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     Volume 8 Issue 80 | July 31, 2009 |

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The Land Where Time has no Value!

Dr. Wael M.j El-afghani
School children’s reaction to the camera in Qalqilia.

It was my lifetime dream to travel and visit my beloved homeland of Palestine; a wish which finally came true in November 2005. I had just finished my MSc in Implant Dentistry at the Eastman Hospital (London) and I decided to take three months off before starting a new job.

My journey started when I crossed over the bridge from Jordan into occupied Palestine. I will never forget that day as for the first time in 30 years I felt that I was no longer a foreigner, but that I actually found a place that I could truly call home.

Everyone I came across was so friendly and hospitable it was quite overwhelming. On many occasions I would have lunch and dinner twice as I did not have the heart to turn down invitations and upset the locals, something which I paid the price for at the end of my trip when I found out that I had gained 5Kg!

The glass cabinet inside the Al-Aqsa mosque showing all the ammunitions used on Muslims whilst they were praying.

The main purpose of my trip was to do charity work as a dental surgeon, but also to try and travel as much as possible and see my country for the first time. I was involved with an amazing charity called The Palestine Children's Relief Fund. This charity specialises in bringing to Palestine foreign health care professionals to treat Palestinians in the remote parts of the country where no medical facilities exist. They organised for me to do seven days of charity work in the small villages around Tul-Karim and Nablus, which was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. To see how happy the locals were, that I came over from London to treat them for free was such an emotional high like I have never experienced before. It also made me realise just how lucky we all are living our daily lives in London. The second half of my charity work was focused on teaching the undergraduate dental students at both the Arab American university in Jennin (AAUJ) and at Al-Quds University in Jerusalem, where I spent a week as an honorary lecturer at both institutions. The two institutions were completely different from each other. In Jennin the University was newly built and extremely spacious and modern but was totally understaffed with the average age of each head of department being 26 years old! However at Al-Quds, the university was very old with crumbling walls, but it had very highly qualified and internationally respected members of staff. One of my best days at the Al-Quds University was when I was invited to play in their annual student versus staff football match. The main attraction here was the university football pitch which was cut in half by the illegal building of the Wall. So that if you kicked the ball a bit too high then it would go over the wall and into Israel, hence the game would stop until we got another ball from the store room!

The modern dental teaching facilities at Arab American university in Jennin (AAUJ).

After I finished my three weeks of charity work my last week was mainly spent travelling around the country and visiting its famous sites. These included my home town of Jaffa, which brought tears to my eyes, Hebron, Bethlehem, Ramallah, and Tel-aviv.

As the old saying goes-'A picture tells a thousand words.' One such picture I would like to share with the readers is one that I took inside the Al-Aqsa mosque. As the mosque's imam was giving me a tour inside the holy shrine he showed me a large glass cabinet, which was full of used ammunition that the Palestinians had collected from the Israeli army over the years. It included rubber bullets, tear gas and hand grenades. This ammunition had been used on crowds of praying Muslims to disperse them from the mosque grounds and also on the infamous day that Ariel Sharon went to visit the mosque and kick started the 2nd Intifada.

The Palestinian side of the wall dividing the West Bank and Jerusalem.

One thing that really had a huge impact on me is just how happy and positive the people were in general, despite all that they have gone through and still suffer from. Everyone woke up early and went to work even if that meant 2 or 3 hours of commuting each way through 2 or 3 different check points (This was one of the factors that made you feel that time had no value at all in Palestine). It was as if the harder the Israelis tried to make life for the Palestinians the more determined the Palestinians became to try and live!

Another memory which also brings a smile to my face is how all the undergraduate dental students seemed so keen to continue their postgraduate training abroad in the UK or the USA and then return to help their people and their country, the level of ambition and aspiration these young people had really blew me away. This is not what I expected having lived abroad all my life, but I was pleasantly surprised to find out the opposite was true.

The day of my departure was a very sad one and I was so depressed to be leaving my beautiful country, all I could do was pray to God that I get another chance in the future to go back again and make a change!

The author is a dentist and an expert in Implant Surgery.


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