Fast Times in Palestine
By Pamela Olson
Seal Press, 2013
In this memoir, a year after college, and after studying Arabic on her own, Pamela Olson travels to the Middle East with a friend. Unsure of her exact itinerary, she begins in Egypt and ends up in Jayyous, Palestine, where she is taken in by expats and Palestinians. She is so moved by her time in Jayyous that six months after her backpacking trip, she returns to Palestine, this time to live in Ramallah and volunteer for Dr. Mustafa Barghouthi’s presidential campaign. From there, she gets a job with a Palestinian newspaper. Olson’s Arabic develops over time and she gracefully integrates herself into the Palestinian culture, sharing both its beauty and sorrow. She writes about the fun stuff: friendships formed, long chats over tea, and olive picking expeditions, and the hard stuff: check points with long waits, random interrogations, police raids and senseless violence.
I was quickly drawn into this book because Olson is such an open and thoughtful narrator. When she sets off to the Middle East she has little knowledge of the region and frankly shares her ignorance with the reader. Once in Palestine, she connects with the people in Jayyous and becomes mystified by, and drawn into, the injustices she sees in their lives. Olson is a witness and with this book becomes a voice for the voiceless. There are sections of this story that are sad and hard to read, but Olson’s frankness, and sense of humor, kept me engaged. Her story begins as a travel narrative and evolves into an exploration of day-to-day Palestinian life.
I received a PDF version of this book from the publisher.