Team Talk - Shirley: First 24hrs In Jerusalem
We’d finally made it. The Holy Land.
I come from a family where politics and religion are regularly debated, so to be standing in a place that had often been an academic talking point was surreal. Time seemed to move slowly, in a lethargic kind of way that mirrored the sticky afternoon heat. To be fair, this feeling was heavily influenced by a 48hr diet of plane food, epic sleep deprivation, dehydration, and of course we can’t forget the recent memory of Ash nearly being shot. However, for the purposes of romanticising the moment, let’s go with it being my astonishment at something that had only ever existed in books and korero around the dinner table.
It was total mayhem outside the terminal, people and luggage and shouting and pointing and cars and vans and more languages being spoken than I’d ever heard in one place before. “Hey Shirl, get us a ride eh?”, that was Paula. I looked more carefully and spotted what appeared to be an organized centre to the chaos and lurched in its direction. A large Arab guy was scribbling notes onto a small pad while yelling and gesturing, everyone seemed to be taking his instructions so I made my way over. A few minutes of broken English (mine, not his) a bit of pointing and finally a (literal) gentle push in the right direction and I found myself with a van and a driver that would take us into East Jerusalem.
It was about a 20min drive through the desert before we hit the edge of the city and I got to see the infamous wall for the first time. Imagine driving down the motorway with those concrete barriers that run down the middle so you don’t cross into oncoming traffic – except it’s 8m tall. Imposing, is one word.
We went through our first checkpoint not long after. It was manned by acne-ridden teenagers with automatic weapons (because giving guns and martial authority over a civilian population to angry, hormonal young people is a well thought out plan *thumbs up*) and after my mild disbelief at seeing it firsthand, we were delivered to the The Jerusalem Panorama Hotel. Checking in was sweet. We ditched our bags, bickered over who got the bed by the window, raced for the shower and then negotiated a ride to a local restaurant that Tamara and Paula knew would look after us.
We had grand plans. Dinner, wine, dessert, some work once we got back to the accommodation... ha! Once the adrenalin had run dry we were left barely able to finish our meals before calling our driver an hour earlier than arranged. We slept like the dead for a few hours, only to find ourselves awake at 4am - kia ora jet lag. The call to prayer kicked off about an hour later and we watched the sun rise over the Old City, I don’t have words to describe the sensation. I had a profound sense of simply being present and it wasn’t until 20min later I noticed the ‘flying’ checkpoint down on the corner about 100m from our hotel. More kids with guns arbitrarily checking ID’s. By “arbitrarily” I mean every Arab that walked past, and considering that we were in East Jerusalem (aka occupied Palestine) that was basically everyone.
Breakfast was demolished with much enthusiasm, Ash and Tamara got a taxi into the Old City to get supplies, Paula sat down to make some calls and I went for a wander around the neighbourhood.
There was a small market down on the corner and as I walked towards it I swear on everything I hold dear that I have never, not ever once, seen traffic chaos like that. Road rules appeared to be nothing more than a vague, distant target. It. Was. AWESOME!! Only a true Aucklander will understand my appreciation. After getting fleeced for some grapes and the biggest oranges I’ve ever seen, I headed back. We were going to Ramallah in the West Bank tomorrow and this Maori was already in need of a nana nap.