My Four Day Journal

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I stayed with my father's aunt in Jerusalem in Palestine for 4 days over the summer. This is my story.
Sorry there are some misspellings... but...

Submitted: November 19, 2007

A A A | A A A

Submitted: November 19, 2007




THE WEATHER WAS NICE when we woke up at 6 in the morning. Mohammed, my grandfather’s driver, was at our house with a car to take us to the valley of Jordan.
The bus station was about an hour away, so we packed what we needed and a little bit more, and hopped into the car with empty stomachs.
Our dull golden Volvo banged and jumped along the bumps in the road as Mohammed drove further and further downhill. My ears were popping every five minutes and chewing gum refused to give me a hand.
We saw the hills and mountains as we glided down the dusty highway, looking like the Grand Canyon. The weather began to warm up dramatically as we zoomed down the road.

We finally reached the bottom of the hill, and drove straight for a couple more kilometers, and then we stopped at a large gate. There were two doors to the gate, each with photographs of the king sitting above. We headed through the first door, and were stopped by security soldiers as we passed by.
They asked for our passports. We handed them across to the soldier dressed in blue. His machine gun hung at his side, its barrel staring at us threateningly.
He let us pass.
We drove through, only to be stopped again by the traffic. I asked what was taking us so long to pass through. The reply was that the Israeli soldiers would only let a certain amount of people over the bridge at once, and so the Jordanians had to hold up the traffic in order for the Israelis to be satisfied.

After we had eventually made it through, a man ushered our car down a short slope, where after the car stopped, we got out and grabbed our luggage from the trunk of the car.
We dragged it by, and looked for the V.I.P. station. We could not find it. We asked, and a man told us the way. Mohammed had dropped us off in the wrong spot, but luckily, the V.I.P. station was not far away.

We walked a few yards and ended up at another gate, where soldiers checked our passports yet again. We were let through, and arrived at a large, empty building.
A man walked up to us.
“V.I.P.?” he asked with a tough Arabic accent.
We nodded, and he took us over to a smaller building that was crammed with people. I was amazed that such a small building wouldn’t just explode from the amount of people inside.
Another man came and talked to us.
“To Palestine?” he asked.
We nodded yet again, and he took our passports. We set down our bags and waited for him to exit the tiny, near-exploding building.
We waited. And waited. And he still did not come. But after about thirty minutes, he came out, and told us to follow him. We obeyed.
He took us into a tiny room which we could barely fit in, where a man in a policeman’s outfit sat. He stared at his computer, and then looked up and saw us. He smiled, and told us to come in.
We went inside.
He stared at his computer for a bit longer, and then picked up our passports from the corner of his desk. He scanned them upon a small machine with a clear top, and then looked at his screen. He called out our names.
“Seif?” I was first.
I stepped up in front of his desk, and he peeked at me from the corner of his eye, and then set my passport down.
“Arwa?” my mom was next. She waved her hand. He peeked at her, too.
“Omar?” my younger brother pushed himself between my father and sister, and stood on tiptoe for the man to see him.
My father was next, and then my older sister, last. We stepped out of the room, and then barely made our way out of the building to stand for another hour in the heat beside our bags.
We waited and waited, and still, the man who took our passports did not come. Finally, he did come out, and announce to us,
“Please wait just another fifteen minutes and we will help you.”
We waited fifteen minutes. Twenty. Thirty. Forty. Forty-five. And we saw the man come out and talk to another man. He pointed at us and then came up to us.
“We’re sorry,” he announced without much tone. “but the bus is still not here. If you want, you can wait another half hour for the bus, or squeeze into the small car over there…”
He pointed towards a black, hubcap-less Mazda. We didn’t want to wait. We had already had enough… we just wanted to get to Palestine.
We took the car.

We set our bags in the back, and my dad sat in the front, and when I opened the door and sat inside, I realized that the car was bigger than I thought it was, and my mother, brother, sister, and I fit in pretty comfortably into the back of the car.

