These are photos I took back in March 2014 of my friend Leena in Palestine. She recently got married. Congratulations to Leena and her groom. We miss you!

How to Offend Your Neighbors

I had good intentions. I truly did.

how to offend

I wanted to paint every room in my house a different color.  At the paint store, Morgan (my downstairs neighbor) and I chose what we hoped would be a deep, calming blue, like diving into a swimming pool on a hot day. It turned out looking more like Smurf blue. Okay.

Once the blue was done, I decided to paint one of my favorite spiritual quotes on one wall.

I read "Only love is real" in a book about A Course in Miracles, and I thought it would make an inspiring quote for me to contemplate each day during breaks from work.

I began, painting high on a ladder in thick, white block letters.

I soon finished, happy with my wall.

But then Morgan gently noted that I hadn't left much space between the "is" and the "real."

Since I wrote it high on the wall, it was visible from the street below, as we are on the second story.

So to Palestinians passing by -- people affected every day by the brutal Israeli occupation -- it looked like my wall said:

"Only love isreal." Or, to the quickly glancing eye,

Only love Israel.

And I had written the unintentionally political message in white on a blue wall, exactly the colors of the flag of Israel.


Who does that? Sets out to write an uplifting spiritual quote and ends up reminding her neighbors of the bane of their existence?

Me. I did it. Hahaha.

Although this happened close to when we moved into this apartment back in March of 2013, I thought it blog worthy now, since each time I tell the story it gets funnier. Mistake + time = funny.

Don't worry, I hussled back up that ladder to paint over the "real" with my Smurf blue. I moved it way over to the right and down, at such a safe distance that "is" and "real" could never, ever, be in danger of turning into "Israel."


Now the wall looks like this:


Lesson learned. Don't move into the middle of an oppressed people group and write a pro-oppressor message on your wall.

Love is real,


How to Turn Conflict-Zone Living into a Video Game

Welcome to the first Packing Lust post of 2014! I'm so excited to get back to posting after a nice, long, good-for-the-soul holiday break. Let me set the scene for you. It was mid December, and Charming and I were looking forward to our family's visit with warm anticipation.  We decorated. Charming made a star-shaped tree topper out of aluminum foil whose star shape would later be called into question.2

Morgan (BFF, land lady, and co-owner of the cafe downstairs) did an AMAZING job decorating the restaurant, turning its already warm atmosphere into a festive tribute to the season.


And then, as if perfectly timed, it started snowing. How quaint. I took this picture with plans to show you what I assumed would be a light, pre-Christmas dusting.Dusting

But then it kept on snowing.


And snowing.


And snowing. Until we were completely snowed in. Except for Jelly, who is an unstoppable canine force.


The power was out for days. Propane was running dangerously low. Charming was fielding calls from freezing employees who didn't have a way to heat their homes, but who were more concerned about the run-off flooding Gaza and displacing thousands. I spent a day downstairs with Morgan and Saleh complaining about how cold I was. They let me sit in the spot closest to the fire, piled blankets on my shoulders, and put their dog in my lap. I went out at one point and got into a life-or-death snowball fight with strange men. I survived and promised Charming (and myself) I wouldn't leave again during the storm.

The roads out of town were closed. My vision of greeting my family at the airport wouldn't come true.

When they landed at Ben Gurion Airport, they had to  make their own way to a hotel in the city. Little did we know, Tel Aviv was sunny and practically balmy.


As soon as it was remotely possible, we got into a 4-wheel drive vehicle and headed for the beach. Getting out of town was like leaving the wreckage of a zombie-desolated city. Cars were sliding all over the road.  At one point, I left the safety of the Jeep to make a mad dash over ice for an ATM. Armed with cash, a first aid kit, extra water and blankets, we started our journey to the coast, neither of us sure if the roads would be open or passable.

We made it. It took twice as long as normal, but once we were out of the treacherous hills, it was an easy trip. It was so great to finally see my family and enjoy a Tel Aviv coastal sunset.


I should note now that this isn't my entire family. My dad and two more siblings weren't able to make it for this trip. Maybe next time.  We had such a wonderful time with our smart, funny, loving, and very patient and gracious family. We made sure their trip included lots of good food, starting on our first night together in Tel Aviv.


The next day it was back to Ramallah, where the snow was melting.


Charming outdid himself with his breakfast spreads. We ate.


And ate.


And ate.


and ate.


And went all around both Israel and Palestine, including an emotional visit to Hebron. Very few people were around, except for the TIPH observers. (Temporary International Presence in Hebron).


