Khờ dại sập bẫy ở nhà nghỉ vì ham làm diễn viên

January 21st, 2016

Cả 4 đứa con gái chúng tôi vì mơ ước đổi đời khi được làm diễn viên mà sập bẫy những kẻ lừa đảo săn gái quê để bán trinh.
 Tin Xa Hoi
Tôi và anh Hai lớn lên giữa mùi thơm cây trái của miền sông nước Nam Bộ. Nhà chỉ có hai anh em, là gái lại xinh xắn, dễ thương và cách anh Hai tới 8 tuổi nên ba má và anh Hai cưng tôi như trứng mỏng. Nhà tôi có vựa trái cây to nhất nhì trong xã. 16 tuổi, tôi nhổ giò lớn phổng như thiếu nữ, đang học giở lớp 10, tôi nhất quyết nghỉ ngang đòi ra phụ buôn bán trái cây với anh Hai và má. Ba má la quá trời nhưng thấy tôi không chịu đến trường còn bỏ ăn bỏ uống mấy hôm nên đành chấp nhận.

Từ khi có tôi ra phụ, vựa trái cây nhà tôi bán chạy hơn nhiều. Thường ghe cặp vựa chất hàng xong, mấy anh tài công thấy tôi xinh xắn nên hay bẻ lái chạy lòng vòng chọc ghẹo tôi. Tôi không phiền mà thấy vui vui, ngồ ngộ khi có nhiều chàng trai để ý tới.
phu kien thoi trang
Rồi một sáng có nhiều ghe bự neo bến lên nhà tôi. Có 2 người đàn ông ăn mặc bảnh bao và 1 người đàn bà son phấn như trát, chiếc váy ren tua rua mỏng tang uốn lượn khi gặp gió như khiêu khích người nhìn.

Tưởng họ tới mua hàng, anh Hai biểu tôi ra tiếp. Khi tôi vừa đứng trước mặt họ, chưa kịp chào đã thấy người đàn bà nắm lấy tay tôi như thân quen, bà không giấu nổi niềm vui khi quay qua nói với 2 người đàn ông. “Coi nè, cô em đây mà đóng cái phim của hai anh sắp dựng thì ăn khách dữ lắm đó, người đâu ra mà đẹp quá trời vậy?”.

Họ bảo tôi gọi người lớn ra cho họ nói chuyện. Ba má và anh Hai tiếp họ, nghe họ nói về tương lai rạng rỡ của tôi nếu theo họ đi tuyển làm diễn viên điện ảnh. Người đàn ông lớn tuổi còn nói chắc như bắp rằng: “Tuyển cho có lí hợp thức hóa lương lậu thôi, chứ đẹp như cô em đây, tụi tôi có vai dành cho rồi”. Họ còn đưa cả giấy giới thiệu đóng mộc đỏ chót cho ba má và anh Hai xem để chứng minh rằng họ đàng hoàng. Họ còn cho biết đợt này còn có 3 cô gái trạc tuổi tôi ở xã bên cũng sẽ lên thành phố thi tuyển diễn viên. Ra về, người đàn bà ăn mặc diêm dúa còn nói gia đình tôi cứ suy nghĩ cho kỹ, một tuần nữa họ ghé, trả lời chưa muộn. Háo hức đợi chờ, một tuần sau khi ghe họ cập bến, tôi tạm biệt ba má, tạm biệt anh Hai cùng họ và 3 cô gái xã bên lên thành phố để mong đổi đời khi tôi vừa bước qua tuổi 19.

Tuần đầu, 4 chúng tôi ở chung một phòng trong căn nhà 4 tầng ở một ngõ khuất có người canh gác. Người đàn bà lúc trước dẫn chúng tôi đi sắm quần áo. Chẳng hiểu đóng vai gì mà mấy bộ đồ bà chọn khi mặc vào đứa nào cũng như gái nhảy, khêu gợi mời khách vậy.
Tuần thứ 2, họ tách chúng tôi mỗi đứa một phòng, nói là để thấy dễ kèm cặp bồi dưỡng kiến thức để thi tuyển diễn viên đóng phim. Ngay tối hôm tách phòng, đang sắp đồ vào tủ, nghe tiếng gõ cửa, vừa mở ra, một người đàn ông to như đô vật, bụng bự như bà bầu, sặc mùi rượu, vừa dùng chân đá cánh cửa sập lại ông vừa lao vào tôi như con thú đói mồi. Tôi gào khóc giãy dụa trong tuyệt vọng, ông ta đã cướp đi đời con gái của tôi và còn hành hạ, dày vò tôi cho đến sáng vì ông nói ông đã bỏ ra số tiền rất lớn để mua được tôi.

