Okay, heads up because I have a feeling this is going to be one colossal post— I’ve been lagging in the updates.
Last week we also went to Jericho, and while I’m sure on a good day that place has its own charm, honestly it wasn’t my favorite.
First of all, I didn’t think it could get any hotter than Bethlehem, but alas, I was mistaken. Pardon the French, but merde. How is anyone functional in heat like that? Clearly not me, because I was in a right state all day. Nevertheless, we did manage to visit some very interesting organizations, as usual.
The city’s municipality welcomed us first with some blessed AC and tea with too much sugar. Jericho is right by the Dead Sea, so it’s actually one of the lowest cities in the world (That explained my ears popping as we descended into the valley at warp speed— people drive like maniacs here, and the taxis are the worst).
Like most other Palestinian communities, Jericho has difficulties with the Israeli settlements. The settlements use most of the resources of the area, like water and agriculture, and unfortunately end up being one of the only sources of employment for Palestinians. Tourism is also a struggle because of lack of funds and organization. The Dead Sea is under Israeli control, so there’s no option for economic benefit there.
Next we visited the Joint Council for Services Planning and Development, which focuses on solid waste management in Jericho and the Jordan Valley. Boy, do they need it. Disposal of waste is definitely an imminent problem here. In Jericho alone the amount of trash and waste was mildly nauseating— we had a splendid view of a decomposing cat off the sidewalk, which didn’t exactly make the sugary tea sit better in my stomach.
This organization seemed like it had real potential, though. Basically it was focusing on creating landfill sites in the West Bank and Gaza, as well as beginning recycling initiatives. I would say their two biggest problems are financing the waste management and educating the public on its importance. People here feel they have more important things to worry about than recycling and disposing of trash properly— and you can tell. There are very few roads in Palestine that aren’t lined with some kind of garbage.
We also saw the YMCA/Vocational Training Center, which provides vocational education for men and women. They try to target marginalized youths and manage to employ 85% of their graduates, which is pretty impressive in Palestine.
The afternoon consisted of making the trek up the Mount of Temptation, which was quite cool— the church was literally built into the rocky mountain. All I could think of was Indiana Jones through the heat daze I was in. The view was spectacular:
The heat, as you can see, is physically visible. This is a cool shot from inside the church:
The very next day we navigated the bus system to meet up with the Lod/Beer Sheva group at the Dead Sea. What an interesting place that was! Because it’s the lowest place on earth, stuff is all funky: a hypersaline lake, high oxygen levels, and reduced ultraviolet radiation (you know I’m a big fan of that last one).
Also, the density of the sea means that swimming is more like floating, which had to be one of the strangest sensations I’d ever experienced. I guess I can equate it to being in a low-gravity environment; you don’t have a lot of control over your limbs.
It was also not a beach. I still have burns on the bottoms of my feet from the rocky ground! I’m thinking that was the closest I’m going to get to walking on the surface of the sun, and man, did it hurt. Still, the desert has its own kind of beauty:
A shot of the Dead Sea itself:
Surprisingly, I did not get sunburned. I’ve managed to be very religious in my daily application, so I’m still fairly pasty white. Ah well, why deny my natural state of being, right?
Sunday was the usual seminar series, and this time we visited Awrad, a research center. They conduct polls and surveys pertaining to current issues and development, and aim to create dialogue in the community. An example of a recent poll in 2012 was public opinion/perception of the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Hamas in the Gaza Strip. This allowed Awrad to publish how Palestinians review their human rights (it was a mixed response in both Gaza and the W.B.).
This past Thursday was our last travel day, and we toured around the Nablus area to learn about the rights-based center based there, which is McGill’s affiliate. Unfortunately we couldn’t enter Nablus proper, courtesy of a travel advisory and McGill’s propensity for ridiculousness, which was a real shame. Originally that was where some of us were supposed to work, because the Palestinian affiliate of ICAN has a storefront there.
We got to visit Jama’in, which is right next to a huge Israeli settlement, Ariel. The women’s center in Aqraba gave us a great lunch of— guess— hummus, pita, and falafel. The center was actually really interesting, and they collaborate with the Community Service Center in housing projects. In rural communities like Aqraba, so many people don’t even have running water, so the centers work to fix up houses.
Our last stop that day was at a woman’s house who had gotten help from the women’s center. Her story was powerful. As a girl she was raised by an abusive stepmother and got married at 18 to a man who was even worse. Refusing to work, he was physically abusive to her and her children; permanently disabling a son and psychologically scarring another. I couldn’t understand what she was saying, but she starting crying several times.
I don’t know where her husband is now. He probably buggered off and snared another poor woman to feed him. Apparently the case of a man demanding that a wife make all the money and support him is happening more often. It’s not a case of the husband staying home to take care of the children— she still has to do that.
What was even more humbling was that this woman, who clearly has nothing, gave us all sweet bread and drinks while she told her story. One of her sons is graduating from university with a civil engineering degree, and those that we met were thoughtful and sweet. I just… can’t imagine what it took to get to the point they’re at how, and how hard it must still be.
Because in conservative communities like hers, the neighbors aren’t supportive. Even now the town isn’t on her side. Men literally control everything: the Aqraba women’s center was allowed to move forward because its proposed purpose was to train women to economically contribute. So they’ll hold an embroidery session, for example, because embroidery is a traditional activity of the women and can make some money for the family. But, while they’re there, the center will also educate women on their rights. If their fathers and husbands knew about that, they wouldn’t let them go.
So that’s what women here have to deal with. Every. Day.
Can you imagine it?
More on this later, my fingers need a break.