I decided long ago
Never to walk in anyone's shadow
If I fail, if I succeed,
At least I live as I believe
No matter what they take from me
They can't take away my dignity
Because the greatest love of all
Is happening to me
I've found the greatest love of all
Inside of me
I'm in a sappy mood. I'm lying in bed trying to kicking a stomach bug, it's been pouring rain/sleet/snow for the last three days, and I got my camera stolen by a postcard salesman today.
From the beginning....
1) Last week I spent six days in Al Aqaba. I'm usually traveling for about 4 days a week, so that was a bit of time. It just happened to coincide with a 3-day army training that brought the soldiers onto village land and into the village itself. Haj Sami told me that when he learned about the soldiers, he wasn't sure if I was even in the village, but he called me at 6am anyway. So that was an interesting and somewhat infuriating three days.
There were two sides of it though. There were the trainings, and there were the responses to my Youtube video. Responses that basically said there seems to be no problem with the army's presence in the village, that I didn't seem to mind, the villagers didn't seem to mind...so what's the point in making the army look bad with this video? I was then inspired to run around the village and interview people on how they feel when the army comes into the village. When people tried to assist me with the children, asking them, "how do you feel? afraid?" the children would automatically say "I'm not afraid!" and I gave up. I didn't want to bait them, or deny what they said. I just didn't know what to do with them. But some of the mothers (with the camera facing away) gave me interviews. I think they were on the memory card in my camera. :/
While I was discussing these interviews with the guys who run the sewing co-op (who taught me the word for interview, muqabala), this other guy started asking them questions about me. It's annoying when they do that, as if I don't know the most basic questions in Arabic...what's her name, what's she doing here, is she married...that one especially. But I learned that he was a police officer from Tubas, and lived in Jaba, Jenin. I told him I'd been there before. He invited me to come horseback riding and shooting with him. I kind of sort of agreed (note I love horses) and confirmed once his commander assured me that he is an upstanding gentleman. So I guess I was going hunting on Tuesday...?
2) I decided to stay in Al Aqaba for the weekend because one of the women who works in Haj Sami's office had invited me to her wedding. I knew I would stick out like a sore thumb, but I was excited to attend a community event in Tubas, which feels kind of like my home governorate...
I was also excited to be in the village on a weekend because now I could finally take a walk into the hills! There aren't any trainings in the area on Fridays and Saturdays because the soldiers all go home. I was concerned that this weekend would be an exception because of those 3 days of madness, but by Thursday afternoon all seemed quiet. After finishing a few interviews and drinking quite a lot of tea on people's porches, I ran over to this lady Na'ama's house to eat dinner with Haj Sami, Umm Sadeq, Suzan, Mustafa, and little Roya, who I haven't seen in ages! Still cute as a button, and more fashionable than I'll ever be. I wanted to whip out my camera, but I realized that I'd taken so much footage of Roya already...I should just eat. I told Haj Sami that I wanted to climb the mountain/hill thing, and he told me to go with Na'ama. Really? I asked. Yes, she loves to walk, he said. Na'ama told me tomorrow at 8:30. I knew that would be a struggle for me but it seemed like a good time to start a walk, so it was set. I wondered how far she would want to go. I wondered what we would talk about.
I stayed up until about 2am, working on the blog and various things, and at 8:25 Na'ama banged on my door. I'd hit the snooze button, damn! I let her in and got myself ready in 5 minutes. Then we set out for the mountain.
Na'ama didn't take the gravel road down to the olive trees, like I had on my first exploration. We took a side path and bushwhacked our way down the hill. I saw a scampering fox and was really excited about it, even though it disappeared in 2 seconds. The little wildflowers were beautiful. Na'ama was talking about the history of the village, about a third of which I understood. The bedouin family that I visited a few weeks prior had seen me by that point and Sarah (or Hagar) was waving at me to come inside, but I made a walking gesture with my fingers and yelled "bnimshi!" we're walking! We descended to the olive groves and after all that steep descending, finally started walking up the hill. At that point I was already sweating and had to shed a layer. The sun was out, but the clouds were moving fast. We walked through the olive trees, and Na'ama found some bullets on the ground. She picked them up and said the boys liked to collect them. They were an inch and a half long. I picked one up and put it in my purse. Na'ama commented on some of the imprints on the ground...the soldiers had been sitting here.
