Monday, November 28, 2011

Kathie Cathy Liz come to Palestine...

Wow. That was quite a visit. I'm going to try to re-cap.

My mom, her co-worker, and my grandmother came for 7 days. They spent the first three days in Al Aqaba, unloading and buying gifts for me and the kids. We have some books to put in the library, I have winter clothes, and the apartment now has a hot water heater, and it's CLEAN.

Now I have functioning laptop speakers (for blasting Fairouz in the morning) and down booties on my feet.

And so with their gifts and skills, the Three Wise Women brought Thanksgiving to Al Aqaba. We had twenty-one people in the apartment, eating chicken, stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberries, oranges, beans, carrots, and drinking hot apple cider, which some liked, some did not....the moment Haj Sami said the word "coffee" after dinner, I realized, some traditions you just can't mess with. We made Arabic coffee. Then sang Peter Gabriel.

The next day, we left the village with my friend Mohammad from the sewing co-op. He'd requested that we eat lunch in his village, and though I'd been apologizing left and right to people with similar offers, this one worked out. We spent two hours with Mohammad's family in the village of Jit, and sorry Catherine, I just have to share this story. We spent an hour talking to Mohammad and his wife, who had long brown hair and a very low-cut shirt. Then she left and put her long jacket and hijab on, and when she entered the room, Catherine reached out her hand and said, "hi, I'm Catherine." I was in the bathroom when this happened, so I could just hear them howling with laughter. I was sad to have missed it, because Mohammad brought it up for the rest of the visit.

They fed us makloubeh, beautiful makloubeh. It was topped with tomato-skin roses and cucumber-skin leaves and pine nuts, and there was color in the rice. Literally, it was rainbow makloubeh. And I didn't think it could get any better. So we feasted, and I was afraid my grandmother was going to pop because the mother kept handing her bananas and oranges and she didn't know what to do. It became a running joke, telling kids to go up to her and give her fruit. I did it again in Bil'in.

Fortunately, Mohammad's friend was able to drive us straight to Ramallah, so we got to travel a road I'd never been on before. Saw some villages, some settlements, and ended up in Ramallah on time to meet Sulaiman and some of his international friends. We met at a nice cafe and drank beer and whiskey and smoked hookah, and my mom was shocked that Ramallah prices are just like American prices. We'd been living so cheaply up north.

After an hour or so we headed out to Jerusalem with Micaela (sp?), Souli's friend from the Czech Republic, who lives in an Orthodox Jewish community. I'd met her at the GVS meeting in Beit Jala. She showed us the in's and out's of traveling from Ramallah to Jerusalem. We refused to ride with the Service driver who wanted to charge us 30 shekels. Maybe it was easier, sure, but she wouldn't humor him if he was raising the price just for us. "It was a matter of principle, you have to be firm with them." I respected that. Sometimes I go for principle, sometimes for convenience.

We rode the bus to Qalandia checkpoint, then had to get out, go through the "chicken run" and get back on the bus. As we approached the turnstiles and all that business (this was my first time walking through), some men standing in front told us the checkpoint was closed, and they would take us to the next checkpoint and to Jerusalem. My party and I were flummoxed. Ummm...what should we do? Michaela said, no, no, and marched right through to the chicken run. It looked abandoned. The drivers were sneering at her. But she was confident, and we followed. As it turns out, those guys were bullshitting us. Two of the windows were open. We had to stand in front of the revolving doors and wait for the light to turn green. Then explain to the soldiers through the glass that my grandmother has a pacemaker. It was tense. She was the third one to pass through, and they kept asking, "her?" no, her. "her?" no, her. yes, her. There was no way around the metal detector, so they had to turn it off manually. It was re-iterated that she would have three minutes to live if the pacemaker was magnetized. The soldiers were so young. I held my breath as she walked through. It was ok. We showed our passports and visas through the glass and continued on. Michaela told me they were being stricter about visas because activists were living in the West Bank illegally. There was one girl who managed for years without renewing her visa, but she was stupid about it, really provocative, throwing stones at demonstrations, then they found her and she was deported. It made me think about my own situation. I wasn't a stone-thrower. But I went to demonstrations, and did interviews, and I've been told it's stupid, but it is intentional. How badly do I want my message to be heard and how badly do I want to get let back in in January?