Cả 4 đứa con gái chúng tôi vì mơ đổi đời khi được làm diễn viên mà sập bẫy những kẻ lừa đảo săn gái quê để bán trinh cho bọn đàn ông đốn mạt thừa tiền. ví nam đẹp

Tết đến, tín dụng đen ‘giăng lưới, chặn cửa’

January 18th, 2016

Nhu cầu vay tiền cao trong những ngày gần Tết nên tín dụng đen bùng phát mạnh. Quảng cáo tràn lan cả trên đường phố lẫn trên mạng internet, điện thoại di động. Thậm chí, để khuyếch trương, các cơ sở này còn in các tờ rơi phát đến tận những hộ dân trên địa bàn thành phố. Tin Xa Hoi

Ra ngõ gặp tín dụng đen

Từ đầu1/2016 tới nay các thuê bao điện thoại liên tiếp nhận được tin nhắn rác, chào mời vay tiền theo hình thức tín chấp của 1 loạt công ty cho vay tiêu dùng mà thực chất là tín dụng đen. Các tin nhắn đều quảng cáo cho vay tiêu dùng thủ tục đơn giản, nhanh chóng, thân thiện, chỉ cần những giấy tờ đơn giản như chứng minh nhân dân, hộ khẩu thường trú, giấp phép lái xe, thẻ sinh viên… cùng số điện thoại để khách hàng liên hệ.

Tết đến, tín dụng đen ‘giăng lưới, chặn cửa’

Cùng với đó, các ngõ phố, cột điện, bờ tường khu tập thể… những quảng cáo chào mời vay tiền tín chấp dán nhan nhản, còn vào mạng Internet thì chỉ cần gõ dòng chữ cho vay tín chấp, cũng ra hàng trăm kết quả, với các địa chỉ cho vay hấp dẫn liên tục chèo kéo khách hàng.

Tìm hiểu thì thấy, lãi suất phổ biến hiện nay được chia làm 2 loại, với những người có tài sản thế chấp như nhà, xe… được vay mức cao nhất tới 2 tỷ đồng, lãi suất từ 1.000- 2.000đồng/1 triệu đồng/ngày.

Còn vay tín chấp, chỉ có giấy tớ tùy thân, hộ khẩu, giấy phép lái xe… thì tùy mặt, tùy độ tin cậy mà cho vay với lãi suất cao hay thấp. Thông thường mức từ mức 3.000 đồng - 10.000 đồng/1triệu đồng/ngày.

Tại một cửa hàng cho vay tín chấp, kiêm cầm đồ tại Ngã Tư Sở, Thanh Xuân (Hà Nội), chủ hàng cho biết, cuối năm rất nhiều người cần tiền đến vay, trong khi nguồn huy động khan hiếm, nên bây giờ lãi là 5.000 đồng/1triệu đồng/ngày. Nếu anh chấp nhận thì làm thủ tục ngay, đợi thêm mấy ngày nữa lãi suất còn tăng. Hỏi về thủ tục, đúng là rất dễ dàng, hầu như không cần điều kiện, thế chấp nào cả. Khách hàng chỉ cần mang giấy tờ photo (kèm bản gốc để đối chứng) là có thể được giải ngân ngay lập tức.

Một khách hàng nữ đến vay 10 triệu đồng để lấy vốn kinh doanh được yêu cầu chứng minh nhân dân, hộ khẩu, địa chỉ đang ở. Sau khi xem xong, chủ hàng tuyên bố chỉ kịch là 8 triệu đồng. phu kien thoi trang

Khi nhận được cái gật đầu, người này nói tiếp, tý có người đi cùng bà đến nơi ở để kiểm tra và bắt đưa điện thoại, bấm số người thân hỏi han, rồi ghi lại. Thủ tục như vậy là xong và mở két sắt xuất ra 7, 6 triệu đồng. Lãi vay trừ trước 10 ngày đầu và khi khách hàng cầm tiền về thì có người đi theo về chỗ ở.

Theo Luật sư Trương Thanh Đức, Công ty Luật Basico, tín dụng đen ngày nay quảng cáo công khai và nhan nhản khắp nơi, lấn át cả khoan cắt bê tông trên các bờ tường, bảng tin, cột điện… trong mọi ngõ phố. Nếu như khoan cắt bê tông còn có thể bị thành phố dọa cắt số điện thoại vì gây mất mỹ quan, phản cảm, thì tín dụng đen chẳng hề bị cơ quan chức năng nào can thiệp.

Người nghèo trong vòng xoáy rủi ro

Thực tế cho thấy, nhu cầu mua sắm tiêu dùng luôn có, đặc biệt là vào dịp cuối năm. Vì vậy, dù có mức lãi “cắt cổ”, nhưng tín dụng đen vẫn phát triển mạnh trong nhiều năm nay.

