I love going to the hairdressers.

I enjoy the fuss, I especially enjoy the hour or so of anticipation and hope that I’ll emerge looking slightly more glamorous than I did upon arrival. This experience is no different for me here in East Jerusalem even if the explanation of what I would like does require 20 minutes of charades first. There are of course the gossipy magazines just like back home although my particular hairdressers favours Armenian ones, there are, thank goodness the odd, albeit old, issues of UK Hello lurking underneath the pile – did you know that Kate Middleton is having a baby? Keeping in step with this not so current gossip supply, are the hair styles. The result of my first Middle Eastern hairdressing encounter had me ready to enter the Farah Fawcett lookalike contest. As I actually enjoy the swishy style this time I was prepared for a repeat visit back to the 70’s. I was, however overjoyed with the result as I was blasted through the time traveler machine arriving in 1998 with a “Rachel” –oh I do feel glamorous!Karen


Karen and I have now been here for just over 18 months. We have generally settled well into our new surroundings and any challenges have been met with a degree of humor, pragmatism, and occasionally frustration. The job with the UN has had its challenges but has not been technically demanding. The work ethic is, how shall I say, “less intense” than what I am used to but pleasingly a number of new ideas that I have brought to UNRWA have been appreciated by my team and they have done really well to think about work differently. For example, they now know they can come up with ideas of their own, measure their performance, make changes where necessary, and generally look at the work in a way that allows them to understand their important role in assisting our beneficiaries. I’ve invested a lot of time in my team because they deserve the opportunity to shine and be excellent at what they do. The feed back I have received from them has been one of the most inspiring parts of my role.

During my time here, a few senior members of management have actively encouraged me to think about moving up. Recently, an opportunity arose for a role as the Deputy Director in Lebanon. I applied, but knew I was up against it, as I really need more time to understand the overall nuances of the organization. I was surprised to make it all the way though the recruitment process, including the video interview, psychometric testing, psychological interview, and face-to-face in Beirut. It was a fascinating journey, but in the end I was not successful due to my lack of overall time (as originally suspected). Still, the interview panel were very encouraging and signaled a bright future for me in the UN, which was great to hear.

One of my shortcomings is the lack of formal educational qualifications. Generally, to move ahead in the organization you need a Masters Degree. For reasons various, I was not able to attend the NZDF Staff College during my Naval Career and therefore missed an opportunity to gain two thirds of a Masters (most attendees go on to complete the Masters in their spare time), but I was posted to Australia for the large ship building project our Navy entered into in 2004. I was on that project for 5 years, then returned to manage the Navy’s Supply Chain, so I did not get this opportunity. However, I gained much more than a Masters in that I met Karen, falling hugely in love with her, and returned to NZ with an amazing amount of Project Management experience. Still, the lack of a Masters is one of the things that will hold me back in the future.

With all of this in mind Karen and I have done some serious soul searching. She is still not working, and Jerusalem is not an easy place to live for a professional, out of work, woman. There are demands living and working in an occupied country where the anger of day to day occupation, from both sides, boils over into violence that can be occasionally frightening and often stressful. I enjoy the challenge, generally, but the stress level is only really understood when we go away on holiday. It is like the lifting of a ship’s safety valves when we fully relax, usually after a couple of days on holiday, and we both let out a huge sigh of relief to be away for the constant, bubbling, pressure of Jerusalem.

Overall, life is very good, but we have had to make a joint decision to support Karen and to give me an opportunity to move ahead in the UN in the future. We need to “future-proof” by investing in ourselves.

Karen will commence studying towards a Masters in Technology (Business Systems) through Swinburne University and I will start an MBA through the Australian Institute of Business. Both can be done via distance learning, online. I have applied for 9 months Special Leave and we will move to Cyprus sometime in mid December. I will not be able to renew my Visa for Israel, even though I do not technically work there, they insist on a Visa as the occupying force of the West Bank, and we can only enter and Leave Palestine through Israeli Borders. Also, Cyprus is the only country that will take Nessie and Ned without a period of quarantine. It also means that after 6 months, they can both travel to Europe or back to NZ with us, if this is what we end up doing.

