Wednesday, March 24, 2010

This Blog Thing Moved.

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Saturday, April 18, 2009

Loving What You Don't Understand

I found out today I will be leaving Zababdeh. It didn’t come as a surprise so much as a relief that when I was called to meet with the Bishop, the Chaplain, and my boss that the topic up for discussion was something so painless, rather than another one of those awfully uncomfortable and upsetting bare-all conversations where everyone feels like crap at the end. No, this went rather smoothly, in that way where they try to pretend you are making your own decision by leading you to what they want you to do without just coming out and saying it. They told me to take some time and think it over, but I know that this is what is expected of me, so I will do it and I will not complain. As much as I am loathe to leave Zababdeh, and as much as I will miss my friends (not to mention seeing something besides concrete, which is about all there is in Jerusalem), I believe I will enjoy the change.

After returning from Jerusalem I walked with my friend down the street to play ball with some of the kids at the Latin Church and then grab some coffee. On the way home I mentioned the intended move, and then stepped off to my house. I sat on the wall of the front porch for a while watching the sun go down. It was one of those clear dusks that mushy watercolour painters love, where the sky fades shade by shade from blue to pink to that washed out yellowy orange as the sun slips behind the last hilltop in the distance. I looked at the olive trees, the hills, the minaret pointing skyward over the village. The evening call to prayer from the mosques broke the pseudo-silence of barking dogs and playing children, and I listened to the two singers battle it out for aural dominion of the spring evening.

For whatever reasons, I have grown to love this place. Sure I have my troubles here, but nothing that isn’t manageable. On the whole, it’s beautiful, interesting (even if perhaps only for its novelty), and I have friends here that I have grown to love. I don’t understand this place, and I’m frequently lost and confused, but I love it. I don’t know how that works, but that’s how it is.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Ancient and Modern Ruins

Sebastiya is a village of about 2900 people near Nablus in the West Bank. The village sits at the bottom of the mountain where the ruins of the ancient city of Samaria keep watch over the valley. I accompanied the visiting Dutch group on their excursion to Samaria-Sebaste on their second day visiting us in Zababdeh. The weather was pretty decent and we were all in pretty good spirits. When we reached Samaria-Sebaste the first thing we saw was the ruins of the Herodian palace, which the centuries had reduced to a grassy rectangled ringed with Roman columns in various stages of decay. A few of the decorative heads of the columns were sprinkled about in the middle. And of course the ever-present graffiti which decorated (?) the stones.

We wandered through the ancient city, whose ruins now are comprised of 10,000 years and six cultures (the Canaanite, Israelite, Hellenistic, Herodian, Roman and Byzantine). The ampitheatre had a spectacular view of the valley, until of course you climb the hill to the watchtower and ancient marketplace which command a view of the entire area. Being the sort who has to get the best possible vantage point, I clamored up another hill and found a perfect and unobstructed 360 degree view. I turned and looked to the olive trees dotting the distant hillsides, the remains of 10,000 years of history the foreground to the village far below. Turn a little further though and the countryside is broken by barbed wire and watchtowers squatting on the crest of the hill below. The row of settlement houses, each exactly the same as the one beside it with their pointed red rooves and the chimneys wheezing smoke and steam into the noonday looked odd and out of place in the context of the surrounding villages and land. But the military trucks going to and from the settlement gates under the watchful eyes of the concrete towers was a vaguely threatening reminder that the settlement looks out of place because it is out of place. All the concrete and barbed wire of a military outpost set in the heart of an agrarian community - the ruins of Samaria-Sebaste's ancient watchtowers looking down on the ruins of our modern peace process.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Just Another Checkpoint

I’ve been in the West Bank about two months now, so I’ve been through a couple checkpoints. I always have a vague sense of unease similar to going through security at the airport. It’s nothing particular and I have nothing to hide, it’s just the dread of being hassled by people with guns and authority that makes me feel skittish. Nobody likes to be interrogated. Thankfully, my experience with checkpoints up until now has been pretty painless. For whatever reason I tend to just be waved through, though I think my nationality has something to do with it. The other day however was a taste-by-proxy of what other people go through.

