Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Settling In

I'm in an internet cafe right now on Main St. in Ramallah. There is a nice little cafe near my apartment in Birzeit, but the connection was a little sketchy last night, so I decided to come here today instead.

Ramallah is very different from what I had anticipated. There are a lot more shops with English signs, western food, and near western prices than I expected to find -- not to mention that I didn't budget for living in an expensive place . . . The streets downtown are crowded with people going about their business and you have the mix of cars and pedestrians in the streets that I've learned is normal from my time living in Cairo.

Yesterday some volunteers from Birzeit University took the international students on a walking tour of the city, pointing out useful things like where the best money exchange places are and where to buy cell phones, but they also showed us where the theatre is and some of the cultural centers. You can see that there has been a lot of rebuilding in the city here, there are shiny white new buildings in lots of places, but there is an air of incompleteness here . . . a feeling like people are waiting before they commit to truly investing -- or maybe I am simply projecting my own feelings onto the city. For example, the water fountains that don't have water because of the water shortage; the library that is closed for renovations; the lighthouse square without a lighthouse. My favorite is the 4 lions in the center of the Manara (center of the city) which represent 4 old families from Ramallah. According to my young guide, these families have long since left Palestine for America or better places.

In fact, our guide Ibrahim, told us that most people today are just trying to get out . . . he didn't specify where but the did say that life would be better anywhere than it is here. He talked about his friends who have finished their education but can't find jobs and about how he hopes to go to America for graduate school and then we wants to work on Wall Street. He said he didn't care how long it took, or how hard he had to work, but he would find a way out.

This morning I was at the school to pay my registration fee (BTW I placed in level 3 Arabic, yay!) and I met with another volunteer Mohammed, who said very similar things about just wanting to leave the West Bank but that it is too difficult to find a way out . . .

On a different note, I learned from our program director that Israel has refused to give Birzeit University permission to set up wireless internet connections because, "it could be used for terrorist activities." What total nonsense.

All for now, but certainly more soon.


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