I realized why Na'ama had brought rubber gloves and a knife. That was a little puzzling at first. She was gathering pieces of a certain prickly plant to take home and cook. The plants were growing everywhere, but most of them were too young, which she lamented ("you need a bedh, an egg" she gestured, referring to the round center of the plant), but she still managed to take home a full bag.
I never could have realized how deep those hills were before I walked through them. They're so picturesque from Al Aqaba, I thought they were simpler...Jack and Jill go up the hill....I didn't realize that the hills would open up and engulf us. After thirty minutes we were past the olive groves and walking up gently sloping pastures with ancient-looking cisterns and rock walls, and tons of purple and yellow wildflowers. I stopped to take a lot of pictures, and Na'ama stopped to snip a lot of plants. I noticed certain places had a lot of toilet paper tossed on the ground, and a few places where the soldiers had left their business. "Crikey, what do we have here..." I thought, before realizing I was thinking in a Steve Irwin accent.
We walked for another hour, and ended up skirting the lines that are visible from Al Aqaba.
We passed another shepherd with a herd of goats and walked up to a cave underneath the summit of the big hill. Na'ama pointed out the rock outline of what used to be a small house. She said she used to live up here with her family when she was small. She walked around the outline and pointed out where she used to sleep. They used to keep their sheep in the big cave. That was in the Jordanian time. When the Israeli army started training around the hill, her family moved to the village.
Since I'd promised the reporter Hakam I would eat lunch with his family at one, I had to decide whether to summit the hill, or walk to the Roman ruins. Na'ama assured me there was time to reach the ruins (or the tower, "burj" in Arabic) and that she would take me up the mountain another day. She told me there was an old Israeli plane that had crashed into the hill and the plane was still there.
We walked along the meadows for another twenty minutes..I walked ahead while Na'ama clipped. I could see the village off in the distance....it was such a beautiful view. I could also see Tayasir checkpoint and finally got a sense of its location. Tayasir checkpoint, Al Aqaba, Area A. I shot a few takes of video explaining that Al Aqaba is in Area C, but the checkpoint separates it from the "greater" Area C so Israelis need a permit from the army to visit it, just as they would need one to visit Area A. I was pretty far away, but I wondered if anyone at the checkpoint or camp could see me filming.
We finally reached the Roman ruins, 2.5 hours after we'd set off. It was a small site, mostly crumbled, but we could see the outlines of rooms, small caves and steps...Na'ama said they used to execute people here. I took a lot of pictures.
Then I asked her if we could take the road back to Al Aqaba instead of walking all the way back. I wanted to be in Tubas by 1. She told me she didn't have her howiya (ID card) but we could try the checkpoint. But first we had to have tea in the Malehh! Even by that point I didn't believe we were close enough to the bedouins to just drop in for tea, but as soon as I looked over the Roman ruins, I saw that they lived just below. So we dropped down and had tea. As we scrambled down the rocks the kids spotted us and started waving and shouting. We got down to their animal barracks and Na'ama greeted the women who were waiting for us outside their tent. The children were surrounded by scampering baby goats. I melted into a puddle right there. I tried to take pictures but my memory card was full, so I looked like a silly tourist while I tried to root out videos that I could delete. We sat down in the tent with the women. There were five of them, and they were absolutely beautiful. We sat with them and their daughters (who had just gotten back from school in Tayasir) for a while, and they asked me all sorts of questions about myself. How old, what do you do, how do you see Palestine, how do you see their life, would I marry one of their husbands and live in a tent with them...one of the women used to be an English teacher, though her language was pretty basic. she asked me if I had a boyfriend (3adi, normal, in America, she said). I told her there was someone in Ramallah. "ajnabi?" they asked? foreigner? no. "muslim?" welll....kind of but not really. "sharmout!" the woman next to me cried out. "he's a whore!" I started to protest but when they saw the look on my face they all burst out laughing. We ROFL'd for a good two minutes and I realized what a special place I'd just stumbled upon. If I brought any male visitors on a walk through a hills, they wouldn't be able to drop down and have tea with these bedouin women. It was just me and Na'ama, who got along so well with anyone but was also anything but 3adi. They asked her why she used to live in Amman (the big city!) and she explained that she used to live there with her husband in the winter, and come back here in the summer. They asked her what happened to her three husbands..."mat!" dead! she exclaimed in a "wtf, oh well" kind of way and somehow made us laugh again. She was a fifty-something lady and completely on her own. But she said she loved someone in Tubas. "bamout fi." she's crazy about him.
