Living Abroad: Expat in the Holy Land

by missfootloose on March 23, 2013 · 17 comments

in expat stories, living abroad, Palestine

Would you go live in Ramallah, in Palestine? My prince and I lived there quite happily for a while and I’d like to offer you the tale of another one of my little adventures.

Palestine

Ramallah: The view from my windows

Here’s the scene: I’ve visited my family in Holland and am now on my way home to Ramallah. I’m on a KLM flight heading for the Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, Israel, where my man is waiting for me with the car to drive me back to Ramallah.

In front of me sits a pretty young Israeli mother with an energetic baby. Next to me sits the tot’s grandpa, a jolly sort with sparkles in his eyes. Every now and then, when the mother needs a sanity rest, she hands the baby over to her father who then tries to amuse him for a while. It is not always easy to hoist him over the back rest of the seat and I give a little assistance when necessary to prevent the squirming kid from landing in my lap. Not that that would be so terrible, but it’s not his intended destination.

Baby on plane

No, this is not that baby, but he was just as cute.

I play with the little boy a bit, make some friendly small talk with the mother and the grandfather, in English. As we approach Tel Aviv, the mother turns to me with an apologetic smile. “I am sorry he was so much trouble,” she says. Having a plethora (I love this word) of experience with the trials and tribulations of traveling with small children, I assure her I understand her position completely. If the truth were known, I am overwhelmed with sympathy for her, not to speak of gratitude that I’m free to travel by myself these days without a diaper bag, stroller, toys and Prozac. It is so liberating.

She pushes her hair behind her ears and gives an exhausted sigh. “I’m so glad I’m almost home,” she says.

“You live in Tel Aviv?” I ask, and she tells me no, but very close by.

“And where are you going?” she asks, probably taking me for a tourist, or a business person on my way to Jerusalem.

It is the moment of truth (I’ve been there before). I suck in a deep breath and fortify myself with oxygen. “Ramallah,” I say bravely.

Her mouth drops open, her eyes grow big. Next to me her father freezes and the lights dim in his eyes. The woman reaches over the seats and touches my shoulder. “Oh, be careful!” she says with horror in her voice. “Do be careful!” she adds for emphasis, in case I didn’t get it the first time.

“I live in Ramallah,” I tell her. “I’ve lived there for a year now.”

Rendered speechless by my words, she stares at me.

“People are very nice,” I tell her.

This apparently is news to her because a look of total amazement replaces the one of terror. Still not able to vocalize her emotions, she keeps on staring, sort of like you see in cartoon drawings, with her eyes huge and her mouth still open. My Dutch heart aches for her a little, and for all the lovely people in Ramallah.

“They’re really very nice,” I repeat, hoping this will help, eager to be the messenger of good tidings. Really, she seems like such a nice person, such a loving mother. No doubt she intends to raise her little boy to be a good, moral, God-loving person. Just like you and me and the people in Ramallah.

If it weren’t so funny, it’d be sad.

* * *

Tell me a tale of some small encounter (or maybe not so small) that stayed with you over the years. Or any tale about living in the Middle East. I’m not picky.

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{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

nmaha March 23, 2013 at 3:33 am

Wow! on so many counts. One that you need to land in Israel to get to Palestine. Two that you’ve understood and empathize with both the countries, three actually having these kind of experiences (I was hoping to find out what happened next), four….. I could go on.
I’ve lived in the middle east for 24 years and still consider it home (my parents, friends, childhood home are all there). However, I’ve never really faced a situation even close to this. The only bit of reality was when the Gulf War was on.

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Gordon Barlow March 23, 2013 at 10:28 pm

Yes, it is a very sad story, Karen. Political propaganda makes for a sad world. I wish you well for the rest of your time in Ramallah.

I take up your invitation to tell you a tale that has stayed with me over the years, by way of offering this snippet from a blog-post of mine in January this year (“The friends of Frank Sinatra”) about an interview by the English-language radio station in Kuwait in 1965:

… The interview only lasted five minutes, after which the station would play a song between my segment and the next. Did I have a favourite song? “Oh, anything by Frank Sinatra,” I said. B-L-E-E-E-P! The station manager hit the stop-recording button and called down to me. “I’m afraid that singer is banned in Kuwait, Mr Barlow” he said. “He has friends who are supporters of Israel, and Israel is our enemy.”…

I have written about several incidents (“encounters”) from that time, when my girlfriend and I bummed around the Middle East on a shoestring. In my blog’s Archives, they are identified as T5 (February last year), T7 (April), T10 (July) and T12 (September). (T is for Travel!)

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Sarah P | Travelling Is My Passion March 24, 2013 at 11:45 pm

Hi Karen, loved your write-up about living in Ramallah!

I’ve never lived in the Middle East (so alas, no cool stories!)so you’ll excuse me for thinking you’re extremely brave to have lived all by yourself in Palestine! Must have been a fascinating time!

Looking forward to hearing more stories from you!

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missfootloose March 25, 2013 at 5:48 am

Yes, it was a fascinating time, and not nearly as dangerous as people tend to think!

