nearly 7:00.

The border sadist du jour kept me more than half an hour, right past the time when the last bus would leave Eilat for Jerusalem. Finally the blond Russian passport control girl said she could only give me two weeks since I was doing an internship (as per my story of the day) and was therefore not a tourist. She said I'd have to take it up with the Ministry of the Interior. It wasn't even because I'd been in Palestine; I'd somehow failed to mention that. She was just on a power trip.

This was terrible news. If I did go to the Ministry to try to get it extended, they would grill me within and inch of my life and might tell me to bugger off. It'd be tougher lying to them, and why would they want to help me continue to work in Palestine? On the other hand, if I went back to another border to try to get it extended, those border guards would want to know what I was guilty of at the last border to warrant only getting two weeks. My stomach clenched in dread.

On the way out I grabbed a few extra visa papers to experiment on. Maybe there would be some kind of underhanded way out of this. Since the Israelis by all evidence have no respect for their own or anyone else's laws when it's not convenient, why should I? I don't recognize their dominion over the West Bank anyway, and didn't Gandhi and Thoreau teach us to respect our conscience above the laws of colonial governments? Any excuse would do, anything but another border crossing...

The Israeli girl who took my gate pass was sweet and offered to call me a cab. While I was waiting, a young Israeli man asked me where I was headed.

"Jerusalem," I said, although that was a pipe dream by now. There wouldn't be any more buses until the morning, and I had no idea where I'd stay in Eilat.

"Come with us, we can take you as far as Tel Aviv," he said.

He seemed nice enough. "How much?" I asked.

He shrugged and smiled, "Just to come, for nothing."

"Wow, thanks, that'd be great."

I got in the back seat of his car. An older Israeli man was sitting in the front. We pulled up to the gate to pick up their other passenger just as my taxi pulled up.

"Oh, crap, that's my cab," I said. "I should go--"

"No, no!" said the first Israeli man. "Don't go, don't do anything, he might want you to pay."

"But I called him, I should--"

"No, don't go, it doesn't matter. Forget about him."

No matter how much I insisted I go, they insisted that I stay, right up until the cab drove away empty. I felt bad. They acted triumphant. Weird.

Anyway, long story short, the guy they were coming to pick up crossed the border shortly, and we headed off. We stopped once for McDonald's and once at a Palestinian Israeli's house in Arad, and we didn't get to Tel Aviv until 3:00 a.m. One of the guys offered me a place to stay, and since I didn't have much choice, I accepted.

The next day I was five hours late for work.

Visa laundering

At work that day, I was so delirious and miserable I did something really dumb: I tried to scratch off the part of my visa stamp where the border guard had crossed out "3 months" and written in "2 weeks". When I was done it no longer clearly said "2 weeks". But it did look completely and deliberately mangled.

Brilliant. I'd gone from having a legitimate but inconvenient two-week visa to having a mangled and useless and incriminating non-visa.

But wait! What if I threw my visa into the washing machine? Then it would look mangled, but not purposely mangled! And maybe they would just be able to pick out the part that said "3 months" and not the part I'd scratched off.

I took the extra visa papers I'd grabbed and started experimenting. I filled out the papers, drew in a fake visa stamp, wrote in "2 weeks", scratched it out, folded them up, threw one in the washing machine, washed one by hand, and used an exfoliating scrub on another to try to fade out everything else to about the extent the "2 weeks" line had been faded.

Now, instead of looking intentionally mangled, they all looked intentionally mangled twice.


It wouldn't have mattered anyway since it's on their computer how many weeks/months I've been given. But I wasn't thinking that clearly at the time.

I worked all week and FINALLY got a day off on Friday, September 23. I think I went ahead and took Saturday off, too, because by then I had the flu. But I had trouble sleeping because I was sick, and I went into work on Sunday still exhausted, miserably mindful that I'd have to go to Jordan and face the borders all over again the next weekend.

The two weeks between visa renewals were infused thickly with the dread that the next border crossing could be my last, and this could be my last two sick, miserable weeks in beautiful Palestine. I was one giant ball of bummed out. I didn't know whether to tie up all my affairs or not, or whether to say tearful good-byes to good friends or not. Because I might be back in three days, or I might be barred for the next five years. One never knew. It was all up to the shrewdness and moods of the Israeli guards.

For me it was two weeks of psychological torture.

Israel doesn't grant anything but tourist visas even to permanent residents of the Palestinian Territories. If you weren't in the right place at the right time to receive an Israeli-issued ID, you're a tourist, and that's that. Some people who have grandparents buried here and who've lived here for more than ten years still have to go in and out every three months (or two weeks, as the case may be) and put their fate in the border guards' hands every time.