The women fed me bread and goat cheese and yoghurt, and I tried not to eat too much since I was having lunch in Tubas in an hour, but I indulged in the fresh goat cheese. at 12:30 I told Na'ama I had to head back, so we bade farewell and headed out of the Malehh. We walked along the highway for about twenty minutes. Above us on the cliff was the Roman tower, Na'ama asked, "can you see where we were?"
By then it was a beautiful sunny day and the valley was green before us. Some farmers from Tubas were working on their land, and I wondered how difficult it was for them to access it during the week with the trainings. Tire tracks were all over the field.
An army jeep came down the highway from the checkpoint. It stopped by us and the soldier inside asked, "what are you doing here?" I told him I lived in Al Aqaba. He asked me what I did. I told him I taught English. She asked Na'ama in Arabic what I did. I re-iterated, so she could here me, "I teach English." He told me, no, he wanted her to answer. She told him I walk around and take pictures of the land. Dammit. He asked me if that was true. I told him I did both. He asked for my ID. I took out my passport, which I now regret. Not because they were concerned by my multiple entry visas, but because I didn't have to conjure my passport...a driver's license would've been fine. I was only out for a walk, after all. The soldier told me this was a problem, that I kept coming in through Jordan to renew my visa. I told him I could've gone through the Interior Ministry, but I have friends in Jordan. He suddenly looked at me, handed me back my passport, smiled and said in a syrupy voice, "ok, have a nice day!" The jeep drove off. Na'ama started going on about how the soldier was Arab and what he was asking her, but I was shaking. I didn't have the Arabic to explain to him that I'd gotten into Israel by telling the truth-that I work in a Palestinian village. So now he thought I was an activist sneaking into Israel like a tourist, and he had my name. I tried to explain to Na'ama that telling the army I liked to take pictures of the area wasn't a good thing, but I dropped it. A car drove by and we waved it down and got a ride to Tubas, where I had lunch with Hakam and his family in their apartment above his film studio. I practiced English with his fourth-grade daughter Takreem and told her she was "ashtar minhu," smarter than her father. This made them both laugh. She's at the top of her class. She wanted me to help her study the English unit on playgrounds. Slide. See-saw. Swang. No, it's swing. There's a song that goes "swing, swing, swing from the tangles of..." Takreem smiled. It's not often that a teacher sings. Then there was the climbing frame. A jungle gym? Who calls it a climbing frame? I wondered if I could blame the British for that one. All the Palestinian English books teach British English. Climbing frame...hmmm. I pointed to the frame of their mirror, and their door, and pantomimed climbing a ladder. Like on the slide. Ok, next. Roundabout. Is that what we call it? Maybe we call it a merry-go-round. Oh well. There's a song called Roundabout! It goes, "I'll be the rooooundabout...the words will make you out 'n out..." Takreem smiled again. Hakam was happy that I was helping her with her pronunciation. He brought his son in from watching TV so he could listen to me sound out the words. His son was also first in his class. I wanted to visit the schools in Tubas, maybe teach an English lesson. I'd been thinking about starting a network between the Tubas schools so international volunteers could access them. But first I have to finish the Al Aqaba website, then make a website about Americans in Palestine, then paint with all the colors of the wind....
This post ended up being one fifth of what I intended to write. Oy. More tomorrow.