Northern Israel & West Bank.
What was the first thing that happened when I took time to sit down and do nothing during Yom Kippur?
I catched a cold. Like a really really nasty one. I haven’t been sick in months, and now my body decided it was time. Great.
So even more reason to take it slow. It was my third day, and Hezi, Elena (another German couchsurfer) and I went for an absolutely awesome Israeli breakfast. It was just huge! And came along with the main dish (Shakshuka and different spreads and salads and bread and a lot of yummy Tahini), a freshly made juice of choice (mango strawberry grapefruit apple pear banana pineapple…. altogether), and a pancake for dessert. And a view over the sea. Best decision.
Another decision I made just that morning was canceling all my plans to go to Jerusalem on that day, and instead Hezi and I took off to the north just after breakfast. Time for a roadtrip. We drove all the way up to Metula, had a stop here and there, got some food, put German music full volume while cruising through the desert…. Hurra, diese Welt geht unter!
We arrived at his friend’s place who happened to not be home, so we had the gorgeous place for ourselves. Already I felt like I was in Israel for weeks. We had a look around, it was an interesting place with many details one might easily overlook without taking a good amount of time. I cooked dinner (as if that guy would ever touch a stove), and enjoyed the breathtaking view over the valley, the sunset, the stars. Behind us and to the left and right were mountains, marking the border to Lebanon.
It was amazingly quiet, and the porch swing provided a perfect opportunity to enjoy this magical atmosphere. It was a very peaceful evening, and although night came, still comfortable enough to sit outside in Tshirts. Just a light breeze cooled us down, some animals were going for food or exploring or who knows what, and the swing squeaked every now and then – that was IT.
The next morning, after sleeping in and still being sick, I ignored my sickness and got ready for another adventurous day. It was pure freedom and I was truly happy. And then it got too warm. Yalla, into the car, and off we went. First, we were curious about where the actual border to Lebanon might be and how it would look like. So, we found a gate, a bright yellow gate surrounded by a lot of evil looking fences. And that gate was open. And nobody was there but a lot of red signs warning from crossing. We looked at each other, looked around…. left the car, ran to the gate, jumped over the border, and ran back. Lebanon, there I was!
Then our plan was to visit some natural pools. We went to a nature reserve, saw one waterfall, then realized everything else would be too much of a hike for my still injured foot, got our money back, continued. To the next nature reserve after having been driving on 5km of gravel road (we had nothing but a tiny cute city Smart), realized that would be too much hiking as well, left.
The next place would stay in our memory forever as the spot where Hezi almost killed us because he took the ridiculously tiny car down a ridiculously steep unsecured road. I already saw my mum twisting his head for taking me there. We were freaking close to just slide down the hillside and disappear in the high grass behind us where nobody would ever see us…. I closed ears and eyes and sang something happy and magically, Hezi managed to drive up again and parked the car in a surprisingly easy spot we hadn’t seen before. At least, the pool was worth it, it was quite cold but very refreshing. But guess it were my German roots making me happily jump in, because all the locals there didn’t dare to put in more than their feet.
Next, we drove to the Sea of Galilee but unfortunately, I didn’t find that very worth mentioning. I mean it was cool to jump in once, but it was too warm and the stony beach crowded by Arab tourists who are noisier than any German tourist at high season in Bensersiel. Anyway.
For the evening I planned to head to Jerusalem, because I wanted to be in Ramallah the next morning. And guess what? I forgot it was Shabbat. So, no more buses going, damnit. I stayed in Tel Aviv for another night.
The next morning I got up at 7am, took a Sherut (smaller than a bus, bigger than a taxi, also running on Shabbat and public holidays, run by Arabs who just don’t care about Jewish holidays) to the central bus station, immediately found another Sherut to Jerusalem, immediately found the bus to Ramallah, and there I was at 9.30, with my host expecting me for 12. The streets along the way looked quite similar to each other, the houses in a sandy colour, a bit dirty, old, trash lying around. Still, in a peculiar way, it had its charme.
Crossing the border was no problem, although I think I would never get used to people with machine guns all around me, realizing how lucky I grew up here. At the beach, at the parking ticket machine, in the pharmacy. It is a picture that seems weird and normal at the same time. Actually, with a few exceptions for religious reasons, every Israeli citizen has to serve the army after school for a couple of years. I really appreciated my comparably safe situation in Germany a lot more.
Anyway Israel surprised me again and again. People are unexpectedly friendly and helpful all the time. In Jerusalem, a man that actually didn’t speak English but understood that I looked for the bus to Ramallah just walked all the way with me to show me the right place. In Tel Aviv, I talked and discussed a lot with Hezi’s friends, who were later asking when I would return. And that was immensely interesting, to get some genuine viewpoints on political questions that we get presented by media in a very twisted way, also to hear their opinion about the situation in Germany. Or learning how different we actually grew up. Three bus explosions a week and never knowing whether the bus you’re taking might be next?! Oh we are so freaking damn lucky. Still, and why shouldn’t we, we get along perfectly well. We had a hilarious time together, exchanging particular cat and huge fish stories hahaha. Insider.