There is no assurance that UNRWA will have a job for me at the end of 2014 and a colleague from another Field has expressed an interest in taking my job. Leaving, even temporarily like this, has its risks, and the thought of no income for nine months, and possibly longer worries me, but on the positive side, we are giving ourselves a better opportunity for future work, we have saved hard, and budgeted wisely, so we should be able to achieve this. Some people have suggested I should work and study part time, but the MBA takes about 25 hours per week and I am already working around 55 hours now and I really need to balance work and relaxation just to remain sane. We think the best option is to move away from our current environment, get on and study, then return back to the UN in 2015, or late 2014, if there is work and if there isn’t… then we’ll have to make some tough calls.

One idea is to change direction completely and study Psychology, for me, and I can become a counsellor. It is an idea, based on some experiences, that has developed over the last ten years and I have found that I enjoy working with people to help them realise their full potential. Another plan, is to move on to the UK and look for work. Karen has a European Passport and is able to work but I have to apply for a Visa and that can only be done in New Zealand, and Karen has to be already established with a job, house, etc. This will take a bit of juggling, but is worth considering. The other plan is to return to NZ to our place in Paraparaumu and commence our business as Project Managers. It was a good little business and Karen was well employed, but to me it seems like taking a step back a bit. I definitely haven’t ruled it out but it’s not my preference.

So, in a few short months, after two full-on years of managing a UN Supply Chain, we are recalibrating, working on our future, and bidding farewell to East Jerusalem. I will miss my team, but I will not miss dealing with the hostility of the Occupation. We will find a nice place to study in Cyprus where Ned and Ness can run around, in wet grass, and be proper cats again. Karen and I will breathe easy, but we will think fondly of the remarkable Palestinians I have worked with, the few decent Israelis who have tried to make a positive difference, and the wonderful Internationals who have become firm, lifelong friends. Shukran to you all.

Usually, I think it’s safe to pass wind in flight. I have travelled far and wide and farted often, with little repercussions at altitude. I am not a man of science, but I have studied the effects of gas in a pressurized cabin and have generally come to the belief that it is quite safe to trumpet away due to the level of background noise and something to do with the air conditioning that quickly deals with any offensive odors that may develop as a result of an entirely normal, manly, bodily function.

Sadly, my close, scientific, studies were to be proven wrong this morning on a short flight from Beirut to Amman. Immediately after my coffee, croissant, and Brie, the usual stirring in the lower pit of my gut began to develop. Feeling extra safe, as I was sitting on my own, I proceeded forth and enjoyed the satisfaction one feels when one does what one does. Alarmingly, a mixed mezze waft of pungency began to permeate the lower reaches of my nostrils. Clearly, the Lebanese dinner I so thoroughly enjoyed last evening, the fruit and cereal from this morning, and the 3 cups of coffee and orange juice at the airport, were not playing well together.

Things were getting bad, and could only get worse. I cast a furtive look around the cabin at my nearest neighbors to see if anyone was dry retching, but fortunately Satan’s Stench had yet to crawl its way over the seats to my, as yet, unsuspecting fellow passengers. Suddenly, the idea to introduce fresh air into the environment became important. My arm almost reflexively shot up through the cauldron-like gasses now swirling around my head as I gasped for air. I searched through the quagmire for the Air Flow control valve and desperately fumbled to release the freshening effects of Aircraft Aircon. To my horror the valve was stuck shut, and my rising alarm was only matched by the rising stench around me. Struggling harder, my horror was increased when my ridiculous, and suddenly no longer opposable thumb (perhaps I was becoming poisoned by the Sulphur Dioxide mix that was now well and truly moving freely about the cabin) jammed hard up against the Cabin Call Button! With a klaxon-like blare the alarm sounded and the usually tired, lazy, indifferent, Cabin Crew-member appeared – almost by apparition – and thrust his head into the gathering cloud of gas right into the Danger-Zone; an area where few men or women, especially women for some reason, have dared to tread.

