Tuesday, February 24, 2009
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.
Monday, February 16, 2009
No, on the other hand, the adjustments have been much harsher because they came from unexpected directions. Getting used to the extremely extroverted and familial social structure has been a little trying on someone stuck in her Western and "individualist" ways. Whereas normally I would hole up for several hours a day and just read or lie down and think, now I am constantly aware that I am part of a family which is not my own. I am reminded that my hostess is to be thought of as my friend or as a sister, for example. Here we have a crossing of cultural social queues. I am told, "You are a part of the family." This was spellt out to me as meaning that I should "just be myself," to eat or drink what I want when I want, to change the channel on the tele, to play the piano when I feel like it, to take a stroll around the yard in the sun. However, as being part of the family, I feel that I should step in and try to help with the dishes or the housework. I'm immediately stopped though with a gentle "No darling, I don't need any help. Go rest." There's a tightrope feeling of being part of the family and of being a guest - I'm a family member in comfort but apparently not to be bothered by housework, which is an awkward line. Maybe it's my white female guilt. I'm also still trying to learn how to politely refuse seconds and thirds at meals without seeming like I don't like the food. My Arabic isn't good enough to say "If I eat four pitas and three chickens daily I will certainly gain 50 pounds and then die of cardiac arrest." On that note, explaining vegetarianism to Middle Eastern people has proved interesting. It's definitely a very Western phenomenon which does not translate well into the way of living here. Following on the previous comment, I haven't learnt how to say "corporate agribusiness" in Arabic. That one may be a while in coming.
Sometimes I feel frustrated that I can't learn the language faster. When I go walk through town to get a Coke or a snack from the store down the street, I always feel weirdly vulnerabe by my highly visible status as a foreigner, and by the fact that when I pass a shop and the guy in the doorway calls his friends inside to come see, I don't really know what they say as I pass by. And though most people smile and respond "marhabten" when I say hello in Arabic (probably pleasantly surprised that I speak at least a little Arabic), there's that awkward feeling that single women feel in American cities as they pass a crowd of young men who all stop to watch as she walks by. Ruba said that when she first came to Zababdeh she had a similar experience, and as the villagers get to know you it will pass. I know this is true so I try to just smile and walk through the bustle of young boys on bicycles to get home and listen to Arthur Rubenstein's performance of Chopin's Nocturne 19 in E Minor. It sometimes takes a forcible act of calming to remind myself that it will take some time before I adjust, and to relax enough to realize that this is all just the beginning of a larger journey in which I will find comfort and purpose. I'll learn the language, I'll figure out the social queues, and I'll be happy with it.
A big part of the adjustment is just the realization that, well, to quote Dorothy, "We're not in Kansas anymore." Last night I strolled down towards the village to get a snack and walk off dinner. I looped up into the more residential neighborhood of the village in hopes to avoid more curious eyes. This of course only served to arouse the interest of shopkeepers and drivers, who continued to honk the same as people on the main street. I wandered through the town, always vaguely heading Northwest with the aim of ending up back on the main street. I finally looped around and came out right beneath the Mosque. Immediately as I passed beneath the tower the nighttime call to prayer began. As I walked up the street with my bag of Pringles and the prayers ringing out above me, I realized, "I am living in the Middle East..." It was an odd moment of clarity and confusion, or as Ruba said (and I have occasionally thought) : "one of those times when you think, what am I doing here??"
And as they say, this too shall pass.
Until next time, good night and good luck.
That said, I had a pretty average Valentine's Day. I got a card from my mum and an e-Card from my Aunt. It was also Philippe's birthday, so there were lots of sweets to be eaten. A girlfriend of mine bought a phone card and rang me up last night, so that lifted my spirits a little. I have to say I generally feel exhausted here. Some of the days just feel like they go on forever, which is probably for a multitude of reasons, among those being the general confusion I feel in social situations (which are myriad and endless here), as well as the general discomfort I feel about going out and walking around. As much as I would like the time to myself to take a stroll and clear my head, I get the general impression here that women do not go out by themselves. It seems I'm supposed to be at home with a couple of children. Perish the thought. In any case walking around by myself even in broad daylight generally entails being followed by groups of teenagers on bicycles, getting honked at by nearly every driver who passes me, and generally getting stared at like some kind of extinct animal which found its way back to Earth. I'm hoping this will pass.
