Sunday, December 6, 2009


Just kidding. I didn't go on a road trip. I took a bus to Jerusalem. Actually, it was a taxi from my neighborhood to the north bus station, a bus to the border, another bus to the Israeli side of the border (don't ask), a shared taxi to downtown Jerusalem and then a normal taxi to my hostel. And then I hoofed it for the next two days in and around Jerusalem, with the exception of the bus I took to Bethlehem and back.

Israel/Palestine was beautiful. Geographically, it looks a lot like Jordan - dry and hilly. But there is so much more history there, and frankly, so much more tension. Kristin, Elizabeth, and I noted how incredible it was that such distinct groups of people (i.e. the inhabitants of the Jewish Quarter, Muslim Quarter, Christian Quarter and Armenian Quarter of the Old City) could live literally right on top of each other and fail to interact. I rode in a taxi to my hostel with a Mexican priest on a special religious mission trip to Jerusalem. The taxi driver, who was Arab, asked him where he wanted to go, and he replied in English. The driver nodded, but then turned to me as if to say, "So what does he want?" I told him, in Arabic, "He wants a church." (I didn't know the name.) The taxi driver replied, "Oh! Church!" With all due respect to my driver, I would have thought that "church" was a word most people in Jerusalem knew in several languages. Most of the visitors to the city are looking for a church of some kind, after all.

I came to find out that my taxi driver, who looked about 30 years old, spoke neither English nor Hebrew. As we drove through a calm, leafy, European-looking neighborhood north of the Old City, it became clear to me that this was not his territory. The distinct separation to which the residents of Jerusalem have become so accustomed was glaring. I was staying in a Jewish neighborhood, and he didn't belong.

Aside from the eerie feeling of segregation, I felt at home in Jerusalem. When obnoxious shopkeepers weren't trying to persuade me to check out their wares, I walked the streets in peace, relishing for the first time in a long time being surrounded by signs in a language I couldn't read. It's so different from Jordan, in more ways than I could begin to list now. Someday I'll get around to it. I would say I can't wait to go back, but I guess I can. Either way, I'm stuck with the Israeli brand for awhile; my passport stamp means I can't visit most Arab countries until I get a new passport. But that's a story for another day. I'll be back in the US in about two weeks.