This poor man, I thought, as he reared back uncontrollably, tears welling up in his eyes. With a splutter and choke, he quickly analysed the situation and rapidly brought all his force to bear on the stubborn Air Valve. With freshness now bursting forth into the Area of Operational Concern, he gave me a withering look and muttered “perhaps we’ll just keep this at full flow for awhile, sir.” Then he turned and stormed off to the safety of the Galley.

Science, you have let me down. Perhaps, this only works on longer haul flights?

Dear Mustafa,

Today, after 42 year’s of working for the United National Relief and Works Agency, here in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, you retired. Your career has been long, loyal, and dedicated and for that we all thank you.

Your life has not been an easy one. Your father was shot and killed by the Israelis when you were three years old and your Mother brought you up. I remember the day you invited Karen and I to your village, Battir. You proudly showed us the picture of your father on the wall of your living room; he looked like a fine young man and I know you miss him. You introduced us to your family, including your wonderful Mother who still looks after you. Nadia, your wife, cooked a tasty, large, meal for us and your whole family showered us in kindness. We were both so touched and grateful for your generosity that we still talk about it today. We will return soon, for that I am sure.

Battir is a beautiful, small, village just over the Green Line from Israel and you have lived there all your life. In 1948 when Israel gained its Statehood, Battir was, and remains, very close to uncertainty over its future. Your Olive trees grow on a spur that runs just into the Green Line, possibly into Israel, but no one can be sure. Sometimes you find Roman Coins when you dig there, and UNESCO have moved to make the whole village a protected area. You do not have a lot of money saved so you will be relying on your Olive trees to provide income to you and your family in your retirement. The Israeli railway line runs through the bottom of the village where the unique terraces, that make Battir so famous, finish on the flat ground. In 1949, the Israeli military leader Moshe Dayan gave permission for Battirs’ villagers to tend their land on the Israeli side of the line and the Village Elders agreed with the Israelis to do no harm to the railway, an agreement that you have all kept since then. Sadly, 10 years ago the Israeli authorities insisted on building the Israeli Barrier through your village, greatly threatening its uniqueness, including your Olive grove. I know you are worried about this and we too shared your concern; but you never got angry, you have just remained focused, positive, and gentle, and this is the man I have come to respect. Your positivity has paid off, because recently we have heard that Israeli environmentalists, and even the State Parks Authority, have backed calls from your village and the UN to protect Battir and I understand the Courts are looking favourably at your petition. We hope and pray they do the right thing – which is rare in the Israeli Court system – but still it is heartening to know that there are some good Israelis who support you all.

You joined UNRWA just after you left school and you worked your way up through the Grades and ended up as the Deputy Field Procurement and Logistics Officer, in the Field Office in East Jerusalem. You were one of the first people I met when I arrived in early 2012 and you became my trusted, hard-working, peacekeeping, Deputy. Whenever there was a dispute, you quietly listened to the parties and worked through the issue to arrive at an agreed solution. Everyone respected you and felt calm around you, and for this, I will always be very grateful. You helped me in my first year to settle in and learn the system. You helped me understand the Palestinian culture, you made me laugh, you listened to my concerns, and you taught me lessons; Shukran.

On the day you retired, the Israelis cancelled your permit which means you are not allowed back to visit us, you can not enter Jerusalem, unless it is to pray at the Al Aqsa Mosque, and you can not freely travel in the City that Palestine calls its Capital. You are 62 years old, and for ‘Security’ reasons you are not trusted by the Israelis. However, I can not find a more trustworthy, decent man than you and it is deeply saddening knowing that you are to be treated like this in your retirement. I know you are concerned that you will not be able to come back and visit your friends here at work. I know you are concerned that you will not be allowed to pick up your final pay. It angers me that you should be treated like this, but it has not angered you; you are philosophical, and you trust that, Inshallah, your last pay will be delivered to you in Battir, and I will make sure this happens.

