Justine's white person travel blog.
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I love it when my cab driver can’t find my school building…
And my directions literally translate to “after Yasser Arafat,” and he knows exactly where I need to go.
Successes of the day
1. I changed money at what I had thought was a Western Union prior to walking through the door but turned out to be not a Western Union. No one requested my passport/ID and no receipt was provided, but my money was successfully exchanged!
2. My students didn’t seem as bored as usual today. They’re still cycling in and out of class due to their exams so our numbers were low, but everything seemed to go well. And my 7/8 class seemed to really like the song I chose for them, so I feel validated as a person with decent taste in music!
3. I found what may be the only postcards sold in this city! They’re all pictures of Jerusalem and they look like they may date back to the ‘70s, but I found them in a print shop in Nablus and I am excited about it. So for those of you who would like to receive postcards, please direct yourself to the ‘Leave your address if you want a postcard!’ link at the top of the page!
I should probably write something real or else my blog will be overrun by cats
Despite not having a central topic I wanted to blog about, I feel as though a text post is necessary in order to balance out the aforementioned cat photos. Here are some disjointed thoughts:
I began teaching last week! There was a last minute site switch, but for the duration of the semester I’ll be teaching in the New Askar Refugee Camp. I have three groups of female students: the 3rd/4th grade students, 5th/6th and 7th/8th. The first week was a bit chaotic, the younger girls in particular, but once things calm down a bit I expect that they’ll perform well. Once I become more acclimated to my work digs I’ll post about teaching in the camp in more detail.
As with some of my previous travels, I have been struggling a bit with public transportation in Nablus. The main form of public transportation are shared taxis called servees. They run along a fixed route and they let you off wherever you ask them to. And this is the problem. Unlike Rwanda where you can bang on the window of your bus to disembark, you have to somehow verbally indicate to the servees driver that you would like to get out. And I keep forgetting the phrase you’re supposed to use to do so. It’s a work in progress.
The other area where I’ve really struggled has been hummus buying. I actually bought Del Monte hummus in a can during my first week here because I’m such an introverted grocery shopper that I didn’t want to ask someone in the market to point me in the way of good hummus. I’ve graduated to Israeli hummus in a plastic container from the corner store, but I’ve already picked out the place in the market where I plan to buy actual locally made hummus next.
While I’ve been dabbling in suboptimal hummus choices, it luckily seems that you can’t go wrong with falafel. The only time I’ve not been thrilled with a falafel there was a problematic corn salad that rubbed me the wrong way rather than the falafel itself. While I’m a big fan of all the pickled fillings that are available from many falafel places, I had one the other day with Indian onion relish that was just lovely. I recently had a conversation with a Palestinian volunteer at the center where I teach and my veganism came up and he was horrified. When he asked what I eat I told him that I eat falafel and hummus and he seemed so sad. I have no idea why.
What to do with your mother when she freaks out about your travel plans
Maybe this isn’t a problem that other people have, but being the only child of a neurotic mother means that I am often required to justify travel plans to calm the hysteria. When I first express a desire/plan to go somewhere the initial response tends to be something along the lines of:
Mother: You CANNOT go to Rwanda/Taiwan/Palestine/Cameroon/wherever because you will be kidnapped/tortured/raped/sold into sex slavery/murdered/assassinated by the US government and you won’t come back alive.
I haven’t made it to Cameroon yet, but I’ve thus far gone to every other place on that list (and a few more) and made it out unscathed.* And thus, I would like to present to you this entry on how to handle your mother’s resistance to your travel plans.
[It should be noted that I have had a certain degree of financial independence from my mother since about 18-19 that most people I know haven’t had, and thus funding for my travels/life has not been a concern of mine when informing my mother of my travel plans.]
Stage One: Blind Panic
“Justine, if you go to Africa, I’m just not convinced that you will come back alive.”
That is a direct quote from my mother in response to my announcement that I intended to go to Rwanda. Her responses to my subsequent travel plans have all been pretty similar. There’s no real rationale for why I’m going to meet my death upon reaching my destination, but I’m definitely going to get killed. Rather than arguing at this point, I attempt to disengage, i.e. calmly end the phone conversation, leave the room.
Stage Two: Focused Panic
By this time, my mother has a list of all the ways in which I’m going to die. My personal favorite response is “if people were dying right and left, the program/organization (although I always use to word program because that seems to go over better) wouldn’t be running.”
For some reason, this line of reasoning never seems to work, because I will absolutely be the exception because I will die.
This is the time when I explain all of the extensive safety measures taken by the program to ensure that I do not die. Sometimes this helps to appease, sometimes it prompts more questions about insurance or security features that do not exist - this conversation can ultimately help to quell the fear or it can lead to a screaming match.
Stage Three: Outside Input
Somehow my mother always manages to find a person who has some experience with the country/region that I’m going to, and for whatever reason their thoughts on the matter carry more weight than mine do. Because other people are reasonable, they explain how safe and hospitable country X actually is, at which point my mother begrudgingly lets up on her extreme opposition to my plans.
It can take anywhere from hours to months to go from Stage One to Stage Three, depending on personal connections, timeframes and circumstance. Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.
Stage Four: Reluctant Acceptance
My mind has been made up. My mother is no longer absolutely certain that I am going to die, but she would still prefer for me to stay home. She reminds me that I don’t have to go, and that I can stay and do XYZ in Troy. The resistance at this point is relatively minor: everyone knows that I’m going, but if I show even the smallest sign of cold feet she will pounce on the perceived opportunity to convince me to stay.
Persevere. Board the plane.
*To be fair I’ve only been in Palestine for a week now, and despite how safe Nablus feels I suppose I could still die before going home. But it does seem unlikely.