Ramallah. I got a cab, gave the driver my host’s number so he could explain him the way, and enjoyed a short ride through a colorful lively city towards Beituniya, almost a city for itself. At some point, the streets just stopped to have names, and every corner just looked the same, but still we arrived after just 10 minutes. Children were running around, sometimes the traffic lights were working, sometimes they weren’t. Indicating turns was rather decoration that obligation. As soon as someone or something was in the way, no matter whether one could see the problem or there was just a long stillstanding line of cars, a roisterous chorus of horns would erupt, with no function to solve the problem at all.
When I arrived, I was cordially welcomed by my host Mohammad, a 68 year old Bedouin man with a family of 56 people – he being the only one speaking English. But since when is language a problem? I had an amazing time. The two of us sat down for breakfast that was served by his daughters; bread, hummus, traditional sour cheese, tomatoes, olives, falafel, and the traditional Seed to Za’atar, meaning to dip bread into oil first and then some spices. It was delicious. We were the only ones eating, children and women had some food after we finished, standing in the kitchen. He definitely is the head of the family, with everybody around him, and a dominant and yet very loving father and grandfather.
I got a floorlong dress to put on and off we went to the area around Nablus to visit some of his family. We sat in front of the car, while two women and three children were in the back. The drive was beautiful, through villages and desertlike hills. Mohammad turned on some traditional Bedouin music, and encouraged everybody to sing and clap along, everybody seemed very happy. Meanwhile, paradoxically, we drove along sliced open cows hanging in doorways, armed soldiers and soccerplaying kids. There was a fire burning on a carpark, there were burned ruins on the road that we had to drive around to pass, there were rundowns houses next to empty villas. An odd picture for me, and yet everything worked out just fine, obviously. Again, it had a peculiar charme.
The drive to the family’s place passed through adventurous narrow streets, to a small village on a hill. Again, I was warmly welcomed, although we could not communicate verbally. All the children running around loved to play with my, I think quite startling, red hair, we took pictures together. Mohammad smoked shisha very passionately, from early in the morning to late at night, brought and set up by the children. We got served sweet tea, spicy coffee, icecold juice, snacks, and later had a huge plate full of rice and meat, where everybody would sit around and eat with their hands. The women put a headscarf on me, which was no obligation but for fun, and I wore it the rest of the day. On the way back, we saw a stunning sunset over the wide desert.
We rested when we returned home, had Knafeh, an Arabic dessert with cheese and sweet topping.The adorable kids tried talking to me, we had a lot of fun, and I managed to explain the word “sister” to one of the older boys. Later, we went out for a drink. Mohammad insisted I was his guest and took care of all expenses I caused. We had sandwiches in a very lively corner of Ramallah, some tea, and afterwards a glass of wine in a quieter place, decorated with posters from Tina Turner and Madonna. Funnily, the password for Wifi all over Israel and the West Bank seems to be 10203040 or similar. Always works. Again our drive was accompanied by a constant chorus of horns. I saw some cars with handwritten license plates. Many traffic lights had smileys on them according to the colour they were showing. It was past midnight, and I could see the flashing lights of a theme park at the horizon, while small kids were still running through the streets.
So what did I had to get most used to? Something very essential, actually. The missing toilet paper. All the bathrooms were provided with nothing more but a hose. Yeah…
We returned home late, with my bed already set up in the living room. I slept on the couch with two other people in the room, and about eight in the next one. Around 5 I woke up because of the muslim pray call and basically didn’t sleep much longer, yay.
Mohammad and I sat outside for breakfast, and again we didn’t have plates but spilled stuff over the whole table that would be cleaned after we finished without us noticing. Afterwards, it was time to leave and say goodbye. Although we didn’t talk much, I hugged everybody, it was a very warm farewell. I got the dress and the scarf that I wore before as a present to remember them, I felt so incredibly honored to have been a part of this. Then, Mohammad and I took off in the direction of Jericho, supposedly the oldest city in the world. We drove through the desert, and it was weird, such a different picture again, like Alladin would appear on his flying carpet any second. We drove around, had coffee, he showed me his farm where I ate a Guava for the first time, freshly picked, supersweet, yummy. For lunch he got us falafel with fries, bread, hummus, and we continued driving. This highway through the wide, dry desert, the mountains of sand and stones, every now and then the sandy houses with high-contrast pink flowers in front, it was magical.
We also visited a goat farm of his family, before he drove me to the border, where I was picked up by a befriended Israeli professor who dropped me off at the next train station close to Jerusalem. The goodbye was very cordial again, and I was invited to come back any time, including family and friends. So happy I did this. A very unique experience, a short dive into a whole different culture.