5:40am, Friday. One of the advantages of jetlag, Arabic coffee, and the 4am call to prayer that echos through the hills, is that you tend to be wide awake before dawn every day. Which is a real gift, especially here. The nights are warm (all windows open, just a sheet over you), and going up to the rooftoop while it's still dark in the morning has become a habit--watching the town shift from deep blue, to purple, to pink, to orange white. I'm sure someone will post pictures of it here. It's also surprisingly quiet for a town of 10,000: few cars (those you do hear are straining up the steep curvebacks in second gear); more roosters, birds, and some distant sheep and cows.
One of the most striking things so far is the unparalleled hospitality of the Palestinians we've met here. One of the staff members at MEEI, Aman (sp?), took us for a long walk the first night, also made sure we ate well (seconds, thirds, more coffee? cigarette? one doesn't say no), and is always available for a chat, a handshake, a smile and a laugh. Last night a group of us were walking the streets, stopped in a mom & pop store, and were greeted repeatedly by the proprietor: welcome to my village, welcome to my village. A few minutes later as we crested a hill, we happened to make eye contact with a family sitting in their carport. They beckoned us in, and we stayed for over an hour, being served pastries, introducing ourselves back & forth, meeting their kids (and hearing their daughter rehearse her English vocab)--and all in limited English and a few words of Arabic. Language isn't a strong enough barrier to shut the hospitality down.
Yesterday's highlights were (in addition to a long morning spent on the rooftop--but then mornings feel long when you're up at 4:00), visits to the old walled city of Akko (Acre, the old crusader capital, on the sea), where we walked through the harbor, a mosque, and the crusader citadel; and to Haifa (also on the sea), where we went up Mount Carmel with our friend George Shalibi (sp?), and heard from him how his family was ousted from their homes, visible down below, in 1948. A difficult tale. They'd sheltered on this mountain in a Carmelite church for several months, then returned to some of their land--though most of their neighbors were gone. These stories give you pause. The day ended with a few hours on the beach, where the surf was hard on the body and the 50-year olds with beer guts and thongs were hard on the eyes. Fortunately not too many of those to be seen. We ended the day sitting on the rooftop again, reflecting on all we'd seen.
Today...school is in session again, so we'll split the day between high school classrooms here in Ibillin, and a visit to Nazareth in the afternoon. The sun just rose as I wrote that sentence and flooded the screen with light; that's my cue to stop. (Jeff Boone)