After spending all summer in the Netherlands, I have returned to our home in Palestine. It was a wonderful summer full of family, friends, biking, walking, fun activities for the kids, swimming, cinema and theater. But also it was full of goodbyes and nostalgia, because I had to give up the house I was still renting in the Netherlands in my hometown Utrecht. This summer I finally officially emigrated to Palestine and I unregistered from the Municipality of Utrecht.
Many people have asked me how I feel about this, why I decided to take this step and why I am in Palestine. Some of the parents of the children of my daughter's class have told me they would jump to move out of Palestine and live in the Netherlands. They could not understand WHY I decided to come and live in Palestine.
So for this first episode of a new season of Stories from Palestine podcast, I have recorded my thoughts and my personal experiences, while I was sitting under our massive 80 years old olive tree, contemplating about my life.
It is the first episode I recorded without a script.
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I am back in Palestine and I'm sitting right now under the olive tree in our garden. It's an eight years old olive tree. It's very big. And I think because it's so close to the house and it gets enough water, it has grown so fast and it has a lot of olives in it.
And we are waiting until the end of October, beginning of November, to harvest the tree. And this is my usual spot for doing meditation. And also there's another part under the olive tree where I can do my yoga exercises. And it's really good to be back in Palestine. But it has also been quite a month last month, officially emigrating from Holland to Palestine, giving up the house that I was still renting, getting rid of all my personal belongings.
Some of the things I packed, I had three luggages and a bag full of things that I brought back with me from Holland to Palestine. And all the rest of my things, they went through my hands this summer and they found another home or they went to the second hand shop or some of the things I sold, gave away, and some of the things I had to throw away because they were in such a bad shape.
And yeah, it was quite nostalgic to close the door behind me for the last time and to know that I don't have a place to go back to. And of course I do have a lot of friends in Holland who are ready to host me and my family in the future when we visit the country, but still, I always had maybe still one foot in Holland and one foot in Palestine and now both of my feet are here.
And as I'm sitting here under the olive tree and contemplating, I said to myself, I'm just going to record a podcast episode from the top of my head. Usually I do prepare and I have a script, if you were wondering, but this time I'm not going to do that also because I just listened back to the episode I did for the one year anniversary. And I was really emotional when I heard it. Because you know, you make it, you produce it, you upload it and then very often I don't have a chance even to listen back to my own episodes. And now, as I was thinking about last year and everything that I've been through and I listened back to that episode and I heard from so many people how much they appreciate the podcast, I was just a little bit emotional and happy, like in a good way.
And I've also had a question from several people about why did you decide to live in Palestine? Why did you emigrate, how did you choose that destination? Even some of the parents of the children in my daughter's class asked me that question.
They said, it was funny, "we all want to migrate we all want to go away. We would love to live in Holland. Why did you come from Holland to live here? How did you make the decision? For them, they feel that everything in Holland is better than in Palestine. So that made me think, it made me start to think about why did I make this decision and how did this all happen?
And I want to share it with you as the first podcast of the new season. And that's also for me, to get back into the flow of podcasting because you know; I've been out of it for several weeks now. And I also still feel that I have to land back here in Palestine. I came back a week ago and first I had to quarantine and it was funny because the first four days of quarantine, I just went and cleaned the entire house and tidied up everything.
And I had to throw away a lot of stuff in order to make place for all the stuff that I brought with me. And then I got a message from the ministry of health here saying that I did not have to continue my quarantine because a new regulation said that if you had the vaccinations within six months prior to your arrival, you didn't have to continue the quarantine.
So I was all of a sudden without having to do another Corona test because I did one in Holland and one upon arrival and they were both negative. So I didn't have to do another test. And yeah, after four days I could move again freely, but I was happy with those four days because I needed that time to settle back into the house.
