Tuesday, February 21, 2012

3adi (normal)

I don't know what to say.

I had a post planned out. It was going to be called Ghadatain, which I think means "two lunches." I ate two lunches in a row today. But that doesn't seem so important anymore.

I'll start from the beginning anyway.


Today, representatives from the French, Belgian, and Sweden Consulates (in Jerusalem) came up to visit Al Aqaba, along with the British Consul General himself. Sir Vincent Fean was a very amiable man who spoke fluent Arabic and got on very well with Haj Sami. I sat in on their meeting with Haj Sami, then he and I took them on a walk around the village to show them what's been demolished by the Israeli army, what's under demolition order, what the village needs now, what they're already working on, etc...

As we approached the kindergarten building, the Belgian diplomat was like, "wait, we funded this, and it's under demolition order?" and I was like, "yeah!" and the look on his face...

He said, "this is the stuff I need to tell them..."

I must be getting desensitized to this reality.

They were all young and nice-looking and nicely dressed, so I kept dodging out of the photos. After our tour, they invited me to Tubas to have lunch with them, and I hadn't eaten yet, so I said an enthusiastic yes. I hopped into their leather-seated vehicle and joined their motorcade. The new-car smell hit me immediately; I realized I'd been riding in a lot of old, rickety cars. I picked up an atlas on the seat and started flipping through it. It was the UN Humanitarian Atlas of the West Bank and Gaza. It detailed every village, roadblock, checkpoint, settlement, military camp...I flipped through it for a minute, and the Belgian diplomat told me to keep it. It was the best atlas I'd seen of the occupied territories. What a morbidly wonderful gift.

We parted ways with Sir Vincent, whose motorcade went back to Jerusalem, and drove down to a restaurant in the nearby city of Tubas. I'd never been inside of it before, only waited outside while my taxi drivers ordered three chickens for their family's dinner. The restaurant was larger than I expected, with two stories of dining space. I sat down with the three consular officials, and the Belgian did all the ordering. I was feeling a little shy, even though my Arabic is just about as good as his. They asked me about my story and how I ended up in Al Aqaba, and I asked them about life in Jerusalem and consular work. The French guy was young, an intern, and I mentally kicked myself when I realized he was traveling around the West Bank for free as the representative of his country. I would have to get myself one of those job things...

I was curious about their lifestyles, and whether they had a diplomat bubble. I learned about the split between the Embassy diplomats in Tel Aviv and the Consular diplomats in Jerusalem, as one is responsible for relations with the Israelis, and the other for Palestinians.

"Is there any friction between you guys?"
"Oh yeah, I mean, you just want to tell them how different our experience is. They're doing their thing in Tel Aviv and they don't have to be bothered with checkpoints or any of that. We were at a meeting with a Minister in Nablus and the Israeli air force made a sonic boom that shook the building and everyone there was just like, business as usual....I mean, it's like Stockholm Syndrome, they're mostly interacting with Israelis, we're mostly interacting with Palestinians....

These guys didn't fit into my image of the stodgy diplomat. I saw on their business cards that they work in Beit Hanina, East Jerusalem. So they are based in a Palestinian area. I might have to go visit them, before I visit the U.S. Consulate. 

Oh yeah, we ate a thousand little salads and kabob and chicken and falafal and it was delicious.

After they took off in their motorcade, I traipsed up the hill with my new atlas, ready to get back to Al Aqaba, because a few of my former English students were going to come up and visit me.

I passed by a jewelry shop, and I realized that I knew the men sitting outside, and had to stop. My friend at the Governor's office had called me the week before, asking if I could help this family's son acquire his visa to study in the States. He'd already been accepted to NYU. I took the acceptance letter and said I'd try. Now his father was greeting me, so I stopped for a cup of coffee. I talked to him and his colleagues for a while, then his son asked if I would join his family for lunch. I told him I had just eaten, but he wanted to introduce me to his family, so I said 30 minutes should be enough. Like I haven't learned anything about Palestinian hospitality!

So I got in his car and we drove up to what seemed like the highest point in Tubas. I'd always wanted to see the view from up there, and it was stunning. I took great pleasure in seeing this beauty in a terribly underrated city. It definitely felt like a village, a large village: all about the family, no apartment buildings...and very green.