Chị Ngô Hồng Thịnh, làm công nhân tại Khu công nghiệp Bắc Thăng Long (Hà Nội) cho biết, 2 vợ chồng đều là công nhân, thưởng Tết thường chỉ được khoảng 6 triệu đồng, năm nào tôi cũng phải vay nóng thêm 10 triệu đồng về quê ăn Tết. Vay xong thì ngoài Tết lại lo lắng chuyện trả nợ, có lần mấy ngày không trả được nợ, thấy chủ nợ gọi, không dám nghe máy, bất ngờ từ quên nhà mẹ tôi gọi lên nói, có đứa bạn nào gọi vào máy mẹ, hỏi con đi đâu, mấy ngày qua tìm không thấy làm cả nhà lo lắng…

Tết đến, tín dụng đen 'giăng lưới, chặn cửa’

Theo chị Thịnh, “đến hẹn lại lên” công nhân tại nơi chị làm gần Tết nhiều người thường vay tín dụng đen lấy tiền về quê. Những người nhà xa, không mang xe máy về theo, thì dùng làm tài sản thế chấp, vừa đỡ phải gửi, lại được hưởng lãi suất thấp, ra Tết đi làm lấy tiền thưởng đầu năm, lương thanh toán.

Cuối năm nhiều tiểu thương tại các chợ cũng nháo nhào lo tiền để lấy hàng tích trữ, thanh toán nợ nần. Vay ngân hàng không đủ điều kiện, tất cả đều tìm đến tín dụng đen.

Chị Hoa, một tiểu thương ở chợ Ngã Tư Sở cho biết: gần Tết cần lấy hàng thì nhu cầu tăng cao, người vay ít thì 10 triệu đồng, người vay nhiều vài chục triệu đồng. Ngày thường ít người vay thì lãi suất khoảng 2.000-2.500 đồng/1triệu đồng/ngày, nhưng thời điểm gần cuối năm, số người cần vốn nhiều thì lãi suất lên 5.000-7.000đồng/1 triệu đồng/ngày, thậm chí còn cao hơn.

Biết là lãi cao nhưng không còn cách nào khác, vì sinh kế mà phải theo. Làm ăn thuận lợi thì còn có chút để sống, chẳng may thua lỗ, không có tiền trả nợ thì khổ. Nhiều người kinh doanh nhỏ cứ trong vòng luẩn quẩn khó thoát.

Nhẩm tính ra, với lãi suất tín dụng đen đang cho vay, thấp nhất cũng ở mức 9%/tháng, còn cao lên đến 30%/tháng, tương đươmg với 108% - 360%/năm. Trong khi đó đối tượng vay chủ yếu là những người có thu nhập thấp, nghèo khó, càng vay lại càng thiệt thòi mà không biết làm cách nào khác. ví nam đẹp

Coucou!

December 2nd, 2015

De temps en temps, tu te trouves à peu près sur deux ans après avoir obtenu le diplome, une année et demie avec un boulot dont t’as eu de nombreux opportunités mais ces jours t’en au eu marre, et tu tombes par hasard sur ton blog de voyage du semestre ou t’as vecu à Marseille. 

Que tu me manques, ma belle ville, ville sale, ville débordant de vie des couleurs des peuples de pain et fromage des bateaux des calanques - ah putain, les calanques! est-ce que je vous ai dit que j’ai désormais appris comment faire l’escalade? Il est absoluement nécéssaire que je vous revisite un jour pour grimper les calanques!

j’étais ou… 

ben, c’est assez pour le moment, mon ptit coeur! Il y a des appels à candidature qui nécéssitent mes réponses ce soir…

I Don’t Know What The Hell Comes Next..

April 15th, 2015

I don’t know what the hell I’m doing…

I don’t know how things will turn out…because, this year, the universe has certainly been busy dealing with me and my stubbornness to stick to one plan.

I’ve come to truly believe that everything seems to happen for a reason. I believed it before…but not entirely, I suppose. I’d swear my life on that belief now. The universe doesn’t let me ease into anything…hits me in the face with something and says “Now adjust, fool!”

*shaking fist at the universe*

Kind of hilarious because many times this year, I’ve been brought back to that moment when I was in Dr. Singh’s office during my last year of college…and he told me that I am so razor sharp in what I want to do. I plot, scheme, and plan and not even a comet could take me off course. He used an example that had to do with football. He warned me that I need to learn to not view any opportunity that I haven’t specifically already made a part of my initial plan and mapped out as taking me off my path…that some opportunities actually strengthen what I had initially thought out.

Of course, at the time, I smiled and said “You’re right!” and he laughed.

Now I know he knew that I was GOING to understand and that I didn’t truly understand what he was saying in that moment.

When I plan…I am in my element. It’s like a challenge and I truly believe that nothing can stop me. Yes, I’ve felt those feelings of “Can I really do this…” but I’ve never accepted not attempting something, knowing deep down somewhere that I would be GOOD for this opportunity. The feeling of winning… was contagious, especially coupled with the skills that I had acquired throughout the process.

I determined that achieving success…material success…was all that mattered.

Well. I’ve been trying to open my mind.

Well, I’ve kind of been forced to…but I suppose that needed to happen for me to begin to willingly look at this a bit more openly.

People think I’ve got it all figured out… nope. They always say that…but…no.

