well, yesterday was quite an adventure. jason and i were invited to go to jericho with jesse, the other american volunteer here, and fida, a palestinian who is the head house mother, and lulu, another worker here. they were going to visit two of the students, so we said sure, we'll go along.
the day started very early. we had to get a taxi from bethlehem to beit-sahour, which is about ten minutes away, and then a bus from beit-sahour to the bus station in the middle of the town. jesse wasn't sure how long it would take, so to be safe we left at 6:15, to make sure we would catch the jericho bus at 7. we got the the bus station at 6:30, so we had plenty of time to watch the locals. on the street corner near the bus stop, a man had set up a "coffee shop" and all the locals were just sitting around talking and drinking coffee.
the bus finally left about 7:15. now jericho is not that far from bethlethem, but the palestinian busses are not allowed to go through jerusalem, so we had to go around, through the valley of fire. the road was very steep and curvy, probably worse than the road to devils den, for anyone who has been there. and we were in a huge bus with breaks that squealed on every turn. needless to say, this made me more than little nervous. but we made it down into the valley and back up again and arrived at the checkpoint. since the road goes near jerusalem, the israelis wanted to make sure that everyone had permits to go to jericho. an idf (israeli defense force) solider came onto the bus and told everyone we had one minute to get our id's out. he looked about 16 and was carrying a huge gun. that also made me more than little nervous. but we got through the checkpoint without any problems.
we got to jericho about 9 am. jericho is in a valley and is much hotter than bethlehem. it was probably about 95* when we got there. and it only got warmer through the day. our first mission was to find somewhere to eat breakfast.
Ok, now Basaam (this is the correct spelling of the name) takes over. Rather than eat breakfast at restaurant, we decided to buy bread, hummous, cheese, and Bamba (think: Peanut Butter Cheetos) at a grocer's. We walked up and down the streets of Jericho (think: a hotter version of Death Valley) until we came to a place in the sidewalk where it was shaded. We squatted down on our haunches and ate bedouin style (think: all from the same bowl and same cup).
After breakfast we decided to hail a cab, in order to visit Kais, who is a student at the House of Hope, and his family. unfortunately we could not find a large cab and instead we all crammed into a five-seater. Sarah was sitting on my lap with her head out the window, yes we were quite the spectacle. We became even more of a spectacle because we had no idea where we were going. We would drive to neighborhood, the cab driver would ask someone standing by "Wain (where is) Abu-Kais?" or "Tariif (do you know) Abu-Kais?" This continued for approximately 45 minutes, because everyone, even if they had no idea where Abu Kais lived, wanted desperately to help us find him. We drove up and down dirt streets and back alleys, asking children, adults, and anyone we saw if they knew where Abu-Kais lived. Finally, we found their house, but they were not home. After no less then 15 minutes of conversation, two neighbor boys hopped on a bicycle and showed us where the family was for the day. We followed slowly behind, all jammed into the taxi.
For the sake of brevity, which is already lacking, I will skip to the bus ride home. Which was quite eventful indeed. We loaded onto the bus at 3:30pm. We had just polished off our water, and the rest of the bread, hummous, and Bamba from breakfast and we were all feeling quite full and sleepy. We expected that we would arrive in Bethlehem at around 5 o'clock, 5:30 if the traffic was bad. The traffic was bad.
As we were trying to go through Bethany (yes, that Bethany), we were stopped at an Israeli check point. Now, we may not have mentioned this explicitly, but Arabs do not drive like Americans. If there is a space big enough for a car, a car will fill that space. Whenever traffic slows down, a road that is originally designed to be two lanes becomes 3, 4, or even 5 lanes as every driver tries to find the quickest way through. This was exactly what was happening at the checkpoint. Picture in your mind a road that is about 40 feet wide. There are three lines of traffic going one way and three lines going the other way. Directly in front of you is a truck full of goats, to your right and left are very small Opel's with Israeli flags on them. Everywhere there are cars within inches of one another. Honking, honking and more honking. We moved through this area like snails climbing up a pane of glass. It took us 2 hours to move about half a kilometre.
The saving grace of this frustration was the way that everyone on the bus bonded together and made a good time of it. One man from Beit Sahour started asking Jesse and I if we were in Hamas or Hizbullah, and were causing all the problems. A woman who was sitting behind us had four children with her, and the baby girl and I became friends. I will tell more about this in the next letter. But during the trip back, everytime the baby started to cry, her brother would get her to look at me, and if I smiled at her she would stop crying and laugh instead. (Not laugh at me, with me ... I think).
I'm sure you are all tired of reading this now, if there is anyone still reading it, but come back soon for a story about our stay at the farm of Abu-Bishara.
Sarah and Jason