You’re probably wondering what interest a nineteen year old, atheistic girl has in the town of Bethlehem. I remember doing school plays when I was a young kid and not even imagining that such a place existed. As I got a little older I asked my Dad about it, he said it existed but nobody wants to go, because there is a big war there. I’m not going to go into my personal beliefs on the Israeli/ Palestinian conflict because I could literally type for the rest of my life. Now, at nineteen years old, I’m looking into my third trip to Bethlehem, the town that now seems to me like a second home. I will now enlighten you on how this came to be. In 2013, my mum was watching doing some ironing and watching TV when her ex- boyfriend from when she was seventeen came on, in of all places, Bethlehem. Three years later and bam they’re now happily married (I’ll save you the cheesy details.) My stepdad is part owner of a company called ‘The Christmas Decorators’ who are invited back to Bethlehem every year to decorate the town. In 2014, a few days before he was set to leave, he asked if I wanted to go, I leapt at the opportunity and bunked of sixth form for a week to make it happen. (I don’t feel guilty about this at all, despite their finest efforts.) So I went, had the time of my life, you can read about it properly here. 2015, my stepdad asked me if I wanted to return, I mean of course I did, Bethlehem is my second home. But there was trouble, a lot of trouble, politically driven (obviously), and I didn’t know until about two days before if it was really going to happen.
I am so happy to say that I returned to Bethlehem in November 2015 and just fell more and more in love with it. We decorated trees in the Bethlehem municipality, Beit Jala and Beit Sahour. We even decorated a tree in the presidential palace which was kind of a disaster because it was too tall and scraped the ceiling. Working in Manger Square is completely magical, even for an atheist like me. We wake up every day in a place that most people can only dream of visiting, birth place of the bloody big JC after all, a religion followed by 30% of the world’s population. The food is incredible, I mean you cannot say you have tried hummus until you have told me you have tried hummus from ‘The Square’ café in manger square. I could literally live off it, I’m pretty sure I demolished a whole plate on my last night. The people are the kindest I’ve ever met; i’m constantly addressed as habibi, which roughly translates from Arabic to ‘my love.’ When I told people at home I was going to Bethlehem they would joke about telling me they would dig my grave. But I have literally never felt more at peace and safe in a country, despite it being full off such trauma. We are treated like royalty from the minute of arrival, they are so grateful for the work we do and this means it never really feels like actual work.
This year was also super special because I had the most amazing moment imaginable. So I mainly decorate interior which I absolutely love but occasionally I have a tendency to get jealous of the guys decorating the big tree outside because that’s the one everyone gets to marvel at, not just Vera Baboun in her office. Anyway, this year they let me us the cherry picker and took it right up and I could see for literally miles, the most amazing view. At this very moment when I was marvelling at the sight before my eyes I got a text (good signal up there or something) telling me my sister had given birth to my new nephew Michael. It was the most amazing moment you could imagine. I was offered to stay for longer but after the good news I just had to return home to our latest family member.
(this was my view 🙂 )
I cannot wait to return in 2016, but it’s impossible to say that we definitely will. According to foreign travel advice visiting is not recommended, it is declared a high risk terror zone. But when you’re there, it’s truly hard to believe. The situation changes every day, last year it looked as if the Israelis were going to invade and Christmas was not going to be celebrated that year, the same as it had been before 2011. Bringing Christmas to the people of Bethlehem is more than just a job, the joy it brings them, it’s celebrating the legacy of their town, putting Palestine on the map again. But I’m getting political now. I just wanted to let you all know how wondrous this place really is, a part of my heart is still over there and fingers crossed for 2016.