I went in to their nice, two-story house and hung out with this family for a while. They served me lunch, my second lunch in an hour, and I ate a surprising amount. I hadn't eaten breakfast, so there was still some space in there. It was chicken and rice and this yoghurty soup that people seem to have a love-hate relationship with. I'm like it ok, but I preferred the rice plain. I often joke that my taste buds are too Scandinavian. 

There were seven sisters and two brothers in that family. I was greeted by every sibling at one point. The littlest girl was about two, her name was Lara....Lulu. She was adorable. I showed her my camera and she couldn't get enough of it...she wailed when I put it away and her father had to bust out his camera phone to pacify her. They made such a sweet pair, and I wished I had videotaped them together. There's something about seeing Palestinian fathers doting on their daughters that breaks my heart. It breaks my heart that it's an image I feel the need to capture, for the sake of proving its existence.

My friend drove me back to Al Aqaba, and his mother and two of his siblings came along. As we climbed the hill up to Al Aqaba, she told me it was her first time there. I was surprised, and not surprised. Al Aqaba was only seven kilometers away, but if one didn't have family ties there, they weren't likely to visit. Still, seven kilometers! Maybe they could come and visit me sometime.

After they dropped me off by the mosque, I went back to the guest house and set up my computer. I'm not sure what I was trying to accomplish in the fifteen minutes before my English students showed up, but I managed to check Facebook before I heard a big "BOOM!"

I gathered the army was training, but I'd never heard a boom like that before. I heard another explosion. I grabbed my camera and went outside to see streams of smoke emanating from behind a hill on the other side of the village. It looked like it was coming from the area that used to be a military camp, right outside the village boundary. I was outraged.

I started trotting over in that direction with my little red camera, half running, half walking, and I passed a family that was sitting and apparently watching the action from afar. I greeted them and made an excuse about why I couldn't sit down for tea, and kept trotting towards the smoke. As I got past the herd of goats  hanging out next to their barracks and onto the back-road that demolished in September, I saw 11-year-old Sudki trotting after me.

Apparently I hadn't seen Haj Sami sitting with the family, and he sent Sudki after me. The sixth grader, thanks Haj Sami!

I wasn't planning on diving into the army training, I just wanted to get close enough to film it. Sudki and I walked up the road together and an old man outside his house scolded us, telling us not to go "that way," but "that way." They were shooting. Sudki and I found a large rock on top of the hill and perched on it. I gave him my camera, and he zoomed in and out of the hills in front of us and located an army jeep and a bunch of soldiers gathered between the hills. They were just like the hills on the other side of the village, where the army trained almost every week, it was the same story. But I'd never seen them on this side before, making so much noise, and Sudki told me they had been next to the main road of the village earlier today, and that was scary. They weren't supposed to train that close.

Every other minute we heard a boom and saw some kind of smoky flare shoot into the sky. The soldiers were yelling back and forth, and I thought they sounded kind of like gorillas. I wanted to shout at them, "hey, I'm working! Can you keep it down?" What would they do?

After a few minutes, Sudki said, "yalla," and we started to head back. I didn't bring my phone, so my students were probably wondering where I was. As we approached the main road, we saw them coming towards us, accompanied by Haj Sami in his electric wheelchair. I hadn't seen my students, Orwah, Abdulnaser, or Younes in a month or so, so it was nice to catch up, but we could still hear the shooting and explosions over the hill, so we didn't have much else to talk about.

As we conversed, the governor of Tubas rolled up in his car for the second time that day (he had met the diplomats that morning), and he asked Haj Sami what was going on. Haj Sami had called him, because this wasn't a normal kind of training. 

After they talked and the governor left, we all went back toward the village and gathered in the village council office to warm up and drink some coffee. There was a young man with my students that I'd never met before, but his brother was friends with me on Facebook, and I remembered that he'd kept inviting me to visit him in Tulkarm. I made up my mind that I'd go to Tulkarm this weekend. I've been meaning to cross that off my list.

This new friend and my students and Haj Sami were talking about Khader Adnan and the administrative detentions. I knew that Khader Adnan was on his seventy-somethingth day of his hunger strike. It seemed like the entire West Bank was rallying around this baker, a former member of Islamic Jihad, who was in Israeli prison with no charge. He was now a central figure, representing thousands of Palestinians who were detained and imprisoned, also without charge.

