It is said that even a journey of thousand miles begins with a single step. Nowadays, the step can begin with something as simple as the click of a computer mouse. On the 22nd of May, while I was preparing for my thesis defense in Palestine, I received an email from one of my supervisors – Prof. Tom Selwyn – about the Summer School at SOAS. The email stated that I had received a scholarship to be part of a course at SOAS.
I was very happy and excited, but I also felt anxious and worried. How would make it to London from Palestine? The journey looked really complicated to me. Despite those fears, within two seconds and without thinking, I replied with my confirmation to attend the course.
The next step was the most frustrating part of my journey – the logistics and administrative part of the trip. The fact that I am a Palestinian with no passport made me question my identity. It also made visa application complicated; I only received my visa one day before my trip. It was a complicated and frustrating procedure – but at the same time, I can say it was worth the effort.
On Monday 8th of July, I crossed the bridge from Palestine to Jordan to get to the Queen Alia International Airport, Amman. The quality of the service provided to Palestinians from the Jordanian and Israeli sides was really astonishing to me; I still recall crossing the bridge, passengers locked in buses with no air conditioning due to worried about security.
Crossing the bridge brought to mind the Arab-Israeli War in 1948 and the Six-Days War in 1967; I remembered the stories I heard from older folk about crossing from the West Bank. Starting the trip as a refugee defined my perspective later on.
After I crossed the bridge, I went directly to the airport, even though my flight was scheduled much later. I felt guilty about leaving my three kids; but at the airport, I met a fellow Palestinian – a lady from Ramallah – who was crying because she was leaving her kids for ten days’ vacation to Rome. We started talking, and sharing our feelings was a great relief for both of us.
No matter how much web surfing you do, how many magazines or books you read, or how many travels shows you watch on TV, there is no substitute for the actual journey.
Seeing London and its famous landmarks is something I will never forget.
This whole trip was an extraordinary experience, and this is not only because I was lucky enough to be a tourist in London, but also because I had the opportunity to be part of an international program that tackled questions relating to contemporary mobility and travel landscapes, invoking ideas of home, return, commemoration, and celebration, as well as issues of identity, cultural narratives, and memory.
It was great to learn the definitions of anthropology of travel, mass tourism, and niche tourism. We discussed relations between tourism and the natural world, tourism-related objects (such as souvenirs), and the historical framing of pilgrimage. We also spoke about the nature of pilgrimage-related ritual and belief, cultural heritage, landscape symbolism, contested spaces, nationalism, and regionalism.
We combined these discussions with field trips to many London museums, the P21 Gallery, and a London bus tour. I felt inspired – I saw how we could improve tourism in Palestine, and be more creative in the commodification of our historical, ancient heritage and archeological sites.
The challenging part of the trip was to be a speaker for my country, discussing life and work in Palestine. As a professional, Palestinian woman, I focused on different issues, but I found myself mainly highlighting that we Palestinians are not isolated from the rest of the world; we are part of the cosmopolitan mindset, and believe in diversity and embrace others as part of our intercultural thinking.
For Palestinians, who live with movement restrictions, such courses are valuable and crucial to creating the right balance in our professional and personal lives. I consider this course as a window that led me to think of more projects and ideas, as well to see things from a different perspective.
These courses are in line with the idea of community development because they invest in a student both on the academic side, but also the soft skills side as well. Some of the direct impacts of this summer course were an increase my self-confidence and assertiveness; it helped me to step out of my comfort zone, and it allowed me to think strategically and in an innovative way. This opportunity literally changed my life.