After waiting for a few minutes, a white haired man hopped quickly into the driver’s seat. He bid us all welcome, and backed out of the lot. As soon as we were away from the station, the car leapt into action and shot down the highway. We flew past small dunes and large rocks, large dunes and small rocks. The driver seemed to think that this fast driving was normal.
We whizzed past dust and dirt and white marks on the road. And eventually, we reached the bridge.

The bridge was to go over the Jordan river, which was in between Jordan and Palestine. But there was no Jordan river to go over. It was rather dried up, and all of the water was being taken by the Jordanians and the Israelis for their fast developing cities.
The man got out and handed our passports to a Jordanian soldier, who seemed glad to see our driver. They talked and looked over our passports briefly, but then we were off, over the rest of the bridge.
But after only a thirty second drive, we stopped again. An Israeli woman wearing a bombproof vest stood inside a checkpoint box, and asked for our passports.
Yet again, they were handed over.
She checked them, and then handed them back, along with a green permission slip for the driver.
We were in Palestine.

The car leaped into action again, and we quickly zoomed beneath the mechanical arm. We stopped at the Israeli bus station, and we unloaded our bags and got off.

Another man arrived at our side. He was Arab, with dark skin and a noticeable moustache. He wore thin rimmed, round glasses, and a navy blue hat. Around his arms was an orange emergency jacket.
He took our bags away, and sent them to be checked through the x-ray machine. Then he came back and told us to give him our passports and wait.

A young looking Israeli lad came up to us and asked us what we were doing.
“Waiting for our passports,” my father answered.
The man stared at us stupidly, and walked away.

After about five minutes of glaring in the sunlight, an Israeli lady wearing black told us to follow her. We followed her, and she told us to get into the head of the line. We did, and went past security without a hassle.
Then, she told us to sit in the VIP room. I refused. Cigarette smoke filled the small, windowless room.
So, we sat just outside the room on metal chairs.

My stomach hurt. I ate a peach and took some Advil. I waited some more. And then, the same lady came and had us follow her again. We did.
We went to the head of the customs line. A rather pudgy Israeli lady sat in a chair. She had large eyes that you could see above her eyelids, and blonde hair, tied into a braid. She wore khaki shirt and green pants, with a green beret slid beneath her shoulder flap.
We waited for her to finish some paperwork. And when she did, she asked for our passports.
She looked at them, and then looked at us. And then, she began asking my father questions.
“What is your reason for being in Israel?”
My father said, “We are visiting my aunt, who lives in Jerusalem.”
“Where in Israel will you be visiting?”
She looked up. “Just Jerusalem?”
“That’s what we’re planning,” my father announced.
She typed and clicked on her computer, and peered at our passports every once in a while. She narrowed her eyes, and then all of the sudden, the door to her cubicle opened. A small, dark haired Jewish girl poked her head in the door.
“Just a minute,” the Israeli officer said, and she turned her chair to the girl in the doorway. They spoke in Hebrew for about two minutes, and then the girl left, and the officer turned back to us.
“You are in order,” she said, seeming rather sour.

We passed by, and the first girl in black came back again. We followed her, and she told us to sit down in metal chairs. We waited for about another two minutes, and then she came back.
We picked up our bags, and left the bus station, happy to be out.

We had to take another vehicle to our home in Jerusalem. Luckily, though, it was a bus, so we had more room.
We sat inside while the driver slung our bags unto the back of the bus, and we drove off.

Passing through the desert, we saw the reddish sand blow across the road and the few palm trees blow about steadily. About ten minutes into the trip, I saw a dust devil sweep across the sandy desert, looking like a tornado from far, far away.
The sun made the windows warm, but nice to lean up against, for the air conditioning made the van cold.

We entered the city of Jerusalem some thirty minutes later. Almost instantly, we saw the shining, 24 karat gold rooftop of the Dome of the Rock. Olive trees sat on hills. A few birds sailed through the blue sky. Freshly painted street-markings made the city look sharp and new.
The van pulled up a long, rocky driveway. Uphill it went, and then went through the gates that led to our Palestinian home.
Through the door of the veranda, I saw my father’s aunt stand up and walk quickly towards the nearing bus. I picked up my backpack and jogged through the small aisle to the door where my great aunt Lemia was waiting.