The F16s took a break for a few days, but today they are back with a vengeance. It's really distracting. I'm just glad they tend to keep the fly-bys to the daylight hours. I don't think I could handle having to hear it all night too.
I other news I'm not having a lot of luck getting any feedback from anyone on this Womens Exchange. Father Bob tells me communication here tends to be very "vertical, but never horizontal." As in, you get told only the bare minimum of what you need to know, and usually at the last second. I must admit that in the last two weeks I have found this to be fairly true. Pending hearing back from anyone about the Exchange however I'm starting to brainstorm the program for the 12 day event, scheduled for October. I'm also starting to think up "lesson" ideas for the English courses I'm supposed to lead. I think I'm going to go more in the conversation session direction, a la the French Table at the now defunct Fantasia Cafe. My plan is to just sit and chat with the guys and correct and explain some of the English grammar constructs as we go. If anyone has any ideas, I'd love to hear them.
Until next time. Good bye and Good Luck. :)
Friday, February 13, 2009
However the thing I find most interesting is trying to explain to people I meet here why it is so different from news broadcast in the United States. Trying to explain Fox News to a Middle Easterner is actually rather difficult. It's not because they aren't intelligent or can't understand (obviously), it is trying to explain the fact that Americans are completely ignorant of most of the news being broadcast on channels like Al Jazeera, Al Arabiya, Abu Dhabi News, etc. That it's very likely that hardly anyone in the US heard about the Zimbabwean elections the other day, or knows the difference between Likud and Yisrael Beitanu or so on seems unlikely at best. How could a nation full of educated people whose media and culture has infiltrated the entire planet not hear about what is happening in the daily lives of people in other parts of the world?
It becomes a precarious balance - explaining what you see every day in all its racist ignorance and governmental/corporate power-grabbing evil, and trying not to demonize the people from your country who just don't know any better. It's really hard to make excuses for us, because there aren't any good excuses. There are no good reasons. So then what do you say? We're just lazy and don't want to look for alternative news sources? We trust our government? We're more concernced with our own goings-on to worry about what happens to other people? We believe what we're told because our Good Ol' Boys wouldn't lie to us? That we don't care what happens to you other people because you are the Other, that you have different ideals, that you don't believe in our God, that you hate our freedom, that you hate democracy?
Like I said, there are no good excuses. We need to stop pardoning ourselves and ask someone else to do it, and even if they don't, then we need to change. Pretending to absolute moral authority will only serve to isolate us more from the rest of the world, and it certainly will not further causes of justice, freedom, or democracy, no matter what the pundits tell us.
Al Jazeera English
Thursday, February 12, 2009
I thought I was getting used to hearing the fighter jets flying overhead. Yesterday they flew by constantly, and very low. It honestly really frightens me, it's deafeningly loud. I remember reading that the IDF used to fly over the Occupied Territories and purposefully break the sound barrier. Whenever it sounds like the jets are really low and I have to plug my ears, I cross my fingers mentally and hold my breath for second. Even though everyone seems not to even notice the jets, and to reassure me that we're safe, the part of me that doesn't like feeling like I'm constantly being forced to listen to a Blue Angels show feels skittish. Because they aren't the Blue Angels, they're not out flying around in formation doing cool tricks and showing off their formation expertise. They're war planes with soldiers in them.
On a lighter but much more irritating note, I keep getting bitten by bugs. I don't feel it happen but I find sore little red spots where the evil little things got me while I was sleeping. There's one on my ear which is driving me absolutely nuts.
And speaking of sleeping... I do too much of it. I don't get up particularly early (7 or 8 am the last few days) but by 4 pm I'm dead to the world. I walk around being the visitor, meeting and greeting and doing my best to follow conversations with my slowly improving Arabic. By 8 pm I'm so tired I don't even want dinner. I have slept through my mother's phone calls twice. I feel awful about it, and when I wake up I feel angry that I missed the chance to talk to her. It's bad enough being in another country with no friends or family without not being able to even stay awake late enough to get a phone call from your mum.