It's another pernicious form of total control, another humiliating embodiment of Palestine's lack of sovereignty. Palestine can't even choose its own citizens and foreign employees. They're all subject to Israel's tri-monthly approval. And sometimes, without warning, Israel can give someone a little black stamp in their passport that indicates they can't enter Israel -- which controls all of Palestine's borders -- for five years. I know a woman who was denied at the border and given one of these stamps when she least expected it. Her life, work, friends, and possessions were all still in Palestine. Israel has refused repeatedly to give her an explanation, and months later she's still trying to get back to a place she considers Home.

Given how many hundreds of thousands of people pass through checkpoints every day here, there's a fairly low chance of any random person being detained, beaten, injured, or killed at them, just as there's a low chance of being outright denied at an Israeli border. But the helpless fear and awful dread, every time you must put your fate in their arbitrary hands in order to pass, is punishment enough. If they want to beat you, detain you, deny you, tell you you can't go to work this morning or you can't go back to the home you built, they can do that. And there's almost nothing you can do about it.

I knew my chances at the border would increase greatly the less I looked like a backpacker/activist. I ironed my nicest clothes, bought some strappy leather sandals, and found a reasonably-priced faux-Louis Vuitton rolling carry-on to replace my beat-up backpack.

As for the visa, I finally decided that my best bet was telling the border guard I'd lost it entirely. It happens. Better than presenting her with the pathetically mangled rag I'd made out of my visa paper.

Up at the northern crossing near Beit Shean the next Thursday, I clicked smartly across the linoleum to the passport control window in my high heels and shiny lip gloss. The border guard didn't even let me finish my elaborate story about the lost visa. She was like Dr. Evil, shushing me every time I tried to explain.

"Look, I'm really sorry, but I lost my--"

"Mmm..." She grabbed my passport and turned to her computer.

"Here, I have the Jordanian stamp to prove--"

"Lo, lo."

"But I--"


"Can you--"

She waved her hand at me dismissively, tapped a few taps on her computer, asked if I preferred a visa on a separate piece of paper (the first time any border guard ever asked me that), stamped a couple of papers, handed them to me, and said with friendly sarcasm, "Don't lose this."

It was the easiest border crossing in my long and colorful history of them. I practically floated across the bridge to Jordan.

Canadian Horse of the Nile

On the other side, I waited to see if anyone else was catching a taxi to Amman so I could split one. It's about a three-hour $35 ride. I saw a guy in jeans, black leather shoes, a black sports jacket, and an out-of-place movie star hairdo tell one of the drivers he wanted to go to Amman. I walked up and said, "Biddi Amman kaman." (I want Amman, too.)

The movie star guy looked at me and couldn't seem to make up his mind whether to talk to me in Arabic or English. Finally he settled on sign language.

"Amman?" he said, pointing at the cab.


"Er..." he pointed at himself and then me to ask if I wanted to go together.

"Tayyib, leish la?" Sure, why not?

On the road, we spoke in Arabic until I got around to asking where he was from and found out he was a Palestinian with Canadian citizenship who has family near Haifa in what is now Israel. Then we switched to English, which was nice, because I'd used up most of my Arabic by then anyway.

He said he was a singer whose stage name, Jawad el-Nil (Horse of the Nile), was given to him by an Egyptian television host. He was heading to the Marriott in Amman for some meetings. When we got there, he invited me in for coffee, and he dropped every name in the Arabic music industry. ("Oh yeah, I met Haifa in Paris," "Sure, me and Amr Diab are like brothers.") He invited me to come back after his meetings so we could have dinner together.

We went out to a nice Arabic place. He said he had a website with some of his photos and music videos posted. I checked out his music videos, and they're pretty wild.

Afterwards he invited me up to his room in the Marriott, but I declined and went back to the Al-Sarayya Hotel in downtown Amman to spend time with Fayez and Eiko, some old friends. We talked for hours, ate together, and had another lovely kunafe party.

On Friday I just stayed in bed at the hotel and watched movies. I was still kind of fluey, and it was nice to take a day off. Out my window I saw the Citadel silhouetted against a last Amman sunset, minarets glowing green against dusky stones and sky. In the end I was kind of glad that last border girl only gave me two weeks.

Allenby's eternal limbo

On Saturday morning I got up early to face the border once more. I had a boiled egg and a slice of tomato for breakfast, and somehow it didn't sit well with me. By the time I was explaining myself to yet another blonde Russian girl, I had the kind of headache that meant losing my lunch was inevitable.

A girl dragged me out of the metal detector line right away and pretended to strike up a conversation with me in between security questions. "Wait, don't I know you?" she asked with faux-curiosity.

"I don't think so," I said.

"When was the last time you came through here?" she asked, her brows furrowed fatuously.

"I don't know, a couple of years ago," I lied. Otherwise she would have asked more stupid questions.

"Oh, then, nevermind," she said, losing interest instantly.

Who put Pollyanna on psy-ops? Why couldn't she just ask her question outright instead of being all weird and sneaky about it? Who takes nice little teen-agers and turns them into the patronizing schizo boneheads at the borders?

