Sunday, October 2, 2011

Weekend Update #2

Another weekend post! Still no good wireless, but I'm amassing so much footage that this is going to be one heck of a first video. Inshallah. Maybe in a week or two.

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On Thursday Phil Weiss came to visit Al Aqaba. He responded to my invitation to see the village, and stayed over as Haj Sami's guest. He did an interview with me and Haj Sami, which was great...and I'll post more about that later. The next day we cabbed and bussed down to Ramallah. Phil continued on to Jerusalem, and I sat down at the Stars and Bucks Cafe to wait for Ahmad. The place was actually a restaurant and hungry though I was, the ambiance was kinda weird so I left. Ahmad took me to the Beats and Bites cafe instead, which is named after Twilight. I got a kick out of that. I had a sandwich with fries and a side order of onion rings. Ahmad taught me the word "sahawafi," which means healthy appetite, and it didn't sound like a compliment the way he was laughing. We talked about life and work, I recounted what happened after I left him last weekend. He told me his American-sponsored company, CHF might be folding in a few months because the U.S. government is cutting aid to Palestine. Again, I was surprised that the big news was hitting home. Congress is trying to punish Abbas for his statehood bid, but it's only punishing the people by cutting aid to humanitarian and development projects. Press TV-US Congress Cuts Aid to Palestinians I ate makloubeh with the Mubarak boys, smoked some lemon mint argheelah and got a full night's sleep (thanks to Hamude's mosquito-exterminating efforts). The next morning, Ahmad and I caught a cab to Ramallah, got some coffee at the Pronto Cafe, after which I called my cab friend Nazme from the weekend before and headed to Bil'in. I was 40 minutes late, but Nazme dropped me off halfway between the village and the demonstration. I hadn't told anyone I was coming this time, but I'd seen the school setting up for a large festival, and I was looking for excuses to stay. I caught up with some of the stragglers, mostly kids and men in suits. I got to the "Abu Lemon" area, which is the area just in front of the wall that has a shelter built by the village and a shady area under the olive trees where people come to gather. They maintain and visit the area despite objection and occasional vandalism from the settlers. I think these settlers are Israelis who just wanted cheap housing. They're not personally building or expanding, rather they're protected by the wall and the government is putting up large, uniform apartment buildings. I wonder what they're thinking when they watch the demonstrations from their balconies. Today there was an art exhibit. It was beautiful! Since I was late, I didn't know there'd been a dedication ceremony from the Advisory Council for a Green Palestine (they're installing solar-powered street lights and planting more trees) and one for the artist from Jerusalem. So this week it was less activisty and more about visitors from outside and men in suits checking out the art and hanging out in the shade. The demonstration was only a few dozen feet away, and as I got to the other demonstrators I saw a stone flying over the wall. A few of the boys were gathering stones. I'd never seen stones fly before tear gas. "Oh great, I told Haitham. They're throwing stones." "What stone? Where?" Then four or five boys lobbed stones over the wall, and I started to back away. The gas landed everywhere, in front, on the sides, in the trees and art exhibit. All the foreigners were walking away down the road, hacking and wheezing, and I wondered why the air wasn't getting any better. There had been such a volume this time, and the wind was blowing it towards us. Once it cleared up, I was befriended by an older man named Mohib Barghouti. He introduced me to some of his foreign friends and offered me a ride from Ramallah for future demos. That could come in handy. For a while we all relaxed and headed back to the exhibit. The man next to me said helloooo and I thought for some reason it was Khamis, Hamde's brother. He sat next to me on the bench while I talked to a German girl who was a volunteer medic in Bethlehem. After he asked, "you want to go?" I said, "yes, I want to see Tutu and Tala," and he responded, "Lulu?" and I realized this was Farhad, whose house I stayed at last December. Damn! That was embarassing. We walked back toward the village, and ran into Khamis on the way. "Morgan! Where are you?" meaning "Where have you been?" I wanted to go see Tutu and Tala over by Khamis' house, but I took down his number and followed Farhad to go visit with Lulu. The little road was filled with cars and people coming back and forth from the demo and the wedding next to Farhad's house. He invited me to eat mansaf with the women. Yes please! A car slowed down by us and one of the guys piled into the passenger seat yelled "Morgan! Can you help us? We need to translate!" I understood they meant the weekly demo report, and I agreed to meet them in the Popular Committee office after I visited Lulu (and drank coffee, and ate mansaf) but before I visited Khamis and Tutu and Tala. I didn't recognize Lulu, her hair was so long. Back in December, I couldn't quite figure out if she was a girl or boy, her hair was so short. But Labiba sounded like a girl's name. She had very large, sad puppy eyes. Now she was talking! And baby Jude followed her everywhere. They were wearing matching flowery dresses for the wedding. We took off down the street to eat mansaf. I followed Farhad's wife into the women's section, which was a little weird because she doesn't speak English, but I saw Haitham's wife with Karme and she greeted me. We were served mansaf with beef and it was SO GOOD. After I finished, I excused myself and went down to the office, where Kefah (the guy who'd shouted at me and apparently we're facebook friends...) was fixing the Arabic in the report. He Google translated it for me and we spent a good 40 minutes on the report. I needed his help on certain words that didn't come through in English, and some of the names were translated, like Bassem al-Masri turned into "on behalf of the Egyptian." I enjoy editing, but this report made me pause near the end. Usually we can say the demonstration happened non-violently for a few minutes, and the soldiers shot tear gas to disperse everyone. Today that wasn't true. I'd softened the language in the report, so instead it said "dozens teargassed" and not "dozens injured from teargas." I thought it would preserve the integrity of the village and the office if the writing wasn't embellished. But I couldn't finish the report if it claimed the soldiers acted first. Kefah and I had a long discussion about it. He initially said, "no no, there were no stones." The reports never mention stones. Sometimes there are none, like last week. Apparently the boys all went to the demo at Nabi Saleh instead. So that explains that. But Kefah was reluctant to include it. He finally conceded, yes, the boys started it. But we were both stewing over the implications of changing the tradition of the report. Would it excuse the gas? Would it excuse the land theft, the illegal settlement, the night raids, the arrests of minors, the administrative