The family were good sports the whole time, turning the challenges of 3rd-world living into levels 1-5 of a video game. Level one being getting through passport control, and level five being a moment in Hebron when, upset Charming hadn't tipped them enough for their (unrequested) services, a huge gang of boys surrounded our vehicle and tried to trap us in the parking lot they had lead us to by closing the gates. We escaped our would-be captors by a very narrow opening. Perhaps our good luck was due to all the holiness, including a trip to the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem and the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.

Here they are stooping low to go in the door that was made small to protect the Church of the Nativity from marauders on horseback, and presumably, tall people.


We took them out to Ein Kenya, which is a beautiful spot of nature near Ramallah, and home of Juthour Arboretum.  We got our exercise, and my mom, brother, and sister managed to hang out looking like models for sunglasses and active wear.




We went to Jericho and on down to catch a view of the Dead Sea.


The trip gave me the opportunity to do some Gensplaining. I love pretending to know what I'm talking about.


Prince Charming got to do some tour-guiding as well. It was a pleasure when our visitors were so open-minded, curious, and eager to talk about the joys and challenges of the region.


Seriously, family, your visit and wonderful mindset rocked and made every minute fun.

I thank all three of you for being intrepid & adventurous,


positive and resilient in the face of obstacles and setbacks,


and extremely stylish and radiantly attractive.


I was so sad when you packed up to leave.


We love you!




How to Make Jibneh (Guest Post by Prince Charming)

Jibneh is the Arabic word for cheese. As many of you know, Charming is a talented and dedicated chef.  He enjoys challenges like trying a new recipe or cooking an unfamiliar vegetable. I've enjoyed the results of his dairy explorations and think it only fair that we share his forays into fromage with you. -GPH

How to Make Jibneh by Prince Charming

I originally started making cheese in Palestine because Cheddar costs a fortune. I did not think that Cheddar would be hard to make,  but that it would simply take a lot of time. I was wrong; it is hard to make. I found out, however that another thing I miss from home (which costs more than it should in America) is very easy to make. Basic white cheese. Also called full cream ricotta. Or queso blanco. Or paneer. Or Farmer’s Cheese, Cottage Cheese. Or, in Palestine, Jibneh.I also started making cheese in Palestine because we moved into an awesome apartment above La Vie Cafe in Ramallah. Our neighbors own the cafe and their love of DIY fit in pretty well with the way my wife and I want to live. It’s inspiring. The fact that they rave about everything I make doesn’t hurt.I wake up early for work, usually around 5am. I like watching the sunrise, and it's a good way to remind myself that I want to skip hangovers when we’re drinking cocktails at the cafe downstairs in the evening. The habit, however, is hard to break on the weekends, and I am usually lucky if I can sleep until 6am. To kill time until Genevieve wakes up I usually do something in the kitchen -- bread or cheese for the most part. Sometimes butter. I have mustard marinating right now too.

Simple White Cheese


A pot, 2 liters of cow milk, lemon juice or white vinegar, salt, cheesecloth. If you don’t have cheesecloth a clean cotton t-shirt or pillowcase cut up into a square will do. If you want to press the cheese, you'll need a carton (such as a cleaned out ice cream carton) with small holes sliced into it for the liquid to drain.
 How to Make Jibneh-001


  • Heat two liters of milk in a pot until it is almost too hot to put you finger in. Don’t let it boil. turn off the heat.
  • Immediately add ¼ cup (125 grams or so) of white vinegar or the juice of half a lemon, mix.
  • Let sit for 20 minutes until the curd and whey have separated (when you see white chunks of cheese floating in yellowish liquid, it is done)
  • Strain this through a cheesecloth. I usually tie this to my kitchen faucet and let it drain overnight, but if you want to eat it immediately just ball the cheese in the cloth and press it until most of the whey is out.
  • Add a couple pinches of salt and mix.
  •  If you want paneer or queso blanco, you can press the cheese slightly using heavy cans or jars set on top of the cheese in a carton. Here is how it looks pressed:
 How to Make Jibneh-002
If you want classic American cottage cheese, mix it with a bit of cream only without pressing. Otherwise, I usually mix it with spices of some kind, cream, and put it through the food processor. It is particularly good mixed with lemon pepper, jalapenos, or zataar (Genevieve's favorite).Alternatively you can add it to pastry,  or you can use it to make lasagna.Serve with olives, olive oil, zataar, or whatever else you want.

Sawtain! (Double Health = Bon Appetit!) *** Al albak (right back atcha -- literally "to your heart") Prince Charming

Calli's Visit to Israel and Palestine

Calli's Visit to Israel and Palestine-001Today's entry falls in the middle of the much anticipated visit of my dear friend Caroline. I met Calli when I was studying at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, England for a semester of university, a fact that we've both had to tell stern passport control agents as we entered each other's countries to visit over the years.