We bussed to the Old City of Jerusalem and bade farewell to Micaela. She invited me to Shabbat dinner in her community, which I'm going to take her up on very shortly.

Unfortunately, my Old-City navigating skills failed me and we walked around the alleys with our bags for way longer than we should have. That being said, the Old City is beautiful at night, all yellowy and cavernous. After some awkward direction-asking, we found the Citadel Youth Hostel, my go-to place. It was way cheaper than Christ Church Guest House, where my mother's family had stayed for two weeks in 1971. They had fond memories there. But it was also booked solid.

We four settled into our 3-person room, with me in the window nook, then went walking around for food. Almost everything was closed, so we settled for glasses of wine and warm bread at one of the Armenian restaurants near Jaffa gate. That glass of wine did us pretty well, and we ended up in a supermarket fawning over all the munchies. My grandmother must've slapped her forehead a few times, we were being so silly. I got a can of pringles and a Cornetto. We were in such high spirits as we traipsed through the Old City with our snacks. It was a good night.

The next day was dedicated to the Old City. I tried to use my previous knowledge and once again failed, but thanks to the Christian Information Center, it only took us eight hours to check off our four items. That's with a map, and asking for directions after every street. It's a miracle we found anything! My mom and I made it to the Dome of the Rock and Al Aqsa Mosque two minutes before closing, but we had to plead with the Israeli guard and sprint up the bridge to the square. I was glad to finally see it, after a few trips to Jerusalem, but the hurriedness and the privilege of it made me feel so disconnected....there were Muslims sitting all around the square, reading the Qur'an. Yet, none of my friends in the West Bank were allowed to visit this place. One of my students put on his paper, that his dream was to pray at Al Aqsa Mosque. I felt guilty, just dashing up there, snapping pictures, check, no big deal.

We got shooed out by guards, and rejoined Catherine and my grandma. They hadn't made it through on time. But we wandered around a bit more and finally found the Church of the Holy Sepulchure. I knew about the Via Dolorosa, but it hadn't sunk in that the site of the crucifixion and Jesus' tomb was said to be in this place. I hadn't imagined them so close together. It was strange, sitting near the tomb, which was a house-like structure dwarfed by the massive church, covered in candles and bulbs and gold, and thinking, this is the place we read about in the Bible. I can't see it. I've heard the story so many times. The women didn't have faith, they thought Jesus was the gardener. And I was looking at a line of visitors, winding around Israeli police barricades, waiting to go into the entrance, or get their candles blessed. Again, the disconnect. My grandmother was sitting on a bench, sketching the scene, and she told me about her experience in 1971, when they closed the doors for a few hours, on the people that were still inside. So they had to wait until the next opening. While my grandmother was inside the tomb, a group of Orthodox nuns came in and formed a circle around her and started singing. They sang for at least thirty minutes, then filed out again. Then one of my grandmother's friends looked at her and asked, "what happened to YOU in there?" My experience with this place wasn't holy, but in that way, hers was. I'd been too quick to judge.

We left the church and headed to another, St. Anne's. There was an excavation site where we could look over and see the old pools of Bethesda and columns that went down, down, down...right under a neighborhood.

Then we took a taxi to the Mount of Olives to catch the sunset, which was gorgeous. Our driver was very guide-like, a little intense, but very nice. He stopped on the way back down so we could see the Gardens of Gesthelmene. The olive trees in the garden were HUGE. We also popped into the Church of All Nations, and saw their service. It was beautiful.

After we got dropped off at Lion's Gate, we wandered for about an hour trying to find the hostel again. We asked for a recommendation for an Italian restaurant, because we were craving pasta and wine, and after wandering some more, we found the place and indulged in bread and spaghetti and vino. Then we went back to the hostel and passed out.