LOL… as I conclude this, I’m chuckling because there was a time when I would have preferred to be burned at the stake than admit this publicly because 1.) I knew I’d figure something out so why speak about something that I know I’ll solve 2.) What is life when you have no direction? 3.) I didn’t need people judging me.

Well. I don’t care enough right now to be overly concerned with 1, 2, and 3 because, no, I don’t know if I will solve this and I’m tired trying to force things to settle as I want them to and they absolutely wilL NOT…been trying for damn year a year. What is life when you have no direction? More like…what is life when you think you’ve got everything figured out? As for people judging me… I don’t give a fuck.

I will allow myself to be uncertain any time that I feel…because I now have a bit of newfound respect for that needing to happen to truly attain an understanding of self, to truly attain a *healthy* belief in a person’s ability to be able to know when the next step is something that they can control and what it is something that they cannot.

I’ve learned that no matter how many times I’ve tried to resist the universe…it’s been – forcefully- pushing me in a certain direction. I don’t know what that is. All I know is that in May 2014, I had three different 5 year plans that I’ve *finally* tossed to the side.

They’re useless to me now. Or on a SERIOUS hold.

I am being pushed in a different direction…there have been clues all year that this might be the case…but I didn’t recognize or even acknowledge those clues until I was at my lowest. I was at a low, then I got lower, and then I hit my lowest, and have been slowly rising again.

I don’t know what the plan is…but I have been putting some different plans in place.

I’ll just wait…because if these plans pan out…then that will speak volumes to me, especially since they are plans that I’d never heavily considered or not at all until this year.

I’ve not been “myself”. I’ve actually been sitting here, for almost a year, wondering what is more important and what is necessary for *me* to do right now. As I’ve faced many unexpected and alarming things this year… I’ve questioned and I’ve criticized myself for not having it all figured out.

Yet…now…recently…I ask myself: “What happens next?”
– What the old Shirley would say: Full speed ahead on my career because nothing else matters: What the old Shirley would say
– This is what the new Shirley believes: Right now, tend to Shirley …in a way that I finally realize is not all about driving full speed ahead toward shaping my career. Tend to her now so that she can have a healthy balance of old and new Shirley.

The universe is trying to push me toward something that I need to be pushed toward…
I’ve accepted that.

It’s uncomfortable for me to do but I’ll let myself be guided towards an “unknown” because I believe that when everything settles as they will, I’ll grit my teeth a bit but I’ll just *know* that this something is what I’m supposed to be doing for myself…not only for my future. When I am in this new situation…when I am finally IN it…I’ll realize that ” this is what was supposed to happen.”

I’ll take the risk.

I don’t know what the hell I’m doing…but my gut apparently does.
That’s something I can’t write down and plan out meticulously.

I’ve accepted that. I’ve resisted this understanding long enough.

I know.
Everyone is going to tell me what I’ve heard for years, “You can’t control everything.”

I know…but, hell, I’ve tried. I’ve been so successful in many things, things that people have admired me for…and with more success, the less room I’ve given myself to “not know”.

I felt that I should know.
Why the hell shouldn’t I?!?!

But – I am finally ready to try something different.

I don’t fucking know this time.
I don’t know what the Hell is coming next.
I have a little over a month left and I don’t know.

That’s ok.
Whatever happens…it will be about Shirley and it will be about my future.

It may come in a different package but it WILL be about Shirley and it WILL be about how Shirley moves forward for the future.

Right now, that is good enough.

The Universe


Ok, Now Where Did She Go This Time?!?

March 13th, 2015

That’s right folks! Spring Break 2015 has come and gone. Did I just sit around and do nothing all week long? OF COURSE NOT!! This adventure took me to Costa Rica with my Tropical Biology class. Yea, you read that right, I got to spend a week in paradise for college credit! Check out the highlights of my trip below!

 

 

Thoughts on my travels after Oman

December 16th, 2014

The Summer Arabic Language and Media Program was a great opportunity to learn more about Oman and the Middle East in a more broad sense, but because it was a program, a lot of the information and experiences we got were rehearsed.  Previous programs had done similar things and one of the purposes of the program was to show us the good things about Oman.  Traveling on my own allowed me a lot more freedom of movement to explore.  In contrast to Oman, I was also less isolated from the population and I had to buy food and groceries for myself while I was traveling, so there was much more contact on a day to day basis with the local population.  While I was traveling, I was responsible for myself financially, which meant that I spent more time hitchhiking or couchsurfing to keep costs down when I could which also put me in contact more often with locals.

I chose the countries that I traveled to for different reasons, but many of them were related to academic interests.  I traveled to south of Spain largely because of its Islamic heritage and to Malta because of the linguistic ties to Arabic.  Morocco was an easy choice because of its proximity to Spain, and I have been interested in the Israel-Palestine conflict for years.  In each of these cases, I got some real world context to things that I had mostly just read about.  Linguistically, my spanish is passable and so is my arabic, so more chance to practice those was helpful.  Where it wasn’t helpful, for instance in darija-speaking Morocco was illuminating in its own light.

