Returning to the Balad*
I spent the first part of my summer in Buenos Aires, Argentina. I am so blessed to have went, studied, and learned. I came back to New York, and with thin the 4 days I was there I to unpack my winter clothes (because in South America it is winter) and I packed my summer clothes. Exactly 50 pounds of it. My family and I went to Amman, Jordan and the West Bank, Palestine.
We flew through Egypt Air, so we stopped in Cairo after an 11 hour trans-Atlantic flight for a bit before we caught a connecting flight to Amman.
We arrived in Amman around 7:00 PM, we were greeted by our aunt and uncle and had a heartfelt reunion. We had not seen each other in the flesh for over 9 years. This summer was a summer of reunions and meeting relatives we did not know even existed. Since 2005, Amman has changed so much. The land has been extensively developed with luxury apartment buildings. The area I live in, is called Deir Aghbar, which mean "Dust's Home" because it used to be surrounded by valleys and the winds brought (you'll never guess it) a lot of dust. Due to the extensive construction of apartment buildings, the view of the valley is gone and the circulation of air has been disrupted. It lost the oomph it used to have. The valleys were the homes of several Bedouin families (Bedouins are nomadic Arabs). I noticed that there are less of them, because the land is developing and roads are being built. I feel like it is changing so rapidly and I am nostalgic for the Deir Aghbar I grew up in.
We were only in Jordan for 2 days and then my family and I crossed the border to go to Palestine. In order to enter Palestine, we must enter Israel through the Allenby Bridge at the King Hussein Crossing first. My uncle came with us, and prepped us: No sass and answer the questions the Israeli officers ask. It had been over 2 decades since my mother crossed, so we were not sure what to expect. I was stunned at the hostility we faced by some of the Israeli officers. The rude ones completely ignored our questions about where our baggage was and held us up in examining the back packs with paint and nail polish. Even when it came to exiting, as we showed them our documents, they barked at us in Hebrew laced broken Arabic "Enough, go!"
Once we finished with the Israelis, we had to enter the Palestinian Authority. We passed through very quickly and finally boarded a taxi to my grandmother's hometown of Mazra'a AlSharqia. We drove through Areeha (anglicized, it is known as Jericho). My mother asked the taxi driver to let us take some photographs, because the view of the mountains were absolutely stunning. Before taking any pictures, I stuck my hands into the sand and picked it up and let it fall between my fingers, I was ecstatic. My uncle said to me "Yes, that's yours. You're home." I finally am in the place I have always wanted to be: Palestine. No matter what this land is called by the rest of the world, it will always be Palestine to me.
It is a quaint beautiful village. We stayed with my mother's aunt, whose home is the home of my great grandfather; where my grandmother and her siblings were all born and raised in.
The following days we visited Silwad. This is where my grandfathers and my paternal grandmother are from. It is where my mother spent her summers as a child. I visited my grandfather's homes, my great grandfather's old deli and and my grandfather's old olive oil mill. Visiting Silwad made me understand why they yearn to go home and it has put stories of "ayam zaman [the old days]" in context.
Later that day, we went to Ramallah, which is one of the most happening cities in the West Bank. They have an outdoor market where everyone yells at you to buy their products. Many Palestinians from other villages come and work in Ramallah.
Gaza and the West Bank
For almost the last two months, Israel waged war against Gaza. Many of the staff at Wagner College emailed my sister and I; seeking reassurance for our safety and informing us that they are keeping my family and us in their prayers. Thankfully, we were safe the entire time. It is important to note that Israel fosters an apartheid state. Everything is separate and unequal. Palestinians are not allowed to enter Israeli settlements and Israelis are "prohibited' from entering Palestinian towns. I say "prohibited" because they go in and intimidate, destroy property and attack Palestinians. It is the reason for the tensions all around the West Bank between Palestinians and Israeli settlers. Therefore we did not travel to Jerusalem, Nablus, or Bethlehem. Although we have American passports, it is not enough to protect us from any police brutality. Tareq Abukhdeir is a Palestinian-American teenager who was visiting his family in Shufat. In the few days after his cousin, Mohammed, was murdered by settlers, he was beaten by the Israeli police and arrested. My cousins told us that the Israelis are in fear of a third Intifada [uprising] and they do what they can to intimidate Arab male youth. So traveling outside of the known safety of Mazraa and Ramallah was not on my mother's list, so we did not see the rest of Palestine.
Ramadan and Eid
What I miss the most about Palestine is the call to prayer. Unlike Amman, before the actual call to prayer there is reading of the Quran, the Islamic holy book. It is one of the most beautiful sounds. It is what I adore about the Middle East, because it is normal there and I can only hear it there. We spent our Ramadan in Palestine. Ramadan is the holy month of fasting in the Islamic calender. No eating or drinking from sunrise till sunset. We eat when the call to prayer is done at sunset. Note that it is beautiful to break the fast at the sound of an actual call to prayer, as opposed to just looking at the clock and checking the sky like how we usually do back in the U.S. The food there is much more flavorful. The vegetables tastes like vegetables and the fruits are sweeter. The farmers there do not genetically modify their crops.
My family and I celebrated Eid Al Fitr, which is the Islamic holiday that celebrates the end of Ramadan. People wear new clothes and visit each other and eat lots of cookies called ka'ek. Usually Eid is a big deal, but everyone played it down because Gaza was still under siege.
We returned to Amman, after the Eid. We wanted to see more of Jordan than just the polluted and traffic-ridden capital. So my family and I toured the South of Jordan: Petra, Wadi Rum and Aqaba.
Petra is one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. It was built by the Romans when they controlled Jordan. It is an entire city and there is a lot of walking to be done before reaching it. For 2 Jordanian Dinars ($2.82 USD) you can have someone take you there by horse, but only half the way.
After going to Petra, we went to Wadi Rum. Wadi means valley in Arabic. It is sand dunes, mountains, valleys and lots of red. We rode on the back of a pick up truck, and we watched the sunset.
The next day we went to Aqaba. It is one of the Southern most cities of Jordan, located in the Red Sea. We finally swam for the first time this summer in the most beautiful clear blue water. We took a boat ride around the sea.
The Hashem restaurant is like THE hole in the wall falafel place of Amman. It's super casual and everyone loves it. King Abdallah and Queen Rania (the monarchs of Jordan) even ate there. You have to seat yourself. As soon as you see a table empty, you sit down. There is no first come, first serve philosophy, so people will fight for a table. After my mother found us a table (but not before arguing with a woman for it), we sat down and ate an awesome Arabic breakfast. It was delicious, I enjoyed every bite, but it was not the best I have ever had.
After we our breakfast, we went shopping and we went to the Roman Amphitheater. Amman has many historical places like this one, that is literally located in the middle of the city.
My best friend in the 6th grade still lives in Amman. I hit her up and we reunited after almost 10 years. We had a lot of catching up to do, we naturally were in tune with one another. I am so blessed to have seen her and have this experience with her.
Like all good things, this summer had to come to an end. It was sad saying bye to my relatives and friends and not knowing when I will see them again. It really killed me to know that the next time I will see my young cousins they will have grown so much. I will miss them!
*Balad- Arabic for country, land or soil. In this context, it means home.