A Travellerspoint blog

Adventures in the West Bank, Palestine

Refuge camps, psychic readings and art exhibits?

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As the minibus pulled into the town centre opf Ramallah, a large group of men with green cloths used as masks walked down the main street with AK-47s pointed at the sky. They were chanting various slogans. Fully covered women were crying and there were bullet holes and bombed out houses everywhere.

If that is what you immediately thought when you heard "Palestine", then you are wrong. While images from the media may show you a lawless territory festered with terrorists and suicide bombers, the truth is quite different.

In my time in the West Bank, I've met people with diverse opinions and backgrounds as well as a society with a wide specturm of class and stability. Throughout my time there, I've found a people that is proud and will not surrender when they've been kept down so many times. The situation between Israel and Palestine is extremely personal and too complex for me to discuss here. However, I can only hope that there can be peace, prosperity and freedom for all people in this region someday soon.

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I arrived in the Tel Aviv airport early and took the bus to Jerusalem. There, I realized there was something very different: when I looked at an available seat on the bus, it was taken by the M16 of an Israeli soldier. Instead, I sat down beside a young officer reading "The Fountainhead" by Ayn Rand. We struck up a conversation and he talked about his desire to study grad school in Canada and army duties. He also asked me why I chose to travel to Israel since it's not a typical tourist destination for a non-pilgrim.

Once at the bus station, it took me awhile more to get used to being searched and having bags x-rayed at the bus station and mall entrance. The numerous soldiers aged 18-20 with M16s, grenade launchers hanging around the station also threw me off since they look just like highschool kids with army uniforms and guns.

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I took the bus to Ramllah that afternoon and the difference was astounding. I arrived on a deserted Friday (since it's their holy day) and made my way to the center to meet Zab. Ramalla h was a lot more run down than Israel of course and more so than Egypt and place s in Turkey as well (as a result of corruption and Israel's economic strangulation).

Locals were extremely surprised to see a tourist, nonetheless an asian looking one! I spent the rest of the first day hanging out with Zab's family, walking about town with him and his cousin Dina, getting a coffee ground psychic reading by Zab's great-aunt anbd meeting some of his friends at Birzeit University for drins and sheesha.

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Day 2: The day started early with a visit to Jalezone refuge camp to see the kids there. The group of people I was with were international students studying at Birzeit who were to volunteer to teach kids English, French, dance, etc. For lunch, we had a great fallafel sandwhich for 1 NIS ($0.25). I then attended a lecture on the partition wall at the University. In the evening, I attended two art exhibit opening with the Zabaneh family and a party with Zab and Yasmine.

I really wish I had more time and resources. I would have loved to volunteer teaching music or computer science to the kids at the camp. Perhaps that is where I can do volunteer work through an NGO sponsored by Accenture in the future.

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As my minimus pulls away from Ramallah towards Jerusalem, I think about the desperation and hope of the Palestinian people, the cool people I've met, the pink and purple sun sets over the hills and houses of Ramallah. When people ask me whether I thought there was a solution to the conflict, I always say this the same thing. Of all the places I've seen, people I've talked to, they all want the same things. Freedom, Peace and Prosperity. I'm a realist (combination of optimist and pessimist) and though it may take a long time, I do believe that there can be a solution that ensures everlasting peace and harmony between Israel and Palestine.

Salam Maleku

Acknowledgements: I want to thank Chris Zabaneh and his family for their hospitality and generosity! Chris provided so much opportunity and diverse experience in my time in West Bank, it was truly enlightening.
I am looking forward to seeing his work (images and documentary)!

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Posted by NomadicOne 16:00 Archived in State of Palestine Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

Living like a Sultan in Istanbul

It's good to see a familiar face.

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Written: June 28, 2007

As the plane climbs steeply after take off, I look out my window at the giant metropolis that is Istanbul. I reflect upon my last 2.5 days in this amzing city and my time in Turkey.

I arrived in Istanbul's asian bus stop (Dudullu) early in the morning after spending a day in Cappadocia. I had paid 50 YTL for the day tour of Cappadocia and the area was mesmerizing. The fairy chimneys and beautiful landscape looks to be the inspiration of Gaudi's work! We visited an underground city, Christian frescoes in cave churches, cave dwellings. We were then forced to see a demonstration and shop selling Onyx. There was even a stop called "Star Wars Set" due to the landscape's similarity to Episode IV's sandman scenes. Another overnight bus and I was in Istanbul. It had been a gruelling 3 days since I hadn't had a shower or slept in bed for 3 full days.

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My stay in Isanbul was like living in a palace. I had amazing home cooked meals from Baris' mother, laundry done, private shower, my own room with a double bed with internet. I was personally shown around the major destinations of the city by Baris as well as famous popular local hangouts and eateries! But much more valuable to me, was getting insight and perspectives of someone who had lived and grown up there. Getting a discounted haircut from his friend, having a beer like the locals, having famous kofte at Sultanhamet kofte. These are priceless experiences that are hard to get as a tourist.

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It was also extremely good to catch up with people and getting messages from friends and damily. I've now been gone for a full month and though I've seen amazing sights, met amazing people on the road, it makes me miss Canada ever more. So, I encourage you all to send me messages, emails, Facebook posts. It helps a lot on the road, when I'm stuck in a bus station for 3 hrs, when I'm lost in a new city, when I see others with their best mates.
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Finally, I want to thank Baris and his mom again for the wonderful hospitality. I don't know if I'll live that well again until I get home and the food was amazing! (Baris, I need the recipe to that desert!)

Teshekur Edirim!

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Posted by NomadicOne 12:53 Archived in Turkey Tagged round_the_world Comments (1)

The Sun is Rising in Cappadocia

Written: June 25, 2007

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As the sun's rays shines out over the peaks of Cappadocia, I can't help but laugh at the chain of random events that transpired yesterday.