Morocco, Oman, and Palestine are three largely Arab countries that share some similarities, but their differences are interesting too.  The difference between Omani and Palestinian bedouins was stark and kind of interesting to see.  The similarities in food were much less than I would have guessed, but the differences were interesting too.  Even the differences in Ramadan were interesting.

Malta turned out to be kind of disappointing from a cultural aspect, but I can’t blame the Maltese for capitalising on European tourism.

Probably, the best part of my trip was to Israel and Palestine.  I took a class with Professor al-Tikriti on the history of the conflict, but seeing the effects of is quite different.  The casualness of armed military in Israeli cities, the sirens, or even talking to Israelis is puts things into their context.  There were definitely Israelis sympathetic to the Palestinian cause, but I also met some who believed that all of the land was theirs and would brook no opposition to that.

Dealing with security checkpoints and mobility was certainly easier for me than the average Palestinian in West Bank, but a gave me a better idea of what they go through everyday if they have to go elsewhere for work or have family elsewhere in the territories.  There was a surprising amount of diversity in Palestinian dialects as well.  Only a short drive from Ramallah in Taybeh, qofs disappear and become glottal stops (actually the same thing that happens in Maltese), from person to person where can be weyn or feyn, but certainly not aina.

I think that traveling is important if you are interested in something and able, because there are small details and sensory experiences that can’t really be described in a text.  The similar usage of inshallah and mañana for a half serious hope of something as me and Spanish-Moroccan Jew discussed or the feeling of being caged in at Qalandiya checkpoint between the occupied territories and Jerusalem.  I was fortunate to be given an opportunity to travel by the Sultanate of Oman and having a decent amount in savings to continue on after that, and hope to have the opportunity again.  As of now, I was awarded a Gilman Scholarship to study in Beijing, I’m awaiting hearing on Fullbright Teaching Assistantship in Taiwan, and getting ready to start the paperwork for the Peace Corps, so who knows where I’ll be or what I’ll see in the future.

Making it home

December 16th, 2014

I had a little time in Jerusalem, so I decided to take a trip to al-Aida refugee camp in Bethlehem on my last day.  Checkpoint 300 is much easier to get through than Qalandiya, possibly because Bethlehem is such a big tourist destination.  I wandered around the security wall where personal anecdotes had been posted on signs, and browsed the graffiti.  The graffiti ranged from inane, to incredible works of art, and as I walked along it, a Palestinian family stopped to talk to me.  They were residents of al-Aida, so they offered to take me there with them on their way home.  We arrived in the camp and they invited me into their house to talk for a while.

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They seemed to be doing better than I had expected, but the father complained of not being able to find work and not being able to enter Jerusalem where he used to do construction.  He talked about wanting a better life and an education for his sons and seemed generally optimistic that they would have a better life.  He was uniquely also the first person I met who seemed to want a single state with the Israelis.  I don’t know if it was from being beat down from living in a camp his whole life and just wanting peace and opportunity or the influence of the UN at the camp, but most Israelis and Palestinians I had talked to previously believed two separate states was the best option.

He offered me food and a bottle of water which I was torn about accepting.  I didn’t want to offend him by turning down food and implying that he was , but I didn’t want to accept and take something from him when he clearly less well off.  I decided to accept a small amount to be polite and give him some lokum from Hebron and some fruit from Daher’s farm in return.  I don’t know if that was the correct response, but I hope he understood that I appreciated his generosity.  I had to leave shortly after that to make it to Ben Gurion airport, so I said my goodbyes and wished him luck.

The trip to Ben Gurion didn’t go so well, and I ended walking an hour and a half to get there only to discover that they had changed the terminal my flight was in.  After waiting on a bus to the other terminal I made it there barely in time for my delayed flight.  Getting through security proved to be a challenge, so I almost missed my flight anyway.  Previous experiences with security in Israel had not gone well for me, and this was no exception.

During what had been a cheerful chat with the woman working security, I mentioned that I had traveled to the West Bank, and things to a turn for the Kafkaesque.  Her expression suddenly became blank and she began repeating the same sets of questions to me over and over again, presumably to get me to slip up?  It was surreal experience, she gave no physical acknowledgement of the repetition, and I briefly had to wander if I was going crazy, and the entire time I was just trying to get to my flight.  Finally, I was free to go and rushed through as fast as possible and only barely caught my flight.

I made it to London late at night only to find my bag hadn’t come with me.  I wouldn’t receive it for another three weeks, so I had to find some toiletries.  London was largely uneventful and a day later I was back in the states.

Experiences in West Bank

December 16th, 2014

I arrived at Ramallah late in the evening with a Canadian I had met in Jerusalem.  Our attempts to find the hostel were unsuccessful, and neither of us a had a phone.  We knew we were close, but the map we had wasn’t terribly helpful so we stopped to ask directions from a family who had just started to close down their shoe shop in preparation to break the fast.  We sat and chatted for a bit in Arabic, and I showed them the map, but unfortunately, they had no idea where the hostel was either.  Their younger boy suddenly scooped up my backpack and decided he was going to find it for us and ran off down the street.  His father laughed and told us to go with him, so we set off.