Around 11 am I hopped in a taxi with Fadi and headed to one of the checkpoints from the West Bank into Israel to meet a Dutch group who were coming to visit the Holy Land. We arrived at the checkpoint to meet them on our side sometime around 11:30 and parked the car. We saw them enter the building on the other side of the border and settled down for the wait. I strolled around the, trying inconspicuously to take photos, keeping an eye on the person I could see in the watchtower about 100 meters away from me. Knowing the person in there could see me and was almost certainly had some kind of huge automatic weapon within arm’s length gave me pause about taking photos, but I went ahead and snapped a few before hiding the camera back in the car.

However, after about half an hour the Dutch group had not emerged. At this point Fadi decided to go in and see if he could move the process along, so I waited sitting on the hood of the taxi with the driver. The minutes ticked along, and I sat under the ever-watchful eyes of the soldiers. A man under an awning to my left spread a rug and made his midday prayers. A group of young men sat and chattered, eating seeds and waiting. A UN truck pulled up and sat at the rolling gate behind me to enter Israel. Still I sat. The men near me came over and said hello to the driver. Still I sat. One of their friends pulled their car around and turned on the radio and the men began to do a traditional Arabic dance, arms around each others shoulders. I smiled as I watched these people laughing and dancing despite the barbed wire and the soldiers with machine guns.

Eventually (finally) Fadi emerged with our group, who looked relieved but perhaps a little bewildered. In total their passing took just over an hour. The UN truck was still waiting at the gate when we left.

At the end of the day my lasting memory was of the men dancing at the checkpoint. It reminded me of a vignette by Eduard Galleano, which I think sums it up better than I can:

“On a wall in a Madrid eatery hangs a sign that says: No singing.
On a wall in the airport of Rio de Janeiro hangs a sign that says: No Playing with Luggage Carts.

Ergo: There are still people who sing, there are still people who play.”

Monday, April 6, 2009

Planning Fail

It is really difficult to plan for anything here in Palestine. This is for a variety of reasons, among the least serious being what my friend Elias refers to as "Middle Eastern Time." As in, "The meeting is at 3 o'clock," which actually means, "We'll show up at 3:30...ish..." That's an easy enough adjustment. Just plan to be late! There are of course the actual difficulties however. These include travel between cities, checkpoints, military or police interference, and of course, the universal irritation of car trouble. These planning problems have manifested themselves in my host family being stuck in Jordan five days longer than they should have, which means I am still mooching off the new priest's family. Not that it isn't nice to sleep in a bed which is long enough for my legs (because it is awesome), but of course because I don't like to impose on people. So, my "three or four day stay" has now stretched over a week, and I must admit an ensuing curiosity about where I'm headed next. Since planning is as I've stated, I will not concern myself too much with the housing situation. I have been assured it will be taken care of (finally), and I will leave it at that. As they say here, inshalla: God willing.

So, turning from the apparently unknowable tomorrow to the already-experienced yesterday... I have had quite the fortnight! Last week I was in Bethlehem, which was a wonderful experience. I went with my friend to her work at an organization which provides homes and day care for children with special needs or disabilities. She is an occupational therapist, and her cousin who worked there was a physical therapist, so I had a three day crash course in working with the disabled. While there I spent a good portion of the time also helping the teachers write up their reports in English to the board of the organization. The other few days in Bethlehem were spent touring the old city and its sites (with one sick day taken after nearly fainting in the Church of the Nativity), as well as meeting some friends at restaurants around town. I also got a chance to photograph some of the settlement roads and the apartheid wall, and was thrilled to see several of Banksy's pieces painted around the city. All in all it was a great week. Some of the photos are on facebook, I'll get around to making a link or a Flickr account later...

