The Living Stones – Day 2

By Paris Parker

After Thurday’s/Friday’s grueling 31 hours, I feel like we have recuperated.  Today, Saturday, Our energy level felt closer to “groggy,” than “Night of the Living Dead.” That was evident in the way we leaped towards today’s challenges and opportunities.

After a 6:00 a.m. run (for those with the will to do so) and a 6:30 a.m. breadfast, we a gathered and herded toward the Church of the Nativity.  There we found shelter in the shelter of the Basilica’s shade, which was just another blessing of this holy place. We ventured inside, first to visit a cave in which some historians believed Jesus was born; the cave was simply adorned, with an altar and a few windows into the surrounding tombs and tunnels. In the grotto a hymn was sung and many pictures taken before we ventured on.

Next we rose to the Basilica’s main floor, navigating our way around scaffolding, other tour groups, and the massive holes in the floor. The air was rich with incense; for some it was nauseating. We made our way to the entrance of the popularly accepted place of our lord’s birth. There we sat for a mind-numbing 45 minutes until the cave opened at 10:15. At the opening time we made our way down into the richly adorned room. Tapestries littered the floor and downloadelegant paintings hung from the walls. Near the ground was a small, pizza-oven-sized niche, the place of Jesus’ birth. While most only saw glimpses while being crowded by sweaty tourists, a spark was still ignited in all.

With a new spark in our hearts we ventured to Shepherd’s Fields. The fields amounted to a stone path ascending through a garden to a small, domed church. We sung a few hymns in the great acoustics and soon returned to the bus, ready for our long-awaited next stop. Lunch. Lunch was a delicious chicken Shawerma at Ruth’s Restaurant. But we had no time lounge after our meal, as we were now headed to the eye-opener portion of the day.

That eye opener was the Palestinian refugee camp of Dheisheh. On the refugee camp was IBDAA Cultural Center, which hoped to spark creativity and peace within the camp. We crowded into a hot back room to meet our tour guide Aysar Alsaifi. Aysar had grown up on the camp with his siblings and parents, but had left to pursue dance, French travel (with the many troubles of traveling as a Palestinian), and was now pursuing a career in writing and scholarly studies. Aysar told us of Dheisheh, a camp of 14,000 people in less than one square kilometer. The camp was victim to frequent Israeli soldier raids, which happened at least 1-2 times per week. Just a week before our visit 1000 Israeli soldiers has swept into the camp, arresting 35 and shooting several (not all were fatal). But Aysar’s introduction was merely skimming the surface, and we only dug deeper when he led us into the camp. What awaited us were not tents, canvasses, or rows of portable toilets. They were nothing like those that constantly flood our television news stream. THe camps reminiscent of those in Central Africa had disappeared from Palestine decades ago. It was a neighbourhood closer to those of Trenton or Camden. As we roamed the littered streets, which were homes to disheveled children and graffiti, our eyes were opened. The world’s urgency had not gone to places like Dheisheh, Trenton, or Camden. That urgency had gone to oil-rich countries that wanted democracy. Because places like Dheisheh had become commonplace. No dire help was needed as they were just ghettos. Nothing urgent. But indeed places like Dheisheh, needed help, and we must provide that.