We set our alarms for 4:45 a.m., showered, dressed and went downstairs, a bit unhappy to leave the luxurious large bath towels, the heated bathroom floor and mirror, and the fabulous beds and coverlets. Stacey went to check us out thinking Carol might have ordered a Pay-Per-view movie (as she’d said she might last night.) If not, there should have been no charges.
Carol and I boarded the shuttle bus. The bus was to leave for the airport at 6am, and at 5:58 am, Stacey jumped on the bus and rather excitedly said, “We have trouble.” It seemed we were being charged 120Euro for the phone calls we’d made. This would mean paying two charges for the same calls: one to the hotel and one to Net-to-Phone. “What should I do?” Stacey asked, thoroughly perplexed. “Pay it and let’s go. We’ll deal with it when you get your statement” I said. “We’ll miss our flight.” As she ran back into the hotel, I pleaded with the bus driver to wait. As Stacey sat down on the bus, the three of us started to laugh. “Only ‘X’ amount of things can go wrong on one trip,” I announced,” and we’ve about used them up.” Wishful thinking!!
As we approached the airport, Stacey made the decision that she would take all of our tickets and boarding passes and run ahead onto the KLM check-in line, while Carol and I would take the luggage and follow along more slowly. So Carol and I walked into the airport and proceeded to the departure section (where we’d been the day before.) We took the elevator upstairs to the KLM check-in section where there were already very long lines. We walked up and down the aisles, but there was no sign of Stacey. Carol got in line and I began running around the airport looking for Stacey and our tickets. Unable to find her, I asked someone at the assistance desk to page her. She, in the meantime, had gone directly to the gate demarked on our boarding passes and was worriedly waiting for us. As she approached the assistance desk to have our names announced, she heard her own name. Moments before we were to reach the check-in counter, Stacey came running up with the tickets and boarding passes. Whew!
Check-in went smoothly and our plane left a bit early and got us into Vienna ahead of schedule. Since our luggage was tagged for Tel Aviv, we had an easier time walking across the airport to what we had expected to be an Austrian Airline ticket counter. To our surprise, we saw an El-Al security officer greeting all of the passengers. We were questioned, (”Do you go to synagogue in Brooklyn? Where are you staying in Israel? Do Americans know of our problem?”) ticketed, and taken to identify and search our own luggage to assure the security people that no one had slipped a bomb into our bags. We assumed that El-Al security checked all flights headed to Israel.
Fifteen minutes later, we boarded our Austrian Air flight, only to find that the airline we were flying was El Al. We almost lost our breath. We had been told to avoid El Al flights because of their heightened security checks. And we had walked right onto the flight unaware. Actually, the flight was quite good…comfortable, courteous, and the food was great. I really was relaxed during the flight. A rigorous search was guaranteed, so why sweat it?
After landing, we followed the crowd and got in line for customs. We gave our passports to the inspector, told her we were traveling around Israel with no definite plans, and that was that. We stopped at the ATM to get cash, collected our luggage and walked out of the airport. It had been a breeze. We couldn’t believe it. Stacey had been worried about carrying in all of the WCA hats for naught.
We tried calling Huwaida from the encoded numbers Stacey had stored in her phone (again because we had expected to be thoroughly searched.) Of course, no number worked. So we called the Knights’ Palace, a number we successfully decoded. The manager tried calling Huwaida for us, but he was unsuccessful. So we made a decision to take a minivan to the New Gate in Jerusalem and go directly to the Knights’ Palace. We knew the group was already in Ramallah, but we’d hoped to find some ISMers at the Knights’ Palace who could lead us to Ramallah. If not, at least we’d get more cash, buy our telephones, and take a van to Qalandia checkpoint and a taxi to the Retno Hotel to meet up with the group and the training.
As with all vans in the region, we shared our ride with a young woman, a married couple and a single man. I sat in the front with the driver, and Carol and Stacey sat behind me with the young woman, and behind them were the other three people. The driver kept talking to me, pointing out sites of battles of the six day wars, praising the Israeli army and its heroes, bitterly berating the Arabs who killed them. He, of course, assumed I was an Israeli tourist.
I listened every now and then to the woman who was talking with Carol and Stacey. She was from Spain and was a reporter and she began talking about the plight of the Palestinians. Though Stacey and Carol didn’t give themselves away, they listened intently.
First off was the married couple. Next was the young woman. Before she left, she gave us her card and we suggested that we might get together for dinner with her in East Jerusalem. When she exited the van, the man sitting in the back began to speak. He said, “You shouldn’t believe everything she said. And be very careful when you walk around East Jerusalem. If the Arabs know you are Jewish, they will harm you.” We politely thanked him for his advice and gave each other a good long stare when he left the van. Okay, we were in the heart of it.
We stopped in at the Knights’ Palace, and unable to get in touch with Huwaida or to find any other ISMers, we headed out. The ATM wouldn’t accept my card, so Stacey took out money for me. Then we headed, by foot, dragging our luggage, up and down the Old City streets, to a telephone store….sort of. Had we gone a little further, we’d have found the Orange kiosk we were told to go to for phones. But we didn’t. However, the owner of the shop we stopped at was very nice and helpful. Carol and I got phones, SIM cards, and 75 shekel phone cards that cost us a total of 375 shekel each. Stacey got a SIM card and 75 shekel phone card as well.
