407-645-5933 ext. 236 marisa.west@shalomorlando.org

After checking in to our hotel in Ramallah (which is really, really nice – a 5-star place which I didn’t expect here), we met for a walk about the city.

The first thing I noticed was the traffic. There were a lot of cabs and traffic was brutal. There was a lot of new construction going on and it seemed like there was quite a growing economy. The closer we got to the center of town the worse the traffic got and the more people we encountered.

I had anticipated Ramallah to be more run down. Poorer. I’m not sure why other than my own biases, but it’s not what I saw or experienced. I did get the feeling over overcrowding as the streets and sidewalks were packed. There were shop after shop open with varying things for sale. Jewelry, appliances, food, etc. We saw doctors’ offices and law offices. Other than the language being Arabic and posters of Yasser Arafat everywhere, this could have been any city.

It was interesting to learn that Ramallah (pronounced by our guide as Rahm-Allah) was founded by a family that fled Jordan because they killed somebody and needed a safe place to go live. It was interesting to see the town square which used to have a clocktower that was replaced with the Palestinian climbing an electrical pole to hang a Palestinian flag. We were told this is because they tried to do this inside Israel and would get arrested so it’s a symbol of freedom.

We stopped at Rukab’s ice cream. I had been told this was a place that I HAD to go. They had a ton of choices and it was truly amazing. A three-scoop cone was 10 shekels! Those who didn’t want ice cream went across the street to get freshly baked zaatar bread. We walked back to hotel for our wrap up sessions and to get ready to go to dinner at a restaurant in Ramallah.

After the sessions, we walked to the restaurant. It was a beautiful place. The food was plentiful and good. They had huge TV sets showing ‘football’ (soccer to most of us) and we ate, talked, and finally had a chance to relax a bit. I had a great interaction with one of the waiters who asked me if I was American. We talked a bit and he was so excited to meet somebody from America. It gave me some hope that if we can engage the Palestinian youth and give them hope for a better future, perhaps we have a real chance.

After dinner we moved to a private room at the restaurant to listen to some traditional Palestinian music, which was very enjoyable. We go to celebrate a participant’s birthday before walking back to the hotel.

After three exhausting and very meaningful days, I am excited that tomorrow breakfast doesn’t start until 7:45 am. Somehow that seems really late!

Tomorrow is the last day of the trip and I am sad to see it end. I will have time after the close of the program before my flight to hopefully meet some friends in Jerusalem and talk about the experience. I look forward to being back in Central Florida this weekend.