Friday, February 22

Transjordan, Day Eight: Jummah and Ramallah

Friday and today was all about Jummah prayer. Our Friday prayer was especially important today - the may have been the only time ever in our lives that we'd get to perform it at Al-Aqsa so it was a big deal. We thought that we'd have a tough time getting in, and that was certainly the case a few years back when you'd have trouble getting in if you were under the age of forty. It's pretty easy now though, ever since they stopped letting residents of the West Bank in at all. An ironic and unfortunate benefit for us.

Between Jummah and Asr (afternoon) prayer we took the opportunity to wander around the old city again. Our main purpose was to visit someone we had been told to see about distributing the charity money we had each been entrusted with by friends and family from back home. He told us of his work and about an orphanage being built in Jericho; the whole thing seemed genuine enough and we figured we'd visit the place tomorrow if we had time.

Asr marked our fifth prayer in a row at the holy mosque. Apparently this is a good thing to have accomplished and we were quite lucky to have completed it considering our busy schedule.

Once that had been done with, we still had the rest of the afternoon left in which to do something - and since the weekend was booked with tours and things it seemed like the perfect time in which to pay a friend of mine a visit in Ramallah. We got there the old fashioned way: by figuring out which bus to take and getting there on our own. It was fun not having a driver taking us to where we wanted for once. We met up with my former Arabic teacher pretty easily.

In Arafat's old neighbourhood and the Palastinian Authority's capital we were treated to a brief political tour of the Presidential Compound, the place where Arafat was holed up for a while (and was eventually buried). After that, we relaxed with some Sahlab (a kind of sweet milky drink exclusive to Ramallah) and dinner where my friend and I managed a long and overdue catching up.

As I've previously said, it's always valuable to have the insight of a native while you're travelling; however it was also simultaneously good to see my friend in her home town. She told us more about the life of an everyday Palestinian - how each and every one of them are under some form of control and repression. There's no free movement here for these guys; they can't even leave their own towns without prior permission.

Even for a bystander like me it's very frustrating to see it all happen live and in front of you and as cliched as it sounds you don't really get the same impression while watching it on the television. As my friend put it, this and the control of supplies and basic amenities was seen as a type of "administrative genocide", a term that unfortunately fits a bit too well.

Since it was late, we had to take a cab back to the checkpoint instead of a bus directly to Jerusalem. This meant that we had to cross the checkpoint by foot which was quite the experience in itself. We got through pretty easily, just flashing our passports at what looked like mere children having a laugh manning the place, only to see a Palestinian male being turned away as we carried on with our journey.

After getting off the bus early we managed to lose our way to the hotel. The power cutting out while we were figuring out where we were didn't really help either.