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The boy didn’t really speak fusha, so we spent the time going back and forth trying to figure out different words in Palestinian dialect while we walked.  I felt guilty haven’t him carry my backpack and asked for it back, and he begrudgingly returned it.  It quickly became clear he didn’t really know where he was going either, but he seemed very excited about the whole experience so I decided to keep following and just keep my eyes peeled.  It turns at that we had been circling the hostel the entire time, which was made worse by the fact that the building was unmarked, but we eventually found it.  After my experiences in Tangiers, I began to get out some money, thinking that it would be expected.  Besides the kid was pretty cool and very enthusiastic about helping us and I thought it would be a nice gift especially since Ramadan was still going on, but he steadfastly refused any payment.  He said that it was his home and he was just doing what was right and then scampered off into the night.

The hostel was nice, an Ethiopian-American volunteer named Semhal met us at the door and led us to our rooms.  The two brother who ran it, Bobo and Chris, lived in the floors below the hostel with the rest of their family.  There was a photojournalist, Johannes, from Finland there working on a story about Ramadhan in the West Bank, and another aspiring photojournalist named Til.  I spent most of my time in West Bank travelling with Til, Johannes, and Semhal.  We went out later so Til and Johannes could get some pictures of a protest at Minara Square and to find somewhere to get some falafel.  The protest itself was interesting, but we left shortly after as Palestinian Authority Security forces began to crack down

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Over the next few days we did some traveling outside of Ramallah, and our first stop was Hebron.  The tension in the air there was even more palpable then in Jerusalem.  We met up with a friend of Chris and Bobo’s who took us to a friend’s house at the edge of territory that settler’s had staked a claim to.  His house was surrounded on three sides by settlers territory and his roof was topped with barbed wire to keep people out.  He showed us some videos of a settler climbing onto his roof to remove his flag and yell at him and crowds of settlers protests outside of his house.  A short distance from his rooftop, an Israeli soldier manned an outpost.

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We continued on through a market in the old city that was screened in above by chainlink fence to catch garbage and rocks that were thrown down from above at vendors.  One section on a side street was filled with closed shops that had been shutdown after security cordons reduced traffic to that area, and most of the doors were covered in graffiti.  After passing through a checkpoint we visited the Cave of the Patriarchs, but to be honest we weren’t able to see anything worth seeing.  We stopped by a shopkeeper’s shop who showed us some older pictures of what Hebron used to look like before parts of the city were cordoned off by security forces.  We made our way back to the central bus station, but not before we heard the rattle of gunshots in the distance.  We never found out who was doing the shooting, but given the atmosphere in the city, it honestly wasn’t surprising.

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Our next trip was to visit Khan al-Ahmar Bedouin camp that Johannes had heard of.  To get there, we to a taxi to Jericho, and then hitchhiked back along the highway to get to the camp.  It was kind of a miracle that we were able to get a ride, considering there were four of us, but we figured we could split up into groups of two if necessary.  Fortunately, we managed to a get a ride from a man from Jericho whose sisters was married to one of the Bedouins at the camp.  He introduced us to his sister and went off and found the boss of the camp.

The Bedouins were vastly different than the ones I had met in Oman.  A little of the disregard for the rules was there (several were smoking or drinking tea during the day in Ramadhan), but they were not giving camel rides to tourist.  The camp itself was the largest of many in the area, but still quite small.  They didn’t have access to utilities, but had set up solar cells and generators with the help of an NGO to provide electricity to a central meeting place in the camp that housed a refrigerator and an old tv.  He showed us some pictures of him with foreign dignitaries who had visited his camp (including Ban-Ki Moon) and some reports the UN had put out regarding loss of land by Bedouins, then took us to see the school that had been built by another NGO.  It was a construct of tires and concrete that had been decorated by the children of the camp, but its still in danger of being demolished so that the highway can be expanded in the area.  Semhal and one of the Bedouin women exchanged jewelry and goodbyes and we made our way back to Ramallah.

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Johannes had mentioned wanted to visit a beer brewery and restaurant in the Christian village of Taybeh, so that was the next trip we took.  It was a short trip from Ramallah, maybe 20 minutes.  We grabbed some Musakhan and a few beers and enjoyed the view of Jordan in the distance, before heading on to the brewery.  The brewery was closed by the time we got there, but owner’s wife happened to spot us wandering around outside.  In another instance of Palestinian hospitality, she postponed a dinner out with her husband and some friends to take us on a personal tour of the brewery.  

