Arava Bus

The moment I got on the bus, this story of my trip began or maybe before that!
Long was the way, but harder was to describe
sunny was that afternoon, but darker might be the night

Should I make the effort to socialize with people?
My path seems to be exhausting, my day seems to be full
No need to vex, no one knows me, all are minding their own business
So, I thought to mind my own.
Then I got bombarded with a thousand questions, from a thousand inquisitive minds.

What is your name and where did you come from?
You are from Jenin and Bethlehem is your home?!
I heard about Jenin, to get there. It’s hard a bit, but I have never been, have I met anyone from there? No, not yet.
: it’s just next door, Isn’t it the city known for…
Me: yes, yes, known for the Intifada, the invasion, the resistance and used to be militarized,
What’s else? What caught you by surprise?
: No, no, do not get me wrong, then she started to stroke my back as if I were a pathetic dog.
don’t be offended, but you seem to be open-minded!
: Sorry, aren’t you the one who just said: you’ve never been, you’ve never met .. so I guess Moses opened the sea, maybe his children blocked the door and not allowing you to see, and you are the one who served in the army not me, so why to worry? I am not a pharaoh, and I am not asking Sarah to marry her, and keeping your life as a dowry.
She laughed, you know that we are not allowed to come to you, and we might be at risk …
I said: your government is the one that scares you, but you have never knocked on an Arab’s house door that probably will host you !!
The way to the Westbank is not tightly sealed, but the one guarding it is a fully armed soldier.
I cannot guarantee your safety but go out of curiosity, without prejudice, or presumptions.
Mark your face with the signs of happiness. try to look comfortable. she laughed a lot this time and seemed to be joyful.
I told her, “now you know something new about my people, that we love to laugh”.
….

Another passenger dropped her ring. I do not know if she was wearing it as a memory, or as an amulet, or has it become too tight on her finger, and she no longer cares about it. By chance, it caught my eye, after she said never mind. It fell on me to find the ring, to see what was carved on its side, even if I died, even if I needed to use a shovel, even if it would get me in trouble.
I found it, and reading what’s written on it was my agenda, I was connected to this ring like I was connected to the placenta.

The carving revealed words in Hebrew, most likely to be the ancient Hebrew.
They seem to be verses from Tanach. This seems to be a good introduction to a deep conversation!
Here is your ring. Well, I will not read what is written on it. I do not want to be an intruder.
You tell me if you want… I said that nicely, otherwise, I would turn into a monster.
I guessed right, it was psalm 23:6. Then I pulled out my phone to read the text since I have the Bible, the Tanakh, and the Qur’an in Arabic, English, and Hebrew.
I asked unabashedly, can I read something from the book of Isaiah to you?
She shot back, “you are from Bethlehem. Are you a Christian? Did you convert to Judaism?”
She flooded me with other questions, “why is your name Mahmoud? And where did you study?” My name was given to me when I was born, but I grew up.
I practiced rituals for a while, and then I came to faith. I stopped believing in the myth. I started to take spiritual meth.
My name, my family, my country, and my language are things I used to belong to.
Before my family named me, as a human I was created with a mind and soul that God guided.
I was guided by God’s love for me, my love for people.
Here I am leaving a city where the call to prayer comes from mosques mixed with the sounds of monasteries ringing bells. Here I am crossing a wall, a barrier, and guards.
That was my first day going to join Arava Institute for Environmental Studies in Keturah near the city of Eilat.
I am leaving behind a job, family, and friends. I am going to discover the vicinity of a place which is near and at the same time further than any other place, to see with my naked eyes to shorten spaces, hoping to reduce what can be lost in translation.

About the Author
Mahmoud Ghanim, 29, Bethlehem/Palestine: a peace and environmental activist. A poet and writer part of Yala Young leaders for citizen Journalism a project of Peres center for peace and innovation, which connects young leaders from across the middle east and north Africa online.
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