Many people in your position would be bitter and angry at the way you have been treated, but you have never uttered a bad word against the Israelis, you have never displayed any hatred, or anger. You have dealt with life with humour, kindness, but above all, dignity, and for that I thank you because you have taught me that no matter what hand you are dealt with in life, you can be the better man, you can choose to live life, rather than sit in a darkened room ignoring reality and growing angry and bitter, you can choose to embrace challenge and make a better life, not only for yourself but for the people you have served and for those of us who have had the privilege of knowing you. Shukran Habibi. Enjoy your retirement, enjoy Battir, and know that you have made a real and positive difference to the lives of so many people.

About 30km south of Jerusalem is the city of Hebron. It is the most controversial city in the Westbank due to the importance that Judaism, Islam, and Christianity place on the area particularly because they believe the Patriarchs are buried there. The Patriarchs are Abraham, his son Isaac, Isaac’s son Jacob (also known as Israel) who is considered the ancestor of the Israelites. The Muslims believe that Abraham is the father of all the prophets and hence they too consider the area very sacred. Abraham and Sarah can be traced all the way back to Adam and Eve according to the Old Testament.

There are approximately 250,000 Palestinians living in the area and a small number of Jewish settlers (around 500 – 800). The Jews have taken over half of the Mosque and turned it into a synagogue and a whole street in the old city has been closed to the Arabs, including all their shops. The IDF heavily patrol the old city area and Israeli’s are forbidden to enter the Arab part of the city. We visited both areas today and witnessed yet more of the ongoing, and seemingly intractable, problems here.

First, we visited a small Palestinian village called Sair where my team were distributing food to around 150 of UNRWA’s refugees. It was a great opportunity for Karen and I to witness another distribution, talk to the locals, and talk to my team of labourers who are responsible for distributing food in all weather, all year round. There is sometimes tension during these distributions and as the senior UN person present, I received the bulk of the complaints today. As soon as we arrived and got out of the car, a large group gathered around, all pushing and shoving, wanting to tell me their story and to ask me to arrange for more food, money, help in general, and just to have me listen to them. It’s hard work and you have to be very sensitive to them and their situation. There were many women present today who were on their own, bringing up their children and struggling. Many of them have medical problems, their teenage children cannot find work, their youngest have little to look forward to and life in general is hard. I listened, took notes, and talked to them about our programmes and how we are trying to help nearly 1 million people in the whole West Bank. They understood, and were very grateful that someone had turned up to hear their stories. It was hard, but very worthwhile and makes me realise why I am here. Karen was really happy that she had come too as she got to experience what I do and what our beneficiaries have to contend with every day of their lives. Winter is approaching and things will get tougher too.

After our visit to Sair, we moved south to Hebron where we visited our warehouse operation there. I met with the staff and inspected the commodities and their accounting systems. I was pleased to see Milk Powder from New Zealand in the Warehouse and I excitedly pointed it out to my staff. They all nodded and smiled and asked me to pass on their thanks to all of you back home who cared enough to produce it – Shukran.

Once we had completed work for the morning, we headed off on foot to the old town of Hebron. As we walked through the Souk, we looked up and saw where the Jewish Settlers had moved into some of the Arabs’ homes. The Settlers throw rubbish down onto the Arabs so the shopkeepers have erected cages above the street to prevent the rubbish from hitting them, their customers and their products. As we neared the Mosque/Synagogue (a Mosque that has been split in two; one side is the Mosque and the other is the Synagogue) we were stopped by an Israeli Army Patrol. For no particular reason the young soldiers had just stopped all arabs, tourists (and UN staff) from moving through the street. Heavily armed, nervous, and fidgety (with automatic weapons at the ready) they held us without explanation for about 10 minutes. We just stood in silence staring at each other until by some unspoken message, the young corporal politely ushered us through. It is well known (and supported by evidence ex-soldiers have given to NGO and Peace groups) that they deliberately disrupt day-to-day activities of the Palestinians. There are as usual, two sides to the story, and there have been attacks on Palestinians by the Settlers and attacks on Settlers by Palestinians, and invariably, the IDF are caught in the middle. Some of the soldiers are Arabs and you can see a wariness in their eyes. Many of them hate what they do, and many of them are scared. I have an empathy with military people from my previous career so I am careful not to judge them as I know how hard their jobs can be. Sadly, as in many countries around the world, these young soliders are used in a political game that has serious consequences, and I have heard stories of many IDF soldiers having breakdowns and getting out of Israel after their conscription ends just to get away from the difficulties they have faced. It is complex and tragic on many levels.