In any case I've been typing up articles for Fadi's brother to upload onto the St. Matt's website, and reading a lot. I'm trying to keep my brain from turning to mush like my abs are probably going to. The other project for today and tomorrow is figuring out what Fadi meant when he said I would be teaching an English course on Sunday. Does that require a lesson plan? It sounds pretty formal. Maybe I'm just chatting with the kids and helping them with their grammar. Like I said, I'll need to figure that out before Sunday happens. I also need a cup of coffee.
In any case I'm off to meet a friend of the Diab family for some coffee (huzzah!) and to have a little English/Arabic language mixer. Until next time.
Wednesday, February 11, 2009
I also can't help feeling like a celebrity, because people in the town whom I have only met once are eager to have me over for dinner or to stay at their homes. It's truly amazing how hospitable the people are here, and I feel very impressed by how eager they are to offer whatever they have. Considering that some of the people here are probably stretched rather thin anyway it becomes quite an invitation.
On another note, sometimes the toilet just doesn't flush. I'm not sure if it's because the water has been diverted somewhere else or what. The first time I think Ruba was giving Andrew a bath, but last night and once this morning there was no water and I was the only one awake, so I don't know why it didn't work.
Hot water is not available at all times. Because of the energy required the dishes and showers are all done at night, after Ruba or Fadi turn on the boiler. After about an hour it has heated enough for showers etc.
The houses here are all stone and tile, so even if it warms up a little outside and turns into a mild day, the house is still chilly. Everyone uses propane heaters indoors, though Fadi and Ruba have two electric heaters, one in the bathroom and the other they put in my room. As far as I can tell they are also one of the very few families around who have a drying machine for their laundry. Most people hang their clothes to dry in the yard or, in the cities, from the windows of the balcony or hallways.
Greater Palestine/Israel are in the midst of a drought which threatens the olive harvst in the fall. F. Bob informed me that there have only been about 7 days since mid September in which any rain fell at all. And unlike Seattle, he doesn't mean it rained all day, only that it rained for a few minutes and then dried back up again. The water catchment barrels on the roof of every home and building are a testament to the dry climate here.
It did however rain today. We also had sunshine, hail, and strong winds. The power blinked several times, though now that we are having a thunderstorm the lights flickered and went out. My dad's advice to bring my Maglite was good. Ruba was already prepared with a large floorlamp which runs on batteries or perhaps another propane canister. The fact that the back-up lamp remains in the hallway at all times indicates to me that it is probably used with some amount of frequency. In any case I'm glad I heated up my room before the power went out, and that I have a laptop with a well-charged battery.
sunday afternoon we had a bbq here at the house with the youth from St. Matthew's. During the course of the day I counted 17 F16 fighter jets fly overhead in twos or threes. It's not a sound I'm quite used to yet, but I'm getting there. Though Fida' and Fadi said that it was nothing and that they fly by all the time, to me it almost seems like a not-so-subtle reminder from the Israelis of their occupation of the land here.
Similarly, a building or neighborhood looking "bombed-out" is not just a slang phrase here. It has literal meaning from real-world experience. The old police station in the town down the road for example is bombed-out, literally.
Finally, Fadi and I were talking about dreams this morning, and it came up that he has one recurring dream which has always frightened him. In the dream he is being chased by soldiers and there is gunfire etc. It turns out that this dream is the result of an actual experience about 20 years ago in which some Israeli soldiers came to the village, rounded up some of the young men and made them clear all the stones from the street. After that they marched them up into the hills, where the men were afraid they were to be killed. They eventually were released back to the town, but it seems that the memory will haunt Fadi and probably the other men present that day for many more years to come.
Saturday, February 7, 2009
In any case the Church of the Holy Sepulcrhe was really amazing, serving only to strengthen what I'm sure will be a lifetime fascination with cathedrals of all kinds. It's an odd mix of various styles and eras of architecture, since it has been destroyed and rebuilt using its own rubble several times over since it was first erected in 325 AD. I saw all the "site," the Stone of Golgotha, the tomb of Christ in the edicule, as well as the Armenian chapels and Roman Catholic chapels which are also housed inside the larger Greek Orthodox building. The Ethiopian church is on the roof, but we did not go there. After the Church we walked through the Christian and part of the Armenian quarter to the Jewish Quarter, which is an odd looking place contrasted to the rest of the city. All the buildings here were built after 1967, so the architecture doesn't "match" the rest of the city. As we left the Jewish quarter we went through a security gate and entered the courtyard in front of the Western Wall (or Wailing Wall). I also got about as close to the Dome of the Rock as my unbeliever-self was going to get. It's a shame it's closed now, because I'm told it's really stunning.
