First, I have to apologize for the slippage in quality of my latest posts. I'm even disappointed in myself, but I digress. There's so much to say, and not enough time to get it all out there. I've been spending the bulk of my minimal computer time sending personal emails to friends and family, which all say the same thing: I'm fine. Palestine is fine. It's hot. And my health is good. I'm living on yogurt, falafel, tomatos and cucumbers.
For months prior to my arrival, I worked hard to prepare myself for this experience. I was in the gym every day, preparing my body for the onslaught of travel and jet-lag through 10 time zones and motion sickness in general, and for walking uphill everywhere I go. I wanted my body to be strong enough to withstand the stress of what I knew would be an uncomfortable situation at times. I have to say that every day I plow up an impossibly steep hill, or swing a 30 pound child around in my arms, I can't help but feel thankful for the ability to be here, now. I'm so thankful for my youth and the boundless energy I have in my body. And I love climbing the impossibly steep hills of Bethlehem. They make my blood pump and my heart race. I feel oddly rooted to the soil, and to a sense of history that is so much bigger than me. I couldn't feel more alive.
However, as physically prepared as I made myself for this experience, I dare say that I could have never mentally prepared myself for everything that goes on here. It's a place where the harshness of the life is so real that there is absolutely no need to exaggerate the story. While my body is free to bound up a hillside, the restrictions on individual liberties are immense. On my way to Arabic lessons every day, I am reminded of this as I come up against the dividing wall that Israel built to separate itself from the city. At the checkpoint, I'm stopped and my passport is checked each time. Of course, I'm able to come and go as I please, but my host family and friends here don't have the same liberty. As the political situation stands now, there are children here who live only 30 miles from the Mediterranean Sea, who will never have the opportunity to play on the seashore in their own lifetimes.
Every morning, I go to work at a small, non-profit development organization for women. The organization is set up so that women are paid to do small sewing projects from home. From there, the goods are sold to people who visit Bethlehem. The goods themselves are absolutely marvelous and very well-made. They embroider scarves and small purses, handbags, clothing for priests, etc. It's all really magnificent. The organization boosts the quality of the community by directly empowering the local women. Because the women are able to work from home, they aren't deviated too much from the traditional family structure. However, they are still contributing to their families in a very real, and highly necessary way. Unemployment in these parts is upwards of 60%. Men can't find work. Children are hungry. Every penny counts for something big.
I'm in the process of putting together a fundraising project that I'm hoping you all, as my readers, may be able to help with, too. I'll keep you posted on my progress and let you know more in the coming days.