Monday, 30 October 2017

Oh, Ramallah!

When I was on the bus heading to Ramallah, I did not know what to expect upon my arrival. I refused to check images of the city on Google Image in advance, so I could discover everything by myself, without any spoilers. And I was very pleasantly surprised!

Ramallah is such a vibrant and animated city with very dynamic nightlife. Not the image influenced by articles about the West Bank in the media, focusing on poverty, misery, despair, suffering. I saw many new cars on the roads, many people eating out in nice restaurants and hanging out in bars, a lot of new building developments and roads, which stands for certain economical progres. I left Ramallah three days later, overpowered with the feeling of joy, happiness, hope and excitement about the city and its inhabitants. No, three days are not enough and being a tourist is not living the local life, but I did not detect this complete hopelessness as in some places in South-East Asia, for example. Hope! This is the word I would associate with Ramallah.

Two more things will be closely linked to this place: manakish and ice-cream. Available in many places of the Levant, manakish is flat bread topped with different goodness: za’atar, cheese, ground meat etc. It is sold either in special manakish shops or at street food stalls and is equally good on its own or accompanied with a meal.

Manakish with goat cheese and mushroom

Manakish with za'atar

Goes well with the local beer

Oh, and the local ice-cream! They make it from the resin of chewing gum, imported mainly from Greece, which contributes to its unique taste and elastic texture. Now I can tell for sure that the best ice-cream that I’ve ever had was not in Italy, but in Ramallah. If you have a chance, try pistachio!

Pistachio ice-cream. Yes, it's white!

Saturday, 7 October 2017

The Golan Heights adventures

Apologies for not being very active on my blog. If you are interested to follow my adventures, please check my Instagram, where I post daily. And here’s the latest update!

When I came to the Negev in August, the original plan was to stay there until the end of October, but two weeks ago I happened to relocate to the Golan Heights. It’s not that I did not enjoy my time in the desert or the work I was doing. On the contrary! I did a lot! But it was my curiosity about seeing more of Israel that pushed me to leave the farm. With this in mind, I sent out a few volunteering application and was recruited by the hostel Golan Garden in the heart of the Golan Heights, Katzrin.

My new experience differs in many ways from the previous one. First of all, instead of sand there’s lots of water around: the Galilean sea is only one-hour drive, multiple waterfalls, rivers and streams are walking distance. Secondly, I feel extremely grateful for the trees, casting lovely shades everywhere. In some places, the local landscape reminds me of savannah with gorgeous huge trees spreading their branches to host travelers and wild animals (here we have hyenas, jackals,  boars and hyraxes.)  Thirdly, I meet much more people on daily basis: three other volunteers plus up to 15 guests per night. Not to forget that the population of Katzrin by far eclipses the tiny community of my previous volunteering. And lastly, my work here is less physically demanding. It obviously gets busier when the hostel is full, but cannot even remotely be compared to what I used to do on the farm.

Currently, I work five days a week either the morning ( 8am - 3pm) or the evening ( 3pm - 23pm) shift. The morning chores include making pancakes for our guest, changing bedsheets, doing laundry and check-outs. In the evening we focus on indoors and outdoors basic maintenance, more laundry and hanging out with guests, but only if the guests are friendly. When we have fewer people at the hostel, we take them outside Katzrin to set campfire or to relax in hot springs, which this area is famous for. Not too shabby, right?

Golan Gardens Hostel

Israel annexed the Golan Heights from Syria during the Six-Day war but it was not recognized internationally, which reminds me a bit of the Crimea situation. Having said that, for many people I am technically in Syria. In terms of the population, it’s a 50-50 ratio Israelis to Syrians, with predominant majority of Druze community on the side of the latter. (The Druze food is amazing, by the way!) The Golan Heights has a strategic importance to Israelis, who, due the perfect topography of the area, can monitor Syrian movements literally with the bare eye. Given the aggravation of the situation with ISIS, all the UN envoys and most peacekeepers have been relocated to Katzrin and it’s not uncommon to see a UN car drive past the hostel.

Although, nothing inside the city limits reminds about the past conflict, once you step outside, the signs of the Six-Day war can be found in many places. Suddenly during the hike you’ll notice ghost buildings with the bullet marks on the walls or mine fields enclosed by barbed wire.

Last week, I visited the highest point of the Golan, the mount Bental, which makes 1170 metres above sea level. From there you can see Syria so clearly! On some days tourist can even hear sounds of real fighting and then it feels completely surreal and strange. Thankfully, the UN military are monitoring the area day and night. And the café on the very top of the mont Bental carries this very symbolic name: Coffee Annan.

Oh, and have I mentioned that the Golan wine is one of the best wine I've ever tasted?