Poor Calli's entry to Israel via Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv this visit was prolonged as they put her through the standard series of interviews they do when finding out someone is visiting Palestine.

I paced and worried as over an hour passed from the time her plane was supposed to land. I knew that they were holding her in a room somewhere by keeping her passport hostage.

When she finally emerged and after joyful and relieved hugs, she told me they asked many of the same questions over and over. They even asked "Aren't you scared to be going to the West Bank?" which after so long living in the West Bank seems like a funny question; the gap between how the average Israeli seems to perceive the safety/instability of the West Bank and the actual reality on the ground is so wide.

While Calli has been here, we've talked a lot about how the people of these interwoven countries  react differently to the perceived threats they offer to each other. In Israel, there are bag and trunk checks at the entrances to major malls and parking garages. There are lines for free gas masks. In Palestine, they don't plan much more than three days out for anything. Life is too unpredictable to try to control anything. There could be a protest, closure, or (in Gaza) a missile strike. The result in both countries is the same: people who live with constant stress and anxiety.

Here I've not observed the sense of The Good Life, or the relaxed openness I've found in countries like Italy and France.  In both countries I demand or take what I need - it is never given to me without strong action.  In Israel I must demand loudly that the server at a restaurant come take my order because that's what everyone does.  No demand, no service. In Palestine I must cut off other drivers in traffic because that's how everyone drives.  If you don't cut someone off, you simply won't be able to go where you need to go.

Another interpretation of all this loud demanding and offensive driving is that is it simply part of the passionate Mediterranean culture of the area. But I think it's a bit more than passion I'm observing. I sense deep rooted fear and oppression.  It's almost impossible to avoid tapping into the fuel line of fear that runs people's lives here.

In addition to talking about the ups and downs of life here with Calli, we've made sure to experience a lot of the ups, starting with hummus and salads on the beach in Tel Aviv on Friday afternoon. Calli is a gifted photographer and took many of these photos:

Calli's Visit to Israel and Palestine-002
Saturday Prince Charming made an Instagramable and delicious traditional breakfast with eggs, zatar, olives, and more:
Calli's Visit to Israel and Palestine-003
We went to the Dead Sea for a float -- and a therapeutic skin masque made from the naturally
occurring black mud there.
Calli's Visit to Israel and Palestine-004
Sunday we visited Jerusalem and took a walk along the ramparts. The best part of that was holding an invisible bow and arrow aimed out of one of the narrow defense slots at the top of the wall.
Calli's Visit to Israel and Palestine-005

Later in the evening we went to the Tower of David light show which got great reviews on Trip Advisor. It was very impressive and well-produced.

Last night we enjoyed evening and sunset views from Hosh Jasmin restaurant in the West Bank near Bethlehem and Calli enjoyed her new favorite drink - Leemoon bee nana, or lemon with mint, an icy sweet thirst quencher.

Calli's Visit to Israel and Palestine-006
Calli's Visit to Israel and Palestine-007

Now we are headed out for some shopping and yoga.

Thanks for visiting Calli, it's been wonderful to share our temporary home with you!

Day of the Catastrophe

I was having trouble deciding what to blog -- there are so many things I could choose from recently -- so I decided to play catch up, and tell you about a cultural moment I had back in May of this year.Nakba Day, or the commemoration of the Day of the Catastrophe, happens on May 15 each year in Palestine to mark the forced exodus of Palestinians from their homeland in 1948 and ongoing.The thrilling sound of drums and bagpipes (the latter have been curiously appropriated as the national instrument, or perhaps Scotland appropriated them from Palestine) caught me by surprise as I did some shopping in town that day, and I stopped to capture the spirit in the air. Despite it being a commemorative day, the word celebratory does more to accurately describe the sense of festivity there was as rowdy children marched, not perfectly in line, but adorably playing their drums and waving their flags. Ramallah residents try hard to stay positive in the face of military occupation, to protest only peacefully, and to mark all major holidays with a parade.
The parade phenomenon is my favorite display of ecumenicalism here, because there are only a limited number of children who play in the marching bands. These bands are called "scouts" and the groups are formed of children of various religions and both genders.
So the scouts come out to play for the holidays that all three major religious groups here celebrate. They play for the Muslim holidays, the Eastern Christian holidays, and the Latin Christian holidays. The scouts' proud parents of all religions come out for all the parade holidays - no matter the associated religion -- to see their children march and play.Since the Latin and Eastern Orthodox Christmases and Easters both fall on different days, the Christians of the city compromise: Latin Christians get to celebrate their Christmas day with a parade, and Eastern Christians get to celebrate their Easter day with a parade. That way there isn't parade overload and the city celebrates each major holiday only once a year, in a show of unity.

