Tuesday, March 20, 2012

My CouchSurfers from South Tyrol

On Saturday night I hosted two CouchSurfers in Al Aqaba. It was supposed to be one originally, an Italian design student named Andreas, but then his roommate Matthias came along. They met up with me and Souli and Megan in Zamn cafe (in Ramallah), then I took them and Megan up to Manara Circle. I learned that they were actually studying in Jerusalem, not just traveling around. On the way to the station we were met by Hamdi, my friend from Bil'in, and Simon, a Swiss photographer who was living in Bil'in for a month. They'd come to Ramallah to check out a demonstration that was supposed to happen, but apparently there were only a few people there. So instead the five of us stood around and chatted and I wasn't surprised that the Italians knew German, so they spoke to Hamdi, who'd just returned from a year working in Germany. Then we decided to delay our departure and go out for hummus and falafel. So we all ducked into a little restaurant and spent a good 45 minutes bullshitting and laughing way too loudly for that little family place. Two Americans, two Italians, a Swiss and a Palestinian.

Then I bought a lamp for the guest house and the boys and I proceeded to the Service Station to catch the direct ride to Tubas. I spent that 75 minutes pointing out all the things I knew, villages, settlements, checkpoints, how the road system worked....one village had a big mount of dirt and rocks blocking its entrance because the Israeli army wanted the people to leave. There was a paved road near Nablus that had been demolished just like the one in Al Aqaba. I hadn't noticed these things until I'd made the trip a few times.

When we got into Al Aqaba the sun was already setting, and the boys seemed eager to take some photos, so dropped our stuff off in the guest house and ran around for a while. Haj Sami met us after ten minutes. I hadn't specified that it was two males staying with me, but I think he liked the fact that they were both holding cameras. The rules had relaxed considerably since I got here in September. We took a walk around the village, then sat in Haj Sami's office while I helped him with some correspondence. Then his niece prepared dinner for us and his nephew brought it up to the apartment. pita bread, eggs, stewed tomatoes, vegetables, hot dogs, yoghurt, his niece whipped it up at a moment's notice, and Haj Sami was hoping to present a big lunch for the boys the next day, but I told him I was making shakshooka for breakfast and then we had to go back to Ramallah. Thanks to the fundraiser, I can buy groceries if we have Couch Surfers.

oh my god. i'm so tired. i'm nodding off in this cafe and i just wanna put my head down on the table. yalla caffeine!

Anyways, after dinner I hung out with Andreas and Matthias and we played guitar a little bit (they'd brought their own mini-guitar!) and then I proposed we go for a walk. I'd never just gone on a night walk in the village before. We turned right on the big road and headed toward the demolished street. Then we veered left and started walking along the gravel road by some of the village barracks. I doubt the villagers had ever seen three ajaneb walking around in the night. It was windy, and cool and completely dark. I heard footsteps and saw two cigarettes bobbing up and down, and wondered who was on the other end.

It was one of the village drivers (or his brother) and they asked me where we were going. I said, bas nimshi, we're just walking. Tfadal, he said. Come on inside.

As we made our way up the hill to his home, I thought to myself, maybe this is the beginning of an Al Aqaba night-life.

So we went into his home, two small rooms made of cement blocks. Four of his young children were sleeping on a mat under a big blanket. I thought again of the guest house fundraiser and made a note to set aside some funds to buy something for this and the other barracks-homes. Maybe someday this family would get a Rebuilding home, but it would take a while. I didn't know if the priority was on returning families or the existing barracks, perhaps a combination.

So we were served coffee, then cake, then tea. The boys didn't speak any Arabic, so I made conversation with our host and his wife and brothers/nephews/who knows, and translated into English. He said that in the past, if we were just walking around this area at night, we could be shot by soldiers. oh...jeez. I didn't know how people responded when I told them my guests lived in Al Quds, Jerusalem. They were foreigners, and they could go to Jerusalem, but the villagers couldn't, even though they considered it their country's capital city.

After an hour or so, and after one of the guys had exhausted all the tea in the kettle (he kept refilling our glasses so we couldn't leave, haha) we took off back towards the guest house. As we walked in the dark up towards the lights on the mosque, Andreas remarked that in Italy, people wouldn't be that hospitable. Even if you hitch-hiked in your own town, people wouldn't stop for you. I was glad we had the opportunity to sit inside a village house...that was a rare experience for a first-time visitor to the West Bank :)

I wanted to show them the sewing co-op, if my friends the managers were up late working, but the lights were all out up there, so we went back to the guest house. I fired up the projector and showed them the film made by our last guest from the States, Melissa. The film is called I Stay Here, and it looks at different leaders and forms of non-violent resistance in Palestine. It's great!

Afterwards the boys showed me a video of them spray-painting graffiti on the Wall, and it looked so funny because they had to sit on each others shoulders. Then Matthias drew a picture of a Palestinian flag crossed with the flag of his province on my white board, with the words "Resist to Exist." They explained to me that they knew about occupation. I thought of Palden, and what he said about Cornwall and the English occupation.

Without even connecting the dots, I suddenly asked, "why do you guys speak more German than Italian?" They looked at each other.
"We come from a province that was annexed from Austria."
What? I went to Wikipedia and typed in the name of the province, and thus began my lesson on South Tyrol. The territory was annexed from Austria in 1919, and the fascist government, in various stages, has been Italianizing it ever since. Initially, German language and education was outlawed, towns and geographical features were assigned Italian names, and Italian citizens were given incentives to move into South Tyrol to tip the demographic scale.
"That sounds familiar," I said. This was so fascinating.
I remembered discussing Puerto Rico in Spanish class. Should they stay a territory, become a state, or gain independence? There were people in South Tyrol who wanted a return to Austria, some who wanted complete autonomy, some who felt the facts on the grounds were irreversible. Today it's still 70% German-speaking but the Italian government allows for a fair amount of fascist influence in the region. There were several points in which one of the guys was talking and the other would go, "whooooa, whoa, whoa..." and it was so interesting hearing their different opinions. I asked them what they're vision for the future was...
Andreas replied, "I think there's a lot of potential for the two people to come together, they could have a really interesting fusion of cultures."
"Really, you think so?" replied Matthias. And they continued on.

I thought about Palestinians and Israelis and the annexation of the West Bank and the eventual one-state solution. In one hundred years the two people could be so integrated, but would one still dominate the other?

They showed me pictures of South Tyrol and fascist monuments and it turns out Andreas submitted a proposal in the "what do we do with this Mussolini art on the city hall?" contest and five winners were selected and compensated, but Andreas' idea was used and he was never recognized for it.

1) Here is a picture from South Tyrol. yowza.
2) The Bolzano victory monument, erected by Mussolini- it says "Here at the border of the fatherland set down the banner. From this point on we educated the others with language, law and culture."
3) Here are Andreas and Matthias eating shakshooka in the guest house :)

Now it's two days later, I'm sitting in the Educational Bookshop in East Jerusalem, and once Andreas and Matthias are out of class I'm going to surf their couch!

Seriously, CouchSurfing is awesome.