After a brief visit to the mosque we walked 10 or so meters into another world. We had crossed over into the Jewish controlled area. It was quiet and empty and all the Arab shops had been closed with the Star of David spray painted on all of their doors. A few Arabs still live here, but we saw a number of Ultra Orthodox Jews walking the streets, armed and ready to defend their small enclave. A soldier called out to us and wanted to know why we were here. We just smiled and waved and carried on walking. My colleague, Laura, told him we were tourists just looking around. He seemed satisfied but watched us very carefully. We then left this area through another heavily guarded check point, with a sign warning us of the dangers of crossing over into the Palestinian area. We happily left the dead zone of the Israeli controlled part of the city and we were back into the hustle and bustle of Palestine. What a surreal experience. We must visit again.

To end our morning, we met up with Rinan and her husband, Bashir, at a local restaurant, and had a meal with them to celebrate their recent marriage. It was a nice way to finish the day and on the way home, we stopped in Bethlehem for Kenafe.

Since arriving here over 8 months ago, the Dome of the Rock has dominated our skyline when we look at the Old City of Jerusalem. The Noble Sanctuary (Haram ash-Sharif) is one of the three most sacred places for Muslims in the world and is reportedly the place where the first and second Jewish Temples stood. The First Temple was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar in 586BC and the Second Temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70AD. As a Mosque it was built approx. 700AD. Not being Muslims, we have not visited. Even though non-muslims can visit at certain times we have not because we did not want to be like normal tourists and because this is now our home we wanted to make it a special visit. One of my staff members, Shariffe, offered to show us around and we grabbed the opportunity. We invited our friend Phil, who has just arrived for a year, and we dressed appropriately including Karen who had a lovely head scarf, but was still required to cover her unholy legs with a lovely flowing number.

Upon arrival the Israeli Police checked and double checked our names on a list to ensure we were who we said we were, but oddly they never checked our ID. After the obligatory wait for around 15 minutes, which included talking to a range of officials and even an Arab Policeman who knew Shariffe, we were allowed into the grounds of the Sanctuary. We were introduced to our guide and warned we were not allowed to touch any women – why would you? He then proceeded to tell us all about the Noble Sanctuary including the 35 Acres of fountains, gardens, paths, buildings, and domes. The two central parts of the Noble Santuary are the massive Dome of the Rock and the Al Aqsa Mosque to the South.

We spent some time walking and listening to our Guide and he showed us many interesting historical aspects. He pointed out the Golden Gate which Christ came through from the Mount of Olives on Palm Sunday. Christians also believe this is where Mary’s parents met. The Jews believe this is where the Divine Presence used to appear and they believe that God will appear again when the Day of Judgement arrives. Just outside and at the base of the Mt of Olives is the large Jewish Cemetery where the dead will be the first to be judged. The crossroads of the three religions is quite amazing and it is easy to see why this place has such significance to so many. Sadly, it is the scene of much tension too. In late 2000 the Israeli President, Ariel Sharon, deliberately walked into the grounds of the Sanctuary and claimed it as the site of the Second Temple. This caused a riot and sparked the Second Intifada.

