Two weeks ago I wasn’t sure where I would be today. Earlier this summer, shortly before the kidnapping of three Israeli teenswhich followed the torture of a young Palestinian by settlers, I accepted a position with a non-profit dedicated to teaching English to young Palestinians in Nablus. For those who may be unaware, the city of Nablus is located near the largest Palestinian refugee camp in the West Bank: Balata.
The directors of the program still seemed confident that we would be able to get through, until a number of volunteers from our sister school were denied entry into the country, and consequently into Palestine. “Just wait,” they told me. “S [one of the directors] will be trying to get in soon. If she cannot get in, the program will not run unfortunately. So, for now, just wait.” I waited. I waited and read. Over the summer, I had watched several truces take hold and fall through. I had read about airstrikes, rockets and protests. When my parents asked me if they thought I would be able to go all I could do was shake my head. “Maybe,” I said. Shortly after the deaths of three Hamas military leaders and the following reported retributive execution of eighteen accused informants/collaborators within Gaza. I wondered if the end wasn’t too far off. Netanyahu was paying a political price for the continued conflict and I wondered if Hamas was losing moral or resources.
Two days before my flight I learned she had made it through, though with some trouble. The trouble I expected. It is not easy to get into the West Bank. In fact, for some it is near impossible and the conflict certainly made it more difficult. As I threw my suitcase together after work, only twenty four hours before my plane, the only reality I felt was the tacit recognition that I still might not get in. I might fly for fourteen hours and immediately turn back and fly for another fourteen.
I didn’t really sleep the night before,partially because my dogs are horrible bed hogs, but also partially because of the writhing nervousness that had settled in my stomach (by the way, I learned on the plane that this is partly because we have neurons in our stomachs. Bless free documentaries). As I boarded the first plane to New Jersey I felt some of that nervousness settle. As you’ve probably guessed by my last post, I’m a bit apprehensive about telling strangers where I’m going because they don’t show concern in a manner that I find helpful. In fact, I find it rather stressful because they often resort to talking at me rather than with me. Yet, as I was waiting to for the plane to arrive a man next to me provided the exact opposite of what I expected. He talked to me. He talked and really listened. He showed concern in the right way. He wished for my safety and the conversation ended with him also wishing luck and success. “It seems like you’re on the way to accomplishing what you want, and you have a good head on your shoulders. Safe travels.” I smiled gratefully and thanked him.
My experience was later repeated in Newark, with a lady who dutifully answered my question about the extra security I had just passed through. Moments before, I approached C-138 and found a sign indicating a “secure boarding area” (pictured to the left). Immediately, I wondered what it could mean, or if this secured area might have been the result of a threat or the more general conflict in the region. “Actually, it’s been going on for the past few years,” she explained as I sat down after dutifully having handed over my bags for a search. I rummaged through my returned backpack and pulled out my phone to text my Mom I had made it safely. “Why?” I paused to look at her. “Why did they add it?”
She waved her hand dismissively. “Oh, I wouldn’t worry about that. Jews are very forthright, they won’t get offended. Maybe some will yell at you, or ignore you, or turn away but then you can just move on to the next person…but, Jews are very forthright.” Actually, though I had been treading somewhat carefully with her I found that to be great advice. There are always stories to find, so if you’re denied one you’ll certainly find another. As I got up to board the plane, I thanked her for the conversation and for her, well, forthrightness.
She ended our conversation with more reassurance. “You’ll love it there. A curious mind like you? You’ll definitely succeed there.”
I smiled and waved and boarded the plane. Fast forward nine hours of parks and rec and documentaries later, I got of the plane and stood nervously in “foreign passport” line at customs. As I watched the girl in front of me speak with the officer, likely telling her about how excited she was to return for college, I felt the nerves settle comfortably back into my stomach.
“Your first time?” An older man ventured knowingly, shifting a violin case to another shoulder. I nodded. “What are you doing?”
“That’s great,” he reassured me adjusting his cap over white hair.”Just great.”
“What about you?” I asked.
“I’m playing in a temple coming up, actually. I’m a violinist”
“Have you played before?”
“Oh yes, I usually play in an American Folk festival. It’s really popular over here.”
Here I got excited. I love folk festivals, having grown up attending so many.
“Really? When is it?”
“Spring sometime,” he responded to my disappointment. “It’s called Jacob’s Ladder.”
Just then, the lady in the small windowed box called me forward. I thanked the man for talking with me, wished him luck and smiled because even if I didn’t get in I had already met and spoken with so many interesting people.