Sunday, September 18, 2011

September 17th

It’s good.

That is what Haj Sami says if he’s pleased about something, and I have to echo that sentiment right now. I’m sitting in the Aqaba Village Council office with the Haj, his nephew and his assistant. I think his nephew Mustafa is being kept around in case I need anything, but we’re friends, even on Facebook, so…it’s good. I’m logging away on my laptop, hoping someday I can get wireless. Until then, I can copy my entries onto Haj Sami’s computer, which has dial-up. Remember dial-up? beeeeeep shhhhhhhhhhh gedong-edong-edong. It reminds me how precious time is.

I got through the border ok, but my alibi wasn’t quite complete. I said I’m going on a Green Olive Tour for ten days, then studying at the Tantur Ecumenical Institute in Jerusalem. For how long? One month. Ok, so he crosses out 3 Month Visa and write “Only One Month.” Forget that I’m supposedly staying ten days AND a month. I’m trusting he’s just bad at math and it wasn’t a trap. My new alibi is…I’m bad at math. And after a month (and ten days), I loved learning about Jesus so much that I want to stay for another three months.. Leave out the reference to a frequently-arrested activist friend in the West Bank. The guy next to me tried to help me… “My daughter wanted to do the same thing, study in Jerusalem, and take a tour…” I tried to smile while my visa guy left to ask his supervisor something. shit shit shit. “It’s because you know someone in the West Bank.” I nodded. I said it because….if I even try to lie and pretend like I don’t know anyone in the West Bank….it’s such an obvious lie. And there’s that little part of me that wants to act like it’s no big deal, like I’m going to make a difference, like his eyes aren’t going to glance up and bore through my skull. I’m sweating. “So you’re going to visit your friend?” “Uh hummm, well, the tour only goes through for one day, so I don’t think I’ll have time.” Again, I can’t say NO because it’s a ridiculous question, not one that I can satisfy without fidgeting. This guy is trained to recognize the signs. “Ok, I give you one month.” I start to go, “hmmmmm” and immediately stop fussing and take it and leave. At least it’s over. At least I didn’t get interrogated for seven hours like the last girl.

I left the terminal and hopped on a bus to Jericho. Isn’t that a little ridiculous?

The bus took me to the Palestinian Authority terminal. I walked in, looked around, and started breathing again. No questions, no stares, ahlan wa sahlan ya ajnabia. Welcome foreigner. I had to wait in the taxi station for almost three hours because I was the only passenger bound for Tubas. A private taxi would have cost over a hundred bucks. I’m almost broke. So I waited, sweated, passed out. All the drivers seemed curious, amused. What is this ajnabia doing in Tubas, of all places? I’ve been there and I don’t know that it has anything worth visiting. New batches arrive through the terminal and after three hours we accumulate five people. That’ll do. It’s night-time now, I’m exhausted, we’re careening through the Jordan Valley. My only worry was that I would be on the Palestine side of the border at night with four bags and no direction. It then occurred to me that in the last 24 hours I had barely touched my bags. At every step there was a porter or a friendly stranger to help me. I spent some of my dinars and shekels, but that’s how it goes. I was an easy target.

When the shared taxi arrived in Tubas, I called Haj Sami from another passenger’s phone. He told me to give the phone to the driver so he could direct him to Al Aqaba. The passenger took the phone back. They exchanged a few words and he hung up. “You want to go to Haj Sami? He is my friend.” The driver wasn’t thrilled about the extra distance, mumbling something about foreigners, and I gathered he had driven Haj Sami’s guests before. We reached the village, I gave the driver an extra 5 JD, and the passenger greeted Haj Sami and introduced himself to me. I’ve forgotten his name.
It wasn’t just the bags. I had tried to appear confident but I expected to come off a helpless American girl. And it didn’t matter. There was always someone who went out of their way to help me.

Haj Sami’s nephew was there to help me. Not Sadiq this time, but Mustafa, the next oldest. I remembered him from December. They showed me the apartment, which now had beds, desks, dressers, and kitchen appliances. We had a brief chat in my room, Mustafa brought me some bread/crackers, then Haj Sami said, “I forgot, the army come this morning and destroy the street and two homes.”

Awwhat?? Minor detail. I was glad I came today and not two days later.

The first time it happened was in April. The Israeli Defense Forces bulldozed one of the main roads to Al Aqaba, two houses and a few animal shelters. I remember freaking out. My brother and I had walked up that street (Peace Street, ironically) last December and I had a picture of my brother walking alongside Haj Sami in his wheelchair to juxtapose with the picture taken by Jordan Valley Solidarity. It was a morbid comparison. Now it’s intact, now it’s in pieces. After years of being under demolition order, it seemed the village was really in trouble.

But even though the demo orders were renewed, nothing happened after that. I found out that the Palestinian Authority had re-paved the road. I half-expected the bulldozers to come back, the timing seemed so arbitrary. It just happened the morning of the day I arrived.

“Tomorrow we will go to see the road and you can take picture.”

I stayed up for three hours unpacking. I love nesting. I took before and after videos. I was surprisingly thrilled to find that no one had cleaned the apartment since my benefactor Donna and her many guests had stayed here. The sheets and pillowcases weren’t washed, the bathroom wasn’t mopped and many of the dishes were still greasy. Admittedly, I expected the space would have a caretaker, like Haj Sami has a caretaker for himself and his house. I loved the idea of being the caretaker of this apartment.

