We are here in Bethlehem in the West Bank -- we arrived yesterday afternoon. It's now almost 8:00 am, and I have had my first encounter with Palestinian hospitality. A young man named Alan greeted me in English outside his shop and invited me to drink sweet tea next door. It was delicious tea and interesting conversation about his experience as a helper for a National Geographic photography team, his family here and in the United States, and the lack of opportunities here.
He picked up English by chatting with tourists on the street, and he had a good command of it -- his favorite phrase seemed very appropriate: "You're welcome." He talked about how safe it is in Bethlehem, "Safer than New York. Safer than United States."
On the flight I sat next to an American woman who had served in the Israeli Defense Force. We didn't talk politics. She told me to be careful, that she had heard it was dangerous for Americans even in Bethlehem now.
She also recommended a movie called Invictus about Nelson Mandela right after the fall of apartheid and the South African rugby team being used as an opportunity for reconciliation between racial groups in South Africa. The irony of this particular movie recommendation was bouncing around in my mind throughout the flight. Hopefully Israel and Palestine can arrive at some sort of reconciliation as well...
Bethlehem reminds me of small colonial cities in Mexico and Ecuador. Narrow stone roads, old buildings (although I'm guessing that everything here is quite a bit older... we're going on a guided tour tomorrow so I'll check). The hills here are incredibly steep! Craig commented that you can better understand biblical passages about "a light on a hill" when you are here. (Did I get that quote right? Biblical scholars, help me out!)
OK, I'm going to join the others for breakfast. We are going to worship at the Evangelical Christmas Lutheran Church that is attached to the International Center of Bethlehem (where we are staying), and then we have a pretty free day. I'm looking forward to exploring.