Sunday, March 4, 2012

Visit to Jaba

I mentioned in one of my last posts that there was a policeman in Al Aqaba who invited me to go horseback riding and shooting in Jaba on Tuesday...well, I didn't end up horseback riding or shooting, but I went to have lunch with his family and ended up staying the night. Here's the story.

Nizar had been calling me from the day he met me in Al Aqaba until the morning I arrived. He wanted to confirm that I was coming, then have me talk to his wife, then to his niece...3adi, I get this a lot. It's kind of annoying, but I was a rare kind of guest and most people don't end up with an American girl's phone number. I'm starting to re-examine my policy, especially now that there's a taxi driver (incidentally also from Jaba...?) who wants me to visit his family and put me on the line with his wife, etc....I just don't know if I'm going to go back there.

So that morning I hopped in a service from Ramallah to Nablus, which took about an hour. Once in Nablus, I walked from the main bus station to one of the village service stations. This was the same station my grandma, my mom, my friend Catherine and I had gone through on the way to have lunch in Jit with my friend Mohammad. I knew Jaba was North, not West like Jit, so it was a shot in the dark. But before I approached the drivers to ask where I should go, I spotted the word " جبع"
Jaba, on one of the services. Bingo! I got into the service with my big backpack, and drew some attention from the other passengers. The old women with three children around her smiled, and started striking up a conversation with me. She invited me into her home in Jaba. I told her I was visiting a friend, but thank you. When the service left, I called Nizar and asked him where I should go in Jaba. He told me to hand the phone to the driver. I felt self-conscious when the driver announced Nizar's name out loud, now the other passengers knew I was going to visit a man, I didn't know his reputation, just that the first question he'd asked about me was "is she married?" (not unusual, like I said, mostly annoying) and immediately invited me to his home, appealing to my love to horses. But mostly I was just aware of how well everyone knows everyone, even in a big town like Jaba, and I felt really uncomfortable being in that position.
The driver got us to Jaba after a beautiful, and slightly harrowing 15 minute drive through the hills, and I stayed with him as he deposited all the passengers one by one. The last passenger asked me where I lived, and I said "Al Aqaba Village, in Tubas." He seemed to recognize it. "They have the mosque like this," he said in Arabic, and gave me a peace sign. I laughed, "yes, that's the one!" He said it was a beautiful mosque, and wished me luck. As the service climbed back up into the village to go find Nizar, I smiled at that mini-conversation. It was a beautiful day.

We found Nizar and as he got out of his car to greet the driver, he was chagrined to find that I'd already paid my fare. I transferred my stuff and myself into his car, and we climbed up the hill towards his house. On the way, just down the street I saw my friend Fadi's brother's house, where I'd stayed for a night last December. I pointed it out, and Nizar said, "yes, our neighbors."

We got to his house, and his wife and mother greeted me. His mother kissed me six or seven times on the cheek, she was clearly very enthused. The house was big and perched near the top of the hill overlooking most of Jaba. It was a beautiful view. I sat with Nizar's mother in the living room because it was so windy outside, and one by one the kids came and said hello to me and then ran off giggling. Some of them were Nizar's, some of them were nephews and nieces. I stayed there for a while, drinking coffee, then juice, then tea, then Nizar's wife showed me the view outside. I saw that the family lived in a compound of houses that went up and down the hill. We waved at another mother and child walking around below. I pointed out a house far away that I'd visited last December, and she told me their family name, which I'd forgotten.
I went back inside and they offered me a seat in front of the TV with the kids. They were watching an anime show that was dubbed in Arabic. I told them this program was Japanese, I used to live there, and it was very nostalgic. I was trying to make conversation with my limited vocabulary, but I didn't know if talking about my travels was a starter or an ender. They didn't respond with much but, "ahh, really...." but we managed to talk about lots of things, my strange life, mostly...
I'd seen maqloubeh being cooked in so many kitchens, this was a beautiful little kitchen, modern and decorated with fake flowers. Nizar's wife and her mother and sister was bustling around, filling this and that like clockwork, roasting nuts, frying cauliflower and generally ignoring little Mahmoud, who was tugging at his mother's dress and whining. I was secretly glad to see this. Children get so much affection in this culture, which is a wonderful thing, but you end up seeing a lot of spoiled little boys. Or maybe it's that I haven't been paying attention to how Americans raise their children and it's actually similar. I don't know. I just love to watch fathers doting on their little girls. I took a video of Nizar tossing little Rawand up in the air as she shrieked with delight. It was so cute.

The adults and I congregated to eat our maqloubeh, which, like every time before, was the best maqloubeh I've ever had. This batch was very moist, the chicken was perfect, and the cauliflower and eggplant was soooo good. Nizar heaped more and more on my plate and finally I had to put my foot down and say "Alhamdulillah, ana shaba3na," I'm full, which I'd finally learned how to say right, after many corrections.

After lunch, several of their female relatives came to sit down and meet with me. Several of the schoolgirls had just gotten out, so they were still in their uniforms. The other girls were in brightly colored sweat suits with matching hijabs, or just their hoods up.

I wish this was something I could portray well enough with words, the beauty I see in Palestinian women and girls. Almost always they don't want their picture or video taken, so I just have to forget about it and enjoy the moment. We talked about many things, my travels, their studies, many of them were able to carry basic conversations in English. In such a big village, the schools must be preparing them better.

