Turn right at the burning dumpster and keep an open mind

The great creaking travel machine that is my summer has gained some momentum and feels nearly up to speed.

The Englishman and I returned to Nice from Corsica and then almost instantaneously boarded our next flight back to London to keep the Birthday celebrations going.

The weather cooperated beautifully with our cautiously optimistic plans for a picnic in Victoria Park and the sun came out for us.  He said: “bring food” on the invite, and his friends apparently do as they are told.  I have never in my life seen so many Scotch eggs and pork pies.  Too bad we couldn’t stay to eat the leftovers.

Not ones to hang around, we said goodbye to London about 30 hours after we arrived and climbed aboard a red-eye flight to Tel Aviv.

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It’s been six months since I was last in Ramallah, and what a difference some planetary orbiting makes.

The small town is basking in the hot Middle East sun and it feels lively here.

The Englishman’s ground level apartment was dark and impossible to heat last winter, but the thick concrete walls are perfect for repelling the brutal heat of the summer.

Appreciating this place takes an open mind and reserved judgment.  The dusty roads, unruly traffic and unfinished buildings could overshadow the other more subtle things if you don’t take the time to see them.

The long rectangular yard in front of the apartment, for example looks a bit overgrown and haphazard, but upon closer inspection, it is a veritable wonderland of Mediterranean flora, and fauna.

So far I have counted rose bushes, grape vines, climbing jasmine, lime, olive, peach, plum, pear, and apple trees with fruit just on the edge of ripeness and a gigantic fig tree whose branches are heavy under the weight of the plump fruit.

At certain times of the day, there is a beautiful cacophony of bird song, each delicate chirp and melody blending with the next. I have yet to see Derek, the little tortoise who roams the yard in search of fallen fruit.  But if you listen closely, you can hear the bleating of a herd of goats led by a shepherd to a small patch of wasteland across from the apartment most afternoons.

The Englishman has been working in Jerusalem since we arrived, which leaves me with time to write and explore during the day.  And my travel writing and photography endeavors are ever so slowly beginning to bear some small blossoms.

Of course my American passport, and the liberties it affords me, sets my experience here miles apart from most Palestinians living in the West Bank.  It’s easy to take for granted the freedom to come and go as I please.

And although life in Ramallah is calm, the ongoing conflict in Gaza never feels too distant; with reports of Israeli airstrikes and missiles fired by Palestinian militants almost every day I’ve been here.

I have the world’s worst sense of direction, so I was pleasantly surprised to realize that some of the streets still look a bit familiar to me.

I had found a fantastic green grocer when I was here last and was in search of a watermelon, so I set out to find the red and yellow sign out front and the friendly shopkeeper and his young son behind the counter.

On the day last winter when I first came across the shop, I remember walking down a hill and seeing a dumpster with its contents on fire on my right and then a sign with picture of a man holding a massive machine gun on the left and the shop was right across the street.

I retraced my steps past the tourist center, and the wine shop and sure enough there was the dumpster – this time with contents safely extinguished – right where I expected it and the same sign with its gun pointing me directly to a mountain of watermelons outside of the shop.

Watermelon season is in full effect at the moment and I can’t get enough of them.  Stands are popping up on every corner, with the big green, stripped fruits piled high and the salesmen polishing them with pride.

There are some great bars and restaurants in Ramallah too.  My current favorite a place called Snowbar And while the name conjures ice structures and vodka luges, the reality is something quite different.

Snobar means pine in Arabic and the sprawling resort like restaurant and swimming pool are shaded beneath towering trees, and surrounded by lush greenery.  There is a massive fire pit near the main bar and a huge screen where the Euro 2012 soccer games are being shown at the moment.

I am loving being back in the West Bank, but time is already flying by, and although my stay here will be the longest I am in one place for a while, I can already feel it flashing before my eyes.

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