Amti Lemia is my father’s aunt. She lives alone in a small house, built by her father. She used to live with her sister, Alyia, whom we called Amti Alyia. She died in the garden one afternoon while admiring the flowers.
About 50 yards away from Amti Lemia’s house is a smaller house, which was built by my great grandfather, as a guest house, or a house for one of his children to live in. My Ami Nabil used to live there, but he died of lung cancer in 2006.

Amti Lemia loves all of her relatives— especially those who come to visit her.
We arrived in the taxi, which pulled into the gravel driveway in front of the house. I remembered the house quite well… there was no “having to get used to”. As soon as I stepped off of the bus, I appeared into Amti Lemia’s arms. She hugged me tightly and kissed me all over my face. I felt embarrassed: the taxi driver was watching.I grabbed my bag from the trunk of the taxi, and wheeled it inside the beautiful house.

My brother and I immediately chose our room… the one to the right of the doorway. The walls were painted in a dull yellow, and upon the walls are verses of Qur’an.
They were all set together. Above the large selection of pictures, there was a huge crack in our wall, resembling the San Andreas Fault. The beds were tiny: I was surprised to see that a twin sized bed would fit on such a small frame.
A large desk sat in the corner, clunking up the room, and an old, wooden cabinet made the room look small.

Amti Lemia welcomed us. She fed us and gave us drinks, and then, during to Arab traditions, we had coffee and took naps.

Upon the next morning, I noticed two cats sitting on the veranda windowsill. I looked at them. Were they strays? One of them was white with orange splotches all over its body, legs, and face, and the other was grey with stripes in a darker grey.
“The cats,” Amti Lemia announced in Arabic, “are strays. But I feed them and they stay around here.”
She turned to my father.
“This orange one, I thought looked like Mickey Mouse.”
I pushed down my eyebrows.
“So I named it Mickey. They grey one, I named Jerry.”
I looked out the window at the cats, and then I noticed: The orange cat had a huge cut upon its face. The cat’s fur was ripped out, and small cuts were visible on its pink skin. I showed my father.
“Probably got into a catfight,” he said.

I thought. I looked at the scar again. It was upon the cat’s face.
I had decided to nickname the cat “Scarface.”
And to me, Jerry seemed to plain for a buddy named “Scarface.”
Scarface and what?
How about Bugsy?
And there, at that very moment, Scarface and Bugsy were dubbed “Scarface” and “Bugsy”. I felt happy about my decision.

Bugsy was afraid of everyone. I believed that part of the reason why was that everybody jumped at him. I even sprayed him with the hose once. I don’t know why. We also had a small BMX 20 Bicycle. And both cats would not go near it. They would jump in the air when they saw it coming, and they would not eat if the bike was near their food dish.
And then, once night, we saw Bugsy attacking Scarface.
The meowing and the hissing and the scratching made me get out of bed one night, and look out the window. There, I saw Bugsy scratching at Scarface’s face.
That’s why he had the scar —or so I thought.
They fought and scratched and hissed, and I chased and shouted and threw stones at Bugsy, who was attacking my favourite cat, Scarface.

And Bugsy never attacked Scarface again.

And one night, I lay in bed and heard a hissing. It was two cats, though, not just one.
Bugsy’s at it again, I thought.
I got out of bed, and then I saw him.
The Jaguar.
It wasn’t really a Jaguar, just a huge, black cat with sparkling green eyes and claws that could cut steel. The inside of its mouth was red like fire, and its teeth looked like knives sitting up for roll call.
The Jaguar paced around the small aloe vera bushes beside the stone driveway. I hopped out of the door, but only made a quick movement with my hand, for I was rather afraid of this huge cat. For the first split second, I was petrified. But I made my move and scared it away… But that wasn’t the end of the Jaguar.