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Sarah P | Travelling Is My Passion March 24, 2013 at 11:46 pm

Sorry Karen! I meant Karen not Mary! Don’t know why I typed in the wrong name! Please edit my original comment to reflect that! I’m so sorry!

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missfootloose March 25, 2013 at 5:46 am

No worries! It’s done!

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edj March 25, 2013 at 8:57 pm

My prince and I (I’m stealing that from you as I always like how you call your mate that) recently watched “5 Broken Cameras.” Have you seen it yet? It was fascinating and very well done. Afterwards I did a bit of internet searching and watched a clip of the film being screened for Israeli high school students. Absolutely fascinating! They had never seen anything like that, had no idea their govt could poss be wrong and there might be two sides.
I do believe there are 2 sides, both with valid points. I wish there could be peace.

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missfootloose March 25, 2013 at 9:09 pm

No, I haven’t seen it, but it’s on my list now. I’ll check on that clip too. I’m with you: I wish there could be peace. It would be better for everybody. PS: If you have a prince, by all means call him that ;)

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Michelle | The American Resident March 28, 2013 at 5:36 am

Wow. Just wow. That was quite a story and I have nothing like that in my memory archives! Both wow that you lived there (how amazing) and wow for that moment with the people from near Tel Aviv. As anoher commentor said, political propoganda messes with us. I love your stories. I would have loved your experiences!

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Annabel Candy, Get In the Hot Spot March 28, 2013 at 5:53 am

You’re fabulous! I visited a refugee camp in Bethlehem while I was in Israel. It was all very clandestine and what I saw was shocking. Such a terrible situation there but the falafel – now that is divine!

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guyana gyal March 29, 2013 at 7:56 am

As long as you have people seeing each other through the eyes of fear, there will be divisions. It happens here amongst the different racial groups when we have elections. It happens in Jamaica…and they are mostly one race.

One day, I will tell the story of the Israeli woman and her beautiful child we met in America. Just like yours, it’s a good story and a sad story.

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Welshcakes Limoncello April 7, 2013 at 3:53 pm

A tale with a lesson for everybody.

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Joburg Expat April 17, 2013 at 3:34 pm

This definitely awakened some memories, Miss Footloose! I have so often encountered that look of disbelief when telling people we not only lived and survived but absolutely loved it in Johannesburg, South Africa. And you know what I’ve learned: it’s got nothing to do with race or religion. The only reason people are so afraid of some places is that they don’t actually know them. We fear the things we don’t know the most. I was in Alexandra, a notoriously dangerous township near Joburg, and was talking to a woman who lived there. Where else had I been that day, she wanted to know. In Diepsloot, I told her, another township, but a more familiar one to most expats, many of whom volunteer there. She blanced. Diepsloot, she breathed? I would never set foot there. It is SO dangerous. Not at all like Alexandra, where everything has order and is safe. The irony is, that Alexandra is much more feared by most people than any other place in South Africa. But to her who lived there and knew it, of course it was a very orderly and safe place. See for the corresponding blog post here: http://www.joburgexpat.com/2012/09/alexandra-tour-guide-for-day.html.

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Joburg Expat April 17, 2013 at 3:35 pm

“blanched”

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Karien April 17, 2013 at 10:15 pm

What a lovely story, and it is a tale I can recognise. Why are people afraid of others unknown?
I have lived in the Middle East several times, from birth to 2, from 7 to 11 and again in my early 20ties. That last time I remember thinking the next intifadah had started, there was always so much news on Israel in the local newspaper. Then I realised they were just obsessed with anything Israeli, in a nasty, negative way. Even my really nice, fairly modern arab friends, I could not talk about the subject with them for fear of arguments. It is just them not realising they are actually very similar and related peoples.
Stories about the middle east? Plenty! But not like these. Since I live in Asia now the world looks different, but at the same time it doesn’t. I do always feel that they can cope better with multi-culturalism here, and multi religions. I love how the Singaporeans celebrate each others holidays with pleasure, the malay-muslim ones, the buddhist, christian, hindu and so on. Neighbourhoods will all get together and share, it is so lovely. Both Europe and Arabia have some lessons to learn here!

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missfootloose April 19, 2013 at 8:18 pm

You’ve had an interesting expat life, Karien, and thank you for your comments. We do learn a lot from living in foreign countries. It does look that in Singapore, and also Malaysia, I think, the multi-cultural/religious scene is interesting and more tolerant than in many other places.

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MaryWitzl April 21, 2013 at 2:08 pm

I was climbing a mountain in Korea (I think it was Sorak) when I met a really nice couple, an American man from Mississippi and his Korean wife. We had a nice long chat about all sorts of things, and I mentioned that I was living in Japan. The wife gave me a long lecture about how awful the Japanese were and how cruel. I did my best to tell her that the people I knew were mainly very kind and that the Japanese who had colonized Korea were of a different generation and bore little resemblance to the younger, more culturally sensitive people I knew and loved.

It is so sad that the negative cultural encounters we have are then passed down to our children, who then pass it down to future generations.

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