Tuesday, April 28, 2009

That is not Kosher.

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Swine flu? Not in the Jewish state.

"We will call it Mexico flu. We won't call it swine flu," Deputy Health Minister Yakov Litzman, a black-garbed Orthodox Jew, told a news conference Monday, assuring the Israeli public that authorities were prepared to handle any cases.

Under Jewish dietary laws, pigs are considered unclean and pork is forbidden food -- although the non-kosher meat is available in some stores in Israel.

(Writing by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Charles Dick)

Link to full story...

Sunday, April 26, 2009

On Being Detained

I was "detained' a few times, to varying degrees, while crossing back from the West Bank to Israel.

This was the first time:

I took a friend of mine to go and meet the Bedouin teachers that I taught every Tuesday.

She is American, but has Israeli citizenship.

Israelis are not allowed in parts of the West Bank, but Americans are.

So we figured it would be fine as long as she showed them her American passport.

She forgot her American passport.

So then we figured it would be fine if she showed them her American driver's license.

It wasn't fine.

Let me back up.

To get to the Bedouin school, I would catch Arab Bus #36 from the university (near where I lived) into al-Alzaryya, an Arab village inside the West Bank. It is a very short bus ride, maybe 10 minutes, but you have to pass through a checkpoint on your way back, and depending on how thorough the checks are that day, it can take a long time.

The way they do the checks is somewhat inconsistent.

Sometimes, the "easy" times, only the 'Green-pass' Palestinians would have to get off of the bus to be checked, and everyone else (including me as an American passport holder) would just stay on the bus, flash our biggest smile, and show our credentials to the 19 year old armed soldier who would get on the bus to glance at our IDs.

But not every time was easy. Sometimes, we would all have to get off of the bus. Sometimes they would go through our purses and bags. And sometimes, they wouldn't allow people to pass.

When my friend and I were coming back, it was one of the not easy times.

We all got off of the bus, the Israeli soldiers checked us all. When they saw that my friend didn't have a passport, they pulled us both aside, along with two older Arab men. My friend frantically was showing them her driver's license, but they weren't taking it.

Then the bus left us.

My friend speaks Hebrew, but didn't want them to think she was Israeli in case they would fine her for being in the West Bank, but after some heated exchanges in English, she broke into Hebrew to try to explain what had happened.

They became even more suspicious after they realized that she could speak Hebrew, and immediately began yelling at us in Arabic, saying that she was Palestinian (and I guess that I was trying to sneak her in). This, of course, wasn't true. She showed them her Israeli ID, but they thought it was fake, and continued heatedly questioning us. The process dragged on when they realized that she spoke Arabic, as well. All sorts of scenarios were swimming through my head... what if they don't let us through? Who do I call? Do I know the number of the American embassy? What if they let me through but not her? What can I say to convince them to let us through?

The interesting thing was, they questioned us so much that I actually started to feel guilty, as if I had done something wrong. As if I had something to hide. But I didn't do anything wrong, and I didn't have anything to hide.

The process went on for quite a while, with neither of us really knowing what to do. I kept trying to pull my most convincingly-American charm out, trying to explain she was my friend from the UNITED STATES, but they were having none of it.

It all ended quite anti-climatically when they either got tired of us or figured they didn't know what else to do, and they handed us back our ID documents. The fate wasn't the same for the two Arab men with us. They were taken back into another building for further questioning.

They didn't have to tell us twice, and we turned on our heels and took off up the road.

We walked briskly for a ways until a cab came along. The Arab driver looked at us sympathetically as we clammered into the car, saying 'Got held up at the border, huh?'

We paid him to take us back to the university.

Qalandia Checkpoint

This is the Qalandia checkpoint.
It is designed to keep terrorists out of Israel.
Every single Palestinian or International passing from Ramallah into Jerusalem, man woman or child, has to go through this turnstile, show their identification, run their belongings through an x-ray machine, and walk through a metal detector (a more chaotic version of what we go through at American airports).
That means that if a Palestinian works in Jerusalem, but lives in Ramallah (a common occurrence), they have to go through this every single day.
It is perhaps one of the most frustrating things I have ever witnessed.

I have heard more than one person refer to it as a cattle shoot.
We waited for probably 20 minutes where no one was let through for no apparent reason. This was the most frustrating part. At airports, for example, you know why you are waiting in line and you know approximately how long it will take to get through security. Not here. There were long periods of time where no one was being passed through, and no announcements made explaining what was happening. The line stretched out behind and in front of us, with people confused as to which lane to get into.

We saw the guards laughing and pointing at monitors behind the glass windows. The women and men (mostly women this night) in line were patient at first but got increasingly agitated.
Finally after about 15 or 20 minutes, the green light flashed above the turnstile, signaling that people could pass through. Each time, the turnstile will only turn about 3 or 4 times, and then there seemed to be an indefinite amount of time until it would turn again. Each time it turned green, the people would lunge forward, trying to get as many through as possible on each rotation. Sometime people would get stuck inside the turnstile if it wouldn't rotate all of the way.

