Bethlehem. Even for those without a Christian upbringing it brings forth images of a rustic birth setting with shepards and kings in attendance. The reality now, in case you hadn’t guessed, is rather different. Bethlehem is in Palestine and is the location for a number of refuge camps started in 1948. Since then the camps have grown and made Bethlehem into a large town, subsumed into the massive Jerusalem conurbation spread across many hills.
Entry to and out of Bethlehem from Israel is regulated with re-entry especially difficult – controlled as it is by turnstiles, x-ray machines and metal detectors. A inhumane process, and to suffer it very day must be humiliating. The one of suggestion puts off many tourists on which Bethlehem’s economy used to rest. Today wandering around Manger square the touts out number the tourists and the fantastic tourist centre looks like a white elephant.
We weren’t there, however, to see the sights; we were there to work with the children of Diesha camp (which number as many as 8,000!). Diesha camp crowds rough concrete houses up winding lanes paying no heed to the conveniencece of automobiles let alone planning permission. This was the first time we had visited a camp and the atmosphere is starkly different. Speaking with the people there is a distinct sense of dislocation and a bitterness of swapping olive groves with the concrete jungle.
Our first show was an interesting one; a combination of our show and the local circus. In a wind swept playground with looming skies, it was chaotic but full of fun and energy. Th crowd tripled in size during the performance and only the bitter cold could stop the show from going on and on, such was the enthusiasm of the local circus.
The next day we went to a community centre funded by Germany (all facilities and amenities are funded by one country or the other) on the top of the hill. Waiting for us were a bunch of special needs kids. Th show we did was punctuated with spontaneous crowd participation. At one point, where I drop the juggling knives (one purpose I must add), a boy jumped up and, as quick as a flash, grabbed a knife, swinging for my knee before Sheila could come to the rescue. Afterwards we had a very enthusiastic games session with a parachute and ball games. Then lunch and time to teach juggling to the young people who help in the centre, followed by another show to 50 local kids. Best day yet 🙂
Half way through. Time for a short break, time for the Dead Sea, time for some luck. Or was it?
Finding nowhere suitable to stay (full or hideously overpriced) I was heading to sleep on the beach, when a car stopped and a young lady leaned out and invited me to stay in her flat while she was away for the weekend! Turns out she was mad about the circus and seeing my juggling clubs strapped to my bag, she opened her house to me. What trust, what kindness. Quiet typical for the Israeli’s I have had the pleasure to meet on this trip.
Time to swim in waterfall pools, time to swim (float) in the Dead Sea (very oily and decidedly weird) and time to lounge in natural hot springs. Lovely.
Next day, I did what I love best; I climbed a mountain. From 400 metres below sea level (the dead sea) to 300 above. From that vantage point you could see the desert plateux with it’s undulating scene. Warm weather and sun seeking. 2 hours up the road and it is bitterly cold and raining in Jerusalem.
Onwards to Nablus and Jenin.