Then they mentioned someone they knew who was recently detained. Orwah turned to me.

"You know Saed...." I was confused.
"In our class....Saed."
Of course I knew Saed, 35 years old, quiet, always accompanied by his siblings, the caretaker.
"Him." Him??
I knew that Saed had been in prison for 5 years, a decade or two ago, for belonging to the Hamas party, but now??
"Yes, they arrested him last week."
 I felt sick. Now Saed could be with Bassem Tamimi. He could be with my friend Ashraf, who's been in detention since October. He could be starving himself like Khader Adnan. He could be sitting in a dark room with a bag over his head.

I asked them which prison he was in. "I don't know, they'll keep him for 18 days, then tell his family..."

I remember sitting with Saed and his sisters, all my students on the balcony overlooking their garden in Tubas. They had just  fed me makloubeh, because they knew from our class discussion that it was my favorite dish. Now we were drinking tea and eating fruit, and Saed and I were smoking argheelah. We talked about the differences between English and Arabic, and culture shock, and I was surprised to learn that Saed had been to prison. He was a math teacher now, and he had three small boys. I think that's what desensitized me to administrative detention here...if a gentle man like him could go...

And now they had taken him from his family for nothing. I'd left the conversation, I was staring a the wall, taking deep breaths. What could I do?

The call to prayer started, and my students went to go pray then head home. I didn't know when we'd see each other again, but I told this new friend that I might see him on Thursday if he came to Tulkarm with me to see his brother.

So I went back to the Guest House, and tried to push yet another heavy thought from my mind. I thought I would get a lot done, finish the fundraising profile, the NPR pitch, and the award application for AmeriCorps. I ended up spending hours tweaking the Guest House blog, which is doing a bit better now. I was a little frustrated that the guy from the company in Nablus, who I'd hired to make the Al Aqaba website, didn't even bother to get the Arabic grammar on "Al Aqaba Village" right. What the hell.

Anyways, so I fiddled with what I could control, then checked the news. There was a video on Mondoweiss about Bassem Tamimi, whose wife I'd gone to visit in Nabi Saleh with members of the Israeli-Palestinian Crossing Borders group a month ago. I'd never been to one of the demonstrations in Nabi Saleh, but she showed us videos of what the soldiers did to the village and it looked so much like Bil'in, and worse...

So I started to think about Bassem, and my friend Ashraf from Bil'in. I pulled up Facebook chat and asked my journalist friend from Bil'in what the latest news was, and he said Ashraf had another three months on his sentence....but it could be more after that.

I was there when they put Ashraf in the truck. Yes, Ashraf was provocative. He would go up to the soldiers alone with his flag and wave it around them, and that was enough for them to haul him away and accuse him of throwing stones. As if that, if it were even true, was enough to lock someone up for six months or more.

I saw the Facebook posts on Khader Adnan, and wondered again why I hadn't taken any action. Do I think he's Superman? He's expected to die any day! And they have him chained to a bed while he withers away. I saw a video that was taken from outside his hospital room and you can hear him shouting "freedom and dignity!" I don't know how he has the energy to shout at this point. It gave me chills.

And now Saed. I felt so angry. That this could happen, that it was happening. I was exhausted, but I wanted to write down my thoughts before I went to sleep, because I thought there would be something valuable in raw emotion, as unproductive as blogging may be. As I was waiting for my blog to load, I heard an explosion. What the hell was that. Another one, then the sound of falling debris. Were they in the village? They must be just outside...again.

Something inside me just cracked. They were training at 3:30 in the morning. I picked up my camera and stood on the roof outside my front door and pointed my camera at the few jeep lights I could see, knowing it would come out dark anyway. I focused on the mosque. I captured the sounds of the rat-a-tat-tat of guns and the occasional explosion and falling of debris, which was a sound I'd never heard here before.

I thought of the kids. I thought of the number of times I've heard Palestinians say the word "3adi" today. Normal. Whatever, it's normal. Yeah, I mean, it's normal. The air was freezing and the stars were unbelievably clear. The best I'd seen them in Al Aqaba. I tried to film the stars, but no luck, all black.

Boom, boom. Mush 3adi, it's not normal. This is more than a bad movie, it was frightening, and I started to cry.

I went back inside, back to the heater and Facebook chat. My head still hurt.

What was I saying about prisoners?