Today we went through our first checkpoint–it didn’t take us much time to assimilate, did it?
Actually, we’ve blended in with the locals pretty well–we now know where to park and when after looking at some visual cues in the form of color coding on our street (blue and white means you can park there, red and white means don’t). We still managed to get a parking ticket anyway for about $25, but thats better than the $100-$200 tickets we rack up on occasion in D.C. After some help from our Israeli neighbors, we now know that between 8am-6pm, we better find a meter to pay ad get a slip to put in our window.
But back to Ramallah, we met my dear friend Ana today for some shopping. All I can say is shopping in both Jerusalem and the West Bank is crowded, to say the least. Just imagine pushing, shouting numbers, too many children “helpers” trying to get shekels out of you, and beggars in a cramped space with lots of varied products and you may get 5% of the overwhelming feeling we feel at the souks. But that’s a small price to pay when you get wholesome food that was just picked from the earth for next to nothing. Today, for example, we got 1 kilo of peppers (about 8 peppers) and 1 kilo of potatoes (about 10) for 10 shekels. That’s about $2.50! We also got a pair of sandals for my hubby for $7!!!! If living here is this affordable, we might need to stay…
We still do a couple of things that make us stick out like sore thumbs though. But hey, this is truly our first whole day here! Here are some things that mark us out as foreigners:
1. Giving everyone salaam. While some thrive on the virtues of giving salaam here (mostly the older generation), mostly everyone here says “ahlan wa sahlan” as a greeting and welcome. Also, in most Muslim countries, people seem to not speak unless engaging in a conversation with someone…but there have been some exceptions to this rule, alhamdulillah.
2. Greeting everyone with a smile (see note above).
3. Me, in particular, wearing jeans as a muslimah (While I have seen some fashionistas–some too “trendy” for my taste, the norm here for women is jilbab or abaya. The older women also wear traditional Palestinian embroidered thobes. I got told today that I couldn’t enter the noble sanctuary cuz I wasn’t “covered” though I wore a tunic that almost hit my knees! After putting on my puppy eyes though and saying that I’d sit down, they asked where we were from and let me through). Next on my list will definitely be getting jilbab and abaya here cuz I didn’t bring a one!! By the way, I did see another young muslimah in jeans and a long shirt around the Dome of the Rock once I was all settled in.
4. Money mishaps. I saw a toy today in the Old City that I wanted to get for my little girl–it’s the classic stacking rings toy and she is missing some rings on the one she has at home. So after asking how much it was (10 NIS, shorthand for shekels), we gave the little boy selling the toy a 20 shekel paper note. In turn, he gave us one coin back. We thought we were being jipped. We heard how people try to get more money here and this boy was no exception so we asked him why he was giving us “change” rather than paper money. The two weren’t equal in our American eyes. An even younger looking boy came to his aid and told us he gave us 10 NIS back and that if we wanted, he could
break it down even further to two 5 NIS coins. We felt so stupid because he wad basically showing us with different coins that 5+5=10. Well, we didn’t believe him either but were preparing to let it go because they probably needed the money. Then a man came up, perhaps their father. He asked where we were from (LOL, is it that obvious?). We responded America and he explained to us that the metal shekels weren’t like coins in America. They weren’t less than the paper money, and so went our first lesson in purchasing here. Ana furthered that lesson because I found another coin that is actually only able to be used in the Old City a.k.a. Israeli territory. Thanks Ana! We might have started a riot on that one!
5. Arabic mishaps–if that wasn’t enough, my husband speaks fus-ha (the standard Arabic of the Qur’an) and I speak a mixture of slang and fus-ha gathered from different countries’ vocabulary. So far, I’ve been able to get good prices in Al Quds–thanks for the local vocab Ana! But we wouldn’t have gotten anywhere in Ramallah without Ana today. And yes, we’d still be hungry and fasting way past maghrib hours, like yesterday, without her.
The saddest part of our trip to Ramallah was the checkpoint. Admittedly, it wasn’t as bad as we thought it’d be. We didn’t even know we had crossed over into Ramallah until we stopped at the only store we saw that had English words on it–a restaurant. Getting into Ramallah wasn’t the problem. Getting out was the problem (It seems anyone can enter Ramallah, but not everyone can exit it…including my dear Ana). Oh, and our GPS is biased. It doesn’t recognize roads that don’t exist for a people that don’t exist for a place that doesn’t exist. In other words, it’s useless once we cross over into Palestinian territory (the West Bank). It only works in “Israeli” territory. And though the rental car people said we could give them a call if directions weren’t popping up for a certain place, we aren’t supposed to be traveling to the West Bank, remember? So we have named our GPS Sharon. You may pronouce this name in whichever way you wish. Sometimes we call it Ariel.
The difference between the West Bank and Jerusalem as far as we know it is kind of subtle. Instead of signs being in Hebrew, Enlish, and Arabic, they are mostly in Arabic. The buildings generally look the same (made out of white stone). The people almost look the same besides the clothes they wear and how they wear them. The people drive the same–CRAZY. Though admittedly, it’s crazier in Ramallah because few stoplights actually work (they are just there for decoration, I think), there are hardly any lines demarking lanes on the streets (a one way lane easily becomes a three-way lane based on the will of drivers), and there are people walking in the street everywhere? If there are sidewalks, the people hardly use them. These are the signs of occupation people and I’m convinced I’m growing grey hairs as I type this–I never made so much du’a in the car.
Oh yeah, and there’s a big concrete wall with barbed wire separating the people. And a mass exodus of Palestinians (women, we saw mostly) crossing the streets to go to the checkpoints. We gave a lift to a Palestinian lady that just came back from Umra. Her name is Khadra (a derivation of the Arabic word for green), and mostly everyone calls her Greena. We couldn’t drive her through the checkpoint. Our U.S. passports separated us from her though we were both going to the same destination: Al Quds, to pray at Al Aqsa for tarawih. We had to let her out early to walk alone with her two plastic bags into Jerusalem because of politics. Then she’d take a taxi once outside of Ramallah.
Because of the extreme traffic in exiting Ramallah, it took us 40 minutes to get out of a city that takes us 20 minutes to get into. The only good thing about that was that our 14-month-old got a good solid 2 hour nap to our Jerusalem home.