During our visit the guide was at pains to point out that the Muslims and Christians shared a lot in common and he drew our attention to a number of Christian aspects including the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Mount of Olives and the Golden Gate. Interestingly, there is a small Crusader Chapel inside the Al Aqsa Mosque and it was restored by Saladin and still exists today, although Christians do not pray in it. In 1969 an Australian Jew (Denis Michael Rohan) attempted to burn down the Mosque so the Jews could re-build the Temple and hasten the end of the world. The history, and the tension of the place, is quite amazing and to spend time there today was very special. We walked all over the grounds and we were made to feel very welcome by everyone we encountered. When I asked the Guide about the Temple and about access for Jews to the area, he curtly informed me that there is nothing for them here.

This was a really special occasion for us, because we know that visiting such an important place is really a once in a lifetime event. The photos speak for themselves.

A very young 40 is how we describe her. Although, for Karen’s Birthday we acted like a couple of advanced senior citizens well into our retirement. We booked 6 days at the Dead Sea Movenpick, Jordan, which is about an hour away, and ten degrees warmer than Jerusalem. It’s quite amazing that this, the lowest part of the planet, can be so much hotter than where we live which is geographically quite close. However, that’s just one of the many quirks of nature here and after 20 minutes in the extreme 45 degree heat of the first day, we were left wondering if we had made the right choice!

The second day was a bit cooler at only 40 Degrees but still the pools struggled to cool down. The only time we felt refreshed was immediately after getting out of the water when we noticed a very slight breeze on our skins. It didn’t last long, and so we debated whether we should get up early, swim, return to bed in the middle of the day to sleep, and then venture out again at night, but it never seemed to drop below 36-38 Degrees, so we just got on with it and relaxed.

I read lots, swam plenty, and drank more water than I could imagine. Karen was pretty much the same and we found ourselves unwinding more as each day proceeded. The tension of Jerusalem is quite noticeable when you leave and whilst we both love living there, it’s nice to get away too.

Karen has a knack of extending her celebrations over a number of days. This year was no different. Our good friend, Tareq, was staying at the Hotel when we arrived and so we spent the day swimming and catching up with him. Tareq and his wife Saba gave Karen a beautiful set of Earrings. They look fantastic on her, especially as she has developed an awesome tan and she looks really young and beautiful.

Andrew, Julie, and their boys, Scott and Matthew joined us the following day and we pretty much repeated our first day again with lots of swimming. Andrew and I, inevitably talked work, but we all really enjoyed each others company and, as usual, solved the many, various, and intractable problems of the Middle East! Dinner that night was at the wonderful Italian restaurant in the Hotel’s village square.

For her actual birthday, we spent a whole day, from 10am until 8.30pm, at the Movenpick Day Spa. We both had awesome massages and Karen had a mud wrap. Then we were shown around the facilities which we pretty much had to ourselves. Immediately outside of the changing rooms is an indoor/outdoor pool. We swam from the room out into the sunshine and under a large awning where we enjoyed all the different types of hydro therapy systems the pool had to offer including strong water jets that massaged our backs, bubbling water that rises up from large outlets with huge force making you hold on to handrails as your body is tossed and turned in the rolling frenzy. The pool is huge and continues out in a loop that overlooks the Dead Sea. The loop contains a number of underwater seats with jets of water and air that continues to massage your body just in case you didn’t get enough in the main pool.

We set ourselves up on the stone deck and then started to explore the rest of the Spa. Leading from our changing rooms is a spiral staircase (his and hers) that lead to a male or female steam room, sauna, and relaxation area. I tried the steam room but was overwhelmed at how hot it was. Karen found an exit from the Ladies area that took her to a private Massage area in the roof. We also discovered private pools that were across a bridge from the main pool. These contained different types of treatment areas including a foot bath, a Dead Sea flotation pool, and various whirlpools and mist showers. We tried them all. Outside we found a bar and food service area and a huge infinity pool. After a few hours in the main pool, we headed to the dining area and had a light lunch and Champagne for Karen. We then spent the rest of the day snoozing on loungers and alternating between the infinity pool and reading. 10 hours went by quickly, but we had a wonderfully relaxing day ending up at Luigi’s again for more Italian food. On arrival back in our room we found a birthday cake for Karen that the hotel had prepared that I had secretly orchestrated.