I kept watching to guards, and they kept looking at monitors and laughing at something, and occasionally would bark orders in Hebrew over the loud speaker, I assume saying 'step back!' or something to that effect.

The night I took this picture, and crossed from Ramallah to Jerusalem, a little boy got stuck in the turnstile. Not stuck in the open part, but stuck between the bars and the cage. The pushing crowd had seperated him from his mother (who was holding another child in her arms) while going through the turnstile and his little body was yanked and pulled in different directions as the metal bars rotated. Women lunged forward to help him, and he was pulled out. Fortunately, it just looked like he would have a couple of bruises and nothing worse.
The guards didn't react.

I am not speaking politically, this is just what I saw.

Pictures from Palestine: Ramallah

After watching Jimmy Carter: Man from Plains, I am all riled up about the situation in Palestine and how little we know about it in the United States.

One of my last days in Israel, right before I left for Egypt, I took a day to visit Ramallah, the de facto capital of the West Bank.

Along with two friends, I took an Arab bus across the border, and to the center of the city.

The city square:

The lions had apparently been graffitied during a protest about Gaza during the weeks previous:

A poster stapled to a pole on the sidewalk, depicting a weeping Palestinian girl hugging an olive tree (the symbol for peace and also one of the main sources of livelihood for many Palestinians).

The tomb of Yasser Arafat:

Outside the tomb:

Looking down on the town square from Stars and Bucks:

Supposedly, the owner visited the U.S. and liked the idea of Starbucks... It is a fun place to eat, kind of like Starbucks, only with some serious Palestinian flare. I encourage you to check out their website, it is a hoot.

And of course, the Wall. This is the security wall built by the Israeli government in an effort of keeping potential terrorists from crossing from the West Bank to Israel. It runs the length of Ramallah, and on our way back to Jerusalem, we stopped to take pictures near the checkpoint. The graffiti on the wall is famous all over the world.

One of my friends told me that the artist who painted this little boy vowed to never paint his face until Palestine was free. He is a recurring image all over the Palestinian Territories.

This image was the in documentary I watched last night, which spurred a whole series of emotions for me.

This is by perhaps one of the most famous artists who has painted on the Wall:

As we rounded the corner to go to the checkpoint, we saw this man just sitting there. He smiled at us and waved for us to take his picture. I think it is priceless.

Jimmy Carter, Man from Plains

Last night I watched the documentary Jimmy Carter, Man from Plains. I loved it, and highly recommend it.

It follows Jimmy Carter through his life in 2006, right after his book Palestine: Peace not Apartheid was published. It is about the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and Israel's policies there. The book raised a huge amount of controversy, and Carter faced enormous amounts of criticism for the provocative use of the word 'apartheid' in the title. The documentary shows him defending his choice, and trying to raise discussion about what is actually happening over there.

Watching the documentary bought back a slough of emotions regarding my experience in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

The film was produced (is that the right word?) by Participant Media.
A friend of mine, who will be interning there this summer, turned me on to to the organization, and I am amazed at the way in which they conduct their business. Every film I have seen that they are involved with has made me THINK. Even more important is the way in which they make their films. Check out their mission statement. THAT is what I'm talking about!!!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Election Day in South Africa

Today is the day!!!

South Africans are going to the polls to elect their next government.

While I am more than underwhelmed at what will most likely be the outcome, seeing the images of South Africans of every shade of color winding around city blocks to write there ballot is absolutely beautiful.

Sixteen years ago this would have been a nearly impossible sight to imagine.

I, along with most people I know who love South Africa, will be anxiously waiting to hear the results, with hopes that no matter who is voted into office, they will represent their communities, country and continent well.

I will leave you with a cartoon by the ever-sassy Zapiro, a South African political cartoonist I follow nearly every single day. His sentiments echo many that I have heard from some of my South African friends:

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Oh, the Pyramids! A day in Giza.

Our first full day in Egypt we spent doing what one should do on their first day in Egypt - we got our picture taken in front of THE PYRAMIDS. Actually, we got our picture taken in front of a lot of things, come to think of it. We decided to do a private tour that our hostel manager set up. It turned out to be a great decision. It was ridiculously cheap - I wish I could remember how much exactly, and it saved us from dealing with the hassle of cabs and navigating a new country and all of that. It included 3 stops and lunch.

First stop - Saqqra. I actually didn't even know this place existed until we went there on the tour. Eek. Bad History major. This is the world's oldest pyramid, and oldest stone structure, for that matter: (and of course me, cheesing it up in front)

Second stop was Memphis, where the highlight was this massive statue of Ramses:

Sphinx at Memphis. Pictured here are the girls I traveled with: K.C., Katie, me and Nura. In front was our trusty tour guide for the day. He was great.

Third stop: lunch. These women bake pita bread for the restaurant, and threw us some right out of the oven as a little pre-lunch snack.
After gorging ourselves on our overpriced lunch, we headed out for Giza and the Great Pyramid...... da da da....!

There are actually 3 large pyramids at Giza. But you can't get them all in one picture unless you are pretty far away. We declined on the option of riding a camel to get a better picture (don't worry, camels come later).

