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Today, I went to the mall attached to the Central Bus Station to look into a replacement camera more closely, and it was a partially successful trip. I went to every electronics store, got business cards and an idea of when to call, and then spent some time in the place with my friend Scott. It is the first time I have exhibited strong characteristics of a person from DC – he looked at me and commented on how business-like and straightforward I was being with getting all the contact information. I thought about it, and realized that it was the first time I had done such a thing in a few months, yet it came so naturally. Either DC was the right choice of school location for me, or it has grown on me enough to affect my methods of getting things done.

We then proceeded to walk from the station (in the far north-west corner of the city) for 5 consecutive hours, and it was a great day. First stop was the Israeli shuk (open-air market), and that was quite the experience. First of all, things were ridiculously cheap. That, and there were a million and one options for what one could buy, be it food, drink, clothes, art, and so forth. It was an interesting stop, but some of the graffiti we saw on the way out was quite the statement. In a parody of both the hostile conditions of the Middle East and the well-known expression “diamonds are forever,” there was a colorful and surprisingly symmetrical rendition of spray-painted letters declaring “WAR IS FOREVER” on the side of one building, 2 stories up. A strong statement, and given the history of the region, a bitterly accurate one too.

Next up was this protest that Scott had heard about from his work. They had described it as a woman’s league that organizes weekly protests against the occupation of the Palestinian territories, and he was interested: I figured it would be peculiar to see a protest in a country without a constitution or a bill of rights. We arrived, and it ended up being an older women’s league: the average age was 60, with a few ladies up into their 90’s. Nevertheless, they had their black signs shaped like hands which read “End the occupation,” and stood in the Paris Plaza by the King David Hotel for an hour every Friday. Very admirable, if not politically sanctioned – there were three armed police officers patrolling the vicinity, and they didn’t look pleased. You know those 90-year old women: troublemakers, the lot of them.

We started to walk east across the city, past the King Solomon Hotel and so forth, and then we passed something that Scott had seen before on his walk to work. It is a series of city blocks under extensive renovation, development, and construction, and improvement, but on one side there is a large open area. Most of it is a park, but the corner of it is the most dilapidated cemetery I have ever seen. We went in to check it out, and every few feet we looked at graves that looked to be decades old at the least, all of them Arabic. Also, there is a huge fenced-in area, with rusty barbed wire around a large pit that looks to be quite old. Scott told me that when he was there last time, a group of kids were playing in the center of this very questionable pit. It was nearly nighttime, and they kids all whipped around their heads to look at him simultaneously, leading us to dub the area “The Children of the Corn Training Center.” 🙂

We went into the Old City again, this time to look into the Palestinian shuk near Damascus Gate. it was certainly worthwhile: Scott managed to get 3 cucumbers, 3 tomatoes, and a box of strawberries for 15 shekelim, which is about USD $4. They also had very, VERY fresh things for sale: live pigeons and rabbits that could be bought and brought home for cooking, and vegetables arriving all the time in cars, trucks, and by hand. A lively place, with what are probably the best prices in the city. There was even a little card-playing joint: we were invited in, and the people looked nice enough, but we decided to pass this time.

The other cultural difference that became very clear to me today regards the way in which Israelis run retail stores. Every receipt I have seen has clearly printed (in Hebrew and English) at the bottom “NO REFUNDS; NO CANCELLATIONS.” This is mostly why I am hoping to order my new camera and hard drive from home, so I can get replacements/make returns in the event of a shoddy product. That, and it will probably be cheaper in all honesty. We’ll see how that goes.

Finally, on the way home, we walked though some intensely Orthodox neighborhoods. Now, it wasn’t ultra-Orthodox: those have signs proclaiming that tourists are welcome under no circumstances whatsoever. Still, we got a couple of odd and even dirty looks from people. Still, it was interesting to see.

Bethlehem tomorrow… 🙂

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