Why I returned to the Holy land for a Third Time
The first time I ever stepped onto an aeroplane was five years ago, back in July 2010, headed to the Holy Land. A group of 14 members from my home church in the UK went to volunteer at a children's camp located in Palestine.
During our working week at camp, we were invited to various homes for evening meals, providing us insight into their lives.
So, after 12 days in both Israel and the West Bank, what stood out to me?
- First–how hot it was! August may not have been the best time of year to visit when all I’ve been used to is the ‘Great British summer,’ fluctuating just above or below 20ºC in the North of England!
- Second-how amazingly tasty the food was! If anyone asks me now which type of food is my favourite, it’s definitely Arab food!
- But ultimately, the thing I noticed most was how welcome I felt, especially in Palestine. It was the generous and wholehearted culture that stuck out to me
At the camp, the children and parents were so grateful for what we were doing with them: face painting, crafts, games and more – such a rewarding week!
But when I looked back at the trip, I felt like I had a very sheltered experience. Everything was organised down to the finest detail, with our safety as paramount. It felt as if we were limited to what we could get out of the trip, as a result, and I knew I wanted something more authentic.
So just under three years later, I returned with my sister and two other friends. As two of our group hadn't travelled to Israel and Palestine before, we did a lot of the same sightseeing, but in our own way.
What was it that really made this second trip special? Talking to the locals and listening to their stories, giving us insight into their contrasting lives, with a few even taking us to places that we wouldn't have gone to or found before.
In one such instance, we were walking along the apartheid wall with a friend-a rare experience for many tourists! Our friend came to a stop in front of a house. He said two brothers had lived next door to each other, drawing the question from us, “So where is the other house?” He quickly pointed to the wall, explaining that it had been built directly between the two homes, dividing two families who had previously been so close, and preventing them from seeing one another. This hit us hard, leaving us to mourn this family’s loss.
In another instance, I was surprised when a shopkeeper in the Old City of Jerusalem remembered me. He called me into his shop, recalling how I had been working at the children’s camp. He told me, “There's nothing better for yourself or for others than to volunteer, especially to the less fortunate.”
This past May, full of the travel bug, I had an opportunity to travel again. Of all the places in the world, I was drawn back to the Holy Land, to return and visit the great friends I’d made and to be able to submerge myself in this land containing cultures so different than those in my home.
I was quick to visit the same shopkeeper in the Old City. He again remembered me and then asked where my water was. I explained that I had run out and should probably get some more. He quickly withdrew a large bottle and handed it to me, explaining that when he was young, he had nearly died choking, and someone saved his life by giving him water. Since then, he always keeps a large supply of water to give out to those in need.
On this last trip, I was also able to travel to new places, including Jordan, and volunteer in Palestine.
However, more than anything, what made these trips special was not amazing landscapes, sights or scenery. It was the people I was able to meet!
So will I be back a fourth time?
For sure, and probably more than that too! As a land that has an amazing mixture of old and new cities, white sand beaches, sacred sights, mountains, valleys, deserts, a multitude of different cultures and is also home to some of my closest friends, it’s going to take a lot to stop me! Most of all, I always have more to learn from my interactions with the people and their complex reality.