We’d been walking along the wall that morning – the wall that divides Bethlehem. The messages we read in the colorful graffiti were startling, striking, stirring. The next item on the itinerary was a cooking class to be led by two Palestinian women at Aida Refugee Camp. We arrived hot, hungry and pensive.

As we walked into the small room that had been renovated into a simple kitchen, The two women greeted us with broad smiles. Introductions were made and pleasantries exchanged. Then, “today, we will be teaching you to make maqluba.”

Maqluba translates to “upside-down” and is a traditional Palestinian dish. Meat, rice and fried vegetables are cooked in a pot, which is then flipped upside-down onto the serving platter. Given what I’d seen and heard while in the Holy Land, I couldn’t help but read a deeper meaning into the translation.

I’ll not list all the paradoxes and parallels, the “small crimes” or blatant injustices, from the stories we’d heard. I will give this one example: Islam, one of the women teaching us how to prepare the meal, was born in Aida Refugee Camp. Her 6 year old daughter, Sidra, was born there, too. Islam talked of raids in the middle of the night, of only having access to water every twenty or so days. Plenty of reasons to lament her situation. Yet she smiled and laughed with us all through our meal. She was a gracious host and patient teacher. She was hopeful that what she was doing by teaching this class and telling her story could make a difference.

Though I tried not to have too many preconceived notions about what this trip to the Holy Land would be like, it’s impossible to arrive here as a completely blank slate. My experiences as a woman, a Lutheran, as a citizen of the United States informed what I thought I would see and hear and feel. But I must admit, my experience here has been quite upside-down.


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