detentions and the military presence in general? No. Without going into all that detail, I explained that the tear gas is almost always fired first, but today stones were thrown first and the soldiers responded by teargassing the entire demonstration, even from behind. Which was true. And uncalled for. Kefah accepted responsibility for the changes, though the Arabic report was left unchanged. He cited lack of time, and I thought that was unfortunate. I went to go see if I could find Khamis. There was a procession of cars through the village, for the wedding, and Haitham was trying to get out of his driveway to get to the Olive festival. He said, "get in!" and I definitely could've walked faster, but he took me to Khamis' house, where I'd stayed when it was a guest house for internationals. I met his wife and we ate dinner together, this pasta dish with tomato sauce and chicken, and talked for a while. Aseel was going to Birzeit University and studying Community Psychology, and Khamis was running a tiling business. They were newlyweds, and had spent their "honey month" in Egypt. It was fun to watch them banter and beat each other. I gave them some time to get ready for the festival, and we headed up the hill towards the school. Khamis had already poked fun at me for singing "Ana Ayesh" by Amr Diab for everyone last time (it was the only Arabic song I knew), but as we passed his mother and relatives sitting outside their house, they remembered me and made me sing it a few more times. His mother offered to let me stay in her house. That sounded good to me. We made it up to the festival and I lost track of Khamis and Aseel. The women were all on one side, and the men on the other. I sat in the back, then joined a few Norwegian girls who were traveling around. One of the event guys came back and invited us to come up to the second row. We were guests of honor. There were maybe 500 people sitting in chairs and another hundred watching outside the fence. The concert began with three musicians, and they played for 20 minutes. I took some video, the man's voice was...incredible. After that the dancers began. First a group of pre-teen/teenage boys in keffiyeh's, then the men/women's group. They were like the troupe that performed in Bethlehem last Christmas, bright costumes, beautiful dancers, this performance was more traditional, focusing on the harvest.
videoAfter the performance, it was around 9:30, and I couldn't find Khamis or Aseel. I saw Ashraf, and asked him where they were. He asked if I wanted to stay at his house again, and I was pretty sure I had a place at Umm Khamis' house. So I just walked across town among the families, in the dark. I felt a little silly, foreigners were common but for an ajnabia to walk alone, looking purposeless... "Morgan!" It was Asma, Hamde and Khamis' cousin, who I'd met the day Jawaher died. "They say you at the school, but I not see you. I missed you! When I listen to Ana Ayesh, I think of you..." Her English was a bit better, and she and her cousin escorted me back to Umm Khamis' house. When anyone asked her about me, I only picked up the word "Jawaher." Khamis' sister Alham caught up with us there, and I stayed with the two of them for the rest of the night. I'm a little intimidated by Alham. She reminds me of Veronica Lodge, in appearance and presence. Not the spoiled bit, but she's very outgoing, very type-A. I'm not very type-A. They brought me to the wedding festivites down the street. The men were dancing dabkeh on one side, and behind a curtain the women were sitting in chairs in a circle while a dozen girls danced to their own party's music. After two minutes, the women gestured for me to join them. I went up, and it was so fun/awkward. They wanted me to dance like them, arms swaying at shoulder-height, and one of the women, who was quite a spitfire, had me kicking my legs while I held one arm up. Hers was a more traditional dance, and I was being tested. I was a spectacle. Everyone was looking at me. One of the older women came up from her seat, and said, "shukran. shukran." thank you. and I got the hint, she didn't think it was appropriate for this foreign girl to be dancing at the wedding in her pants and tabasco shirt. I was a little relieved, honestly. I sat back down, and I could see the old women arguing with the one who'd been dancing with me. Then Tala came up and hugged me! She was way taller, in 3rd grade now. She wanted me to sing Ana Ayesh, and a bunch of the other girls came up and wanted me to sing Titanic, and they spoke to me in Arabic and I couldn't understand most of it, but we had a great time. Falasteen joined us too, I remembered her from January. The women finally beckoned me back to the circle, old woman included, so I joined them as they danced, modern and traditional, while the old woman clicked her tongue and smiled. I got tired, and Alham and Asma brought me home. But we stayed up for another two hours. Alham's mother made her prepare food for me, so she sat on the porch slicing potatoes and cucumbers with us as we all talked. It was a cool, quiet night, and we were on the edge of the village. Brother (or cousin) Mustafa was there, and he brought up his pet scorpion and snake, which I got to hold without even asking (ahhhhh) and after we ate we got to see it swallow a mouse. That was a first for me. It's those moments were non-verbal communication does just fine. ohhhh. ewwwww. eeeeeeesh. ok khalas, finished, I need to go.
Iyad came to visit and we spoke in English. He said the people who'd been there for Green Palestine were with the government, and they probably wouldn't do anything, they just like to talk. He looked a little somber. He'd been touring in Europe, giving talks about Bil'in, but the U.S. wouldn't give him a visa. Why Morgan? Haj Sami asks me this all the time, Why Morgan? Why does Israel do this? Why does America do this? Most people know about the Israel lobby, but I think it's comforting to hear Americans express their dismay, like it makes Palestine less of a mess. We have a mess too. It's refreshing to be away from all the talk. Now I can see with my own eyes.
I slept...not so well. Too many mosquitoes. In the morning I got up, told Alham I was headed to Birzeit University, and made my way up the hill. A teenage boy asked me where I was going, I said Ramallah. He walked me to the Service stop, and a man in a car called to him. "Come," the boy said. We hopped in, and the boy got off halway to the city. "He work in restaurant." the driver said. The driver was a teacher at a secondary school in Ramallah. I told him I taught too. "It's the best profession," he replied. He asked me for seven shekels (2 dollars) and dropped me off downtown. I got some pastries and coffee and waited for Ahmad, who then brought me to the University. It was big. It was impressive. It was hard for me to get in, Ahmad's brother had to come meet us with his ID and they took down my passport information. Birzeit has always had problems with the occupation. It's been shut down several times since 1973, once for four years. Administrators and members of the student council are frequently arrested and detained by the IDF for being politically active on campus. Half of them are arrested by Israeli secret police. It can be hard to tell who's who among Birzeit's foreign student population.