Every morning, I usually woke up third. Amti Lemia was first. She woke up and prepared us breakfast on a tray that she kept until everyone was awake. Second was my father, who had his morning coffee and helped Amti Lemia with her early morning chores (unlocking the front door, uncovering the lovebird’s cage, and helping with breakfast), and I was third.
But on a majority of mornings, by the time I woke up, my father was either back in his room, or getting ready for the day.
So it was just me and Amti Lemia for about five or ten minutes every morning.
If she wasn’t already done fixing breakfast, I helped her. But what I enjoyed most about the mornings on those four days were two things: Ca’ak and my Morning Cappuccino.
Every morning, Amti Lemia asked me if I wanted a cappuccino. The first day, I answered yes, but not exactly knowing what was going on. She used an Italian Cappuccino mix with one spoon of sugar, and two spoonfuls of Coffee Mate. Then, she added hot water and mixed it. It tasted heavenly.
And every morning, just before breakfast, I had my new Morning Cappuccino.

For breakfast, after everyone was awake and hungry, Amti Lemia brought out a large tray. It was silver and rather dull, but on it was breakfast, and we didn’t really care what the tray looked like.
We usually had labana, which was almost like a cream cheese made from yoghurt, drowned in olive oil, and hummus, which is chickpeas, ground into an almost glue-textured paste, and salty cheese and aged gouda cheese.
But my favourite part was the Ca’ak. Ca’ak is an oval-shaped ring of bread with sesame seeds scattered atop. It rips apart easily, but has a great flavour to it. Ca’ak is good with almost anything; from labana and hummus, to turkey sandwiches stuffed to the brim.

The breakfast lasted about an hour, and before every breakfast, Amti Lemia would walk down the rock driveway to get the paper from the barbed-wire-covered fence. And everyone would take a look at the paper, and then have a ten minute discussion about their favourite article. It was a great, fun, interesting breakfast every morning.

After our great breakfast one morning, we were told that we were going down to the Old City to look around. Amti Lemia came with us, and we got ready and left.
Amti Lemia has no car, and we didn’t rent one, either, so we walked almost everywhere.
We headed out of the black gates and down the rock walkway, and headed towards the nicely paved streets. The traffic lights looked like they were turned off in the sunlight, and we had to be cautious about crossing the street.
It took about 20 minutes to get to the Old City, and on the way, Amti Lemia showed us where everything is, and where everything used to be. We saw the local Eye Hospital, where my great-grandfather, great grandmother, grandfather, grandmother, great aunts, great uncles, my uncle Jamil, uncle Tariq, and my father, hid during the war in Jerusalem during 1967.

The Old City walls were visible where we stopped on a dirty, crowded street that went by the name of Salah E’dean street. The stores that lined the paper-strewn road were jam-packed with people. The sidewalks were thin, and the streets were full of parked and speeding cars.
We looked at several bookstores, but found not much, except a few books and magazines.
On one occasion, we walked down the sidewalk, passing fruit shops, meat shops (which are disgusting), book shops, toy shops, and many more shops, when a man bearing a mullet jogged down the short slope and pushed violently between us. He continued to run, but looked back at us, and shouted, “I’m in a hurry!”
Amti Lemia tapped her temple, and put three fingers to her lips and jutted them out, in the meaning of “he has no brain”.

The weather was beautiful, but the feeling in our legs was not. We decided to take a taxi home.
And when we got there, an appetizing rest was waiting for us.

The next evening, after my parents had gotten back from a meeting, Amti Lemia asked if I wanted to go to the market with her. The market was just a small shop, a short bus ride away.
I agreed

The bus was rather full when we hopped on, and absolutely full of Palestinians. They were all dark skinned with dark, almond eyes and black haired. I felt a bit self conscious about them thinking I was an Israeli; for I had lighter skin.

Amti Lemia sat up front, and I sat in the back of the bus. There were no two seats together. I sat in between two lads, about the age of 16 or 17. They scooted over, and looked out the windows.
On our way to the market, I noticed a thick smoke polluting the air. One of the boys, the one to my left, muttered. “Tsk, tsk,”
I craned my neck to see what was wrong. And then I noticed everyone in the bus was looking to the left.
And then I saw it.

