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Bethlehem: the Palestinian Territories

After a week of mixing cement, moving rocks and sweltering in the forty-plus desert heat, they finally let us out to have some fun. Finding R & R in the middle of the occupied Palestinian Territories isn’t the easiest brief, but all of us — a motley band of 20-something volunteers from Europe, the US and Australia — were work-wearied, emotionally strained and exhausted. We had to try.

Rumours flitted around that we were being taken to an amusement park. Buh-bam! Fail. We visit some graves, instead. Yassar Arafat’s first, heavily fortified by guards, then the glass-covered shrine of Mahmoud Darwish, a poet. (Later, I look up some of his poetry and find it plainly beautiful: ‘Close to the gardens of broken shadows, We do what prisoners do, And what the jobless do: We cultivate hope’.)

Finally, we arrive at the gates of Mukmas Fun Land and revel in its catastrophic attempt at fun. The broken ferris wheel! The questionable ice-cream! The squeal of the floating death-wheel alights our ears as we fight to get into the queue. Small children, unprepared for our enthusiasm, forget to beg for our ride tickets as we scramble aboard with howls of delight. BRRRRGG-klunk! goes the death wheel.

WHEEEEE! we scream back at it. Later, we celebrate the thirty-sixth birthday of one reluctant comrade with a big, sickly cream cake and a chorus of “happy birthdays” that plays out in three languages. Tomorrow, it’s back to the land and the back-breaking work project, but not before one last melting ice-cream and a dodgy bus-ride home.

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