Despite the city taking precautions, parade overload still threatens the younger citizens of Ramallah.

My Brother's Wedding & Back to Palestine


It's always a challenge getting back to our little slice of heaven in Palestine. Last time my taxi home from the airport broke down, forcing me to hang out on the side of the highway for an hour while a replacement came.

This time, our first flight was late, meaning our entire trip became delayed by almost 24 hours. Then upon our arrival in Tel Aviv, we discovered that the airline lost all three of our checked bags (one was filled with books donated to a local library, but yes, we still traveled with a rather un-minimalist amount of stuff).  After filing an incident baggage, we jumped in the special cab reserved for us (not one in the regular queue, which can only travel within Israel) . After a trip free of engine problems, we finally arrived home.

Home to our garden gate, that is. Morgan, our neighbor, rushed out to meet us at the entrance, explaining that we couldn't go into our house yet and it would be best to wait in the cafe for ten minutes or so.

Apparently, the bees, who live in a hive on the roof, had escaped. A swarm of them was filling the hallway

entrance to our apartment, thereby blocking our entry.  Exhausted from our voyage, we just had to laugh. We waited ten minutes, and then gingerly stepped our way through the remaining cloud of confused, tired bees to our apartment. It was wonderful to be home and great to see Jelly Bean.

The last leg of our USA trip included my brother's beautiful wedding and then a trip to the family cottage at Holden Beach.

I practiced my photography a lot at the wedding, snapping some portraits with Prince Charming's 50mm lens.

NOTE: These photos are in a very small size because the internet is very, very slow right now, which means each photo is taking several minutes to upload. I will wait as long as it takes to upload my favorite photo from the wedding in a larger size, so when you see the bigger photo, you know that's my favorite.

I also handed over the camera for this shot.
Then I stepped back to get the bigger picture, ending with the late, late Chinese lantern send-off attended by partygoers who had more stamina than I.
I took these from the balcony of the B&B on the farm where the wedding and festivities were held.

New Birthday Camera!

This post is dedicated to my dad, who gave me this wonderful new camera - a Canon EOS Rebel T5i back in June. It's a powerful and lightweight DSLR that shoots HD video. Thank you Dad. This was an early present for my birthday, which I celebrated this Sunday.

I've been practicing shooting in manual a lot. Some shots of my beautiful home here.


Prince Charming views my new hobby with  pride only slightly tinged with jealousy of my brand new equipment. He's wanted me to share this hobby with him for a long time, and has taught me the basics of aperture, depth of field, exposure, shutter speed, and ISO.  I learned a lot from his assignment to shoot a chessboard.


But my favorite thing to shoot has always been people.


The Prince on the 4th of July.

While not technically a person, Jelly is a person.

Shall I close this post with a weird, eyebrow-less selfie? Yes.

See you later.

Heroes and Villains

Sunday, May 26, was a lazy day for me and Prince Charming. We had some movies lined up to watch, and the first was a documentary called Five Broken Cameras. Just a couples hours later I've still got post-cry shakes. However, I also feel very glad that this documentary exists, because the end is hopeful, and the story is so human.

It's about a Palestinian man, a peasant who lives off the land, and gets a camera to film his kids childhood. His youngest son is the cutest little guy ever, and I fell in love with him over the course of the documentary.

The story is told through the five cameras he gets in succession, each after the last one is broken, often by a flying gas canister or related accident. Through these five lenses, we see what the camera saw in its life, and we see the story of how each camera met its end. Of course, what we are really seeing is the story of the families in this Palestinian village that is on the edge of several Israeli settlements. We see the wall go up, and we see the olive trees burned over and over by the settlers at night. We see the soldiers come to the homes at night to take children. We see people tear gassed, we see them throw rocks, and we see a man committed to nonviolent resistance gradually become scarred and angry as he sees what is happening around him. We also see, most hopefully, that he is always trying to heal in the best way he knows how.

I loved this film as a reminder that we must heal ourselves and each other, and to heal we must, like a doctor, first see the wounds. We must be witness for each other to the atrocities that take place in our lives.

Once you've seen the wounds in Five Broken Cameras, go watch another film. This one was part of a coaching training program in leadership, indirect negotiation and strategic intervention. Anthony Robbins has been studying what makes people change their lives for a good for many years now.

He had a conference on leadership planned on September 11, 2011. Instead of canceling after the terrorist attacks, he somehow got people to stand up and really speak the truth about how they felt about the event. There was a Muslim man who got up and said "this is retribution." Well, of course many people wanted to attack him, and even tried to there at the conference. One man, an Orthodox Jew with relatives in the West Bank (fundamentalist settlers - the kind of people who burn Palestinian olive trees) got up and offered to talk peacefully with the Muslim man.

