- Guide in northern Palestine
Saed Hijjeh is a guide on Palestine’s long distance walking trail, Masar Ibrahim .It was an unexpended career change for a man in his mid-50s, who worked for years as a librarian at the Arraba municipality office in the northern Palestinian region of Jenin. Hijjeh, who prefers to be called “Abu Ayman,” had limited knowledge about his town and his country before he walked the entire 330 km trail in the West Bank. Now he is a role model for others that want to become guides.
“If you live in the moment can experience a lot; if you walk in nature you may witness and enjoy much more,” Saed Hijjeh muses philosophically to a pair of hikers by his side.
When Masar Ibrahim team members visited Arraba’s municipality in 2013 hoping to scout new trails, the township made Abu Ayman the point person.
“On the first hike, I wasn’t sure if I could make it to the end, and I was planning to sneak out through an olive grove at the halfway point and leave the group,” he recalls. “I am an old man, I thought to myself, and I’m not in the best of shape. My hiking abilities are not so strong. But I was wrong.”
First he found out that he had the strength to walk long distances, and that he enjoyed it. That was a boon to his self-esteem. Later he volunteered to waymark the trail in Nablus and found himself interested not only in the other people on the team, but also in these new surroundings. “I discovered something about my personality: I’m a story teller and a nature lover and I also enjoy being part of a team and being active in the field.”
Abu Ayman continued volunteering. He joined the way marking team along the route toward Jericho. “During this journey, I learned a lot about other religions, the beauty of the area, and also saw archaeological sites I had never heard about before I started walking.”
Then he got serious. “I benefited from courses like first aid and training on how to be a guide. I also really liked the hiking equipment I got from the Masar Ibrahim Al Khalil union
As he became a professional he noticed push back from his community. “Originally they thought that I was wasting my time with foreigners. But once they saw the positive impact on my family, the community, and me they changed their minds. They saw the financial benefits that I am also proud of. Now I am a vital part of the Masar Ibrahim Al Khalil , and I am always in the field guiding local and international walkers.”
Abu Ayman collects stories about Palestinian heritage as he traverses the West Bank with walkers. He’s become a traditional storyteller, sharing tales from bygone generations with grammar school students and at universities. The Ministries of Education and Higher Education and the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities hire him to tell stories. This is yet another source of income for Arraba’s former township librarian. In a land where jobs are scarce, Abu Ayman counts himself fortunate.
“Without the MIAK , I wouldn’t be able to afford university tuition for my four college-aged daughters. Now, I can finally say that I have found myself. Without the Masar, I wouldn’t be able to reach a point where I am a financially stable and well-respected person.”
Abu Ayman stops for a moment in a field of flowers and leans his chin on his walking stick. “I’m a smoker,” he says, “and I am not a young man. But on the Masar Ibrahim Al Khalil trail , I feel 20 years younger. They call me ‘Arraba’s King of Tourism.’ I couldn’t be more proud than to serve one of Palestine’s greatest resources: Masar Ibrahim. It’s good for us at home and it’s good for our reputation abroad.”