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through checkpoints and more chicken in ramallah

Day 12 - Back inside the West Bank in Ramallah

To get to Ramallah, we go through the Kalandia checkpoint notorious for its riots and clashes between Palestinians and Israeli forces. It is chaos on the West Bank side. I see a kid aim a swift kick at a chained up dog. It upsets me. The wall is black where people have thrown flaming bottles at it. There are abandoned cars festering away, buried under thick layers of sand. There is also an enormous billboard of Lionel Messi advertising Head and Shoulders shampoo. Palestinians living in the West Bank need permits to get into East Jerusalem. We drive straight through.


Palestinians here have a special place in their hearts for Ramallah. Our driver waxes lyrical about it and checks on apartment prices. The lady we are meeting has lived there all her life. In the square of downtown Ramallah, there are four stone lions representing the four original families of Ramallah. "One of those lions are my families," she says proudly. The connection between land, family and history gives people strength but also contributes to the Gordian knot that is this entire country (or two countries). 


There are building works everywhere. A mall is going up in the middle of a residential area. Yasser Arafat's tomb is guarded by two Palestinian soldiers who are standing so still that they're like wax dolls in a Middle Eastern Hollywood wax museum. One of them is so skinny, it looks like his uniform is holding him up, not the other way round. We have to leave our bags with the soldiers and he asks us where we're from. We tell him, "New Zealand" and this confounds him for a second. Then he thinks about it. "Britain," he declares firmly. He's decided which side we're on now. There's always a side to take in this country. No one argues with the man holding the rifle.


We eat a bag of crunchy falafels in the backseat as we cruise through the old city. They are delicious. Better than a bag of chips. There's a gorgeous, terraced garden housing a museum and the grave of Mahmoud Darwish, a Palestinian poet, writer, drafted of the Palestinian Declaration of Independence, and all-around good guy. It is gorgeous, blossoming with roses, bottlebrush bushes, fountains, and gleaming stone stairs and paths.


Just outside the outskirts of town, we eat at a restaurant called Al Falaha. It only serves one dish and it's a Palestinian favourite and staple, musakhan. We watch them bake the flat bread in a wood-fired oven lined with stones. It's topped with lots of onions, olive oil, sumac and pine nuts. Then they chuck a roasted chicken on top that's been dry-rubbed with more olive oil, oregano, salt, and pepper and cooked in an underground oven. I drink more than my fair share of the jugs of lemon and mint juice. Rob waves away a persistent chicken-loving wasp.


For dessert, we're promised world famous Palestinian ice cream and we drive downtown . It is choked by weekend traffic. Here, the only day off people get are Saturdays. Every other day is a work or school day. That seems to be the reason why the competition for parking in downtown Ramallah is fierce. It is every person for themselves. The ice cream at Baladna is worth it. Not as creamy as normal ice cream, denser and stickier than gelato. The consistency is like a cross between a really basic buttercream icing and Hubba Bubba gum. The traditional flavours are neon-coloured and taste like bubblegum versions of fruit.  


On the way back to East Jerusalem, there's a guy riding a horse bare back on the street. The horse politely gives way to the car and then gallops across the intersection. 

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