One of the very important items I brought back with me from Holland is the Historic Atlas of Palestine, 1948 by Salman abu Sitta. It is a huge book full of maps and information of Palestine before 1948. It gives you all the villages and towns and cities that existed before 1948. And many of those, we know, have been depopulated and even demolished, destroyed, after 1948. The book itself weighs five kilos. So I had to make a decision. Am I going to take it? Am I going to leave it in Holland until the next visit? But then I realized this Atlas has to be here in Palestine and I'm going to bring it to our Singer cafe in Beit Sahour so that everybody who wants to have a look through the Atlas can do that. I may even organize some special events around the Atlas.
So yeah, I used those four days to get the house back into shape and then, I was lucky because my husband helped me to find a car. I didn't have a car anymore. And he got me a Mazda 5, which is the same car my sister has in Holland, she has three children, and this car is perfect because you can either have four passengers and a lot of luggage, or you can uplift the back seats so that you can actually have six people with you in the car. And I'm hoping in the future to be able to organize tours and excursions, trips for families and for individuals who want to join. And so I can bring six people along and I think that's a great number to travel with. So keep that in mind, if you are planning a trip to Palestine.
But yeah, the question, why did I officially immigrate to Palestine now? So I've been thinking about it a lot. First of all, one of the reasons I have to admit for giving up the house I was renting is also that the municipality started asking questions about my stay in the Netherlands, because officially you have to be at least 4 out of 12 months in the country to be allowed to be registered.
And I didn't usually manage to be there for more than three months. Also my children who are now five and seven years old, they are going to school here. And so the ministry of education in Holland was also wondering about where do the kids go to school? And then, because I was renting from a housing association and it's a house that is supposed to be for people with a limited budget.
It's social housing, it's subsidized housing. So I said, yeah, I cannot keep a house like that just for me to spend the summer holidays. So that was also part of the decision. But of course, moving to Palestine and being here, it's something that is part of my path. And this is what I realized in the course of time.
So, let me start with the beginning. And this is in retrospective. Now, looking back, I told you, in the previous episode, in the anniversary episode, that the first time I came here was because I was invited by some Israelis I met in Europe. They were from the Israeli anarchists against the wall. And I first stayed in Tel Aviv and then we made some excursions and tours around the country.
I remember now vividly having the experience of knowing that I either had a life before, maybe an incarnation before, in this part of the world. Or now I think maybe unconsciously, somehow I knew I was going to end up living here, but there was such a deep feeling of rootedness, of coming home of feeling at ease in this place.
I had traveled to many other countries before, but I never had that feeling. And that was kind of confusing. And of course there are many people who travel to the holy land, especially religious people who will feel a special connection to this place, because they've learned so much about it, Christians, Jews, and Muslims, and they feel related to those holy sites to the places of their religion and their beliefs.
But I am not a religious person and I didn't at all have that kind of experience. For me, the experience was more with the land and it's hard to explain, but for me, the land is really literally the soil, the place where people live, where they work, where they do agriculture, where they try and make a living.
I felt such a strong connection with the native people of the land. And obviously that connection I felt most strongly with Palestinians, especially after I started coming to the west bank and in east Jerusalem, I've never been able to go to Gaza, but it was a very interesting experience. And I also remember vividly that after a few weeks I was sitting outside, listening to the call for prayer from the mosque. And even though, I really am not a religious person. And at that time, I definitely also, wasn't very spiritual. I had a very, I would now say spiritual experience where I recognized it as a message for me to not leave, but to extend my stay and where I was going to stay maybe only three weeks, I ended up staying for three months. And I ended up coming back very regularly and sometimes for long periods of time. And so over time I connected more and more to the place to the people. And before I even met my husband, I was already feeling at home here. And that's probably also been really important because I know that I can live here even without my husband.
And obviously he and my children are very important reasons for me for being here. But I now know that they are not the main reasons. And that happened two and a half years ago when a Palestinian Dutch friend of mine came here and she gave us a ten-day mindfulness training. She's a Buddhist. She also gave us some non-violence training, not so much related to the local situation. That's what people always thought about non-violence, but more, the non-violence way of communication you can have with your surroundings, with your family, with your partner, with your friends, expressing your own needs and making sure that you communicate them in the correct way.