In any case, all this was followed by lunch at a rooftop cafe which had a great view of the Old City, as well as the Mount of Olives, the Judean Desert, and the Jordan Mountains. When we swung back by the shop it was open this time, and I bought a kefiyah and a little camel thingy (hard to explain what it is exactly but it's very colourful and cute). This was followed up by a nap back at my room and some dinner at the (oddly named) Christmas Hotel down the street.
The next morning I was ambushed however by a phone call informing me that I would be leaving Jerusalem for the West Bank in one hour (not on Sunday, as had been previously planned). I ran to the ATM and got out some shekels, the bookstore for another book to read (it was the only place on the street open becaues it was a Muslim neighborhood and everything closes on Friday for their Day of Prayer), and then hastily packed for the short journey north. Hossam from St. George's took me to Ramallah to meet Fadi. We passed through a checkpoint and then behind the Apartheid Wall to get there. The Wall is hideous, both figuratively and literally. In fact, I found it so ugly that the graffiti which covers it are actually quite an improvement. Some of it was very clever, and I saw several copies of Banksy's stencilled Girl floating over the top with a bundle of balloons around the place. Some other good ones were NEW YORK TIMES! (below), HIP HOP! in upside down giant electric blue block letters, and a rather disturbing one painted next to a double iron gate next to a watchtower which said in a banner "albreicht macht frei." That one made me shiver.
Ramallah was not at all what I expected, but I liked it for that. I have to say that nothing on this trip is what I expected, though part of that may have been that I had no idea what to expect in the first place.
Anyway, we drove through another three checkpoints after Ramallah to drive the 20 miles or so to Zababdeh. The first of these was the only one where we had to shop and show our id to some 18 year old kids with submachine guns, who were texting their buddies before we pulled up. The other two after that are only checkpoints to prevent people from leaving the North to head back down South. The town of Nablus, for example, is completely surrounded by checkpoints - one on every road.
The north is much prettier than the Jerusalem area - there are olive trees and flowering almond trees everywhere, and it is much greener (it's a more agrarian region). The green is like a little slice of home, which I'm starting to appreciate more every day.
I went to the town with Fadi for the youth meeting, of which I understood nothing. Apparently I'm going hiking this Sunday and then teaching an English course the Sunday after that. I'm not sure what they mean by "course," but I guess I'll figure something out. The plan for today is to find a SIM card for my cell phone, and hopefully a computer with internet (this was written in Notepad) so I can try and get in touch with some people as the phone card I bought in Jerusalem won't work here in the West Bank.
Anyway sorry for the long post. I have been uploading photos as I take them to an album on facebook, I will post the link and you can see the album (even if you don't have a facebook account). Some of the information captioning the photos I may have mentioned again here, but I did my best to describe everything I saw. Whew!
Until next time.
Wednesday, February 4, 2009
As a sidenote to last night's post, I feel I should say that it really isn't dangerous or that I feel unsafe in the city. Most of the people I met were friendly and warm. I just was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and ran into the wrong bunch of kids. It was quite a shaking experience though, so having an escort today is more for my own comfort than anything. So, in short, don't worry for me!
-Arthur Penrhyn Stanley, 1853.
Yeah. No joke.
After running the odds and ends errands of the day - getting a dictionary, a phone card, some snacks for my room - I set out for the Old City around midday. I strolled down Nablus Road the way I came the night before, past the American Consulate and the Jerusalem Hotel, and headed for the Damascus Gate in the Wall. The streets are lively with what I can only describe as total insanity. The drivers are nuts, the pedestrians are nuts... As someone said yesterday, "people here drive with their horns." Pedestrians also walk without thinking or looking straight out into traffic, though the cars all seem to stop. After realizing this I just made sure I followed close in a local's footsteps when trying to navigate the perpetual traffic jam of Jerusalem.
I entered the Old City via the Damascus Gate (left), and landed headfirst in a bustling (and slightly overwhelming) suq, or market. I walked through, trying not to look too interested in anything in the stands and shops, knowing full well that I would never escape without eight kefiayah or three pounds of sweets. I took a right on Via Dolorosa, ignoring the catcalls of what felt like every man I passed, and wandered up the road.
