So we are in Palestine for five weeks.
Doug has a project here, and after long and angst-ridden discussions we decided to come as one big package. That's, as my husband calls it, quite reckless. He has no steady job at the moment and although we can live quite cheaply here, the flights alone were frighteningly expensive. But then again - the Holy Land! Three world religions collide! Whenever do you get to live here for a bit and really delve into the country and the people and learn and see and explore? It's a rare chance, and we decided to jump at it. While I still bemoan the funds we invested into El Al, I can't be sorry we came. It's fascinating and lovely and I'm glad we can show this to the kids (and to ourselves).
On our first evening, we saw a fat full moon rise over the Palestinian hills - it was breathtakingly beautiful. Right now, the muezzin is calling to prayer - a sound that is so intimately known to me that I sighed a little breath of relief when I first heard it. I had no idea that I missed it so much.
(For those readers -- do I still have readers? -- who don't know, I grew up in Istanbul and heard the muezzin every day. I can sing right along.)
We are living the suburb of Al-Bireh in a corporate apartment complex that is eerily empty and houses, according to the many "CD" license plates in the parking lot, mostly diplomats from all over the world. We don't see many of them, though. Are they all on summer break? It's very quiet, and we have the pool entirely to ourselves. The apartment is shockingly cheap - something is going on that we don't understand yet. The complex is heavily guarded and I'm not sure whether that is necessary or a sellable feature for all those diplomats.
Ramallah, or "Mountain of God", lies almost 1000m above sea level and has a constant breeze going - which is why Jordanian princes liked to hang out here in the summer. The weather is invariably nice and the skies are always blue (at the moment) but the temperatures are only around 20 t0 25C. That's less than we thought, and the breeze is cool, and the pool water is cold. That doesn't stop us from using it but there are chattering teeth all around when the kids emerge from the waters.
But already, three days in, we can see the benefit of daily swimming: Alan's swimming has evolved nicely style-wise, David is very determinedly recapturing what he's lost in over a year of not swimming much (Moldova had no pools that were easily accessible to us), Jacob ditched his floaties after the first day and is swimming short stretches, and Leah.... Well, Leah. The first day, she didn't want to let go of me, despite the floaties. The second day, she climbed in and out of the water all the time without actually getting her arms wet. Yesterday, she swam like a little dog, paddling through the entire pool and her feet never touching the ground. At this speed, she'll be swimming at the end of our stay! That alone makes it all worth-while.
The city itself reminds me a lot of Turkish cities. Not beautiful but with gorgeous old houses tucked away into secluded gardens, with a bustle and masses of people pushing themselves along the crowded sidewalks, the roads awash in cars that don't seem to follow any rule. The grocery stores are tiny and carry only the odd products, while fruit stalls sell mostly Israeli fruit for not very cheap prices. I have to get used to haggling again. Haven't done that in a while. Shopping is complicated and would be frustrating if we didn't only stay a few weeks. Considering that, we just make do and carry on.
Yesterday, we went to the Stars & Bucks Cafe where the owner was besides himself over my blonde kids (so many! and three boys!!). I had a strong coffee and the kids had cookies -- and I was amused about the obvious Starbucks rip-off. They even have frappuccinos (new!) and I will try those next. Tomorrow, we will go and explore Jeruslam, mostly the Old City.
I'm not going to include too many images while we are here in Palestine. While we have wireless access in the apartment, upload is terribly slow and takes forever. But here's one of the view we have from the pool, complete with the minaret of our local mosque, a radio tower, and the ubiquitous water tanks. ("How can you tell an Israelian settlement from a Palestinian one? The Palestinian one has water tanks." -- See Doug's blog for why.)