Traveling, it’s synonymous of “seeking”. Every day we struggle in seeking better opportunities. Someone is seeking for new cultures and nations to explore and others to find their self. My journey of seeking my dream to visit Palestine and touch from close that really started from an announcement in Salto-Youth. I can’t say how happy I was when I received the invitation, until the smile in my face frozen by: “Are you crazy? Don’t you know there is war (yes, some people call it a war)?” or some other similar claiming such as: “Seriously?! In the middle of the conflict in the West Bank (to make it seems more tragic)”. They forgot that in front of them there was a young journalist for whom phrases such as “war over there”; “the conflict” is like the sound of a music. Yes, we journalists are somehow crazy, but less than artists and philosophers.
Here I am in Talitha Kumi (Aramaic:”Little girl, arise”) in Beit Jala a peaceful place like a sanctuary. We are very close to Bethlehem, the city of the white houses. The stone city. A poor city. When you came from Tel Aviv you can realize the difference. It remembers me those Balkan’s capital which is divided between the old city and the new one. In Bethlehem, Muslims represent majority and Christians are a minority (around 35%). Like Jerusalem, Beit Jala is also known for its multiculturalism and interfaith harmony and dialog. You can find Muslims studying at Talitha Kumi (Christian madrasah from German missionaries), but you can find also Christians to Ahliya University. This interfaith harmony seems to have its origin from the Ottoman Empire time, in the 16th century. It has been told and testified by local sources that during this period of time, when Palestine was under the Ottoman Empire not only it wasn’t destroyed and the locals weren’t threatened but a lot of building were constructed. They say that Sultan Suleyman was in love with Palestine, especially with Jerusalem.Wondering who can’t be in love with Jerusalem?
“Cultural night” in a Multicultural city
Before we go on exploring around us we started by knowing better each other. A cultural night is part of most of our activities and it helps to build bridges of communication among the participants and to fight stereotypes. I was so happy to find myself surrounded by Italians as we are neighbors, especially with the South we have so many traditions and customs in common. As an Albanian resident in Turkey, I tried to represent both countries, but somehow much more loyal to mine. We shared food and beverages through entertaining activities such as folklore dance and traditional songs.
Our destination: from Bethlehem to Nablus, Ramallah, Hebron
Bethlehem is a multicultural place and with a lot of hospitality. In the streets of the white city, you can see different colors of faces and you can also hear different languages.It’s an alive mosaic of cultures and traditions. I stop to buy a keffiyeh and the seller says that it’s a tiny contribution in empowering local entrepreneurship of handmade stuff. Some judgmental voices claim that I would have troubles on the way back home, but I ignore them. I decide to benefit from the free time to get lost among the locals: entering in supermarkets or shops asking for couscous or trying to print some papers. I see people smiling and happy about my attempt to speak in Arabic with a modest vocabulary. Obviously, they appreciate the effort rather than the result.
Doors of the locals are always open. Especially for foreign student or volunteers because through Erasmus, among other options you can choose to stay in hosting family and as I have heard from the volunteers they choose to stay in Palestinian houses.
People around claims that Bethlehem is the calmest city in Palestine. It seems to be true and you can feel it the moment you travel out of the city borders: the tension starts to smell in the air. You feel anxiety due to checkpoints, from the walls among the country and from the presence of soldiers and police everywhere.
Today we are going to visit children of Ramallah. They welcomed us with an amazing concert of Palestinian children performing folklore dances.Volunteers were teaching them how to fill their time with peaceful activities and enjoy playing and dancing to forget the trauma and also to contribute for those children stay away from the road which sometimes in the Palestinian reality means “trouble & danger”.
“Refugee Camps in Ramallah” is the most wired urban structure I have ever seen. Practically is a camp for those who were deported from their home in the same place where a family doesn’t pay for rent but actually it is not their home too. When visiting those camps, which seems some ghetto lost in a smokescreen of somewhere, you realize who courageous, patient and brave are these people.
Now we have moved to Nablus. I will never forget the amazing view from the hill in a breathtaking sunset. Different calls of Adhan from an unbelievable number of mosques at the same time. We eat falafel (which are vegetable fried balls from ground chickpeas) and we also tasted kunafa (a cheesy sweet) served from a functionary of the Ministry of Education, such a modest lady. They say the best kunafa ever is Nablus (also known before as Nablusiyah) but I honestly preferred the Turkish version.
Wondering if I would like to come back here or will I advice my friend to visit Palestine? Well, I’m not sure yet. Palestine needs brave people with a strong heart. It requires a spiritual preparation as you are on your path to pilgrimage. But what I know for sure is that is that thanks to this trip I could see from closer my Palestine: the Palestine I want, which goes beyond the borders. A free Palestine.
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