As far as brewery tours go, this one was pretty standard, although some of the adversity they have to go through to do business was interesting.  Because they are allowed limited access to water, they have to do many of their activities on one day out of the week when they can use it.  Because of the difficulty marketing and shipping their beer its often made to order, so extremely fresh.  They don’t really export to many countries, I believe she said Sweden and Japan as of right now, but they do decent business in Israel and Palestine.  Its also probably easily the best beer I had while I was traveling.  After the brewery, we hitchhiked back to Ramallah.

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On another daytrip, we traveled to Tent of Nations, a farm run by a Palestinian farmer in West Bank whose slowly being surrounded on all sides by settlements.  He’s been fighting in court for some time to retain his land, and its been a battle despite him having documents from the Ottoman Empire, the British Mandate, and Jordan establishing it as his families.  Getting there was difficult as quite a few taxi drivers didn’t want to travel in the area due to the large concentration of settlements, but we found one driver who would take us.  After climbing over a pile rubble blocking the road to the farm, we hiked to the front gate where we were met by Daher Nassar, the current owner of the farm.

He showed us a summer school he had set up in a cave where he teaches refugee children and the tents that he housed volunteer workers at.  I asked him about the tents and the caves and he responded that he wasn’t allowed to build any new structures on his land.  His orchards were home to apricots, apples, carob, figs, grapes, and other kinds of fruit which he would periodically pull from the trees to give to us.  He relied heavily on volunteers to help him keep the farm going and ran the program as a way of educating people to live renewably on the land.  The volunteers we met were largely from Germany, and many were Lutheran, like Daher, though he accepted anyone (the kids from the refugee camps were mostly Muslim).

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My time in Ramallah itself was largely spent getting hookah with Johannes at a place near Arafat square, and hanging out with people he knew in the city.  One of his contacts was an editor for al-Hayat al-Jadeeda, the PA newspaper, so we visited a protest with him so the could take pictures.  The protest was a march on Qalandiya checkpoint from Ramallah and quickly turned to chaos while we were there.  Khaldun, the editor, was able to help us stay safe during the protest as Palestinian youths exchanged fireworks and rocks for Israeli bullets and tear gas.  We talked politics for a while, as Khaldun had majored in Hebrew studies and political science at university, so I was able to get an interesting perspective on the current political situation in Israel and Palestine.  After the protest, he drove us to the hospital where his wife was giving blood, so Johannes and Till could get pictures.  The death toll was only three, but the injured were in the hundreds.

The most interesting thing about the protest was how organised everything was.  The crowd would surge forth and move back as one with the increases or decreases in firing from the Israeli side.  People carrying boxes of chopped onion would move through the crowd dispersing it to be rubbed under ones nose to reduce the effects of tear gas.  Men would run down the center of the street clearing the crowd so ambulances could move towards the front as other groups of men would move the wounded away from the front lines.  The ambulances themselves would stay uphill out of the line of fire (although several had windows blown out by the end of the night) until needed and then would come surging down to collect the wounded.  Not surprisingly, the Palestinians seemed to have distilled the act of protest down to an art.

The city when not protesting is a lot smaller than I thought, considering its the de facto capital (both the Israelis and the Palestinians consider Jerusalem their capital).  I looked it up on wikipedia later and apparently the population is only 27,000.  Because it serves capital any embassies are located there, though there aren’t many.  Similarly, most embassies in Israel are located in Tel Aviv rather than Jerusalem.  The government operates out of a complex called the mukataa that also houses Arafat’s tomb.  Despite its small size, there’s a shopping mall, and both Arafat Square and Minara Square are bustling centers of commercial activity.  There’s also an incredible Mahmoud Darwish Museum that I would recommend checking out.

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My trip back from Ramallah took me back through a now scorched Qalandiya checkpoint.  Its a pretty disheartening experience, with the journey through the checkpoint building forcing you through a series of cage-like lanes before getting to an xray scanner.  Johannes made it through fine, but I had to unpack my backpack and run everything through the scanner individually.  Unfortunately, only a few people are allowed into the scanner at a time, so as I was held up by security, a line formed behind me.  After finally making it through, I headed back to Jerusalem to get ready to fly home.

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Foundation of Peace/Abode of Holiness

December 16th, 2014

Jerusalem was a very different place from Tel Aviv.  There was a lot more obviously religiously observant Jews here and a lot more Arabs, so it was a bit more tense.  There were also a lot more armed soldiers on duty around the city.  I stayed in the Old City in a hostel not too far from Jaffa gate near the border of the Armenian and the Christian sections.  The building was ancient like much of the rest of the city, and again, I opted for sleeping on the roof.  The view of the city was incredible, and often I’d wake to the sound of church bells or the Adhan.  There was a basement area to hang out in when it got hot and a single maybe 15″ bulky tv down there.  On the second or third day I was there, we all crammed into that basement to watch the ground invasion of Gaza begin on that little tv.