Robbins led an indirect negotiation between the two men ON 9/11 itself that transformed both of them. They formed a Jewish-Muslim organization for understanding and peace.

I laughed and cried watching that film. It's called Negotiating Conflict: Leadership in Times of Crisis. According to this website it's available in full-length for free, although you can watch a 7 minute summary here.

We all wonder how peace will come to the Middle East and other areas of ethnic and religious conflict. The sorts of transformative moments shown and experienced by the viewer in these two films is our only hope for peace.

And now may I bring you from May to July?

A few days ago:

"What do you think happened? It had to be something tragic." I looked at my American friend, who has lived in Palestine for much longer than I have.

"I don't know. Something beyond tragic, I think," she said, looking at me intently.

I didn't know exactly what she was getting at, but I did know that is not what you say when someone loses a child. Losing a child is tragic, and one of the worst things that could happen to a parent. I could think of few things beyond tragic.

We were talking about a mutual acquaintance we both saw on occasion, ____ , a woman who lives in a nearby village. We had both known _____ to be cheerful, with a quick and genuine smile. Although she spoke little English, I enjoyed when I got to see her, since she would always communicate through her shy, dazzling smile. Knowing that she was a poor, kind, and intelligent woman who worked hard to support her special needs daughter and her dissolute husband only made me admire her more.

The last time I saw her, she tried to smile as usual. And her mouth moved. But her eyes failed to hide a pain that was too big to push behind a smile. I am haunted by that telling look - her attempt to smile as I said goodbye to her.

"I think someone must have done something to her child," my American friend said.

At first, I was confused. But then I realized -- "If her child had died, she would have just told us."


The next day, my American friend looked rather pale, and told me she'd seen an article in the paper. A 14-year old girl from a nearby village had been gang raped by a group of seven men, each between the ages of 17-26.

I grimaced. "That's horrible."

"Have you put it together yet?"

"You think… it was ____'s daughter?" I didn't want to believe it.

"It must be."

"How do you know for sure? We have to find out."

How do you call someone and ask, in imperfect Arabic, if their daughter was recently gang raped? I don't know, but my brave American friend managed it, and later confirmed that the victim was indeed ____'s daughter.

My friend also told me that this group of men had gang raped before. Yet that time, each of the families of the men had paid off the victim's family to not press charges.

The story showing up in the newspaper meant ____ had refused to take a bribe from these seven families and was pressing charges.

I likely don't know all of the ramifications of that decision, but I do know that this poor woman is turning down much needed money to support her daughter and fight for justice. She's making a decision that some other parent her in village did not make for her little girl. She's a hero.

I also know that means there are seven families in her small village who want nothing more than to shut her up. Seven powerful families who are now aligned as her enemy - this poor woman whose special needs daughter was lured into an apartment only to be beaten and raped by their sons.

How can we help her? We are working on connecting her with a lawyer specializing in women's legal aid. My hope for her is that, if she wants it, she can gain refugee or other status that will allow her to leave with her family to start a new life in a place where her daughter won't spend the rest of her life fearing the seven men who will likely not be brought to justice. Then again, we can hope for justice.

And you know I wouldn't leave you without a way to take action - to do something to help ____. The Women's Centre for Legal Aid and Counseling is reaching out to support her. You learn more about them here and donate here.

The Moving Story

Meet Our New House

I'm writing this from my new desk in a room I painted blue with a white heart on the wall. In front of me is a window looking out in onto a veranda where I can see Jelly with her paws up on the ledge, looking down at the street from our second-story view.

We are in Ramallah. Prince Charming and I were so sure we were going to move to Jerusalem, that I almost posted that a while back. Instead, I opted for "seriously considering." Which we very much were.

But then a funny set of circumstances happened. Right as we were making the decision to up and leave Ramallah, seeking what I referred to as a "cleavage neighborhood" (defined as: 1. A place where, if one wanted too, one wouldn't be stared at/harassed/spat on if the division between one's breast were to show above the neckline of one's shirt 2) a place in the crack/seam between Israel and Palestine because we can't live in Israel proper for professional/political/ethical reasons), we met friends.

