Bethlehem

I lie in bed and stare at the back of my eyelids waiting to regain muscle control. An obfuscated reality waits patiently in the distance as a lucid yet unremembered dream slowly dissipates. I’ve been in this situation before, I’m ashamed to say how often: I don’t know where I am. I consciously heighten my senses, searching for clues. I listen attentively to a muffled hum through the wall, I notice it’s the pattern of a language I hope I’ll soon recognize. It’s Arabic, spoken loudly by someone over fifty on the phone; this volume is clearly identifiable in any language. Where am I that would speak Arabic? My eyes are ready to open. I see a mirror, a desk, my jeans, and my wallet. The mirror reflects natural light, so there must be a window behind me, if only I could convince my body it’s worth moving to see.

There is a woman sleeping in a twin bed under the window across the room. It’s my friend Casey, we met in Israel and have been traveling together for a few weeks. Where are we now? My eyes adjust as buildings on either side of the window slowly come into focus. I then see a range of sloping hills, littered with hundreds of olive trees and the stone ruins what would appear to be farmland a few hundred years old and abandoned. The land leads up to the foot of a large hill in the distance, littered with large white blocks, an incongruous intrusion. These structures seem to protrude proudly from the earth as if held up by strings attached to wax wings in the sky, oblivious to the contours and colors around them. I recognize the hubristic placement, an earmark of the many settlements in the West Bank.

I remember the night before, meeting an activist who is married to a well-known Palestinian author. This is there home. We had a long dinner the night before, stayed at the table for hours discussing the history of the region. We ate olives and olive oil fresh pressed and picked from the trees in their backyard. We had many cups of tea (6-7 daily on average) and went to bed late knowing we had to start early. It is 8am, and we leave the house at 9. We wake slowly and walk into the living room. We are greeted by a large breakfast and fresh juice from the various citrus trees on the property. Shortly thereafter we are standing in the street saying our thankyous and goodbyes. We set off down the road and begin our first day in Palestine, with no idea what will come.