My Journey Back to Palestine
“The smile is the beginning of love.” Some of my favorite words spoken by Mother Teresa, a human I deeply admire.
Love can be a big scary word, especially for a young shy introvert whose favorite thing to do is sit in a coffee shop, alone, looking completely unapproachable listening to music, completely engulfed in writing my thoughts or reading someone else's.
Regardless of my natural draw to solitude, I love people and something as simple as a smile from the soul captivates my heart more than any amount of small talk from the most charismatic of people. It’s so simple, yet so powerful in the way of Love and kindness. This past summer my husband and I traveled from Jordan to Palestine, basically winging our entire adventure. One of the most beautiful things we experienced repeatedly on our journey, was the deep loving comfort initiated by a simple smile from a stranger.
If you have ever made this trek, you understand the intensity. Two crazy near-death cab rides through the twisting roads of Jordan, an hour or two long bus trip (just crossing the easily-walkable short bridge into the West Bank), multiple Israeli check points filled with teenagers whose index finger constantly caressed the trigger of their AK-47, and a long line in the blistering heat of the Middle East, we arrived at Israeli customs to get our visas to get into the West Bank. After some bad coffee and a few hours of waiting, due to some natural questioning of my husband’s Iraqi visas in his passport, we were finally granted access to the land where my hearts greatest adventure had begun five years prior.
Stepping outside the building into basically the middle of nowhere, we were greeted by eager Israeli taxi drivers who informed us that we could get a taxi to Jerusalem for the low low price of “$150 American dollars.” The drive is like half an hour, so $150 is insane (and I had no desire to waste money getting ripped off that could be used for something more practical, like kanafeh ;)). Noticing a variety of large buses, we naturally asked if there was a bus we could take and to our dismay, the Israeli men told us there were no buses that would be available for us. As my brain went into problem-solving mode, I looked around and quickly spotted a bus ticket booth with strictly Arabic writing. Destinations including, Jericho, Bethlehem (Our final destination), Jerusalem, Ramallah, etc… After years of studying Arabic in college, thank God I at least picked up on how to read the language, even if I can barely speak it!
So we thanked the men and informed them we were going to check out the Palestinian buses. And then we heard…
“You can’t take THOSE BUSES, it is VERY DANGEROUS! You don’t know what it is like there!” The main taxi driver exclaimed rather dramatically.
To which my husband responded sharply, “I know exactly what it is like there.”
We have both spent time in Palestine and hold a deep love for the people and country and the man’s attempt at invoking false-fear caused an ache of deep frustration in both of us. So, we headed to get our bus tickets… for the equivalent of $15 usd to Jericho and then another $10 usd for a taxi from Jericho to our final destination, Aida Refugee Camp in Bethlehem!
We boarded the half-full bus and every eye shot up at us, and honestly, it took me off guard. I thought, “Are we that rare of a presence on the Palestinian bus route? Are typical Westerners really so irrationally scared they are fine with being drastically ripped off taking a cab?”
We smiled and took a seat. A man in front of us dropped his cigarettes, as my husband quickly picked them up for the man, he smiled and a conversation sparked. “Welcome to Palestine!” The man who was headed home to Hebron said after he asked where we were from. Quickly, another young couple smiled introducing themselves and also welcomed us, even offering to share their cab with us when we got to the bus station. Honestly, walking onto the bus was a bit intimidating for a minute. However, the warm smiles that welcomed us quickly turned any feelings of intimidation to comfort.
When we arrived at the crowded bus station in Jericho we went through Palestinian customs, again the only non-Arabs in the vicinity. As we walked into a place in the West Bank that our society tells us we should fear, we were welcomed with grand smiles and kindness all around. Imagine that! One of the officers (who had seriously awesome hair) jumped up and left his post, insisting on helping us find a good cab and getting our luggage situated.
As we sat amongst a couple hundred people, all of us waiting for our ride, I thought, “I am “supposed” to be afraid to be here. I am “supposed” to fear these people who are fully embracing me with a genuine smile and kindness, going out of their way to welcome and help me in a way that I have never experienced domestically.” We are such a self-comfort seeking nation that we so easily dehumanize an entire region based on irrational fear invoking rumors, when the reality is, we could learn a lot from the vast kindness found in places like Palestine.
How often do we stereotype and fear one another, even at home? What if we embraced Love instead of fear? No one we encountered on our trek had to show us kindness. The fact that we come from a country that strongly supports their oppressors gives them every right to do the contrary. However, our Palestinian neighbors chose to smile, they chose to show us Love.
Love can be sparked by something as simple as a smile from the heart. A bold, underrated action that even the most introverted of us can do with ease. Seriously, try it. Smile at someone who society teaches you to fear. Do it enough and something will change inside your own heart. It is crazy how any step towards Love, no matter how minor it may seem, can lead to breaking apart walls of fear. Walls that appear to stand strong, walls that may even seem necessary, torn apart by even the most simplistic act of Love.