First full day in Ramallah! Okay, so for those of you who don’t know, Ramallah (which basically translates to ‘mountain of God’) is a city in the West Bank, populated by around 27,000 people.
Today, we all had to work. George and Mariam were editing at the studio, Stephen was writing in the apartment, and I headed into the city to do my work. I love working at cafes and in other public spaces – makes the whole experience so much more pleasant, and when you do need a break, there’s quality people watching at your fingertips.
Today, I spent most of the afternoon at a cafe called Pronto. Right now I’m editing a grant proposal for UNESCO. The document is 90 pages long, and it’s taking a loooong time to edit BUT the project proposal is fascinating. It’s all about promoting tourism in Palestine by creating paths that trail through the country, stopping at all the important religious, cultural and historical sites. An added bonus for me – the proposal includes details on each of the sites that the proposed routes will connect, meaning I’m learning a ton about Palestine in the process.
Fresh squeezed lemonade and manaaish (bread with zaatar), a comfortable chair, interesting work, great people watching, and a sunny afternoon in Ramallah. Who could ask for anything more??
I came back to the apartment around 5pm and we all went out for a walk around the neighborhood that took us over to the grave of Mahmoud Darwish. Darwish is one of, if not the most famous Palestinian poet of the modern age, playing a critical role in the development of ‘poetry of resistance.’ I didn’t know who he was and when I asked, the reaction was exactly the same as when I asked my friends in Spain who Raul (the famous footballer for Real Madrid) was. This guy is a BIG deal. Ooops. Played the ignorant American card and promised to look for an English translation of his poetry – another on a long list of books I’ve promised to read while I’m here.
There were two guards on duty by his tomb, just sitting on the ground having tea. They recited some of Darweesh’s poetry for us, but it was in Arabic so I didn’t understand. Ah! Can’t wait to go to Beirut next month and start taking classes!! Stephen translated bits of the conversation for me.
Okay, side-note. It’s hilarious when my family translates Arabic for me. I don’t understand anything that’s being said to me, but they seem to assume that I’m understanding everything except for a few very specific details, so they’ll just translate a word or two, or tell me who a person is that was mentioned in the conversation. It’s hilarious. Basically, I hear: alkdsjflkasjdflkjaslkdfjaksj asjdlkfjaslkfjklasjdf and eventually someone turns to me and whispers, “That means ‘green.’ Oh, and Lena is Mariam’s cousin.” So the only thing I take away from the 30 minute conversation is that at some point in the middle of all the aksfjklasjdflajsfkldjalskjfdakl, something that may or may not be significant is or was green, and Mariam has a cousin named Lena. I have found it’s better to just smile and nod along with the conversation, pretending I understand and hoping against hope that no one asks me any questions.
After a lot of curious questioning later, I did find out that the guards speaking to us were both refugees from a village that’s now part of Israel. One had been in jail from the age of 15-20 for trying to cross the border to visit his family, who he hadn’t and still hasn’t seen in years. Here, people’s stories are so intense – I can’t imagine living out your whole life through war and under occupation. It’s horrible. I don’t know how they don’t walk around fuming mad all the time, but everyone I’ve met so far has been so wonderful – nice, happy, open. It’s remarkable. They always want to share their stories and it can be a bit overwhelming. I’ve discovered that I’m more emotional than Uncle George – he takes in the stories calmly, asking intelligent questions while I find myself crying, enraged, and/or frustrated.
After that, we just walked around a bit before heading home for some fresh cherries (my stomach has finally adjusted to the local fruit. So relieved!) and chatting.
*Random fact about Ramallah – the Mayor since 2005 is Janet Michael, the first woman to hold that position. Maabruk (Congratulations) Janet!