I slept until noon prayer. At one, Haj Sami had Mustafa drive me down to Tayasir to have lunch with his brother’s family. I sat down on the mats in their middle room and became transfixed by their TV. It appeared to be a government-sponsored channel that was continually broadcasting on the statehood bid. In the bottom corner was a UN 194-Palestine State logo. I’d seen the same logo at the Jericho terminal. What the channel showed then was a schedule of events at the UN. I saw September dates but didn’t know what they pointed to. Next it showed a concert with the same logo in the background. Abbas and Fayyad were there and everyone seemed very happy. Lastly, and this was fascinating, it showed a film short.

A family is riding in a van. They’re going on a trip. I think the daughter is snoozing. They get stopped at an Israeli checkpoint. The little girl looks out, and suddenly she’s having a dream. The family is at the Palestine National Airport in Jericho. They’re greeted by a friendly Palestinian airport official. They get their passports stamped with a Palestinian exit visa. Then they roll their bags past check-in. Smiling. The girl wakes up in the van. UN 194-Palestine State. Dowla Filisteen.

I asked Mustafa, proud of my complete Arabic sentence, “Kul wahad biddo dowla? Does everyone want a state? He nodded, “Kul wahad.”

I knew this wasn’t true. Not everyone is a fan of the Palestinian Authority, and what about the rights of the refugees?

Mustafa let me use his laptop, which had wireless (alhamdullilah!) which Haj Sami then spent a bit of time on. I guess YouTube doesn’t work on his dial-up, so he never got a chance to see all the videos posted about the village. I knew there were 8 or 9 in English, but there were far more in Arabic, with way better footage. Sometimes I forget that Palestinians have normal things like news stations.

We ate Maqlouba, which is like rice pilaf with chicken (or goat) and cauliflour and carrots and potatoes. Doused with yoghurt. My favorite! It was heavenly. But the end result is always a little unpleasant. I get served again, and again, and again. The food coma was so intense I passed out at 5, woke up at 8 o’clock prayer, and slept again until 2am. So much for fighting jetlag.

I spent this long morning re-editing the video of my school's 7th grade end-of-year trip this last May. I woke up in a foul mood because I couldn’t find my camera cord, and thus was a useless photographer, but seeing the videos of my old students made me happy again. At 6:15 I watched the sun rise, and the women arrive to set up the sewing co-op. I must’ve looked strange in my sweats, climbing down from the roof with my laptop. Haj Sami called me at nine and invited me to the office. I spent a few hours translating and responding to e-mails at an excruciatingly slow pace. I was very interested by the steady stream of men going in and out of the office. There were at least three meetings with Haj Sami. At least two of them had to do with the demolitions. Several men were from the Governor’s office in Tubas, inquiring about the costs of rebuilding the road and houses. One guy was a filmmaker from Ramallah, and we went out with him to the demolition sites while he filmed the scenes. The roads looked just like the pictures from April, and the houses were nothing but cement foundations. It looked like a father and two sons were clearing rubble from their former house. Twenty-two people were now living in tents. I realized that my apartment was the nicest place to live in Al Aqaba, and I felt silly for investing in it.

Husam was a representative from the Governorate of Tubas. At the office, he handed me a sticker “for my handbag.” It read UN 194-Palestine State, but the logo was a little snazzier. I thanked him and put it in my camera pouch. It reminded me of the sticker I got in Jordan that said “Kulna Urdan Al-Awal.” We are Jordan First. Nice try, King Abdullah! I did a bit of thesis work on the disgruntled Jordanian masses. But my cab driver in Amman assured me, Abdullah is good, Hussein is good, it’s…all good. But what about that protest at the Israeli Embassy scheduled for today? I never checked that out, did that happen? I thought it would impact my crossing.

So it was a familiar feeling, mmmmm yes, Palestinian Authority is good. I can understand why Palestinians in Area C have statehood fever. They either have to deal with settlers or army demolitions…or both. Al Aqaba is lucky, you could say. No settlers here. Just the Israeli Defense Forces. Al Aqaba isn’t a village that takes up arms. I don’t even sense much anger over what's happened. It helps that the mayor got a fax from the Prime Minister (who’s in Amrika now) promising to re-pave the road. And there are NGO’s and foreign governments and embassies and an American non-profit who devote their time, money and energy to the village. It’s a very warm place. A hopeful place. It’s just been inhibited for so long. Husam pointed out all the hills and valleys we could see, saying that Palestinians couldn’t build on those lands, even though they had the Ottoman paperwork. “This is why our cities and villages looks like camps.” I had wondered why Tayasir looked the way it did. It didn’t seem right. Now I hate to admit it, but I didn't see it as looking...civilized.

I’ll be gathering English students in the next few days, then learning how to teach English, then teaching English. Husam asked me if I wanted to come to Tubas to teach some of the government employees. I said I had a responsibility to Al Aqaba first. He said, of course, not every day. He’s going to talk to the Governor about it tomorrow. After he inquires about my camera cord at the media department. In this governorate, the PA provides….

As soon as we got back from that sweltering tour, I came back to the apartment and faced the kitchen. I knew I was in charge of cleaning, but it didn’t occur to me that the bags of tomatoes, potatoes, cucumbers, rice and pita bread were mine to cook with. So I made french fries. Palestinians are big on french fries. Mine were all misshapen and oily, but just as I was turning off the burner, Mustafa knocked on the door and delivered my lunch. Fried fish, vegetable soup, and….french fries. Much prettier than mine. I showed him my pot of potato chunks and said, “awal mara,” first time. He laughed. I think we’re good friends now.

So here I am, in another food coma and trying to resist the urge to pass out. My goal was to stay up until ten tonight. It’s 4:42. I should be going out and exploring and attempting to talk to people in broken Arabic. Donna told me there were still landmines around. Just follow the road and go where the goats go. Or as my brother said, the four-legged goats.

oh man. I’m fading. the fish was…so….good.