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Because of the strife in Gaza, tensions were inflamed in Jerusalem and the Haram ash-Sharif was closed the entire time I was there, as were some portions of the Arab quarter.  So, I saw what religious sites I could from the other denominations.  I visited the Wailing Wall and traveled to the catacombs beneath it on one of my failed attempts to see the Temple Mount. I checked out the Tower of David and walked along the walls of the Old City.  There were plenty of churches to see with Christianity’s long presence in the city.

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Obviously the most interesting one was the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.  The thing you see when you walk in is the anointing stone where Jesus was supposed to have been prepared for burial.  People from all over the world congregate around it, kissing it or praying to it, and it looked like some had little vials of water that they blessing over it.  As you pass by that, on the left is the Holy Sepulchre where you can actually stay overnight in on vigil.

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More interestingly though, if you head to the right you’ll pass by all kinds of specific chapel rooms for different denominations.  So you’ll pass by an Ethiopian Church, to Catholic, to Orthodox and so on.  Some are bigger than others, and one or two rooms actually looked abandoned.  Its a strange experience to walk through this patchwork of a church, and every room has a different style of decoration and a different language is being spoken.

Before heading on to Ramallah, I took a day trip with a couple of Australians to Jericho and Bethlehem.  When we visited the Church of the Nativity, it was under construction and kind of underwhelming.  We traveled through a market after and actually found a Starbucks in Bethlehem.  That’s a bit sad, but I thought it worth noting.  We spotted a few Banksy painting while we were there and headed on to the Herodium outside of town.

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The Herodium is a fortress built by King Herod the Great sometime around 20 BC built on top of a mountain.  Its pretty high up so it affords a great view of a lot of the West Bank around it and the ruins are pretty impressive themselves.  You can travel down into the tunnels beneath it where supplies and water are kept.  It was destroyed during the Jewish War against the Romans, but was rebuilt and used again during the Bar Kokhba Revolt.

The last leg of our daytrip was to head to Jericho, one of the oldest continually occupied cities in the world.  The old city itself was small and took little time to take in, so we decided to head up the mountain on a cable car to see the Monastery of Temptation.  Its a Monastery built into a mountain that’s said to be where Jesus fasted for forty days while Satan tried to tempt him.  Unfortunately, after hiking up the mountain, the monks were apparently calling it a day, so we weren’t able to get in to see the actual monastery.  Still, the view of the dead sea was fantastic and dust devils were kicking about in front of it, so I’d say it was worth the ascent.

After a few days, I traveled to Ramallah.  The owner of the hostel I stayed at in Jerusalem was an Arab with family that also ran a hostel in Ramallah, so I had somewhere to stay when I got there.

Arrival in Tel Aviv

December 16th, 2014

Like many of my other arrivals, I got into Tel Aviv fairly late at night.  I guess that’s one of the costs of cheap plane tickets.  My hostel was located in the Florentine district which, like in many other cities of the world, is a place that turned from a poor industrial part of town to a haven for artists when they figured out the cheap rent situation.  I actually ended up sleeping on the roof while I was there which was a bit cheaper and actually really nice given the climate.

I didn’t really do anything particularly historical while I was there.  Its a new city, relatively speaking, and I was going to be travelling to Jerusalem and the West Bank shortly. I mostly spent my time eating great falafel and drinking Arak and grapefruit juice, two things that I find I miss here in the states.  I did get a chance to see Old Jaffa which is an Arab town that was incorporated into Tel Aviv over time.  Its quite different from the rest of Tel Aviv because it so much older than the rest of the city.  There’s more Arabs here I think, but also a lot of Africans who have moved as refugees.

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I did talk to some Jewish Americans who were at the hostel after doing birthright.  Its an interesting program which had some parallels to my experience in Oman.  They basically invite Jewish people from elsewhere to stay in Israel and take them around to show them all the best parts about it.  A lot of the people I talked to said it was a bit heavyhanded on the propaganda but mostly they had a positive view of Israel.  I think the endgoal of it is to solidify identification in the mindsets of non Israeli Jews and possibly convince them to emigrate.  The group I was talking to were mostly more secular, but I could see this being a great recruiting tool for the more religious Jews in the U.S.

A couple of rockets were launched at the city while I was there, but at least in the hostel, no one really seemed to take them seriously.  Apparently buildings in Tel Aviv built after a certain date have to include some kind of bomb shelter.  In the case of ours, it was the stairwell, so we’d shuffle into there while the sirens went off, but there was a sense that people who had been there for a while were kind of rolling their eyes at the whole process.  The owner of the hostel would shoo everyone down there, and when the sirens stopped everyone would go back to what they were doing.

There were a few things like that that seemed out of place to me, but were just part of everyday life.  I’ve lived on military bases before, so seeing soldiers isn’t that big a deal to me, but its a bit odd to see uniformed and armed soldiers walking casually about such a big city.  They wouldn’t even necessarily be on duty, sometimes they’d be on a train or bus or at a grocery store.  Even with soldiers, the atmosphere in Tel Aviv was generally friendly, except for an occasional argument about politics.  I left for Jerusalem after a couple of days, and that had a very different feel to it.