Check out how HUGE the stones are! How in the world they moved those things is still a mystery - it is truly a wonder.
And... here we go... the trashy tourist pic. Gotta have some of these.

So, funny thing about the pyramids... they are not in the middle of the desert.. was I the only one who thought this? Giza is actually just a suburb of Cairo, and HUGE. You can take the bus to the pyramids, or a cab - its only a few minutes drive from downtown Cairo. Don't believe me? Check out this picture, standing in the same place as the picture above, just looking in the opposite direction:
One more for the road:

We walked for a couple of minutes, and ran right into - The Great Sphinx! (this actually was the coolest moment for me - it hit me how surreal it was to be standing in a place I had been seeing pictures of my entire life... wow wow!)

A little closer...

The Sphinx and I got close and personal.

There was actually a little girl standing there showing tourists how to angle their cameras to take this picture. She was precious and made my heart hurt. In general, I have a policy of not handing money to kids on the street, so I didn't give her money.

And I feel bad.
(You can't win when it comes to kids on the street, I'm telling you. You give them money, it is perpetuating poverty by keeping them out of school. You don't give them money and they may not eat that day. Seriously, it tears me up, still. ... and... I'll end the downer rant, but if you have a great solution, let me know. Meanwhile I'll be kissing sphinxes for free AND feeling terrible about it.)

After a long day of being ridiculously touristy, we did the cheesiest tourist thing yet - we went on a dinner cruise on the Nile. Complete with semi-bad belly dancer.
... A whirling dervish.. and, oh it gets worse....

.... and a Little Person whirling dervish.

Oh, to be a tourist in Egypt. It actually was all a lot of fun, of course. A lot of fun. It was incredible to see the sites and be in the places that people from all over the world flock to. But it doesn't compare at all to actually being able to DO something for the place - to get to know the people, contribute, have them get to know you......

The more I travel the more I realize this.

Highlights of Cairo

The last week of our Jerusalem Program was free for travel - so 3 girlfriends and I sprinted for Egypt.

We bought a bus ticket that took us from Tel Aviv to Cairo for about $90. Despite reading in about 4 places that it was impossible, we were able to buy our visas at the border for $15 when we crossed at the Taba border crossing. We went straight, all the way across the Sinai to Cairo. The total trip from Tel Aviv to Cairo took about 14 hours.

When we got to the city, we jumped in the cab and had the driver take us to a hostel that was recommended in Lonely Planet, Lialy Hostel. Despite the creepiness of this picture, the place was clean and the staff incredibly friendly and helpful. I would recommend it.After resting from our travel-marathon, we woke up early and headed to Giza to see the pyramids. (That was fabulous and those pictures will come later.)

The second day we met up with the uncle of one of our friends, who gave us a personal tour of Cairo. We of course requested to go shopping, so he took us to the Khan El Khalili Bazaar. The largest bazaar in - the world? Egypt? The largest something. And it. was. large.

Right in front of the bazaar is where a bomb exploded the week before we were there. I know, I know, you are worried. But I made it back just fine. This is a picture of the area - it amazes me how quickly the normal routine returns. People are resilient.

A picture of the bazaar.

I thought this was great - a man getting a shave in the middle of the street.

Cairo traffic is something to note - it rivals any I've seen in the world. It is completely ordered chaos. But it somehow seems to work - people weave in and out and honk here and there and somehow get to where they need to go. There is really no way to capture it in a photograph, but here is a cool picture I took from the inside of one of the cabs.

All in all, I was impressed with Cairo. I had heard so many negative things about it, I expected to utterly hate it. However, that wasn't the case at all. It is huge, yes. And people are aggressive, yes. But there is a great energy there, and so many places to explore. I would go back (this is something to note because I usually HATE large African cities).

For those traveling to the area: One 'low-light', however, was the Egyptian Museum. It was enormous, and had literally thousands and thousands of - I don't even know what to call them - things from tombs? I mean, every pyramid-y Egyptian-y thing you could imagine was in this museum. However, hardly anything is labeled in English, and it is very difficult to navigate - in essence, it is not user-friendly. If you are travelling there and don't have a lot of time, I would skip it - or if you do go, make sure to hire a guide who can tell some stories to explain what you are seeing. We didn't do that and ended up walking around aimlessly and found it both exhausting and frustrating that we didn't know what we were looking at.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Settling back in..

I am getting nice and settled back in Denver and back into the routine of a 'non-foreign' graduate student.

It is so different - suddenly the urgency of seeing everything I can possibly see each day has diminished, and everything seems so easy.

Everyone understands me, I can go to the bank or grocery store and know how all of the systems work, I can pick up my cell phone and call my family without messing with a phone card or Skype, I know how to ready my own mail and the street signs, and I know what is culturally appropriate and unacceptable.

I have a car again, and don't have to wait for buses or haggle with taxi drivers. I don't find myself lost in streets that I can't read the name, I can cook my own food and don't have to worry about whether I am using kosher-only plates or not.

Its all so easy.

And quiet.

Petra, Jordan