"All men dream, but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds, wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act on their dreams with open eyes, to make them possible." ~ T. E. Lawrence
One of things I enjoyed about the trip was that we got to see so many of the historical and tourist sites but we also got to be immersed in the culture, meet the people, and see how they really live. People who come as Holy Land tourists don’t get that experience and I feel that they’ve lost out because of it. The culture is so rich – beyond the extensive history, beyond the great food, beyond the holy sites. One of my favorite things was staying with one of the ladies on my team in Bethlehem for two nights with a Palestinian woman.
Teresa has lived in Bethlehem all of her life. She was the consummate hostess, greeting us tentatively with the little English she could speak and I used my broken Arabic to fill in the gaps. She seemed so excited to have us come to her home and kept graciously warning us of how small her house was. We followed her through the city streets in the deepening darkness until we reached her flat – a home that has belonged to her family for 5 generations.
Her sister, Georgette, greeted us at the door. Georgette’s mastery of English allowed us to all communicate more easily. Georgette is trained as a nurse but didn’t have any work available at the time. She has never married and never had children. She told us how Teresa became a widow 5 years ago and lost her oldest son in a car accident not long after. Teresa works for the school system as an aid for school bus drivers. Her remaining son and daughter are grown and married with families of their own so she lives alone now.
Both of these women were so lovely, wonderful to spend time with, and treated us like we were members of their own family. We showed each other photos of our loved ones, our homes. We laughed often and became friends in an instant. We spoke frankly and honestly about the conflict going on within their country and learned how the building of the Separation Wall by the Israelis to wall off the Palestinians from the rest of Israel had harmed their economy, degraded their health care, and hurt their families.
Teresa’s husband had owned a restaurant years ago. He worked at it every day until the Separation Wall was built. The wall was constructed right around his restaurant and forced him to undergo a security inspection at the checkpoint just to go to his business each day. Because his Palestinian compatriots couldn’t easily go to his restaurant any more his business started to fail. The strain and despair of this led to depression and he passed away shortly after.
Heartbreaking as it is, it’s a common enough story in the region. Because a few extremists hailing from Palestinian heritage would go out and bomb Israelis, a wall was built to keep them all together in one area. It gave me a better understanding of the conflict in the Middle East to stay with these women and learn from them. It is a situation where no one wins. One side wishing to protect it’s people, the other side largely peaceable but suffering because they’re now separated from the world at large.
This isn’t the kind of story we see in our western media, but it’s the real story. It goes beyond the bombings to see the heart of people who wish and hope for reconciliation with their neighbors, who want only to be free to live where they want, free to work for a livable wage, and to be treated as equals.
What I loved about these women was the joy and hope they had despite their circumstances. They continued to pray for peace between Palestinians and Jews. They hoped that one day all people could live together peaceably. And they gave me hope for that too.
My sweet “Mama Teresa” remains on my heart and in my prayers. I cherish the time we got to spend with her – laughing over her fantastic meals (she’s a great cook!) and chatting in the mornings on her patio over a cup of Arabic coffee.