Before leaving home five weeks ago, several people asked me how I felt regarding my safety on this trip. At that point, and to some extent through today, I didn’t have a concrete answer.
Let’s be honest, I chose and sought out this experience. I had to apply twice because I didn’t make it the first time, and listened with anticipation to the stories of my friends who came last year. I spent over two months packing and preparing to leave. And I did so joyfully. So it’s not as though I was forced to come to this part of the world. I knew that in any place, but especially here, there are risks involved with traveling. However, I also felt as though taking risks in life is important for growth and I wanted to step outside my comfort zone a bit.
Growing up, when I heard about attacks in this part of the world, I wondered how people who live here are able to live day by day with that type of risk. For the past 2 1/2 weeks, I’ve been living in Beit Sahour, Palestine and I can honestly say I feel safer here walking around on the street by myself than I do back home. Perhaps that’s because men in the U.S. are more likely to give me cat calls or inappropriate looks, but I think it also has to do with the hospitality I experience on a daily basis. From the “marhaba!” of little children to the guys who refused to let us pay for piping hot and fresh pita yesterday afternoon, people here know how to take care of each other.
But there are risks. Risks we face all the time. I’m not sure if you heard about what happened in Egypt a few days ago regarding the attack on a tour group from South Korea (NYT article here ) but in realizing that our group took that same trip through the Sinai… starting in Cairo, going to St. Catherine’s and then going by convoy through the Sinai towards Israel (we didn’t go up to Taba to cross into Israel, but took a ferry to Aqaba, Jordan instead)… I’ve had to recognize that that could have been us. Being grateful that God has blessed us with safe travels, in the aftermath of such an attack, feels as though I am disregarding the loss and pain being felt by those connected to this horrific event. And yet asking that God grants some form of peace to those impacted without mentioning my gratitude in living safely from day to day would also feel incomplete.
Living here, living with the risk, I’m beginning to realize that this is part of why being human, and having faith, is so amazing to me. Becoming overwhelmed by fear, letting the risks get in the way of life, is not what I think we are called to as human beings but how do you have hope when the possible consequences of those risks are laid clearly before you? Faith is the only answer I can really give. Faith is amazing, and it sometimes feels unreasonable of me to believe that God will protect me on this trip, but I do it anyways. Everyday when I get on that bus, when I walk through the streets, when we drive through a military checkpoint, when we visit areas like Hebron which are full of such tension, I must trust that God will protect me, because there is no alternative. I’ve learned a lot these past few weeks, but I think that I’ve mostly been learning about trust. Now I don’t go and take many “additional” risks while I’m here like taking pictures of military personnel or documenting Palestinian/Israeli conflicts (not that they have occurred when our large group is present) but just being here is an act of trust. I have to trust that the vendors won’t try and rip me off (they will), that the bus is safe enough to be on the road, that our bus driver is capable of driving our bus through these tiny streets without getting stuck, that our taxi is actually going where we asked to go, etc. But living here, amid the risks, is less frightening than it probably is for you back at home. On a day to day basis I feel very secure… But if I was only reading articles like the one about what happened in Taba, and not also experiencing the hospitality and care of these people I would probably be freaking out about my safety. So this is meant to reassure you. I know that seems a little ridiculous seeing how I just listed off a bunch of risks I’m experiencing on an almost daily basis, but it really isn’t that different from the U.S. except that the risks and dangers feel much more clear and real because I’m in an unknown place.
So I guess I’d just like to say, I love it here in Palestine. I hope that if you ever get the opportunity to come and see it for yourself, you grab the chance. I hope you are reassured by the fact that I feel safe here. I hope that those injured and the families of all those impacted by the Taba attack feel God’s love as they mourn and heal. I hope that more people will resist nonviolently. I hope that God will continue to protect our group this semester. And I hope I continue to have faith that God will protect us.
Lots of Love, Mandi Jo