I arrived to Selcuk in the morning from the overnight bus from Istanbul. I spent 45 minutes walking to Ephasus (site of well preserved Roman ruins) in the morning heat. It was going to be a hot day and I didn't last more than 1.5 hr before I was too hot and satisfied with my visit.

As I started to walk back on the long stretch of road connecting Ephasus to Selcuk (no one else was walking since it was so hot), a cabbie called out to me, "Selcuk? 10 Liras, it's too HOT to walk!"
Not willing to pay 10 Liras, I started on my long and painful journey. I later realized that it had hit 42C in Selcuk when I was walking and after 1 hr of walk, I was only halfway to town! Not willing to suffer a premature death due to heatstroke, I decided to stick out my thumb and hope someone had the generosity to give me a ride into town.

Fifteen minutes later, imagine this: Me, sitting on the back seat of a farm tractor as it pulled into downtown Selcuk. I wished someone had taken a picture of me right there because it must've been a ridiculous sight.

I spent the rest of the hot day on the internet at a hostel that I wasn't even staying it and watching the only thing that was on their TV (Lilo and Stitch 2). This continued my run of bad movies first started by Dubrovnik's Ripley's Game.

I then took the 4 P.M. bus and was on my way to Goreme, Cappadocia via Parmukkale. But then something happened. While we were pulling out of the Parmukkale station, the engine wouldn't pick up and after sitting in the unventillated compartment for 10 minutes, the place felt like a sauna and everyone got out of the bus (it was still 38C at 9 p.m.). It took 3 hours for them to finally fix it and even when we got on, you just knew everyone was praying that it wouldn't break down again. That feeling combined with the Turkish edited version of Littleman made the ride less comfortable than it could've been.

For the two full days, I've been in Turkey, I can't help but remark how friendly people are even when they're not actively trying to sell you something. Turgay from Paris Hostel, Selcuk let me stay in the shade and gave me Turkish coffee. Kassim, a Turk I had met on the bus to Selcuk, and I talked about life in Canada and Turkey. In Parmukkale, I talked to Mandur, a geography student trying to get people to his hostel. He and I had good conversations about life, women, weather, business and Parmukkale. Though there are differences, its remarkable how similar people can be across cultural divides. When I told him I missed Canadian summers composed of cottages, beers, BBQs, he said that his friends do that sometimes; they get a sheep from his grandfather, go up to his friend's mountain nomad home and BBQ. Throughout the bus ride, I was also getting looks since the back country almost never sees any minorities (esp. an Asian Canadian!) However, after the delay, we didn't need to speak the same language to share our humour and frustration. A look, a smile, a shake of the head, it transcends all cultures.

And now, as the sun rises over Cappadocia, I wonder what other adventures lie ahead!

Posted by NomadicOne 07:49 Archived in Turkey Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

The World is Melting in Dubrovnik

Legions of women asking me to go back to their place?!?

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As I stepped off the bus from Split in Dubrovnik, numerous Croatian ladies approached me. Armed with maps in their hands, they proceeded to show me their house/room/sobe on the map. While this may sound strange to some of you, others will have heard or experienced the attack of these room hawkers in Eastern Europe. Although I encountered a few in Prague, Krakow, Budapest, they were merely passive hostel runners. The 6-7 old women here were like coyotes looking for meat! I politely refused each approach and then I heard the dreaded question, "Are you Japanese?"

FUCK!

Though I can understand the difficulty in differentiating people within an ethic group a few continents away (actually, by the end of this trip even my parents will be able to differentiate by ethnicity due to my tan!), perhaps one shouldn't assume? I don't assume that anyone that looks eastern European to be Polish, Russian or etc. And people should not assume that North American English speakers are American.

After my great escape, it took a frustrating hour in the 33C heat to find the phone #, telephone card and call my hostel owner Mladen for a pickup. After quickly checking in and dropping my stuff off, I went off to explore the old walled city of Dubrovnik. This area was exceptionally pretty and well restored even after being bombarded and put under siege by the Serbians in the Croatian war for independence. The white stone walls set between the light blue Mediterranean sea and the rapidly rising rocky hills and mountain. However, to me, it lacked the simple charm of Split.

Since I missed breakfast, lunch and only had a slice of pizza for my previous dinner, I decided to splurge a bit on my final meal in Croatia. I looked around to find a cheap and deserted restaurant in the old city. I had mussels and a seafood risotto for an amazing price.

The rest of the evening was uneventful except that I had a double room to myself and watched one of the many terrible movies I would see in the following week. The movie called Ripley's Game had John Malkovich and Dougray scott.

I'll be catching a flight to Munich and then Istanbul early in the morning!
Mollim!

Posted by NomadicOne 07:23 Archived in Croatia Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

7 Reasons to fall in love with Split

Written: June 21, 2007

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1. Great seafood
2. Great beaches
3. Friendly people
4. Beautiful women
5. Fun islands to explore
6. Great water and landscapes
7. Not overflowed by legions of obnoxious tourists

It's very easy to fall in love with Split. The above list but some of the reasons. For myself, the landscape (esp. of Hvar) is incredibly appealing as well as the fresh seafood! The Adriatic sea is also less polluted and warmer than many bodies of water I've seen.

I'm glad I visited this wonderful destination before the onslaught of tourists come. The Brits are already coming in waves so I expect other Europeans and Americans to follow soon.

Croatian cuisine can also be very similar to Italian with emphasis on seafood and much less expensive. In fact, I found a little restaurant in an alley close to the terminal where I got a large seafood paste for under 5 euros!

I am now off to Dubrovnik but it will be hard to find a more charming place than Split and Hvar in Croatia.

Posted by NomadicOne 07:15 Archived in Croatia Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

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