On Saturday morning we returned to Yanoun where we spent the day restocking the pantry and catching up on the events that had taken place while we were away. The news was sobering since our villages, other than Yanoun, had all experienced increased activity with ‘mischief’ ranging from new home demolition orders to demonstrations and settler violence. We knew that we would be busy the following week making visits.
On Sunday, after church and lunch in Nablus, I went to Tulkarem for the first of my required placement visits (we are each to visit two sites besides our own as each has different tasks and challenges). Tulkarem is a Palestinian city of 60,000 people and two refugee camps with a combined population of another 20,000. The Tulkarem team consists of four women, Heidi from the Swiss Alps (married to our team mate Peter, reminiscent of one of my favorite childhood books), Elisabeth from Sweden, Sapna from Germany, and Randi from Norway. At the risk of seeming mean-spirited I will simply say that they live in the ground floor apartment of a lovely modern home with a garden patio in the back, and have a cleaning woman. (But I wouldn’t trade Yanoun for any of it!)
I happened to get the front passenger seat in the service (pronounced sairveese) between the Beit Iba checkpoint and Tulkarem…my least favorite spot. As I sat in my usual white-knuckled terror while the driver raced along at 70 mph, simultaneously talking on two mobile phones, making change (fares are passed forward from the seats behind), riding the bumper of the vehicle in front of us, or passing on hills and curves, I had no idea of how that front seat would play out later. On arrival in Tulkarem we left the bus a block or so ahead of the usual stop because Elisabeth wanted to stop by the UNWRA office for some literature. I told her I would like to find a sweet shop (bakery) so that I could bring some treats for her team. We debated about going directly to the house to leave our bags and backpacks, and that’s when Elisabeth realized she had left her bag containing her camera, wallet, etc. in the service!
In a panic we ran to the station to see if our vehicle was still there. While Elisabeth tried to locate someone in the office who could speak English, I ran up and down the rows of parked services hoping to find the one we had taken. They all look alike and I suddenly realized that I was looking for the items I’d seen on the dash…a length of decorative fringe, a small globe, a miniature ceramic Koran, and a stuffed white shaggy dog. By this time Elisabeth had found a young man changing tires in a garage across the street who spoke excellent English, and I relayed this information to him. As he translated to the crowd of drivers standing around us, they immediately began to smile and nod their heads. Within minutes they reached our driver, on his way back to Beit Iba, by phone. He stopped and checked and found the bag on the floor in the back and promised to return it on his next run to Tulkarem. Unfortunately for Elisabeth’s nerves, he didn’t return until late that evening. But the next morning, when we arrived at the station, we were told that he had left it at the sweet shop across the street. Our same young friend then phoned the owner of the sweet shop who came and opened his shop early. All of Elisabeth’s belongings were intact, and all of those involved in our little drama just seemed inordinately pleased that it had all worked out!
On Monday morning, Elisabeth and I taxied and walked to Shufa, a nearby village, for an English conversation session with the women’s group. It was a beautiful day for a walk through the fields of wild flowers that had appeared after the recent rains. On the day before our visit some of the women had attended a combined political rally and celebration of International Women’s Day in Ramallah and were bursting to discuss the experience. Afterward we had lunch with one of the women who is studying literature at the university. Over tea and a delicious warm bread laced with fresh thyme leaves, I helped her sort through the ‘thees, thous, and doths’ of Elizabethen poetry. It was such a good day, one of those you just hate to see end.
The following morning we awoke at 5 a.m. to go to the agricultural gates (a variation on checkpoints) at Attil. Attil is a village caught in one of the ‘seam zones’, the areas between the 1949 Green Line and the Wall, and separated from its agricultural lands. The fields are surrounded by a fence with razor wire. The gate is open for an hour between 6 and 7 a.m. and that morning there were 15 farmers waiting when we arrived with a total of 45 men, 3 donkeys, and 5 tractors passing through during the hour. The men each carried a small black plastic bag containing bread and cheese for their lunch. They greeted us cheerfully, and many commented that they had missed Elisabeth during our absence the previous week. We had a brief conversation with the two young soldiers when they came to close the gate (to be reopened for an hour late in the afternoon to let the farmers out again). One spoke fair English, the other only Hebrew. They were new to the gate and unfamiliar with our role and purpose, but polite.
We returned to Tulkarem and after breakfast I journeyed back home to Yanoun. It was a good visit and a nice change of pace from the exposure week!