I wanted to check in after my first week in Palestine and offer a flavour of Palestinian hospitality via a journey from Tel Aviv to Ramallah.
For those of you who don’t know, I’m spending 2 months in Palestine coaching skateboarding and you can read more about that in my blog post 'Where can a skateboard take you?'
Here's a quick video of my journey, but let me tell you the story too :)
So, my flights were pretty non-eventful, I flew to Munich and then on to Tel Aviv. I spent my lay-over fantasising about skating Munich airport (no such luck, my board was in my checked luggage).
I landed in Tel Aviv at about 4 am and got held up at border control for a little while when they saw I was headed to Palestine but after about twenty minutes they let me go through without any bother.
I headed out of the airport to catch a sherut to Jerusalem. A sherut is a sort of minibus/shared taxi. I had to go to Damascus Gate, Jerusalem in order to get a second taxi to Ramallah, Palestine because many Tel Aviv taxis won’t go into Palestine.
In the sherut, I spoke to a man who was back in Israel for Passover. He lived in Baltimore, Maryland and was visiting family for the holidays. He was really nice but I didn’t like him. I found him arrogant. He made predictions on what I’d experience in Palestine, I didn't appreciate that. I’ll experience my journey for myself, thank you.
At Damascus Gate, I found a taxi to take me to Ramallah. It was about 5:30 am and really cold, also kind of damp, I’m not sure why. I can’t exactly remember the driver’s name but I remember thinking it sounded like Ishaq, so I’ll call him Ishaq. As soon as we set off, Ishaq asked if I needed to eat and so began my first experience of Palestinian hospitality.
Full from the plane meal, I said no thanks. He pulled over and disappeared into a shop, returning with a bag full of bread. He gave me the bag and told me to hold. The bread was hot from the oven and I gratefully hugged the bag as the warmth spread over me. It felt like getting into a hot, freshly-baked bath. He told me to eat but I really was full from the meal on the plane so I politely declined. I saw cigarettes on the dashboard and asked Ishaq if I could smoke in the car, at this point I didn’t realise that Palestinians smoke everywhere. He said of course and lit my cigarette.
As we sped along and I smoked my cigarette, he offered me some coffee, I hadn’t slept all night and I still had quite a way to go so I gratefully accepted. It was nothing like coffee I’d had before, it was a black coffee but thicker than usual and somewhat spiced, although I couldn’t tell you what with. One thing’s for sure, it was wildly strong. I took a couple of sips and offered it back to Ishaq. He said, "No, more, more!" I said I was ok but he insisted, I couldn’t help but laugh.
When I finished my cig he said “Eat! Eat!” I didn’t want to be rude so I tore off a little of the bread and ate it. It was really soft, still warm, topped with sesame seeds and slightly sweet. I told Ishaq it was tasty and he glanced over to see me with my little piece of bread. He tutted and pulled the car over. He took a larger piece of bread, broke it open along the middle, rustled around in the bag, pulled out a falafel and proceeded to create two sandwiches, one big, one smaller. I tried to convince him to give me the smaller one but he wasn’t having it. Pulled over on a cliffside, I watched the sun rise over Jerusalem as I had my first taste of real Palestinian falafel.
Before we drove on, he made another sandwich. I told Ishaq I hoped that was for him but he just laughed and said: “Take, take”. There was no way I could eat another sandwich, I felt so full, I thought of the Vicar of Dibley’s 3 Christmas dinners gag. Ishaq offered me a cigarette and more coffee, I got the feeling he wasn’t going to stop offering me things. When he again told me to eat the sandwich I explained I was small and there just wasn’t any more room for more falafel. He said, “I’ll get nylon!” rapidly pulling over once more. Again, he disappeared into a shop and came back with a plastic bag for the falafel sandwich. He asked if I wanted tea and when I said no he said, “yes, of course, tea”. I had a realisation that as long as I was consuming something, he’d be happy that I was happy. So, I asked if I could have some water, he seemed happy with that and returned with two bottles of water. My sneaky plan worked and he relaxed for the rest of the journey. I’d remember that trick.
We drove through the checkpoint without any issues. They don’t seem to care who goes into Palestine, just who’s trying to leave. We arrived in Ramallah at about 6 am and followed the directions I'd been given to the hostel where I’d meet the other volunteers. I went to pay Ishaq for the ride but he said “No, first we look”, so we got out the car to check out the hostel. We could see Area D on the top of a building but we couldn’t work out how to get in. As we wandered around the buildings I did up my hoody against the cold morning breeze. Ishaq noticed and immediately took off his jacket and insisted I wore it. I was too tired to argue and I knew he wouldn’t take no for an answer so I enjoyed his generosity without putting up a fight.
Once inside the hostel Ishaq fetched my bags from the car and wrote down his number, saying “If you don’t like, you call, I come, we find a new hostel”, I assured him that Area D was perfect and promised him I’d call if I needed anything.
The other volunteers wouldn’t arrive until 3 pm and I’d not slept, but check-in wasn’t until 12 pm, so I headed to the sofas to try to get some rest. I must’ve fallen asleep because I was woken up by the man who ran the hostel telling me there was a bed for me. I said, “Check in at 12 pm, no?” And he just replied, “No problem, no problem, you must sleep”. He walked me down the corridor to a room with a bed made up. I’ve never been so grateful to be given a bed in my life. He told me he’d fetch my bag but I must have passed out immediately because I don’t remember him bringing it in.
I’ve truly never experienced anything like Palestinian hospitality. They are without a doubt the most open and giving people I’ve ever met. I’ve been invited into peoples homes, to their weddings, to meet their families, to take part in their celebrations and I’ve only been here for a week. Even when I’m teaching at the skatepark, if I speak to someone for 10 minutes or so they come to me before they leave and ask if I need anything before they go. I have a phone full of contacts who gave their number saying “if you need anything, just call”.
I miss my friends and family but I can honestly say I feel as though I belong here and that is entirely down to the Palestinian people and the love that they give so freely. It’s incomparable to anything I’ve ever experienced before and it’s definitely something I hope to bring home with me.