Friday we grabbed coffee and bagels and took the 18 Bus back to Ramallah. Then we sat at a nice cafe and got more coffee (at this point my stomach was like, efff) and caught a taxi to Bil'in. My friend Iyad met us there and showed us to his house so we could drop our stuff. Then we joined the demonstration, holding posters of Ashraf, who was the focus of this week's demo. It was a small one, and I found out later that many from Bil'in had gone to the Nabi Saleh demonstration to show their support, since they'd had night raids and three arrests in the last few days. My mother and grandmother joined me at the front of the demo by the wall, where a semi-circle was holding up the pictures of Ashraf and chanting. When they started chanting in Hebrew, I couldn't follow but I whipped out my camera. I felt like we were safe from the tear gas, but when the shebab, who'd been throwing stones off to the side, approached us, I recommended we go back just in case. They joined Catherine toward the back, and all was well, until the soldiers fired tear gas on the other side, upwind from us, and it went straight to the back, where my mother and grandmother and Catherine were retreating. I could see them holding their scarves to their faces, and thought, oh no, that wasn't supposed to happen. I walked back to them and decided, khalas, no more of this demonstration, and Iyad picked us up soon after. They were in good spirits though. That was something to be checked off the list, being teargassed! But I think it bothered my grandmother's eyes for a while. eeeesh.

We joined one of the families for masakhan, a bread dish with onions, and chicken, and rice, and salad, and it was so wonderful. Then we sat outside eating fruit (extra for grandma) and drinking tea and coffee and smoking hookah and playing hand games with the kids. Some in Arabic, some in English (cee cee my enemy...)

Then we went back to Iyad's, where we watched videos of the history of the demonstrations and Bassem, who died in 2009. The old demonstrations are pretty funny to watch, the activists put themselves in interesting positions and the soldiers had to figure out how to respond, hammering them out of their metal cans and chains and dragging them really it's only half funny. But the videos of Bassem are hard for me to watch. I never knew him, but he's everywhere in Bil'in. Every time I see a new video and hear a story about Bassem, I get to know him more and it's like grieving backwards. He becomes more and more real, but I'll never get to meet him. That's what makes it hard.

After the videos we went to Iyad's new house, which is almost finished, and had a barbeque. Rather, we sat around the fire while people cooked chicken and tomatoes and onions, then we feasted. And passed around baby Yaman, and gave some presents to Mayar and Yazid, a light-up bouncy ball and a Jacob's Ladder, which Mayar flipped like a pro. She's very smart, shatra. Second in her class.

After hours of fire and eating and baby passing, we got tired and passed out back at Iyad's. I slept like a rock until morning prayer. Catherine noted that this imam was especially good. I fell back asleep. We ate an amazing breakfast of poached egg in tomato sauce, avocado and zeit and zaatar and yoghurt, then bade farewell to the Burnat's and Service'd down to Ramallah. There we met Souli at his haunt, Zam'n coffee, and rode with him to Jericho. On the way we talked about the state of things in Palestine. One state or two states? We passed the largest settlement, Ma'ale Adumim, which sits between the North and South of the West Bank. The issue of contiguity is getting more and more urgent for the Palestinian government. I think two states is practical for now, as a detterent for the settlements, but we all agreed that Israel's status quo is threatened by the demographic reality, and it can't fight demographics for much longer. The questions is, how fast the revolution will come...?

Souli told us he walks from his village to Jericho every year or so, and it only takes a day. I want to try this.

Unfortunately, we didn't get to visit the mountain with the cable cars, because the Palestinian checkpoint soldiers told us the Allenby Bridge crossing was already closed for Shabbat, which meant I was a huge failure and the ladies couldn't get out of the West Bank that day. Fortunately, Souli found out that foreigners don't have to go through the Palestinian terminal (what Authority?), but could go straight through the Israeli bridge. So we dropped them off by the border, hugged goodbye, and that was the visit.

Wow. I didn't mean to write that much. Bedtime.