Specifically, I met a friend on the day my other friend told me she was leaving the country for good. I sat at a cafe with this other friend, sort of sad, and wanting to order a drink. The menu at this cafe had all sorts of yummy cocktails on it, one of which I ordered. I really wanted it, but the server said they were out of whatever it was they needed to make it. "Well, what DO you have?" I said as bitchily as I could, thinking Of course. No cafe in Palestine ever actually has what they advertise on the menu. "Any of the other ones," the waiter said. "Why don't you just tell me what you actually have so you don't have to keep checking," I said, or some such. He wandered off, and shortly, a tall, energetic American with long curly hair and multiple piercings bounded over and sat down with us. "Can I help you?" she asked, pointing at the cocktail menu. And that was how I met Morgan, who is married to the Palestinian who owns the cafe, and who has lived in Palestine for about 9 years.

Morgan giving her car a drink.

After what my mom aptly called a "whirlwind romance" of a friendship, that included hiking, discovering a shared love for rescuing dogs, DIY, organic food, Pinterest, and puppets, among many other things, and discovering our husbands' shared love for planning projects that they may or may not follow up on including cheese-making and beer-making, we decided to move in with them. Or, more precisely, to move in above the cafe they run and live behind.

We are happy because Jelly now has a garden to run around in, and other doggie friends. However, I think it was the chickens with their daily fresh eggs that did us in. Or the fresh lemons and grapes from the orchard outside could have tied the knot. Or maybe their organic garden of fresh greens and the Vitamix blender that came with the apartment allowing me to make a green smoothie this morning from these ingredients:

There were also stinging nettles... my first time making a smoothie with those.

Prince Charming would vote that it's the endlessly flowing cheeseburgers (best in town) & Guinness downstairs. What I really like about this place is that it's right next to the city center, so I can walk to the market, yoga, and dance class without getting into a smelly cab.

Finally, I got to paint it those bright colors I love, y'all. Enough words, it's time to show you some before and afters.

Kitchen: Before


Kitchen: After

Before: Guest bedroom/office

After: Guest bedroom/office

After: Guest bedroom/office

Before: Master Bedroom

After: Master Bedroom

Vignette: Master Bedroom

Jelly can now spend her days spying on the neighbors and writing lurid soap operas based on what she sees.

I did a lot of the painting, but I wasn't the only one painting and doing the mountain of work required to make the place polished. Morgan and her husband and dad, the carpenters, as well as my Prince Charming and another friend did a whole lotta work. And the work continues. We are decorating it using cast-off furniture from a carpenter's pile of extras, some new stuff, and a whole lotta DIY creations.

Now you know why I haven't blogged for a month. Whew! I can't believe we are actually in. Last night was our first night in the place, and it was a good one. I'm feeling so grateful and happy.

Packing for Gaza - or Someplace You Visit Frequently

Today's guest post comes to us from my Prince Charming, who generously offered up this advice after I generously complimented his speedy (ten minute) packing for a trip to Gaza. Considering it still takes me an hour to pack, I was impressed. He makes this trip to Gaza so frequently because he has a lot of work to do in the Gaza office of his organization; he sort of lives there for a few days every couple of weeks. This information will be helpful to you if you:

a) Often travel to the Gaza Strip. b) Often travel to any one location (for example, you travel to your sister's house every couple of weeks to accompany her to medical appointments). c) Are a minimalist international (or national) traveler.

How to Pack for a Split Life in Gaza

5306626By Prince Charming

For a visit every two-three weeks, when you start traveling each time you come, bring at least one or two items you can leave behind. The things you leave behind should be

  • toiletries
  • a pair of jeans
  • a clean white t-shirt
  • pajamas
  • flip-flops or slippers
  • a hat
  • a sweater
  • extra socks
  • underwear


If you arrived as a minimalist and only have one of each of these things, slowly acquire cheap extras as you build up your Gaza closet. In an ideal world, if you will have lots of important meetings, it is good to leave a sports jacket or suit behind as well as a tie or two, one tone no fancy design, in blue, yellow, or red.

I brought in an extra flashlight, travel alarm clock, and two pictures of my wife (can I get a collective "awww" says Genevieve) for my bed stand.

Once you’ve got a basic after-work attire settled there, all you need to bring in is work attire. I usually stay 2 – 3 days at a time.

My usual clothes packing list is:

  • 2 pair khakis
  • 2 -3 pair socks and underwear (enough to leave at least one clean pair of each behind for the next visit)
  • 2 t-shirts, exchange with the last one you left behind
  • 1 Work sweater if winter
  • 1 – 2 long sleeve knit shirts or button down depending on weather
  • 1 jacket, casual if no special meetings planned
  • 1 pair of shorts if summer

In the event that I have to stay longer than three days, there is a washing machine available.