In the next room I told the passport control girl that I was doing consulting in Ramallah. She looked crestfallen and said apologetically, "I am sorry, we have to do a security check on you. Please sit over there."

I suspected she looked pained because she knew very well that the "security check" was just a process by which I would be made to sit on a bench for a few hours for no reason. She was probably new and still sensitive to asinine wastes of people's time. I'm sure that will change with time.

I sweated a bit, not because I was nervous, but because my stomach was becoming more and more unsettled and the pain in my head was getting sharper. Thankfully they didn't ask me any more questions, and after the requisite couple of hours were up, the girl gave me my passport back with a three-month visa and a sweet and sincere apology. I smiled and thanked her in Hebrew.

Taybeh: Churches and Beer

I'd made it a point to come back as early as possible on Saturday so I could catch the first day of Taybeh's First Annual October Fest. Taybeh is the only all-Christian village in Palestine, and it makes a preservative-free microbrew called Taybeh Gold, which is sold all over the Territories. Or at least in places where foreigners, Christians, metro Muslims, and Communists hang out.

I caught a service taxi from Jericho to Taybeh, and the white stone village, with its church towers rising gracefully above the crest of a terraced green hill, was as breathtaking as anything I've seen here. White crosses decorated the town's gates and buildings, and everything was impeccably clean and brushed up for the festival.

But by the time I arrived I was anxious to get somewhere with some Pepto and a toilet. I wandered miserably among the food stands and craft tables, said hi to some friends I happened across, and then went straight back to Main Street to try to catch a service taxi to Ramallah.

By now I was almost delirious, and soon I was overcome with nausea and started heaving onto one of the trees planted along Main Street. Within seconds, a young woman and a young man wearing a Palestine Medical Relief vest were at my side asking in English if I needed any help. I wasn't quite in my right mind and didn't know what to say and couldn't think of anything I needed except to go home. But the girl brought me a carton of milk, a bottle of water, and some snacks. Another man offered me a place to sit near his shop and a place to stay the night if I needed it. I thanked him but said I was anxious to get home.

I finally caught a service taxi and had to get out once to throw up on my new sandals, and later I threw up in a plastic bag in the van. When I got home I kept throwing up until I blacked out and hit the back of my head on the floor. I came to quickly, but I was too dazed to know what to do, so I called my friend John and asked if we could meet in town.

I felt as insubstantial as a shadow and as miserable as death. But when I met John, he helped me order some tea and then later got me some soup, and soon I was back in the land of the living.

The last perfect day

The next day, Sunday, October 2, John and I met again at Sinatra Cafe, a little cake shop and restaurant run by some Palestinian re-pats who lived in San Francisco for a while and then moved back home to Ramallah a few years ago. I felt almost 100% again, and the weather was mild and perfect, the Mediterranean mountain air as fresh as ever. We chatted and watched the sun set as we shared one of the cafe's divine American-style home made chocolate maple cakes. The hills faded to their sunset red color, the sweeping views of green trees and white stone buildings faded to dusk, and the sky fanned out in a glorious cloudless sunset rainbow. We drank it all in line sweet wine.

It was the last summer night in Ramallah.

The next day we were hit simultaneously with Ramadan, winter, and daylight savings time, the trifecta of outdoor nightlife death. They fell like a ton of bricks. The perfect season was done.

For all of Ramadan, of course, we couldn't eat or smoke in public during daylight hours, nothing was open for lunch, and alcohol was seriously taboo 24 hours a day. Only a handful of places sold alcohol during Ramadan, and they lived in mild fear of gun-toting thugs getting bent out of shape about it.

The cafes closed their outdoor gardens, and since everyone with a family was at home playing with their nieces and nephews and cousins, the crowds were pretty small anyway.

Indian summer

But, happily for us family-less ex-pats, Ramadan's long gone now. The winter rains have cleaned the dust off everything and the weather has turned mild. The shops and cafes are all open, some have fireplaces going, and the beer once again flows like wine.

My friend Jeff from Stanford is visiting, and together we took one last whirlwind trip around the West Bank to Nablus, Jayyous, Qalqiliya, Hebron, and Bethlehem. We visited with a lot of colorful characters including The Prince (aka Michael Bolton) of Nablus, some Khalili communists, and a few unselfconsciously self-contradictory settlers. More on all this later.

A new place just opened in Ramallah called Al Makan ("The Place"). Its white stone terrace encloses a fountain, tasteful wall displays of stone, wrought-iron, pottery and flowers, and two graceful olive trees that just brush the ceiling. The trees and walls are hung liberally with old-fashioned lamps. The nargilas are smooth and the food is excellent. Surprisingly, they don't charge much more than the normal Ramallah prices. Anywhere else in the world, a place like this would cost $100 a plate.

I can't wait to get home and see friends and family. But I am definitely in love with this town. There's nowhere in the world quite like it.


Next: Letters from Palestine 2

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