I had no idea what this place was going to be like. I went to Ramallah as part of a one day tour to the West Bank from Jerusalem. The tour was organised by the hostel, which was convenient. Since it was a tour, I expected to know about it via the tour guide.
At the hostel lobby
Immediately after coming back from Fajr prayer at Al Aqsa, I showered and prepared for the day’s events. I slept well the night before but my right feet was sore from too much walking in Jerusalem.
There was a big group waiting at the lobby. I went to the counter and said I was joining the West Bank Tour. The staff told me to check with the tour desk, which was just a few steps away. Walked over to the tour desk and was told to check my name with the tour guide (there were two people ticking names on sheets of paper).
I was quite confused with this process – apparently it was quite a small lobby (one of them could’ve just give me a shout and check my name). Felt like I was being pushed around and staff were not friendly.
Went over to one of the tour guides and asked if my name was on the list. It wasn’t. A few back and forth, I was told my booking was cancelled. Reason: their system messes up sometimes.
Couple of months prior, I emailed to make enquiries about the tour, stating that I’m a muslim and asked if there’s halal food, issues about wearing the hijab, my safety during the tours, etc. I’m not making accusations but I feel like they cancelled my tour on purpose. I definitely made no requests to cancel and in fact, I made full payment.
Asked if my trip to Hebron (scheduled the next day) was cancelled as well and it was! I hate this kinda mess up. To do all the research, planning and booking weren’t easy when you’re working AND studying. Finally I was allowed to go on the tour.
Boarding the coach
We stopped at another location (some posh hotel) to pick others. The hostel staff who accompanied us announced that he was leaving (Israelis cannot enter Palestinian territories and vice versa). We continued our way to the West Bank.
There were about 40 of us, mostly Caucasians. I was the only muslim.
We passed through a checkpoint. Soldiers, big vehicles and barbed wires. I saw the separation wall and my tummy tied a knot. I saw some young hijabis and Arab looking men at the parking lot of the checkpoint. Not too sure but I think they had to go through some sort of customs check. I began to wonder if I’d have to go through it too. I was waiting for the coach to stop but we went through smoothly. Felt so relieved.
Palestinian Tour Guide
We picked up our Palestinian guide, who happened to be a muslim. I was so happy! He introduced himself and I was immediately disappointed. “I’m a modern muslim, which means, I drink alcohol. We have our own Oktoberfest around here. I just got invited last night but I had to turn down to be able to wake up this morning for this tour,” he said, less than a minute into his speech.
I saw him glancing nervously at me and we locked eyes for a moment.
Cool but comfortable. Sunny but not hot. Probably because it was morning. Temperatures was between 7 to 21 degree Celsius.
Not much interaction with locals since we were in a tour group.
Some ladies on the streets smiled at me though. I thought maybe because I’m a muslim. But after some research, Ramallah is the “hub of Palestinian feminist activity; the city’s women frequently attend university rather than marry early, and several cafes run exclusively by women are used to fund local feminist organizations.” (Wikitravel)
I guess I got the attention because I’m a muslim AND a woman. How awesome!
The tour group was an amazing bunch. Didn’t feel any hatred from them – they readily smiled and talked to me. I expected them to be afraid of me.
Befriended a group of Peruvian women and one of them asked if I was a nun. She said she wasn’t being judgmental, just that “you dress different”. Told her I’m a muslim and a lot of us wear like this. She nodded but I don’t think she understood.
Didn’t eat anything because I already had breakfast. We went to a cafe first thing after we picked up the tour guide, Shishapresso Cafe. Ordered a hot chocolate to warm up my body.
The kid above was smitten with me. He liked touching me but his dad stopped him from bothering me. He was so cute!
Had no idea what “In” and “Out” meant. Probably “Dine-in” and “Takeout”. Prices are in Shekels.
We walked aimlessly around Ramallah, not sure what to see and expect. One of the Peruvian women asked and the tour guide said, “I want to show you Palestinian life.”
Palestinians live just like the rest of us. I guess the tour guide wanted to show us that there is no difference between us, despite the media depicting them otherwise.
Tomb of Yasser Arafat
I’ve heard his name but I had no idea what he had done. I was 16 when he died. Apparently I wasn’t very interested in history and politics. This visit made me read up about him.
So, Yasser Arafat was the Chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), President of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA), and leader of the Fatah political party and former paramilitary group, which he founded in 1959. HE IS A BIG DEAL.
If you look deeper, it might get a bit more interesting.
To me, the interesting part are their food culture and Yasser Arafat’s history – both of which I found out while writing this post. I also found out that “Palestinians seem to love fresh fruit-juice” and that there is an “Arabic variety of ice-cream in many places in Ramallah is worth trying”. (Wikitravel)
The tour guide didn’t show us what we might find interesting.
Should you wander to Ramallah? You can try, maybe you’ll find precious things I don’t.
- EAT Palestinian food!
- Hostel: $41.05/night
- Breakfast: Free, complimentary of hostel, buffet-style
- Tour price: $135, 12hrs duration including travel time, Ramallah-Jericho-Bethlehem
- Drink: $5 hot chocolate
- Snacks: Free, bananas, strawberries and other snacks given by tour guide (not stated in tour package)
*All prices are in SGD (estimate).