But the mindfulness we did, we meditated a lot, daily. And towards the end of the 10 days, let's say retreat, she made us connect to what she called inner warrior. And for me, that was the first very spiritual experience I had. And my inner warrior had a very clear message for me. And it was: you are on your path and there are no obstacles. And I have to say that before that, I had been weighing a lot. I had like a scales in my head. What is better? Should I raise my children in Palestine? Should I raise my children in Holland? Is it better to be here? Is it better to be there? And I was always making that comparison. The education system in Holland is probably better when it comes to critical thinking. And when it comes to freedom of expression and the freedom of speech and creativity, and it's for free also, here we pay quite a lot of money for the school. The streets are cleaner. There are bike paths. Of course you have freedom there; you live in an environment where people are supporting each other to live a more vegan or vegetarian lifestyle, to have organic products, to recycle your waste and so on.
On the other hand, I saw that the social live in Palestine was maybe much more easy. Here you don't have to make appointments weeks in advance with your friends. As my husband always says: “Holland is not a very spontaneous country”, and that's one of the reasons why he doesn't want to move to Holland.
I can see that people here are much more friendly and open and warm and welcoming. I mean, there are many reasons why you would decide to live in one or the other country. But after this experience, I knew that my path is where I am right now. And then I realized I'm not here just because of my husband or because of my children.
I'm here because this is my path. And it gave me so much lightness and it gave me so much peace of mind and peace of heart that I knew that this is where I am supposed to be. And of course it helps that my children were born here. And for them this feels like home. For them going to Holland it is something for the holidays. Being here is home. They love living with their grandparents, because they live upstairs, we live downstairs. So they get to see them every day. They love the food here. They like their school. They love the house. It makes it easier. And also I have all those memories from the moment they were born until now, we have grown here together. So this is our family home.
And then I guess on top of that, it has been very helpful to study the tour guide program at the Bible college, because that really made me understand the importance of this place in the world. It made me so much more connected to its history. And now when I travel around and when I see places, I have a different feeling than I had before. And I still need to discover many places because yeah, we've learned so much and there are still so many places to explore that I know about, but I haven't seen yet. So I'm really hoping to be able to do that now that I have a better car and that I can take people along. So I'm pretty excited about the upcoming months of being back in Palestine.
I still have to see a lot of people that I haven't seen for many months now.
I've already eaten warek dawali and kusa mahshee and bitinjan from Battir, we ate kofta and my mother-in-law she made malfuf today. And this is one of the things really also very big advantage of living here; first of all, the incredible food and the fact that my mother-in-law is cooking at least half of the week, so I don't have to worry about what to make for the children when they come home from school.
And even though I graduated from the Bible College, I won't stop studying because we are still waiting for the exam of the ministry of tourism that we have to do to get the tour guide license. And so I will keep studying and I will keep visiting places.
I'm hoping to do more podcast recording while at a site, and also trying to do some videos because I have a YouTube channel. And I do think that it would be great for you to have also some visuals. Last year, I didn't get the chance because of COVID and also it takes time. So making the videos and then kind of editing them into something nice, it will probably take me time to learn that, but I will watch some tutorials and do my best.
And actually coming week, I am going to meet with Izzeldin and you know Izzeldin from the podcast episode about Sufism and about the greens in Palestine, and we're going to go for a tour in the old city of Jerusalem. He is going to show me some places that are a little bit hidden and off the beaten track. I'll bring my recorder. So hopefully I get to do a nice podcast episode with him in the old city. And there are many others topics we can still discuss and places to visit. So stay tuned, tell your friends about the podcast, make sure that everybody knows to tune in on Mondays for a new episode.
I want to thank you for listening and for following stories from Palestine podcast.