The week since then has been a weird whirlwind of attempted planning, failed planning, and some pretty sizable successes. As I mentioned I am staying with George and his family, which was unforseen, though this has turned out to be a good thing. The relative calm of living here for the week has allowed me a much better focus for preparing for my English sessions. I am now teaching four sessions a week, with a possible fifth to come, which means I need a pretty good chunk of time per day at a computer writing up lesson plans. Most of today was spent creating a handout on Simple and Progressive verb tenses (I know, aren't you jealous?), and writing up syllabi for the Clinic group and the Women's group sessions. I also have a session with the youth (shabeebee) on Fridays which will take some work as well. The three groups are at fairly disparate levels, so each requires its own take and special planning. I have to admit that I'm surprised that I am doing this (I'm a teacher? What!?), and even more surprised that apparently I am doing it well. It's a lot of fun though, so I guess I'm a pretty lucky girl. Not many people get to live somewhere like this, work all day on something you enjoy, and follow it up with tea on the porch at a good friend's house while the sun sets over the hills. I think after several rough weeks I've finally found my stride.


Monday, March 30, 2009

Incommunicado, Language Barriers, and Never Present Social Cues

Well, here I go. It's been a long while, I know. Rest assured that all is fine (relatively speaking). There have been some definite rough patches in the last month since I have written, and I'm not perfect but I read Orientialism too, you know. Which is to say that I know better than to allow my bad mood from personal situations affect what I have to say about my time here, the people, the place. So I took an accidental hiatus. Of course after that it seemed that so much had happened that I didn't know where to start. I suppose I will start from the beginning.

My living situation has been very difficult for me, for various reasons, most of which I will not discuss here. Suffice it to say that part of the problem is the culture and my experience of it as a foreigner. Despite what Edward Said speaks of as "penetrating into a culture" and "experiencing it" positivisticly, there is a marked difference between the world of Nerval, Flaubert or Lane (the likes of whom he was writing) travelling through the Middle East in the 19th century as men, and the world in which we live in (and I specifically) today. I have to say that I feel that even if I were to live here for ten years, I would always be treated as an outsider and as different. I can't leave the house without lewd comments being made about me or without being hassled by men who think that because I look like the girls on 90210 that I must act like them as well. Even the Israeli soldiers give me creepy looks when I pass through checkpoints. On the whole I am not bothered by it any more, though how I am told to respond to it does bother me immensely.

Anyway I must run now, but more will come later today, I promise.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009


Since it's been a while I realize since I last wrote, I thought I would pop in and let you all know that I'm still alive, and doing fine.

Not much of note has taken place. I led another English section, which seemed to go well. I then wandered the town with Jamil and Jamil, and we ate some falafel and just chatted about this and that. I didn't manage to make it Jerusalem this weekend, but I'm hoping to go next week and spend a couple days in Bethlehem. I want to photograph the wall, as well as get some time in in other places around the West Bank. I also could use a little mini vacation, so to speak, where I can get some time to myself, buy some new books, and explore a little. Sometimes I'm kind of a loner, and I look forward to little adventures on my own.

I went to Ramallah yesterday, where I saw St. Andrew's, the Evangelical School, and the Vocational Training Centre. I met a couple people, took some photos, and generally enjoyed myself. That is, enjoyed my time not in the car. I have decided based on a personally-created ranking system involving New York, Seattle, London, Paris, and Las Vegas, that taxi drivers here are the most terrifying I have ever encountered. So despite having woken at 5:30 am for the trip to Ramallah and being utterly exhausted by the time I came home in the afternoon, there was no napping done in the car. Just sitting upright, bracing for the high-speed turns and general terror of passing trucks on a winding highway at 70 miles per hour. Ah, the joys of highways with no cops. I laughed because the driver asked when we came near a checkpoint with many police that everyone put on their seatbelts. Everybody did. Fadi turned around and asked if I put mine on. I laughed and said, "Are you kidding?? It's been on since we started moving!" I think the joke is lost on most people here, since everyone drives (by my standards at least) like a maniac all the time, and probably no person from anywhere else (Seattle, for instance) would dream of getting in a car here without a seat-belt. I personally wouldn't mind a helmet too, but that would just look silly.