I also bring:

  • dual-sim card cell phone (to cover the trip from Palestine-Israel-Palestine,)
  • Kindle
  • travel umbrella if looking like rain
  • reading glasses
  • a snack
  • R2-D2 (a small good luck token - see above photo)
  • my work laptop
  • phone charger or mini-usb cable for phone charging on laptop

I usually bring a phone charger, but that is only because I’ve been too lazy to pick one up in Gaza. An even easier approach is to bring a mini-usb cable and charge the phone through my laptop. A travel speaker such as our Jawbone is good if going for a longer visit. I take the projector from my office and use it with my laptop and speaker to watch movies in the evening.

Of course, you can assess the local market and buy within Gaza as needed too if you don’t want to shuttle items back and forth. I bought a chess set and cards locally for the guesthouse in case anyone else is staying aside from me and wants to play a match. You can get a pocket knife locally as well; don’t bring one across the border, and don’t bring any spirits either.

Having done this, it now takes me ten minutes to pack for Gaza and for a while I was leaving with less than what I brought it.

Let's do Jelly Shots

And Chocolate Cake

This weekend was filled with simple pleasures. I baked a chocolate olive oil cake. I recently read in a book called Deep Nutrition that most vegetable oils, such as canola, destabilize quickly after production, making them a little bit toxic for human consumption. According to the book, olive oil stays stable for longer, and is therefore much healthier than canola. I was happy to find a recipe with olive oil in it because I was craving chocolate cake and we are practically floating in olive oil here. In fact, a walk around town is marked by vendors, mostly elderly ladies, selling their own homemade olive oil in repurposed containers. We currently have this Sprite bottle filled with aromatic local olive oil.


I used some of it to make my cake.


Jelly was very interested in the cake.

It was a deeply chocolaty recipe that used almond flour as well as regular flour, so it was nutty, dense, and slightly fruity with the olive oil. I served it with a whipped yogurt coconut topping.


When I eat something really sugary, I try to eat it with yogurt, since otherwise the sugar upsets my internal balance of flora and fauna resulting in infections. The yogurt provides pro-biotics that restore balance to keep everything healthy. The yogurt also provides protein so I feel more stable and don't get the sugar high/crash affect. We all know refined sugar is unhealthy for SO many of our body's systems, but if you love it and eat it once in a while, it's nice to know how to keep your body from freaking out from it.

Anyway. Let's move on to Jelly shots. I had a request from Natalie for more Jelly shots, so since I'm sure she's not alone in her desires, I'm providing more cute doggie photos right here. This is Jelly's favorite spot in our house. As you can see, she's a very smart girl:


She's a bit camera shy, so it's hard to get a photo of her holding still, but I did manage to capture her with her ears sort of up this morning by singing. When I sing to her, she gives me this quizzical expression, twisting her head side to side to figure out what is going on.


Everyone who meets Jelly says "she's so skinny!" which is true, but which also makes me feel like I'm not feeding her enough. For your information, she eats a lot. She eats more than my parents' dog who is twice her size. I think she's just a naturally skinny breed. She's extremely agile, alert, and quick on her feet, and this attentiveness must burn a lot of calories.

Jelly at Mulberry Springs

This weekend, and last weekend, we took Jelly to a place we drove by called Mulberry Springs. It's just off the road that is for the District Control Office (Reserved for Israeli military, NGO workers, and whoever else the soldiers decide to let pass). Last weekend Jelly got to romp and play off the leash while we hiked up the large hills that surround a creek bed. Jelly was hoping to get to play off the leash this weekend too.

We were thankful for beautiful weather, a rare thing, thus far this winter season in Palestine.


When we got out of the car this time, the first thing we noticed was a large flock of sheep on the next hill over (I didn't get a photo). The second thing we noticed was the way Jelly's vomit had decorated the side of the car when she puked with her head out the window while we were driving.

I was ready to run. I started jogging, hoping that Jelly would keep up like she did last time. I leapt over the creek, but she lagged back, look fearful. It was then that I saw the large dogs guarding the flock of sheep. I'll just run right by them, I thought. I would have to run the trail under them, but then I would pass them and go up another nearby hill. Jelly uncharacteristically hung back. When I got almost directly under the flock of sheep, I heard and saw the three large, furry dogs barking at me. I stopped and stared at them, trying a) to gauge how easily they'd be able to come down from the very steep hill they were on and b) to not act like prey on the Discovery Channel. My stopping was all they needed. They began charging down the hill, taking a small switchback trail I had not seen before. I considered running, but knew I was outmatched for speed. Just when I was preparing my most aggressive fighting stance, they got to the bottom of the hill and raced towards Jelly, back at the creek picnic site with Prince Charming. I felt instantly relieved, and then my protective instincts kicked in, and I ran after the dogs. I watched as Prince Charming, backed my Jelly, barked fiercely at them. They came to a screeching halt and ran away, up the creek bed.

