Last year was the first time I was back in Palestine since I was 3 years old. It was an overwhelming, exciting, and extremely emotional experience for me. My trip consisted of lots of homemade meals, wedding festivities, and lots of unfamiliar family showering me with love despite either never meeting me or not having seen me in over 20 years. I met over 100 members of my family and if you thought that was all of them…sorry when I say-you thought wrong.
Last year’s trip was non-stop exploration. As my family resides in different cities throughout the country, I had the opportunity to do everything from eating freshly caught seafood on the beaches of Yaffa (Jaffa) to exploring the tranquil city of Bethlehem and praying alongside my mother in the blessed city Jerusalem. So many different people to observe, dialects to hear, fragrances to smell, and food to photograph (and devour). It was sensory overload and although it felt like my 3-week stay flew by, I loved every bit of it.
This year’s visit though didn’t go exactly the same. Tensions and violence in major cities began to rise around the time I arrived. My family reassured me things would calm down, but matters worsened and many of the beautiful cities I was so eager to visit were closed to visitors. But this trip actually still turned out to be something so positive for me.
Since traveling became difficult, I spent most of my time in the city of Ramallah and the neighborhoods surrounding it. At first I was afraid I’d grow bored, but I had the opportunity to explore the city more, learn to navigate the farmer’s market with my uncle, and spend more time reflecting on how far my parents have come. Traveling with my mother and visiting all the areas she knew as a young woman triggered her to share so many stories with me I’ve never heard before. One day I was walking with my uncle through the city and a long time family friend stopped to say hello. He didn’t recognize me, but could see that I resembled my mother. He told me how great of a man my grandfather was and to make sure to say hello to my mother. As simple as those interactions were, it was a small peak into how close and loving a community can be, how the way you treat others is remembered through generations. At first I was staying with people that I barely knew in a place that felt so far away for so long, but that slowly shifted to staying with family in a home away from home.
Something I try to take away from any of my travels is seeing life through a new lens. Not every trip is meant to be a vacation lounging on a beach sipping a piña colada. Some are meant to be a learning experience, a challenge to yourself, an inspiration. This trip was all of that for me and looking back now I’m pretty happy with that.
Here is a short video documenting my time in Ramallah. I’ll be sharing photos in a future post!