Sorry that there was no entry last week folks – my first gap in this weekly blog. The reason? I’ve been busy in Bethlehem and Ramallah. I was there with the British Council to give an overview of our University’s recent developments in the context of the particular themes of fostering graduates with entrepreneurial and intrapreneurial skill sets and attitudes. It’s something with which universities in the region are currently grappling.
I haven’t been to this part of the world before. It’s instantly fascinating. In reflecting on the four and a half days spent out there, my immediate impression is reinforcement of the opinion that, whilst our news channels may not necessarily lie, they certainly don’t tell the whole truth. I think it’s too complicated to fit into news-sized bulletins.
And the whole place is beautifully intoxicating, friendly and curious. It’s a heady mix of ancient influences, jaw dropping architecture with echoes carrying for two millennia, car fumes, winding roads, wheeling, dealing, jasmine scent (in blossom at the moment) and seemingly endless construction and roadworks – every development backs onto scrubland or another plan/ SME in the making.
And in the background is the wall. A dividing undercurrent – concrete, barbed wire and oh so noisily silent, affecting all conversations. Checkpoints abound. A car journey that should take 15 minutes can take more than an hour because of the checkpoints. Little signs on the vehicle registration plates give, or deny, quiet permissions. Underlying tension bubbles and then erupts in places.
On arrival, after a very hectic day first day of conference presentations (including my own) meetings and the beginning of setting up business for the next day (I went to Ahliya University, Bethlehem University on Tuesday and then BZ on Wednesday to give two more presentations) and after being awake for about 30 hours, I decided to take a little wander out in the dusk of Bethlehem.
I trundled for about an hour and took meandering ancient streets to Manger Square, walking along cobbles that are centuries old, now blackened by car tyres. In Manger Square itself, kids playing football jostle for space in a central car park which also has street vendors selling biscuits and black tea from battered flasks. In the background there was the call of the mosques competing with the music from stores and car stereos, itself a jarring cultural mix of influences. I passed one shop selling wooden trinkets and fabrics and there was a jamming session in full progress. Several old men were sat on stools with a number of stringed instruments (not guitars, sounded like sitars, but not) all playing chords and music unfamiliar to my ears. It was fast moving and intricate. Along the way, small details I came across in the architecture jumped out at me – little signals of huge tectonic stories. A particular cross here, or an inscription on stone there, and everywhere a meeting of Arabic, Jewish and Christian influences. Take a look at this little flickr album for some photos and a (very) short video.
I slept (very well) on the first night with the balcony doors open. I fell asleep, and woke up to the humming haze of the city. As I wrote the early part of this entry I could hear early morning car horns and what I think were church bells alongside the call to prayer from the mosques. A digger also started singing its tune in the day’s building works. A true meeting of cross-cultural influences in every sense.
Again, as with several of the previous posts on this blog, I think what I’m writing about here is being alive to, and accepting, the invite. If I’d taken our UK news channels (paper/ media and any other) as the gospel, I don’t think I would have stepped out the hotel room. Of course there are risks, of course there is danger, of course there are people out to take advantage. But it’s the same everywhere and there is also always a huge potential for discovery, growth and generally Good Stuff. The key is recognising when an invite has been given. Most of the time, really, most of the time, there is one there; it’s just a case of seeing it and having the will (courage?) to openly say yes. (And thank you).
Taking my own advice, I was with a guy called Samir on the second day. He was driving me across Bethlehem from one appointment to another and through conversation he offered to show me a place that grinds really good coffee – a take home for the office (they mix it with cardamon here – amazing). He offered to take me there the next day – its a place called Nazeem’s and apparently Nazeem’s mum is the one to speak to if you want the best. What a beautiful invite. I graciously accepted (and said thank you).
See you next week.