First Walk

I walked today, expecting to hit a wall.

Starting from the center of Jerusalem, I traveled south by foot and bus, towards the barrier. My borrowed map was nearly falling apart, but with a little help from my trusty compass, it was good enough to get me to the zoo, my first destination. Here, the ground fell away into a steep valley where train tracks ran amid construction. A road lay parallel to the tracks, and then the ground rose again sharply, mimicking the undulating landscape around the city. Somewhere between the tracks and the hill was the Green Line, but there was nothing to suggest it, save this sign.

I continued with the main road toward the east, hoping to find a checkpoint nearby. Before too long, an empty Egged bus pulled over and opened its doors. The driver shouted at me in Hebrew, I tried to wave him away and explain I couldn’t understand him, but he wasn’t having it and motioned for me to come closer and talk with him in simple English. He ended up giving me a free ride to the next intersection, which was pretty cool. He also didn’t seem to believe me when I told him I was just ‘out for a walk.’

After a delay at the Mall, for public bathrooms, free wifi, and pudding, I continued East, now eager to reach Beit Safafa, a neighborhood that was awkwardly bisected by the Green Line, leading to residents receiving different forms of Jerusalem ID and hence very different privileges. On my way, I passed these Palestinian boys perched on the side of a hill:

I ended up not actually venturing into Beit Safafa today in favor of continuing south toward Bethlehem in hopes of reaching the wall, or at least getting a glimpse of it. For the next half hour, I climbed a huge hill toward Gilo, a neighborhood on the very southern outskirts of Jerusalem. I crossed the Green Line and didn’t notice it until I got back and looked at a map.

I had a spectacular view of Jerusalem during my climb, looking back on the city as the sun got low, and panting slightly from the climb. I kept my eyes peeled for a checkpoint on the crest of the hill, and I thought I had a likely candidate picked out, but when I got to the top, I was disappointed to see it was just a lonely petrol station. I scrambled up a steep rise and through a quiet neighborhood. I found an alleyway with steps that faced south and drew in a sharp breath when I turned the corner.

My first glimpse of the wall. It was actually shocking to see in person, even after reading about it, looking at pictures, thinking about it, for months. Two girls sat casually in a park behind me. Everything seemed so normal. But here it was. Massive, unyielding. This is no memorial or history like what is left in Germany. This is now and real.

I didn’t make it any closer today because the sun was getting low and I wasn’t entirely sure how I was getting back. So I turned my back on the wall, for now, and descended the hill. I caught bus 32 which careened through rush-hour traffic into the city center. At King George Street, there was a huge traffic jam created by a crowd of people in the street, completely blocking traffic. They had anti-racist signs and were jumping energetically, positioned squarely in front of a bus. The bus driver finally navigated a corner and started shouting in Hebrew and opened the doors. About half the people on the bus disembarked. Confused, I decided to stay on the bus and stick it out. I shortly realized that he was likely informing us of an impromptu route change, because we didn’t end up where I expected we would. Nevertheless, I navigated back to Nachlaot without incident and collapsed on the couch, stiff and sore from nearly 9 miles of walking. We had an awesome pasta dinner, and some nice company. Tomorrow, I’m heading to Bethlehem to continue the walk up-close and in-person.

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About ktrenerry

I am inspired by human-powered, intentional travel and borderlands of all types: international, neighborhood boundaries, and especially the heavily disputed. My work often seeks to combine these two themes, resulting in projects that have taken me more than 1,000 miles down the Iron Curtain Trail by bike, and around and through some of today’s most notorious walls in Israel/Palestine, Cyprus, and Northern Ireland on foot. The latter journey was undertaken as part of my current independent project, Walking Walls. I am creating a book as the culmination of the project, forthcoming 2014.   I am currently living in Boston.

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