Welcome Janice!

Janice from Australia is the first long-term guest to live in the Guest House since I arrived in September! She contacted Donna (from Rebuilding Alliance) a few weeks ago and asked if she could come to Al Aqaba and help in some way, and she and Donna ended up arriving at the same time! She taught English in Korea for ten years, but what she really likes to do is cook, so she’s working on an Al Aqaba cookbook project with the local women. Yesterday she spent hours picking peas in the fields. I think she’ll have residency in no time 🙂

This is the message she compiled about her first experiences in Al Aqaba:

Dear Folks, 
Today I woke up in one country (Jordan) & will go to sleep in another (Palestine) one!! New currency, not a new culture or
language (Arabic) here where I am for the next couple of weeks …Well that was a couple of days ago.  I’m currently living at the Al Aqaba Guest House in the tiny village of the same name.  I have arrived at a very fortunate time as there are a few projects on the go…I have suggested that I could start a Al Aqaba Recipe book featuring the
women in & around the village…telling stories, cooking food & writing recipes…what better project to initiate???
I worried about getting through the border because I’d been told that if I said that I was going to the West Bank I would NOT be able to enter Israel…hence I was nervous least I, like John Cleese would mention the subject that I didn’t want to mention & end up getting
into trouble … I was quizzed about where I intended to go…I rattled off as many place names as I could remember from the NT which seemed to satisfy the officer & I receive a 3 month visa -yahoo!!
Side story:  A young Russian woman was fascinated with my backpack & had taken a couple of photos on the bus taking us across no man’s land between Jordan & Palestine (no more walking across the King Hussein Bridge)…she was SO fascinated that she took a photo of it on my back while I was passing through one of the checkpoints…a real NO NO &
she set of a few alarms with security racing around the place stirred into action by her flash!!!  I was blissfully unaware that I had caused this minor sensation!!
I teamed up with a Palestinian woman travelling from Jordan to do some teacher training – she was going my way to visit with family so we shared a taxi to a village close to where I wanted to be.  I changed some money…now I’m using NIS – New Israeli Shekels about 4 NIS = $AUD 1 which isn’t bad!!
Yesterday I had my first checkpoint experience…nerve racking to say the least…the whole process took about 35 minutes and went like this:
1) we had to stop the car about 200 yards up the hill before the checkpoint
2) the passengers had to alight while the driver moved forward to have the car checked while we, (Donna, a Palestinian woman & myself) had to walk to the designated waiting area to be called individually through the checkpoint
3) when it was my turn a soldier called out “Australia” a couple of times to which I responded that I was coming as fast as possible – being very nervous not wanting to run & maybe cause people holding guns to act rashly!!!  I’d just been told that someone got shot
because he seemed to take too long getting his water bottle out of his bag!!  Anyway the young soldier had lived in Melbourne for a year.  I moved through the first turnstile through a metal detector which sounded the alarm because of my backpack decorations…I jumped & said asked what I should do… to which he responded that I should just walk through as THIS WAS A FREE COUNTRY… interesting …I really wanted to engage him in a discussion about his definition of “free country” – was this checkpoint the symbol of a free country?  But as it was getting on towards evening & we had limited time to do what we
wanted to do (visit some Roman ruins on land owned by the Vatican, which is an interesting story in itself & more about that later. We had to return past the same checkpoint less than 30 minutes later & were stopped again & asked for ID this was more of a formality that the last time. I can imagine how frustrating this whole process must be for people who are working across these check points…I heard today that sometimes it takes hours to complete the process!!
Today Donna & I went to the Catholic Church in Zabhadee (?) but were too late for Mass…we though 10 but it was 9…we did try!!! Apparently next week it IS at 10 for Palm Sunday.  It was interesting to hear Donna explain the situation about the Vatican land & what we would like for them to do for, not only the village but the whole district… initially (as I understand this) in 1930’s the local community asked the Papal rep here to buy the land to stop the Jewish settlers from buying the land at very cheap prices & displacing the
Arab population.  The Vatican did so offering much more money that the settlers.  However now the Israeli army are making use of this land for training purposes & setting up checkpoints.  The local community want to build a Community Rehabilitation Hospital on a small part of this land next to the village.  This would be a facility for ALL the
people suffering from physical disability not just for the Al Aqaba community.  This could disrupt the Israeli military from seizing the land with some excuse of increased security for the settlements.
I’ve learnt that the West Bank in divided into different areas;
Area A is supposedly controlled by the Palestinian Authority
Area B  the Palestinian Authority shares responsibility for governing this area with the Jewish authorities
Area C (where Al Aqaba Village is located) is land that the Israeli government would like to get hold of because it contains valuable sources of water & fertile land.
I’m on a very steep learning curve at the moment but am NOT able to use my Samsung Galaxy Tab for some reason so can’t get a much information as I would feel comfortable with…hopefully this situation will be FIXED in the next few days.
Tomorrow I could get to East Jerusalem with Donna – she’s going to speak with some people connected with the Latin Patriarchy to explain about the hospital project she has planned for their site.  I’ll explore around where the meeting is being held…just have my own small adventure.
Catch you all later.
Love Janice

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