The Lonely Desert Monastery

Dear Reader,

It was on a very rainy day that my friends and I decided to take a day off to explore the Judaean Desert. We were working on the fields anyway so rain was not a good idea that day. Plus I had many things listed that I really wanted to see in Palestine. I was told that many Greeks live literally hidden in monasteries in the West Bank and that there was this one monastery that looked superb and dramatic all carved in sandy colours.

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The stunning Judaean Desert right in front of us. The rainy weather adds to it a beautiful dramatic effect.

The Holy Lavra of Saint Sabbas the Sanctified, the oldest surviving and continuously inhabited Greek Orthodox monastery that there is.

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Founded 483 CE by Saint Sabbas from Cappadocia, Greece, this Greek Orthodox monastery is home to pilgrims monks who still maintain many of its ancient traditions. One in particular is the restriction on women entering the main compound. For us there is one building that women can enter and it’s called the Women’s Tower, near the main entrance, which to our luck was closed that day…

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From the monastery you can admire the Kidron Valley, which separates the Temple Mount from the Mount of Olives.
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Palestine Wall Graffiti

Dear Reader,

Almost every city has its graffiti. Take a look at Cairo for example, or Belgrade. Even in Rome you find amazing drawings, if you passed by the San Lorenzo neighbourhood you cannot help but notice the enormous and colourful graffitis that tell the story of the Bombing of Rome in 1943.
Bethlehem is only a short drive away from Jerusalem, and yet it is a whole other world. Located in the West Bank of the Palestinian Territories, Bethlehem is foremost the birthplace of Jesus, the cradle of Christianity, home to the olive oil museum, and home to many passing-by artists as well. The wall has served as a freedom call for many artists from all over the world who come here and take advantage of space of the wall to draw a message.
Bethlehem is partly surrounded by a wall. This wall, not too different from the Berlin wall, is a sign of the divisions that afflict the region deeply. Built by Israel along as a separation barrier and within the West Bank, goes along cutting through much of the Territories. Parts of it are still incomplete and most of it is highly disputed by locals and international community.

This tormented town, however, is home to many non-violent (at times) protests that express themselves in graffiti. The beauty of graffitis and street art in general does not lie precisely in the drawings’ artistic level but rather in the meaning it represents. And these graffitis are still there for you on the Palestinian side of the wall, where hundreds of artists, activists, pacifists from all over the world thought of it as the symbolic canvas where they can draw meaningful murals and simply leave a message.

Lets leave politics aside for once and let’s give a chance to photos to speak for themselves…

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A reprise of “La Liberté guidant le peuple” by Delacroix is probably one of the most famous and biggest graffiti on the Separation Wall of Bethlehem, representing the revolution with Lady Liberty guiding her People towards Freedom.
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“Mujeres Artistas por la Paz” or Artist Women for Peace, no idea who did this one but its colours are simply beautiful and filled with hope using the warm sunset colours.
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The first graffiti I looked at that day, another piece by Banksy called “The Flower Thrower”. The seems like a guy involved in a riot, he wears a handkerchief and is depicted armed with a bouquet of flowers instead of a Molotov cocktail. Flowers substitute weapons, symbolising peace and hope in place of destruction.

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“Don’t forget the struggle” – a graffiti in honor of Leila Khaled, former member of the Popular Front of Liberation of Palestine, convicted in the 60’s for allegedly hijacking several airfreights, she is now a member of the Palestinian National Council, thus becoming a national symbol of the struggle for the liberation of Palestine.
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Banksy and its “Girl frisking a Soldier” ironic graffiti. Full of messages: the girl is wearing a pink dress and ponytail, symbolising innocence. The soldier, in olive-green clothing and a machine gun laying on the ground contrasts the innocence of the girl by representing aggression. The girl frisking the soldier symbolises the dehumanization of individuals as they are automatically assumed to be hostile based on their religion or ethnicity showing that cultural barrier prevents us from recognising humanity in others.

What to pack for a Dictatorship

Dear Reader,

Packing is a pickle, especially for people like me who tend to bring almost… everything.
A few months ago I received a question regarding packing instructions and advise for sporty countries. I thought that was a really good question because it will definitely vary depending on where to go.

DO NOT try and take everything with you. Exhibit A above.

