While most of my days of late have been spent in the library, I have managed to fit in some other, less boring-for-writing-about activities. On Monday, Luise and I hopped the sherut to Ramallah, after having promised Shadi that we would visit him in his new Falafal shop.
The trip across the border was hassle-free. I suppose anyone can go to the territories. It's coming back that's the problem. So it was pretty simple, and dirt cheap to get there. Most of my friends told us we were crazy, including my roomate. It seems that everybody is convinced that you can't visit Palestine without being robbed/lynched/shot or worse. Being pretty sure that this wasn't the case at all, Luise and I went anyway.
A big surprise: most of Ramallah, at least the part that we saw, is beautiful. The downtown area is a bit rundown, with typical willy-nilly traffic, huge signs running up the sides of buildings, and graffiti, but it wasn't all that bad. No worse than certain parts of Jerusalem. And driving out towards Shadi's mall: amazing. All the buildings seemed brand new, white and glistening, the streets were well-paved (having been recently redone after the latest air-strike six months ago, which left them a mess) and clean; there were trees everywhere. Nobody stared at us or harassed us; in fact everyone was kind and helpful. Definitely not what I'd expected.
I'm sure there are parts of Ramallah that display the poverty I've heard so much about, but the West Bank is obviously more prosperous than Gaza, and a lot of Ramallah was built up in the short-lived halcyon days following Oslo. The only mar on the pretty landscape was Arafat's huge compound, right in the middle of the suburbs--a walled in mini-war-zone. Past the walls I could just glimpse the remains of several buildings, and piles of stone and rubble. I kept thinking: inside is the architect of so much suffering. I almost thought: blow it off the face of the earth. But I restrained myself.
We had shawarma with Shadi, and then he drove us around a bit. We saw the theatre where he works, which was really amazing--this little black-box theatre. Shadi's picture was up on the wall in some play or another, along with several awards and posters for previous shows. We met some of his friends, who were all very nice, and communicated quite well with us in broken English.
One man started speaking to me in Arabic, and continued after I told him I was American, convinced I couldn't be. Apparently I look Arab. I get this a lot here. But finally he switched to English, and started explaining to us the map of Palestine on the wall that detailed Israel's separation fence. He pointed to it and said "Israel take all of this," meaning the massive amount of land Israel wants to contain within the fence in order to surround its settlements. But then he started laughing and telling jokes. "Is good, the fence. Our children no get lost. We can let them to play, and they can go as far they want, all the way to the fence. Then they turn around and come home. Nobody get lost in Palestine!" He was really sweet.
After that, we went for ice cream and bought some Arabic books. Then we started the journey back, through two checkpoints--one of which we had to approach one person at a time. It wasn't that bad though, really. But it must be absolutely horrible when there's a long long line.
I hope to go back to Ramallah. Shadi wants us to spend the night sometime, go to a party, hang out all day. No time left this year, but hopefully next semester. We'll see.