Sunday, 22 August 2010

Chapter 1 Anxiety

I gave in my notice today.... then I panicked. I’ve been talking to people and ‘in’ is seeming like an increasingly elusive concept.

I’ve gotten very helpful but wide-ranging (and often conflicting) advice from a number of sources and the one thing I have learned is this:

There is no way I can guarantee that I make it across that border.

I’ve been told not to say I am where I am from, ‘say you’re Jordanian instead’.

‘Get a new passport issued if you’ve got lots of Arab stamps on yours.’

‘Tell them you don’t speak Arabic.’

‘Try to look and sound as westernized as possible.’

‘You’re better off flying in to Tel Aviv.’

‘You’re better off crossing the bridge.’

‘Say you’re on a Christian pilgrimage in Israel.’

‘Say you’re staying in the Palestinian Territories.’

‘Call it Israel never Palestine – that bothers them.’

‘Don’t say you’re a teacher, say you’re a tourist otherwise you won’t get in.’

‘Don’t say you’re a tourist or you’ll only get a one month visa instead of a three month visa.’

‘Try to stick to the truth as much as you can when answering their questions but try not to tell them anything.’

‘They might Google you so make sure you’ve got nothing online that might represent you as a politically or socially conscious type of person.’

Wow, really? This is the hardest I’ve ever had to work to travel to another country. I’ve been in a state of semi nausea since I started researching and actually find myself feeling afraid; afraid of the shame of being turned away. Being unacceptable. Failing.

On an intellectual level I’ve always been aware of the travel restrictions and difficulties the Palestinians face in their day to day lives. But even getting a tiny taste of its potential to happen feels like a slap in the face.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010


I have been reading Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed and thinking about how I’m going to approach these next three months from a teaching perspective.

We’re meant to have an underlying theme around which we’ll build our syllabus. Something that will be beneficial on a number of different levels; not just language wise but also on a social/community level.

I’m thinking of going for a social media perspective. We’re teaching gifted students from nearby schools and refugee camps so I know they’ll be all over it from a technology perspective, but I want to work with them on how social media can be a catalyst for change and, importantly, how it connects them to the rest of the world.

And I’m not necessarily talking about advocacy either – just the empowerment that comes from information and how that can lead to campaigns, projects and new ideas. Access to different perspectives are a gift that we often take for granted.

That’s the basic idea. I’ve submitted a teaching proposal and will see what feedback I get.

My dream would be to empower these kids in a way that will ripple through their communities as they become the instigators for change and progress. They are the new generation and it is through them that they will create the change they want to see in their worlds - they just don't know they can do it yet.

Monday, 16 August 2010


Things have been great. I’m in a steady relationship with a boy that I’m pretty sure I’m in love with. In an exciting twist he feels the same and we have managed to come up with a ‘plan’. The ultimate in relationship speak.

We met in London. He a charming, green eyed South American type and me, a recently certified English teacher; yet another career changer by recession. It was love at first underwear sighting. I bent over to pick up a marker and he lost track of which tense we were learning.

After spending a year brushing up on his English he moved abroad. In accordance with the ‘plan’, I would continue teaching until he found himself a job after which I would join him in what was sure to be the start of something wonderful.

Seeing as I had a few months left to sow whatever was left of my wild oats, I decided to try and do something I’d been thinking about for years. Going to Palestine and doing something – anything – of value.

An NGO advertising temporary teaching positions in Nablus caught my eye and a few emails and one phone interview later – I was in.

But ‘in’ is such a deceptively simple word isn’t it? Israel reserves the right to deny entry to whomever they choose and as an Arab holding a western passport there is no guarantee that I will actually make it ‘in’ at all.

The roads to Palestine are rocky to say the least. There are a number of options available and none of them guarantee you anything but face time with a customs official who may have had a bad morning.

At the moment it’s a choice between flying in to Tel Aviv or crossing from Jordan via the King Hussein Bridge. Most travel forums advise against saying you are entering the Palestinian Territories to do volounteer work. They recommend posing as a tourist visiting Israel, presenting a plausible itinerary and hoping the customs official is in a good mood or too bored to poke holes in your story.

The fear is that if you waver in your story even a little you may arouse suspicion and be denied entry on the basis of being generally sketchy. Now I’m not a good liar at the best of times. Last month I brought in what was potentially slightly more than the allowed number of cigarettes into the UK and nearly had an asthma attack while walking through customs. My throat immediately closed up and my eyes took on a crazed unblinking stare as I staggered, oxygen deprived, past uniformed officers who, frankly, couldn’t have given me less attention if I was invisible.

So... I don’t think the lying thing's gonna work for me.