After seeing the city shut down on Friday, today we were privileged to see the Old City wake up. The city wakes up around 7am and sleeps around 6pm on a normal day. A beautiful sight of mostly empty streets…It’s all just now coming full circle, just as we are about to leave this blessed place. Today I feel like a Jerusalemite. I feel home.
But to continue the story…We had breakfast at a new spot and then headed off to Ramallah to visit Ana and tour a refugee camp. It was our first time in Ramallah since Eid and to our surprise, there was less traffic on the way there, and less people on the road. We could actually see the towns and streets for they were and most of them aren’t too bad. We even saw two stoplights working and one road with lane separations marked on it. Many of the buildings downtown seem modern and updated, of course with the classic Mediterranean terracotta roof. We even saw a mechanical street sweeper and some people cleaning the streets. But of course, as humans are not perfect, they missed some spots.
Today our main adventure was checking out a refugee camp: the Jelazon Camp close to Surda. We were taken there by the same lady we gave a lift to on our first day in Ramallah, Khadra. Remember her? She was the one who couldn’t cross the checkpoint with us. Well, she used to live in the refugee camp as a little girl…all the way up to the 1980s, I believe, when her family moved out and started making a living tending their own land and animals. So she was our tour guide taking us through the rubble, cement, and yes, some (but just some) tin roof houses.
There are many different types of refugee camps. Some are tents, some are concrete and some are metal sheet makeshift houses. Some have a range of income levels from more affluent families to those on rock bottom. Jelazon reminded me more of the “projects” in the USA, the more affordable Section 8 neighborhoods for those on welfare. It didn’t really meet my notion of refugee camp as defined in my mind by one concrete room shared by mutiple families separated by curtains or tarp tents huddled together in one large open space. Those are in Gaza, which we aren’t going to…but Khadra assured us that multiple families did live in a single family house here, and maybe they were separated by curtains or fabrics with the cement buildings.
This was no place for children to play and I saw countless children walking home from school in the rubble (school let’s out here around 1:30pm and the work/school week is Sunday through Thursday for Jews and Muslims alike). Plagued with trash and streets so narrow that one car can hardly get through, I wanted to leave the refugee camp as soon as I stepped in it. I was definitely out of my comfort zone, and I guess that is how a refugee camp makes one feel…until you get used to it…and no one should have to get used to conditions such of these :/. We saw young men working on a building, spraying some industrial paint or finish without even wearing masks or gloves. I’m afraid for the health of people here…there are 15,000 people in this camp and it looks like it can barely hold 5,000.
After viewing Jelazon, we headed back to Ana’s house for a scrumptious light lunch and a much needed fun break. We were getting ready to go to Mukhmas Fun Park, Ramallah’s own amusement park.
But before I get into that, I must tell you a discovery that was made today! Did I tell you about how much I love tatreez and how desperately I wanted to see someone do it and teach me a stitch?! Well Miss Khadra has more up her sleeves than you know–she’s an ol’ pro, mash’allah, and she took a cross-stitched Arabic calligraphy piece in Ana’s house and started to duplicate it just like that. Without a pattern!! Uh huh! She’s got skills! InshAllah I’m coming back to be her apprentice! She asked if there was a demand for embroidered Palestinian work in the U.S…what do you say? Are you ready for a shopping spree to support Palestinian women?
As mentioned before, the broad spectrum of Palestinian women support their families using their needlework skills. It’s something that basically every woman who has spent her adolescence and teenage years in Palestine knows. Not these young folks though–you know their tradition is how to operate a remote control and computer. But the Palestinian women of latter days have skills just like most American women of previous generations know how to sew or crochet. Of note though, the booming business in the refugee camp seemed to be women’s hair salons. I saw about three within the same block! Where had they been all my life? If only we could get this women’s only salons in the USA…they probably wouldn’t be in refugee camps anymore.
Now…Mukhmas Fun Park. If it’s all you’ve ever known and you like rides, it’s fun. It’s fun from the people who are around you there…the company you keep. But for those used to Bush Gardens, Kings Dominion, and Six Flags, it hardly compares. It is more like the outdoor carnivals you see outside shopping malls in the US…the ones with ticketed rides and a ferris wheel. So I was a bit disappointed (there was no merry go round, my favorite “ride”, and no funnel cake :(–my favorite amusement park treat), but my husband had a ton of fun and so did the girls. That’s what counts. And it’s not too bad for a place enclosed in a wall and separated from the outside world…though it wouldn’t hurt for them to clean and oil their machines. The sounds they were making made you think they were going to break. The best thing was that because the park is so small and there weren’t a lot of people there, sometimes you could ride a ride over and over again…or they ‘d prolong your time. For instance, my husband was stuck on a ride that goes upside down long enough that I don’t think he’ll be getting on that ride anymore.
And speaking of things going upside down, tonight, when we were waiting in line to cross the checkpoint, a little boy opened the door to our car. He was about 7 or 8 and he and his begging friends decided to pick on our car. Most of them understood “no” as an answer for what they were selling. The problem isn’t money. We’ll give them shekels so they can go on their merry way. The problem is this kid who is lucky he opened my husband’s door and not Noora’s, cuz if he opened Noora’s, you’d be reading a headline in the news right now instead of this blog entry: BLACK WOMAN GOES BUCKWILD AT QALANDIA CHECKPOINT. This boy came to our window wanting us to roll it down. We said no. It was late and we were already cranky (especially me) from a long time at the amusement park. So something possessed him to open Hassan’s door. Man, you never heard more fluent Arabic issue out of either of our mouths. I had to say Ayatul Kursi and a whole bunch of other surahs after that episode. That boy almost made me lose my Islam. It took another merchant on the street to drive the point home to those boys….who does this to their kids? Who sends them out to work…to beg at 8pm on a school night in the middle of the street with cars driving every which way?! I’d like to let their caretakers have it, but Imma leave it at that. I just never experienced anything that outrageous before. And for the one last time we will be returning to Ramallah for our goodbyes, inshAllah we are keeping our doors LOCKED. Sheesh Louise! That boy had us so jambled up that by the time it was our turn for the Israeli security to check our car, someone had to leave their car to tell us to “go”.