A small, red car, I couldn’t tell what brand, sat in the street, burning like a trash fire. The flames had already engulfed the engine, and were heading down towards the interior of the nice car.
“They’re from the Gulf,” someone said out loud.
“Tsk, tsk,” more people shook their heads. And as we passed further down, we saw a whole line of gasoline running downhill from the red car that was burning.
Israeli police, fire trucks, and ambulances surrounded the scene, blocking the traffic, and actually, not doing much.

After about two minutes, we reached the market, a small shop that sat back from the rest of the shops that lay beside it.
We walked in.
Two men stood chattering at the cash register. Amti Lemia asked where she could find flour. They pointed at the last aisle.
We went and got a blue and white bag of Israeli flour. We set it down on the counter.
“Where can I find halawa?” Amti Lemia asked.
Halawa, know as halava, is a sweet made from sugar and tahini. It comes solid or in strings, known in Arabic as sha’ar, or “hair”.
The man pointed her down yet another aisle, where he pulled solid tahini.
“No,” Amti Lemia said. “Sha’ar.”
He pulled out the stringy halawa.
“That’s it.”
She handed it to me, and I took it over to the cash register.
She bought us some Israeli Danimals juices, which were very good, indeed, and some diet Sprite. We paid and packed the food into huge plastic bags, and then caught another bus home.

My father decided to take us down to the actual Old City, within the walls built by Salah E’dean. Amti Lemia didn’t want to go, so we left at about nine.
We had been within the walls before, just not in a long time. We walked down the streets of Jerusalem, finally reaching the first gate of the rock walls.
The entrance was rather empty when we walked in. Not as I remembered it, full of people, beggars, soldiers, police…

But we passed through, and walked down about a hundred yards.
We were planning to go into the Dome of the Rock and the Masjid Al Aqsa, and women needed their hair covered. We stopped at a clothing store, and bought my sister a green scarf to cover her hair with.

We continued our walk, and passed through many original streets and doors. Few shops were open; they all open at about 10.
We passed people and more shops, and a young boy, I would say about eleven, rammed into me with his large cart of bread.

We finally reached a cleaner part of the Old City— it didn’t smell like meat and grease —and we saw more open stores, mostly Christian-owned.
Decorated Crosses, busts of the Virgin Mary, and paintings of biblical scenes were for sale. We passed the stores, and entered the Christian Holy Site of Jerusalem, The Church of the Holy Sepulture.

It didn’t seem as majestic and large as it used to seem, and that may have been for the reason that there were beams and plastic covering the largest tower, for the top tower was closed for repair.
But, we entered.
Deep voices penetrated the thick, rock walls, as we entered and saw the stone upon where Jesus Christ was washed. It looked clean. It did not look old at all. Four decorative bells hung above the stone, watching over it.
We didn’t look at it for long. We walked up the thin, spiraling staircase, towards the site where Jesus was supposedly crucified by the Romans. We had entered at quite a busy time: service.
Many people were praying and lighting candles. Below the Weeping Statue of Mary, lay a woman, bent over on her knees, kissing the base of the statue.
The deep, continuous voices of the choir hummed through the building. And suddenly, we saw an Israeli policeman charge into the Church. He pushed people aside, and we went down the stairs to see what the matter was.

A repetitive thumping sound got closer and closer as we stood back below the stairs and watched. Suddenly, two men walked into the building banging sticks on the ground. It was an unusual sight. The two sticks hit the floor in unison, and about five or six men in black robes with pointed hats entered, followed by a few other men.
One of the men in black bent over and kissed the marble stone of Jesus three times, and then stood up, and followed the stick-men, who marched over to the choir of droning voices.

An unusual sight. We left.

We marched down a thin, clean road. Stores lined the paved street. No cars rolled by as we stopped at a small shop, owned by a man with a moustache. His son sat on a chair outside beside him.
We asked if they had a skirt, and we saw one. My mother and sister loved it. It was purple and silver, handmade in India. I liked it, myself.
My mother bought it for my sister, and we went down to look for the mosques.