Because there was nowhere to sit and try to look at a map without being beset by shopkeepers, I kept wandering down Via Dolorosa (which by the way was the route Christ took to his crucifixion, and is marked at various points with what the Church refers to as Stations of the Cross). I reached the end of the Via and took a right into a chaotic street of hollering merchants and stray cats and children. Not realizing where I was, I was stopped by an angry looking 19 year old with a submachine gun (police). He was immediately distracted by another man so I turned on my heel and went back the way I came.
Walking back up the street I saw a sign saying "This way to Ramparts Walk." The Ramparts walk takes you around the Old City along the original wall. I figured this sounded like a good, easy walk where I could see the town without getting horribly lost in one of the many tiny back alleys.
I continued up the road, but saw no sign of an entrance to the Ramparts. I ended up a few blocks up the hill at the wall in which the Damascus Gate is set. I turned around to go back down the hill and decided to stop in the shade (away from the shopkeepers) to check out my map. As I was sitting there a gang of five teenaged boys approached me. One of them walked right up to me and circled around to my right side, so close to me I could feel him breathe on my neck as he looked over my shoulder at my map. They all began to speak to each other in Arabic. Feeling pretty uncomfortable with the proximity of all these guys, I laughed. One of them mimicked the sound I made, and they started talking angrily to each other. They began to walk away, and as they did I folded my map and got up to continue down the hill. As I began to walk away one of them yelled something at me and then I was hit in the back of the head with a rock. Feeling shocked I turned around and just looked at them, finished putting my scarf back around my shoulders and turned to retreat.
Apparently being the only 5'10" redhead in Jerusalem, all the men who had harassed me on my way up the Via Dolorosa recognized me on the way back down. I tried to just walk quickly because I just wanted to get out of the Old City. There was no getting rid of these people though. In my dazed state, one of them somehow managed to get me into his shop, then asked me to drink some tea with him, saying that I would greatly insult him if I refused. Trapped by my own awkward politeness and general confusion I stayed, perched uncomfortably on the edge of an elaborate chair in an antiques store. Some more people came and sat around me in a circle, speaking in Hebrew and generally keeping me feeling trapped and not sure how to extricate myself from the situation without ending up with a $400 rug or something. I finally lied and said I had to meet someone in a few minutes back at the Cathedral, then fled back into the street with the counsel from the shopkeeper that "he does not need my money or my body." Um, okay.
It was much busier as I headed back towards the Damascus Gate, and I was able to pretend I was with other groups and just walk beside the people I saw who were obviously tourists but in the safety of a group. I felt like one of the stray cats on the Via Dolorosa.
In any case, I've never been so glad to leave somewhere as I was today to get out of the Old City.
Tuesday, February 3, 2009
Well, I arrived in Jerusalem (technically yesterday morning). The travel just getting here has already been an adventure. Between two misfires getting me to the airport with all my things (wallet included!) I finally made it onto my flight to Heathrow. An hour before landing though we were informed that the flight was being diverted due to snow closures at Heathrow, and we would be landing in Cardiff instead. So I have now been to Wales. (see my "Welcome to Wales?" face above)
Three and a half hours later the buses we were herded into arrived at Heathrow, where a marathon of confusion and massive line-waiting. There were what appeared to be thousands of people queued up in the departure terminal just for British Airways, trying to rebook their flights or re-check in. Finally I made it to the front of a queue and rechecked my bags, only of course to wait another six hours for my flight to board. Then our flight was delayed on the runway another two hours.
And then of course there were customs, which were a whole new level of fun.
In any case, I made it in one piece, though tired and quite hungry. I ended up sleeping a good portion of the first day, which was a mistake as it is now 4 am here, despite the fact that my computer and this blog are still running on Pacific Standard time. A gentleman from the Church took me for a walk down Nablus Rd to the Jerusalem Post Hotel and Restaurant, where I had some delicious tabouleh. I also enjoyed my first cup of Arabic coffee yesterday. It's nothing like espresso and I loved it!
In any case, my plan now is to go back to sleep, and if I can't I will take a walk following a guide that Mary gave me to see the sun rise over Jerusalem's Old City. Then I'll come back to St. George's and have some more of that coffee...