According to Google Maps, my local climbing gym is approximately 6.3 kilometers from my apartment. I'll have to walk two miles and take two buses to get there. Oh yeah...and cross a military checkpoint.
As I walked through Beit Sahour today with sweat trickling down my back in the early-morning 90 degree heat, the Palestinian soldiers shifted their assault rifles, eyeing me dispassionately and the thought occurred to me that I might be off my rocker.
When I explained to my bemused Palestinian friends that I wanted to go to Jerusalem to find the climbing gym, they were incredulous. And reasonably so. For who in their right mind would subject themselves to the exhaustion of crossing from the West Bank into Israel simply to climb a wall for a few hours? In one friend's words, "But why go to Jerusalem to climb a wall? The IDF was kind enough to build one for us here. You can climb that."
My friends are hilarious. But as I stood in line again waiting for a soldier to glance at my passport and wave me through with an apathetic flick of the wrist, I wondered if this trek really was going to be worth it.
In order to get to the gym, I walked a mile through town to get to the bus. There isn't so much a station for the bus to Jerusalem as there is a general area of town where everyone knows (through some unspoken agreement) that the bus to Jerusalem waits. I went to this area and wandered around until I saw the familiar blue and white bus. As soon as the bus was full, we zoomed off, careening through narrow roads with steep drop-offs. After five to 10 minutes (in which the bus driver might randomly stop to chat with a cousin), we reached the checkpoint into Jerusalem. We shuffled off the bus with our IDs in hand. The soldiers checked the bus, and then examined our IDs. If we passed the test, we'd re-board the bus and move onward and into Jerusalem. Outside the old city, right before David's Tower, I got off the bus and walked a half mile to the next bus station. From there, I can catch the bus to the climbing gym.
On a good day, it takes me two hours to get there, and as I walked around the corner and caught a glimpse of posters advertising well-known climbers and brands, I know that on my return I will have to go through the same things. The bus might even be randomly stopped in Jerusalem by soldiers before we even get to the checkpoint, and we will be searched again. There is a chance I might not get through the checkpoint, or perhaps I will have to wait hours, perhaps I will have to unwillingly lie just to get through. All of this I know.
But when I see the logos that are as familiar to me as family members, when I smell the acrid mingle of chalk and sweat, and when I hear the familiar "climb on" amidst the tumble of Hebrew...it's worth it.
After leaving Kokatat and earning a master’s degree at the Monterey Institute of International Studies, Nikki Hodgson is currently living in the Palestinian Territory working as an intern at Friends of the Earth Middle East focusing on climate change and its impacts on water resources and water rights.
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