I was a typical American who knew almost nothing about the Middle East when I decided, after college, to backpack through Egypt and Jordan in 2003. I had no plans to go to Palestine. It seemed too complicated and dangerous.
But when I reached Amman, I happened to meet two Project Hope volunteers and traveled with them for a couple of days before they headed back to Palestine. After hearing their stories of hospitality, horror, and hope, I was intrigued. What they were saying was the exact opposite of what I had heard in the US media. I followed them into Palestine to see it for myself.
What I found was beyond my wildest imagination. The Palestinians I met were incredibly kind, thoughtful, and welcoming, with a delightful sense of humor. It all stood in stark contrast to the vast and terrible injustices of the occupation they were forced to live under, all of it funded by US tax dollars and supported by the US government.
I came as a visitor but stayed on as a Project Hope volunteer. I taught English in a small town in the northern West Bank called Jayyous, where I spent a wondrous and heartbreaking month during Ramadan and the olive harvest. I later moved to Ramallah where I got a job as a journalist and served as the foreign press coordinator for Dr. Mustafa Barghouthi when he ran for president of the Palestinian Authority.
In the course of two years I learned more and more, and met so many incredible people, that I felt I had to share what I had learned. I wrote a book called Fast Times in Palestine, which focuses not only on violence, terror, and politics but also on the daily rounds of house parties, concerts, barbecues, weddings, jokes, harvests, and romantic drama that happen in between. It was published in the US this March, nearly ten years after I first set foot in Palestine.
And all because I happened to meet a couple of Project Hope volunteers while backpacking in Jordan after college.
Pam Olson holds a a physics degree from Stanford University. She has worked as Ramallah-based journalist and foreign press coordinator for a Palestinian presidential candidate. She is the author of ‘Fast Times in Palestine’.