I really liked Birzeit. We finally found the Palestine and Arabic studies department, where I acquired a booklet for international students. If I found myself in Ramallah after Christmas, I could take a conversation class for $650. I would need to be employed, though.

Ahmad and I taxi'd back to Ramallah, and then to Taybeh for Oktoberfest. I felt right at home. There were five beer stations, food stalls, local crafts, and a big stage area under a tarp. Beer and music, like a mini-Jazz Fest. We listened to the Rodrigo Lessa trio from Brazil ("we were colonized by the Portugese, so we know a little bit about occupation.") and a Flogging Molly-esque metal/string/bagpipe/flute band from Spain. I ate Sushi and Knafe and had three pints of Taybeh beer and I felt GREAT. The crowd was at least 60% foreign, and I wondered how many of them lived in Palestine and how many were just passing through. A group of Europeans were playing field hockey at the Latin Patriarch school down the road, where Hamude goes. I had to pry myself away, even though the party was just getting started. It would have been unprofessional to delay my arrival in Al Aqaba any longer, and maybe I'd be back next year. Ahmad sent me off in a taxi from Ramallah, and by that time, the buzz had worn off. The guy next to me kept getting phone calls, and his ring tone was the intro to "Smack That." I wanted to tell him I had that ring tone once, and my mom thought it was innapropriate. haha.

Now I'm back in Al Aqaba. Haj Sami and I had a long talk about everything, about why dreams are the way they are, why he sees the nurses in Israel from 1971 in his dreams sometimes, and why I go to Bil'in if it's so dangerous. He taught me the word for spider, "ankaboot." Spiderweb is Beit ankaboot, spider house.

And now I'm sleepy.