I tried again. I ran the same path with Jelly cowering on the leash next to me and with a tube of powerful pepper spray in my right hand. This time when we passed the dogs and they started barking, I simply barked back. They let us pass. Jelly and I were rewarded with a glorious run up, up, up the long hill to a patch of green (green!) grass and blue sky at the top of a hill. I lay down on the soft grass and for the first time in Palestine, felt completely safe outdoors. There was no one around. I couldn't see any soldiers or military towers or security walls. Just me, the grass, the sky, and my fierce guard dog Jelly.

Later I working on training Jelly and tried to grab a few more Jelly shots. Here's her "sit" almost wiggling off the camera:


And here's her "down." Good dog.



Occupation Among Us

Charming and I visited Hebron last month, on December 8, 2012 with two of his co-workers: Birlam and Osama. Osama is the merry guy you'll recognize from my Gaza post. Birlam is equally merry, and together Birlam and Osama had a joking cameraderie that was fun to be around and put me at ease with these two.


This ease was in spite of our location, which, along with Nablus is one of the most traditional cities in the West Bank with strong anti-Israel sentiment.

There's a history of bloodshed on both sides. The Saturday we were there, and most days, the occupants, both Israeli and Palestinians, seemed to coexist, ignoring each other like cows of different colors locked in the same field. However, for a newcomer like me, the situation was shocking. The settlements divide the city, displaying a microcosm of what's going on in the whole area. The drama is played out street by street.

A local group was trying to make a clear point about where we were:


We walked through the old city, near what used to be the main street, called Shuhada Street. Shuhada Street was shut down by the Israeli army in 1994 to car traffic, and later, to foot traffic. The economic heart of the city was lost, with 570 Palestinian shops shutting down, and many residents moving out.

It looked like the same group with the red paint was at work again.


We emerged into a square - the center of Hebron. Ahead were Israeli soldiers guarding a settlement entrance.


To our left was a large stone structure, topped by a fence and what appeared to be some male Israeli settlers. They looked down at us, who were obviously tourists, and blew kisses. I took a photo and they instantly went from kiss-blowing to finger-wagging.


Walking more, we saw a street that was literally divided, with a large portion open for Israeli cars, and a side portion open for Palestinian pedestrians. The Israeli army was providing security to a small group of settlers who appeared to be on a tour. As one settler joined the group, he marched down the center of the road, flanked by solders. He stood out in civilian clothes next to the soldiers, and he held an assault rifle in front of him. I wanted to take a photo, but chickened out because we were too close to him. And he had a gun.

After that, we circled back through the portions of the market that remain open. I was eager to see the famous netting that protects the open-air market from the settlers who live in buildings that tower over the market. This netting protects them from the trash that settlers have been reported to throw down on them. I didn't see anyone throwing anything, but we were there on Shabbat, the Jewish holy day of rest.


After the market walk, during which we momentarily and unseriously considered purchasing a Santa Claus Argila...


...We went out for a meal and argila with Birlam and Osama.


The whole day, Osama was teasing Birlam about her thick fleece pants. I admired them; they were embroidered with colorful flowers and looked like a smart choice for a cold day. But like a playful younger brother, Osama kept teasing her, calling her pants "pajama pants." He kept finding moments to make reference to the fact that she was in her pajamas. She laughed along good-naturedly. Birlam heads up the regional office in Hebron, and her large extended family has great esteem in the city. Everywhere we went people greeted her with respect, and she greeted them with a friendly word. Later in the day, after another jab about her "pajama pants," Osama said "Well, I better be careful. With one phone call you could have me killed." Birlam grinned.

"Forget the phone call. With one word. My relatives are everywhere."

I asked Charming about the fact that Birlam seemed so, well, happy, compared to what I perceive as the busy, worried, and nonpublic lives of women in Palestine. He responded that she was well-connected, respected, had a good job, didn't take any bull****, and was not married. So my interpretation is that by not being married in this culture, she was able to keep her sense of independence and self-determination. On the not taking any bull**** front, she told us a story about driving in traffic. Someone cut her off, thinking, she said, "that he could because she was a woman." Well, she jumped out of her car and started yelling at him, and soon had him apologizing upside down and sideways.

Oh, I almost forgot one of the most sense-stimulating parts of the day, which was a visit to the Hebron Kefiya factory. Our tour guides said it was the only Kefiya factory in Palestine.


I chose a few Kafiyas for gifts for my upcoming trip to NC to see the family (you can see photos of them in Kafiya's here).

And that is what I remember from a full day in Hebron back in December. Hope you enjoyed it! Please leave a comment below; I love reading your comments.