After two days of enforced tourism in Jerusalem we have taken the short bus ride to Ramallah; a short journey but to a whole other world. This is Palestine proper. Last weeks UN bid for statehood is strikingly evident on giant billboards and posters, proclaiming Palestines right to be recognised as the world’s 194th State.
Before we set off from the UK I was glued to the news of Israel and Palestine’s UN wranglings. During Mahmoud Abbas’ empassioned speech BBC News 24 cut to live scenes in Ramallah, where thousands of people had taken to the streets to watch on huge screens and celebrate. The report showed a giant chair that had been constructed in the city centre – to represent Palestine’s right to a seat at the assembly. For whatever reason the image of the chair had stayed in my mind and so to stroll out from the shade of a bustling fruit market only to find ourselves right in front of the thing… I know it’s massively geeky, but I can’t quite believe we’re actually here.
Our ISM contact, Hisham, hadn’t made it to Jerusalem to meet us, but we had spoken to him on the phone and he gave us the name of the hotel in Ramallah where we could meet him. It was a bad line and we didn’t get the address, but he said that it was only a short ride from the bus station and that all taxi drivers would know it. The first taxi driver didn’t. Neither did the second. And perhaps my west country accent was the problem, but neither did the third. At this point a couple of young guys in a van pulled over, ignoring the beeps of the cars behind, and sensing our plight asked where we were heading? They knew the place and insisted on taking us themselves, free of charge. ‘We’re Palestinian,’ the driver declared. ‘We help everyone.’
I know it’s the standard fodder of these things to stereotype entire populations on a global ‘friendliness’ scale, and the guidebooks are guilty of this too. But at the risk of extrapolating too much data from too small a data pool, let’s fast forward a couple of hours:
My telephone’s ringing in my pocket. This takes me somewhat by surprise as it’s a mobile we’d only bought from a shop five minutes before (it’s advisable to have access to a mobile for the work we’ll be doing here, and a cheap handset is not much more expensive than unlocking our UK phones) and so nobody could possibly know the number yet.
‘Hello. It’s Mohammed. I just sold you a new phone and SIM.’
‘Oh. Yes. Hello. Um. Did we leave something? We’re only just down the road, I can come back.’
‘No, no. I wanted to phone so now you have my number. If there is anything at all I can do for you whilst you are here in Ramallah you must not hesitate to call. This is my number. Just call and I can help.’
During our ISM London training we were told that for all the experiences we would have in the West Bank, the warmth and hospitalty of the Palestinian people would be a reason to return. I think it’s fair to say we’ve had our first two helpings.
Oh yeah, and we liked this sunset too 🙂
Tomorrow we start our two days of ISM training. More updates to follow…