The rock floors were greasy and grimy and dirty, and rather slippery as we walked over them, foot after foot. We passed a shawerma shop, which is a shop where you can buy meat and veggies rolled up inside a piece of flat bread, and countless closed shops.
After we exited a tunnel-like part of the Old City, we entered the Jewish Quarters.
Many Jewish children with small hats upon their heads ran around the clean, new settlement. We entered. I felt awkward.
From the Jewish Quarters, we could see The Dome of the Rock. Its gold top shimmered in the sunlight, and its blue walls stood out radiantly.
We took pictures from the Jewish Quarters, and then found our way to the Haram, where the Dome of the Rock and the Masjid Al- Aqsa stand.

After pushing our way through crowds of Muslims, we reached the gates that let us in to the Haram, the square of land that carries the two holy Mosques. An Israeli policeman approached us.
“Hello, Muslims?” he asked.
“Yes,” we answered.
My mother handed the bearded man our passports.
“Okay… er… will someone recite Sourat El Fatiha (the first prayer in the Qur’an)?”
My father began, stumbling most of the way. My mother mouthed it to herself, while wearing a white scarf atop her head.
After a few lines, the man let us in the green gates, and we entered.

We went to the Masjid Al-Aqsa first. In Muslim religion, Al-Aqsa is one of the holiest places in the entire world, standing beside the Ka’aba, and the Dome of the Rock.
The small mosque sat below the glistening gold of the Dome of the Rock. We removed our shoes and entered the holy mosque.
It was beautiful.
The red carpet dominated the floor, beneath a blue tiled ceiling. Marble pillars sat straight up from the red carpet to the blue floor. Few people were scattered about the floor, praying.
My brother and I prayed inside, and sat for a few minutes and admired the mosque. We saw two birds fly beneath the tiled ceiling and land across from the door.

We then left.

Standing and watching the Dome of the Rock was great, but not as great as going inside. But sadly, the Dome of the Rock was closed.
Luckily, I had been inside before our 2007 visit.
We sat in the shade of the blue and gold mosque, talking about what to do next. Each of us shot some flash photography, and then we left the Haram, and went back to the house, where Amti Lemia was waiting.

My legs were absolutely failing by the time we got back to the house. We cooled ourselves off with some drinks, and then lay down to rest.
Time flew by instantly, and it was almost time to get to bed. I changed into my Egyptian-fabric pajamas, and brushed my teeth with my blue Crest toothbrush. I fit in my retainer, and then I heard it.
The Jaguar had returned.

I darted from the end of the hallway to the door, where I unlocked the door with the key. I flew outside, and grabbed an extendable squeegee.
The Jaguar sat in its usual location, looking hungrily at Scarface. The Jaguar’s son sat at his feet, its jet black fir melting in with the darkness. And when the Jaguar saw me, he and his son leaped into action and fired away, but not before I hit the Jaguar’s back leg with the end of the squeegee. He skidded around, but then turned and followed his son out of the black gates, and back to their home.

I put down the green squeegee and went and lay down.
After an exhausting day, I fell right to sleep.

And the next day was our last day. We were woken by our father at 6:00 AM, and we took showers and sat sleepily on the veranda. I sipped my morning Cappuccino, and watched for the large, white taxi-bus that would take us back to the bus station.
We ate breakfast, our usual cherry tomatoes, cheeses, hummus, halawa, and Ca’ak; and then the bus arrived.
Each one of us took turns kissing Amti Lemia goodbye. It was sad to leave someone who is already lonely. Plus, I was just getting really used to the place.
The taxi driver pulled our bags into the back of the taxi, and we lumbered on, sad to leave. Amti Lemia waved at the bus as it pulled back, and I could see her sadly shutting and locking the black gates that sat in front of the rock driveway. Our BMX 20 was already sitting in the storeroom, waiting for us to come back another year.

We hopped off of the taxi and unloaded our bags, which were then put in a larger bus. We stepped onto the big blue bus, and then waited a few minutes for it to leave.
It only took about 10 minutes to get back to the station in Amman. But when we got there, we loaded our bags into another, smaller taxi.
My dad sat in the front, and when I opened the door and got inside, I realized the car was bigger than I thought it was, and my mother, brother, sister, and I fit pretty comfortably into the back of the car.

© Copyright 2018 Sebastian Wyngaarden. All rights reserved.

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