Csíkszereda Musings

My life in and around Csíkszereda, also known as Miercurea Ciuc.


Posted by Andy Hockley on 23 February, 2003


This afternoon after class we set off for Jenin, the only town of any size in the area, a distance of about five miles.. Most roads have been dug up, ploughed into oblivion by tank tracks. A beautiful new two lane highway from Jenin to Nablus was built by a Scandinavian organisation. Within days of its opening, the Israeli army had destroyed it. In places it still exists, but today it was closed. Indeed, Jenin was “closed”. When a town is the local hub, closing it means closing off the entire region. The closure of Jenin was effected by the blocking off of all roads in and out. Only one way in remained – a road that had already been destroyed by the IDF. What I saw was a people of unbelievable patience, of indefatigable ingenuity, with an unfeasible ability to keep living their lives, against all odds.

The “service” (shared) taxi was stuffed with students, and filled with laughter and good humoured commentary on the lakes and rivers that had appeared in the potholes and tyre tracks in the recent heavy rains, as it took us on a roundabout route through surrounding villages, describing a semi circle around Jenin, as we headed for the entrance point. Then as we crested a rise, there we were, at what can only be described as a huge temporary transportation hub, set up on the side of the road – buses, taxis, cars, minibuses, vans, trucks, tractors. The Dunkirk flotilla brought to an olive grove a mile outside the city. We left our transport and joined the tide of people walking down the hill to where the road had been destroyed, people dressed for work, making the best of their situation staggering under the weight of boxes and bags down to the muddy and trampled valley floor. Women, men, students, children, whole families, making the journey in and out of the city. One of the students commented on how tomorrow they would put signs on the muddy pathways indicating “arrivals” and “departures”. Another waved in the direction of the town dump on the hillside and the human traffic walking past it and commented “This is the Holy Land”. Once we were over the swamp, it was back up the other side, back to where the road restarted and back to another honking, exhaust-fume stinking mass of vehicles, from which we could go the last mile into the city.

In Jenin, many stores were closed, unable to open, unable to get supplies in, their owners closing early in order to make the long arduous journey home to their homes as many as two or three miles away. Some market stalls were open, the city bustled with a kind of weary desperation, people warning us to make sure we left enough time to get home, as things were almost certain to get worse. Mohammed, one of the students, helped us out taking us to the store we were looking for (closed), and pointing out where we needed to go to get back, before going home to study circuit diagrams for his telecommunications degree, and to spend the evening with his mother. Only when we offered to take him to dinner, did he confess that his father had been killed by the Israeli army two months before and that therefore, apologetically, he needed to eat with his mother.

We bought a few vegetables, snacked on falafel, and then decided that we should probably get back. Once again we piled into a “service’ and headed off up to the human valve that had opened above the city, passing, as we turned off, a tank positioned in the middle of the road, in front of an ambulance, lights flashing. As we headed off the main road and into the rutted and potholed tracks, up into the hills, bumping through the trees, suddenly there was a crunching and fatal sounding noise from under the car. The eight passengers and driver piled out to see the gearbox on the ground, the “service” no longer in service. In the shoes of the taxi driver I can only imagine I would have sat down by the side of the road and wept. There is no money, there is no prospect of money. I have no idea if or when he will ever be able to repair his car, his source of livelihood. Instead, he hailed one of the other minibuses passing and asked the driver if he could take us the remaining half mile to the end of the road.

Back at the mud pit we struggled back with our groceries, passing other of the students coming the other way having finished their classes for the day. Jenin has been “closed” for two days now, and yet they still make the arduous journey back and forth to the University in order to study for a degree that many of them must have serious doubts about ever being able to use. Three trucks were attempting to drive through the mud in order to bring supplies and food from the market at Jenin out to the surrounding communities. The makeshift transportation department has brought in some tractors to drag them through the worst of it. One made it to a great cheer from the watching multitudes. The second, as we left, seemed less likely to succeed.


The day was drawing to a close and the temporary bus-station was less busy than before. Many people leaving the city for fear of trouble to come. There is usually only one reason for closing off a city in such a way. Another helpful Mohammed was getting out to his parents’ village to be on the safe side. We piled once more into a cab, and headed back to the nearest village to the University, passing again the rural communities we had come through on the way in, honking at jaywalking sheep and muddy children. Tomorrow, I can stay here on the campus, safe and unhindered by the need to cross through whatever route needs to be taken in and out. Tomorrow, the students will again get up early in order to make the trek the five miles to campus, the villagers will head back into Jenin to work or to buy food for their families, and the whole process will repeat. If they are lucky.

(Published by the Brattleboro Reformer as Journey to Jenin)

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