Well rested and freshly showered, we leave for a tour of Bethlehem and a visit to Aida Camp.
We meet our guide and the first stop is the nativity church. During a detailed tour we visit all its different sections and we learn that renovation stagnated because all faiths involved have to agree for each step to be taken and it is not easy.
Upon leaving the church we head into town, it is a very hot and beautiful day as we walk through cobblestone streets with romantic little alleys leading into the old town of Bethlehem. During a quick stop for tea and coffee we get to watch a local shop owner make delicious bars of candy made from sesame seeds and nuts.
After that we visit an old market, a shop that sells sling shots (David vs Goliath) and in the shade of a narrow winding alley we buy Tamarind, Almond and Lemon juice from a mobile street vendor, “The Juice King”, and soon we all agree – he most definitely is juice royalty!
Our round trip concludes walking down the steep hill to the main road where we had left our bus, before continuing on we visit one of the best known souvenir shops where everyone finds one or the other treasure to procure! The shop harbours everything from religious inspired motives, figurines and carvings made of olive tree wood to Palestnian kufeyeh, prayer rugs and jewellery. It’s high walls are covered by shelves stacked up with the most unique and beautiful items.
Back to the bus we continue to Aida camp where we watch a brief film about the work of the local NGO, then we devour a delicious lunch and desert after which we get the chance to buy locally crafted traditional items from a small shop inside the building.
The tour through Aida camp is brief, it’s a very densely populated space and we are told that it is impossible to keep any privacy because houses are squeezed in beside and sometimes perched on top of each other.
We walk downhill and as we turn a corner the apartheid wall itself greets us with its hostile and grim counterfeit. The watchtower had been set on fire the day before and it is blackened and its foundation crumbles not only in a symbolic way.
To see the wall shocks us all, in disbelief we look at it, to the right the road leads out of the camp through a gate that has a gigantic metal key on it – the well know Palestinian Key of Return – and it is adorned in read writing “Not for Sale”. This part of the road is a different kind of Wall Street, it is known for fights and clashes between Palestinians and Israeli Occupation Forces and soon we find out things are tense today – later that day we learn that shortly after we left the camp, the occupation forces began to shoot tear gas inside the camp.
We stop by a wall inside the camp that is adorned with many murals and pictures that tell about the issues and struggles of the inhabitants of this camp. It talks about generations of “refugees” in their own homeland and many artworks express the deep longing to be free and able to return to a non-refugee status. One of the murals is particularly meaningful and moving – it is the outline of Palestine and on each side the names of those villages are listed from where people were displaced to what is now Aida camp. They keep the list of village names because people here have not given up the idea to one day be able to return home.
Back at the guesthouse people rest and digest today’s impressions, contact details are exchanged as it is our final evening together – and what better way than to finish it with The Freedom Ride’s final Playback Theatre performance for 2014?
At 8 pm people of our group and also locals flock to the beautiful venue of the AIC, the Alternative Information Centre. This is our only indoor performance and it turns out spectacular and emotionally charged. As usual we begin with simple experiences and light or funny stories for the Playback Theatres to re-enact. Marvellous pictures are painted as the Playback Theatre actors breathe life into stories without prior talk – like fish in a bowl they move on stage and although each of them expresses what they heard individually, their actions tie back to each other.
The evening’s final story is a very sad one, a young Palestinian shares his memory of his father being murdered by the Israeli Occupation Forces and the aftermath.
Whilst acting out the story actors along with some people of the audience have tears in their eyes, one visitor needs to step outside, another bursts into tears after the performance.
In a somewhat solemn mood we leave to return to our guesthouse. It’s been a great but intensive day, some retire, others go out into town or sit outside the guesthouse.
On our final morning together we have a very special morning circle, reflecting on the previous two days. Afterwards we gather in a big circle and everyone is given the chance to remember a moment they had during the past weeks – the idea is that upon hearing about the individual’s experience, other members of the circle will step into the middle and express with a movement how they perceive what was said – the freedom family is having its very own playback theatre performance!
Finally an evaluation circle is giving everyone the chance to share their feelings, provide feedback and give suggestions for improvements for future freedom rides.
The common sentiment is that everyone who shares their experience, does so in a fashion that suggests that of course they will be part of the next Freedom Ride…
After our final lunch as a group, people begin to leave and things get very emotional. The March Freedom Ride 2014 has ended, but the journey of this freedom family will continue in our hearts and minds forever.