Ooooof. Not sure where to begin, ya'll...
Maybe I'll just start at the moment and work backwards, how's that?
I am sitting in the kitchen of my host family in Beit Sahour, a small town outside of Bethlehem. The kitchen is all windows, and beyond the windows is the constantly dizzying landscape that's been here since before the time of Jesus. I'm living with a Christian family, ensconsed in a Christian community. It's a young family, too. The parents are around my age, and they have two young children, still in diapers. It's mid-afternoon and everyone is sleeping, except for the neighbor girl who keeps coming upstairs, asking for Khaleel (the man). Since I don't know the word for sleeping in Arabic, I keep miming it and she keeps looking at me like I'm crazy. In the distance, the Muslim muezzin call for prayer just started. The sun is still high, but I can feel the heat from the day dropping already.
I arrived yesterday, although it already feels like a year ago. Two days before that, I flew to London, where my good friend, Nick met me at the airport. Several months ago, Nick and I made plans to spend this first month together, doing a volunteer program in Bethlehem. Nick is also a doctoral candidate like me. Aside from being a colleague, he's one of my dearest friends.
So, Nick picked me up and we went back to his home in London, where we sat down for a proper catch up session (it had been over a year since we last saw each other). Later, his mother joined us and we had lunch. I was jet-lagged as all hell, but managed to keep my eyes open with not one but three cups of English tea. At one point, I had to laugh at myself that I'd flown all of the way to London to have proper English tea with my favorite Londoner. Hilarious.
That evening, Nick and I headed back to Heathrow Airport for our overnight flight to Tel Aviv. Two overnight flights in a row for me was pretty intense. I was freezing the whole time and my single serving neighbor was a much bigger woman than me, who kept encroaching on my space. Clearly, she needed the space more than I did. I consider it a blessing to have the ability to curl up in a fetal position in an airplane seat. Who cares if I look utterly ridiculous.
So, Nick and I landed in Tel Aviv around 5:30 am. We both got through customs without delay. Nick is just so austere and English, and my 'generic ethnic' looks allow me to pass for Jewish without fail. Before we knew it, we were in the light of day in the Holy Land...
An hour or so later, our shared taxi dropped us off on the door of the hotel that we booked on-line. I guess I should say that I booked it on-line...and I was convinced that it was a 4-star hotel...but it ended up being a complete hole. No bigs. We were alive and well, but we did have to share a bed and a funky bathroom that made frat house bathrooms look pristine. At one point in the night, my leg wandered a little too far over on Nick's side, which was met with a less than welcoming swat. Nick said it was a 'small pat', but I'm sure it was a swat. At this age, it is entirely surreal to share a bed with a man who is more like a brother to me.
The good thing about Nick is that he is good company. And he likes to walk. After a hearty nap, we got ourselves together and headed out for a sunset walk through the Old City. Because it was Nick's first time to Jerusalem, I got to see all of the newness through his eyes. For me, it largely felt like I had come home. Oddly enough, I saw many faces I recognized from last summer. I looked around and could still feel my own energy there from a year ago. It almost felt like a small ghost of me had continued to exist there without me despite the fact that I had traveled home. It took a few minutes for me to adjust to the cellular memory of being there before versus being there now. When I arrived in Jerusalem last year, I knew that the place would inevitably change me for the better. A year after the fact, it was nice to take note that I am continuing to change, not in a process of becoming something, but in being me. It's truly lovely.
The following day, Nick and I set out to meet our group at the New Gate of the Old City. However, when we got there, I instantly had a feeling that something was awry. I just knew it. After an hour of waiting for a car that never came, I went investigating and found that there was never a car sent for us. We would have to cross over into the West Bank on our own. Nick was upset, but I looked at it as an adventure. We hailed the next taxi, and I negotiated a price. The driver said that he knew a way through Beit Jala that would enable us to avoid the main checkpoint. Since checkpoints are not only time consuming, but dangerous, I told the driver that I would give him an extra 20 shekels (5 dollars) if he took us that way. Nick had no idea what was going on, which was probably for the best.
Twenty minutes later, we arrived in Bethlehem without incident. The organization we are working with reimbursed us for our troubles...and here I am.
Living with two small children has already proven very interesting for me. I hold them and my body aches inside for my own. Today, I visited for most of the day with the women of the family, who keep looking at my face and remarking that I look like someone they either know or an actress that they like on television. Among them, they squabble that I must have Palestinian blood in me. I've never been so welcomed into a community like this in my life.
There's something very spiritually compelling about hanging out with a bunch of Arab Christian's in the place of the Baby Jesus' birth. I keep thinking that these are the direct ancestors of the people who spread that word that Jesus was the Son of God.
So, that's all for now. Well, that's the catch up. Ensha'Allah, I'll have more flowery things to write later.