Through Jerusalem & Bethlehem
April 13, 2017
I woke up and eagerly got ready for my first full day in Palestine. I take a shower (the water pressure sucked because freaking Israel takes all of the water from Palestine) first. But then I got dressed and super excited. Here we are in such a beautiful place. Jericho was breathtaking the day before and I'm so ready for more. I meet up with Yusuf and we hop in a sherut to Jerusalem. Before we could do anything Yusuf had a meeting with the US consulate in order to get his passport renewed because it was entirely full. He had to go there to order a new one in order to be able to get home in May. While he played at the consulate I decided I would explore the Old City a bit and see what it has to offer.
First of all, I wasn't expecting the Old City to be so enormous. I though, "well, it's old so it can't be too big". That was wrong. Jerusalem must have been a bustling town back in the day. Jesus must have been chilling in the modern day equivalent of anew York. But it was also neat how much history was there. I remember walking by a tour guide who said something like, "and this is where Jesus put his hand on the wall and did *something important here*". Like, first of all, how do they freaking know that?! Like, what the heck. I don't know what I had for breakfast a week ago and they know where Jesus put his hands?
Jerusalem, to me, seemed like the real life equivalent of Mos Eisley. There were salespeople everywhere. Some were interesting as hell and you could tell others were the scum of the ear trying to scam you to make a quick shekel or two. You really do have to watch your back there.
Something strange and notable that happened whilst in the Old City was when I decided to explore an old seemingly German church. I was intrigued by the German writing there (as opposed to Latin or Hebrew) so I went in. Well, I didn't really even get to explore the freaking church before some old lady attacked me when I walked in. In English she asked, "are you Romanian?" Ummm, not sure how to respond to that lady. "No, ma'am," I said. She seemed very excited, however, that I knew English. She then launched into her shpeel that I'm sure she gave plenty of times before.
"Do you go to church every Sunday?"
"No, ma'am. I don't."
I think this excited her because she could continue her shpeel.
"Well, you should."
She then handed me a Bible.
"See this book? It'll save you. It saved me when I was your age!"
I still had no idea how to respond to this little old woman who looked like a Disney villain.
"I, uhh, okay. Thanks."
Unannounced and un-asked-for, she then launched into the story of how it saved her. She was very animated. She paced back and forth and hobbled showing how sad she used to be and then opened her arms to the sky when she said that she let God into her life. Meanwhile, I'm just like, "leave me alone crazy lady," but she was all about the story. Eventually she told me to leave with the Bible (it was a gift) so I could let God into my life. She asked if there was anything else I needed and I said that she had helped me enough and got the heck out of there.
The hours I spent in Jerusalem's Old City seemed to last no time at all. Before I knew it, I had to meet Yusuf at the Demarcus Gate. Once we met up, we got some pictures of the entrance and went back in because there was something Yusuf wanted to show me. It ended up not even being open for the day, but it was cool to go back through with Yusuf.
When we left, we went back to Damascus Gate and made our way to none other than Bethlehem! When we first got there we were super hungry so we went to a little market and bought a watermelon. We had the people there cut it for us so we could eat it raw (without silverware like the animals we are) on the streets. While we waited we looked around and checked things out. We noticed there was a lot of alcohol in the market compared to other places in Palestine. Yusuf proceeded to thank the Christians for their alcohol contributions to the world. Before leaving, Yusuf made some self-deprecating racist joke about how he need his daily watermelon, he paid, and out we went.
There's plenty of alcohol in Bethlehem because it's a Christian town. God bless the Christians for that contribution!
Locals looked at us like we were nuts while we ate our watermelon on the streets. I mean, we kind of are nuts. It was delicious and rather messy. As we walked toward the center of town, two random kids come out of the woodwork and ask us if we speak English. I thought they were just looking for a tourist to scam so I continued walking without saying anything, but Yusuf turned around and started speaking to them. After some talking with them, we learned that they were actually Americans from Missouri studying abroad in Bethlehem whilst taking online classes. Weird. They showed us around, which was pretty cool actually. I don't remember their names unfortunately...but I assure you they were cool guys.
We walked past (and briefly in) the Church of Virgin Mary, up to the refugee camps, bought some delicious wafers and a drink, took us to see the wall separating Palestine and Israeli occupied area, and then went into a museum (Walled Off Hotel) to see an exhibit about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It was extremely interesting, even more sad, but really great to see it alongside other Americans. It sucks that a lot of Palestines problems are a result of American aid.
At this point, Yusuf and I thought we were going to head back to Ramallah, so we headed to where we thought the bus station was. It was, in fact, not where we thought it was. Know what was there? The Church of the Nativity...the place Jesus was allegedly born. So we visited that with the aid of some random Palestinian guy giving us a ride (He was interesting. Spoke no English whatsoever. Hated Trump but loved Putin and Assad. Ok.). We got curbside service. It was pretty great. Yusuf also asked him where to get dinner, and he gave us a place, but it was ridiculously overpriced. Furthermore, the shop owner beside the "best falafel in town" place looked sad and neglected so we bought from him instead. It was still pretty good in the end. Yusuf had bought pita and hummus earlier, we found a place that sold beer, and we had a (illegal) outside picnic. It was a good time and we were street scum again.
After this, it was getting late so we tried to find a ride. We first tried the bus station but it was only tourist buses. We then tried a shared taxi but no one else was going back to Ramallah. So we decided to try a different bus station but go into Jerusalem and transfer into Ramallah. We just barely caught the bus and got on. When we finally arrived in Jerusalem, we ran to Demarcus Gate station and caught our bus to Ramallah! I was so relieved to be able to catch a train back. This is the closest we came to getting stranded in a city (well...kinda).
That night I realized that Palestinian night life is weird. You see strange things there like dealerships for those tiny electric powered cars for toddlers and people making kebab at speeds so quick you can't see what's going on.
I was staying at Yusuf's hostel this night, so we went back and passed out. It was a long day, and we were still uncertain of what was to happen the next day.