We proceeded around the corner and up the block, luggage in tow, to a van to Qalandia. We rode in a servisse filled with Palestinians and paid 3½ shekel a piece. On the way we passed pieces of the Wall waiting to be erected. Eerie! By the time we arrived at Qalandia checkpoint it was dark. Following directions Huwaida had emailed to us before we’d left the states, we began to seek out a taxi that would take us, for no more than 20 shekels, to the Retno Hotel in Ramallah. But we had no chance to do the seeking. We were assaulted by drivers desperate for the fare asking, “Where to go?” None seemed to recognize the name of our hotel. They chanted prices at us, but even at the right price we hesitated, fearing the drivers would get lost.
One particular teenager with the cutest smile and a twinkle in his eye kept imploring us to follow him. Whatever we said, he listened to and answered that which would persuade us to take his friend’s taxi. He got his friend to pull his taxi directly in front of us. As this was going on, Stacey called Huwaida for help. The barrage of drivers vying for our business was overwhelming. Impish Mohammed’s clever maneuvering and unending persistence paid off for him. His friend’s positioning his taxi in front of us made it inevitable that Stacey would hand the phone to him to get directions from and negotiate a price with Huwaida. Settled!! Mohammed and Mohammed drove us to the Retno.
On the ride to our hotel, the driver, Mohammed, talked about the hopelessness he felt, about his anger with Arafat and Sharon, with his belief that no one cares or can help – a first taste, for us, of one of the many Palestinian points of view.
As we entered the Retno (I cannot remember now who was in the lobby, but I do remember that it was crowded) I asked where the women of WCA were and was pointed to a room straight ahead. I opened the door and there was the group. Everyone started screaming and running toward us…hugs and tears. It felt so good to be with everyone at last. It felt like coming home – in the middle of Ramallah. I realized at that moment how much I had come to love these women.
We had arrived during a ten minute training break, and almost immediately, training was about to resume. As I searched for a seat, Huwaida walked into the room. She looked wonderful. At once, my emotions ran the gamut: I was thrilled to be in Ramallah with Huwaida and was suddenly flushed with a feeling of sadness that Adam was not with us. In my heart and head, I’d believed I would come to Palestine only when Adam would be back here. When earlier in the week he had told me that he was going to try to get in and be there while I was there, I was elated. I kept this feeling to myself because I knew the possibility that he would be denied entry. The overwhelming sadness I felt at his being turned away hit me then. And just at that moment, Adam called on my cell phone and his voice revealed his immense sadness. It is my intent to keep Adam in my head and heart with everything I do and see here, to recall all of the emails he had written to me when he lived and worked in the West Bank and to try to see what he had so eloquently described. This became a conscious decision the minute our phone conversation ended.
It’s late and we’re getting tired, but we try to concentrate on the history lesson that we are being given.
I returned to the training room and began to orientate myself with the routine. Stacey stepped out and when she returned, she told me that Huwaida informed her that our rooms had mistakenly been given to other people and that, of the group, three people would have to sleep at the slightly more expensive Best Eastern Hotel down the road. Stacey had suggested to Huwaida that it be us since we had just arrived. So, at training’s end, Carol, Stacey and I went with Huwiada and Faris (one of our trainers) to check in at the Best Eastern. It was 11pm, and Huwaida, Faris and Mohamed (another trainer) then took Carol, Stacey, me, Gail, Judy, Annie and Susan to an ATM machine and for dinner at the Stones. We ate and the others had light bites and some alcoholic beverages. Stones is a Christian restaurant, so drinks were served. Down the road people were dancing in the street – a groom’s party. The music and the dance brought Adam to my mind.
Anni’s Diary: June 24, 2004
Before going to training in Ramallah, we ventured out to roam the Christian and Arab quarters a bit, the bazaar area where there are no obvious tourists. Shopkeepers who have always hawked their wares now plead with the tourist, using their plight to get people to buy: “We are starving, the Occupation is destroying us, you must buy a lot to help us”. It was hard for me not to bargain, as in Iran it is expected. So much was Iranian! All the pottery that I couldn’t find in Iran was here – very little was made in Palestine, but as in Iran, the wares appear local. We felt immediately comfortable in East Jerusalem, but merely crossing the street into the West sent chills through us: immediate tension, hardness, coldness, rudeness.
Walking through the narrow alleys, as people on mules and horses cross our path, instantly immerses us in the history and culture of this land. The merchants in the doorways imploring us to “take a look! No charge!”, the Arab shops filled with hideous t-shirts extolling the IOF, teenage Israeli soldiers in packs pressing through ancient corridors en route to the Jewish quarter, so “modern and western”, establish the scene. The reverie is destroyed by the constant army vehicles and their noisy and arrogant intrusion.
We go to the New Gate. The Old City is encircled by a stone wall with numerous gates like Bab Jdid. We take a van to Ramallah to our next hotel, the Retno. Unlike the quiet dignity of Knights’ Palace, where our room was comfortable and welcoming, Retno is newer with a few Palestinian families. Knights’ Palace had its share of travelers, some Christian groups, other peace groups from Europe. At Retno we pretty much take over the hotel. This was our first time going through a checkpoint – all rubble and sand – vans can’t travel through, so we have to pay, get out, drag the baggage over the roadblock and find another van to take us to Ramallah. This is Kalandia, considered a site of much violence.