Based on internet and common sense, it is easy to pack a suitcase if you go to Thailand, or Spain, or Jordan. But what about the special countries? Like North Korea? Yemen? Or China? Does the packing rule change? As these countries sometimes present warnings and limitations because of their governments (China, though, is not exactly a dictatorship but does present many limitations) sometimes there are rules set out in advance to prevent any difficulty for and from the visitor. Like North Korea. Myanmar didn’t have ATMs until couple of years ago, so rules and recommendations need to revised from time to time. For North Korea, I wasn’t warned about any specific rule regarding clothing (except the one piece of cloth for a formal visit to the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun), but I distinctively recall the pre-tour information pamphlet with recommendations. Let’s see the bottom lines on packing:

  • Do not pack any religious book with you. You can’t play with this topic as it is highly sensitive in most sporty places (North Korea, Palestine, Yemen, China, etc).
  • Pack light and with the necessary, do not pack too many pieces of clothing, remember that is always best to travel light with the necessary items. If you find a pretty shirt, you’ll buy it in the moment, but depart light.
  • Photo equipment: bear in mind that professional cameras with lenses up to 250mm might not be allowed in some places. For the rest consider that in many places you won’t find lenses and other camera items, so pack them with you.
  • As ATM machines may not be available, bring lots of cash with you in sufficient quantity for the duration of your trip (Eur and USD will both be fine). Don’t waste time and space for travellers cheques. Just cash.
  • Lots of gifts like tobaccos and cigarettes, pens, mainly intended for bartering and gifts. Very useful items 😉 used by Stanito and Travel Buddy.
Cigarettes are always well accepted
… and chocolate too.
  • Wet Wipes are always a must-have for a number of reasons.
  • A torch or flashlight. This is a fundamental item. The best countries are those that are sporty, do not always expect light everywhere and have your own.
  • Take with you a useful passport. Many passports are not accepted, like in North Korea a South Korean passport will not be allowed to enter the country. Here is a list of friendly passports and here as well.
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Everybody likes Italians, that is a certainty, and Chileans. Although Chileans are a more rare sight in sporty countries.
  • Notebook in case you want to write down interesting things you hear or see.
  • Minimized toiletries: we girls are specialists in finding teeny tiny tooth pastes, shampoos and creams. If you know you’re going somewhere where you will not find these items, use small containers.

Follow these rules and you’re good to go 🙂 !

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Pet of The Day: The Camel of Sea Level

Pet of The Day: The Camel of Sea Level
© Stanito, 2012

Dear reader,

Every place on earth has its own celebrity/ies. At Sea Level on the way to Jericho and leading to the lowest point on earth (and the saltyest!), dear reader, this majestic, royal, modest, proud creature is a must-visit on your check list. Continue reading “Pet of The Day: The Camel of Sea Level”

Monastery of St. Sabas, Palestine

Dear Reader,
This is the Id-Deir Mar Saba, Monastry of St. Sabas, located in the Judean Desert.
Founded 483 CE by Saint Sabbas from Cappadocia, Greece, this Greek Orthodox monastery is the oldest oldest surviving continuously inhabited monastic community. Home to pilgrims monks looking for hermitage, the isolated location, the suggestive carved shape and the proximity to the desert give this place a very dramatic and breathtaking view.

So old in fact that it still maintains many of its ancient traditions. One in particular is the restriction on women entering the main compound. For them there is one building that women can enter and it’s called the Women’s Tower, near the main entrance, which to our luck was closed that day… Continue reading “Monastery of St. Sabas, Palestine”

Land grabbing in the Palestinian Territories: the story of Abed Al-Rabbeh

Dear Reader,

Tuesday, January 29, the Haaretz.com website reads as follows:
The United Nations Human Rights Council issued a report stating that Israel is violating international law in the Palestinian Territories, and that Israel “must immediately initiate a process of withdrawal of all settlers” from the West Bank and stop further settlement building “without preconditions”. We have seen headlines like this one for years, at least since the construction of the separation wall and the first settlers arrived which has caused the infinite struggle that Palestinians are enduring still today.

However, I feel it’s more personal to try and relate my personal experience in the West Bank, how I saw the settlements damaging and causing enormous difficulties to the Palestinians, and how I met the most remarkable personality I could imagine in such region: Abed Al-Rabbeh. Continue reading “Land grabbing in the Palestinian Territories: the story of Abed Al-Rabbeh”

Israel and Gaza

Before dawn on Saturday 17, Israel started one the most ferocious and massive ground war on Gaza following rocket attacks from Hamas militants.

And the story will automatically repeat as follows: Continue reading “Israel and Gaza”

The Palestinian Territories

Dear Reader,

It is challenging to try to relate the relevant history of the area now known as the Palestinian territories without offending someone. Depending on the point at which you begin the narrative, the balance of things, rights and claims can look very different. Continue reading “The Palestinian Territories”