Saturday, February 13, 2010

A Walk On The Block

A walk to Bethlehem City from Aida Camp should take no more than twenty-five minutes. But now a walk to Bethlehem can take multiple hours. And unlike many may think, this is not a delay caused by checkpoints.

It's the inescapable block that lies where Beit Jala and Aida Refugee Camp meet. It's a row of shops to which we know just about everyone: the resturant workers, the supermarket employees, the fruit seller, the mechanics, and the teens hanging out on the street corner.

We walk by the street corner, where the usual's are sitting. Though we see them every day, we have yet to memorize their names. They yell out the only words they know: "Hello Josh and Michael! 50 Cent! Rap! Is good!" We smile, exchange greetings, and continue on our way.

Unlike American resturants, prices are always drastically changing at Matam Al-Hasan, (or Al-Hasan resturant), the shop nearest to the street corner. We're regulars there, and we freely walk around, often stepping in to the back kitchen and snatching some falafel. Neither Muhammad nor Abood speak much English, though Muhammad loves the word "delicious," and therefore repeats it approximately 50 times in one visit. Both are determined to learn, as they eagerly ask us the names of different vegetables in the shop.

While in the resturant, the fruitseller two shops down usually comes in to say hello. Abu Ali does not speak a word of English, and our form of communication revolves around hand shakes in which he tries to squeeze our hands as tight as possible until we yelp in pain. Around this time, George often steps in. George speaks perfect English, and he's quite a well-spoken man. He's a Christian, and continually emphasizes the fact that Muslims and Christians are brothers here. He's somewhat guru-like, always offerring wise and peaceful statements. He's an artist and quite an amazing woodworker.

Nextdoor to the restaurant is Abood's father's supermarket. Osama, who is quite the entrapenuer, owns the kindergarten in Aida Camp, the supermarket, the resturant nextdoor, and a farm in Beit Jala. We go to his home each night at 7:00 to help him and his wife improve their English. Quite frequently Osama will come and join the social-gathering that takes place in the restaurant next door. At some point, someone will crack an Arabic sexual joke, which becomes lost in translation when spoken in English, and ends up sounding rather perverted and strange.

After sitting and socializing in the restaurant, we continue on up the block, until we arrive outside the mechanic's shop. Here, although stuffed, we are called into the black grease-filled room, to partake in a meal of hummus and pita. Although we might try to explain that we have already eaten and can eat no more, we are commanded to sit down and eat. This kind of uber-hospitality is the norm here in Palestine-- at the end of the day, if a Palestinian wants to serve you food or drink, you will take it, regardless of your hunger or thirst.


  1. Good post, guys. Thanks for putting a most human face on a situation that many of us see exclusively through ideological, political and religious lenses.

  2. haven't heard from you guys in a long time. everything ok?

    we are worried please contact me