Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The demonstration

I woke up at 8:30 this morning, which made my decision for me. There wasn't enough time to go to Ramallah, and I hadn't gotten in touch with anyone there, so I would go to Tubas. When I went to the office, everyone was getting ready to head out, so I hopped in a car with Rothman (sp?), who took me right to the demonstration. All the girls in the girl's school were making their way to the main square, waving little Palestinian flags. The boys were already amassed, waving huge flags and banners and dancing to the music. I think it was music written just for the Statehood bid. I was really out of place.

I suddenly thought of a few nights before, when Haj Sami had some visitors come from Nablus, a family. One of the men saw me and joked, "mukhabarat Israeli?" I shook my head nooooo, I'm not Israeli secret police. A few minutes later Haj Sami and I were drinking tea under this covered dining space outside his house, and he explained to me why his friend made the joke. In Tunisia, a senior PLO member was killed by a woman who had become close to his family. It turns out she was a spy for Israel. Haj Sami told me that some Israeli spies are women who get into Arab countries with Italian passports, American passports and get close to the higher-ups in government. Not to say that it hasn't been done before, but after the leader in Tunis was killed, people became a lot more vigilent about foreign women.

So that's what was running through my head as I watched the demonstration. I was getting a lot of stares. Not unfriendly, a lot of whispering, pointing, smiling. Haj Sami arrived and we all got into a covered area where there seemed to be a lot of important people sitting. I'm with Haj Sami, it's ok. Right? Rothman asked me if I wanted to watch the demo, and I went out into the crowd and stood by myself. The crowd was chanting. I heard the words "Amrikia" and "veto." That was awkward. I wondered if I should chant with them, nod my head, tap my foot, shout "booooooo!" Then someone came up with a little boy on his shoulders. The boy was decked out with flags, a kaffiyeh and a UN 194 hat that was half flag-half kaffiyeh. It was cool! His father let me take a picture. Then he introduced himself as a government employee, and said that Husam had called him about my bicycle. We had a laugh. I was glad to be standing next to a government official. I took out my camera and shot a few seconds of footage. People stared a little more. I had to handle that thing very deliberately, it kind of looks like a gun. When the procession started, Haj Sami came out and wheeled through the street with the help of Rothman and Mustafa. He greeted several people on the way, and was also approached by a few policemen. "Hiye mualema ingleezi," he said. An English teacher. Oh jeez. If I was trying to spy on the demontration, I had a pretty lousy disguise.

"Come, Morgan, stay close to me. The police ask about you."

We wove in and out of the banners, and the demo gathered in an empty lot, of which there are so many in Palestine. There were some speeches, an anthem was played, and Rothman made sure I had the best views, from behind the podium, to a rooftop across the street. I tried to capture the scene when they played the anthem, and everyone in the crowd threw up a peace sign.

If I only stay in Al Aqaba for three months, I might just re-locate down the hill to Tubas. Throughout the demo I had little girls ask me my name, and they were just heart-meltingly cute. I like the idea of starting a project in Al Aqaba for all the kids in the area, but there are so many in Tubas. I'm wondering if I can get government support for a project in the city. Recruiting English teachers, starting a cultural/community center, teaching kids about taking care of the city. The post-demonstration scene looked a bit like post Mardi Gras New Orleans, minus the beer cans and beads, but litter is a pretty big problem here.

I saw Husam after the demo, and he brought me a flag. Carrying around a big Palestinian flag certainly changed my image. Before I had no opinion, and now I did. I was visibly the only foreigner in the city, and as awkward as it could be, it was also very inspiring. Tubas isn't a refugee camp, it's not a city in crisis, but it far enough removed that it doesn't get much attention. I like the idea of helping this city.

Alright, over and out.