One of the young women in bright blue sweats and hijab was the most outspoken. I realized she looked like Hayden Panettiere. She asked me my age, said I was young, and showed me that she was married. She must be seventeen, not even out of high school. I remembered this wasn't unusual in the villages. We talked about where I'd been recently and I said Ramallah and Al-Quds, Jerusalem. I asked her if she'd ever been (why did I ask this??) and she told me no.

"It's the capital of my country, and I can't go," she said with a sad laugh.

She asked me if I could stay in her house tonight, and I said sure. I guess I was staying the night!

Nizar and some of the girls and I then took a walk up the hill. The girls took photos of me and I took some video of all the kids running around on the street at sunset between the olive was a beautiful sight. We walked up a rocky hill and hung out for a bit, then Nizar asked me if I wanted to see Sebastia. I'd heard of it, but I'd forgotten what it was! Yes, I definitely wanted to see it. So Nizar and Hayden (I forgot her name, haha) and his two sons and I hopped into his car and drove to Sebastia. I took so much footage of the drive over, it was sunset over the Nablus hills, and the valleys were astoundingly green.

As we approached Sebastia, I saw an Israeli settlement and military outpost to our right. I wondered what kind of access they had to the historical sights, because as we climbed up the hill towards the park, we were climbing through Sebastia, which was now a Palestinian village. I could see rock walls in the village that were clearly hundreds of years old, and I was reminded that the people here live amongst ancient wonders, no big deal :)

Sebastia is an archeological wonder indeed..."The ruins dominate the hillside and comprise remains from six successive cultures dating back 10,000 years: Canaanite, Israelite, Hellenistic, Herodian, Roman and Byzantine" This is Sebastia'swikipedia page.

So we got to walk around the ruins at sunset, which was great. I took so many pictures of wildflowers and the boys running around. We found the foundation of an old church with steps leading into a small grotto with pictures of Jesus and Mary inside. We took more pictures and drank juice and ate chocolate, before heading off down the path towards the village and back home to Jaba.

On the way back, Nizar started playing a rap mix, something akin to Girltalk. He asked me if this was ok, and I said sure. It sounded pretty annoying and out of place, really. Hayden asked me if I understood what they were saying. I said about fifty percent, haha.

We got back to Jaba, and it started pouring. Nizar's wife made us coffee, then we ran over to her grandfather's house in the rain and perched in their living room for a while. I sat on a mat on the floor in front of the chanoon, the iron stove filled with coals. I talked to Nizar and his father-in-law, whose English was pretty good. We were watching the news. They asked me why Obama supported Israel. I told them Obama needs the support of Jewish Americans, but didn't know how to explain why Jewishness was equated with support for Israel. They already understood the distinction between Jews and Zionists, it was just a sad fact that so many Americans didn't. Nizar asked me what I thought about 9/11, if I thought it was the Zionists who did it, since he'd read that all the Jewish workers left the building before it was hit. I told him the government had information that it was going to happen, and they used it to go to war with Iraq. I told him, yes of course the people in government who wanted war the most are strongly connected with the Israeli lobby. But I couldn't agree with his conclusion, as if the people who exploited this tragedy had some connection with Jewish employees in the World Trade Center. That's a really terrible misconception. I hope my Arabic gets good enough so I can discuss this more eloquently. I think the Zionist-neoconservative connection in the U.S. government needs to be discussed, because it is damaging, but it also needs to be defined as not a massive (Jewish=Zionist) conspiracy. There's too much good work being done on the part of non-Zionist Jews, it's so important to recognize the dialogue that's happening (see next post).

After we ate a big dinner of bread, hummus, avocado, cheese, and yoghurt, and I smoked some argheelah (which I think was a curious sight for the women to see), we ran back to Nizar's house in the (still) pouring rain, and I got ready for bed.

Twenty minutes later, I was hunkered down in the master bedroom, by myself, with the TV on and my Arabic book in my lap. Nizar's wife came in to get some things, and she sat with me and helped me practice some my sentences. She was really interested in my book, and it was fun to point out some of the funny phrases in there, like "if I find out you've been going to nightclubs I'll break your legs!" Yes, I admit that a lot of them are kinda obscure, but seeing the way sentences are put together in colloquial is invaluable, since there are so few books written in spoken Arabic.

So I was happy about our conversation, and relieved to know she wasn't peeved about me spending all that time with her husband. She put Rawand in her crib then got into bed with me. That was a new sleeping arrangement, but it didn't bother me. I was bothered by the light that she kept on, but I could throw the blanket over my head.

Then 3-year-old Mahmoud came in yelling about how his throat hurt, then the baby started crying, it was all downhill from there. Mahmoud got to sleep between me and his mom, and the next nine hours involved a lot of coughing, kicking, and squirming. It was absolutely miserable, for all of us.

At 6 in the morning, I got up and went into the living room to "read," i.e. nod off, which I knew was disrespectful but I just couldn't take it anymore! But mom detected that the guest was awake so she came to put the heater next to me and make me coffee. She would have slept until 9 and didn't understand why I didn't want to go back to bed (really??) but after 20 minutes or so of awkwardness shuffling around we were eating breakfast and conversing pleasantly with her mother. Her mother also enjoyed the phrases in my book, and invited me to come back to Jaba again and again. After Nizar got back from Jenin with Mahmoud and his medicine from the hospital, he drove me to the Nablus service, which was already 6 people full and waiting for number 7, me.

On the way to Nablus, the girl sitting next to me struck up a conversation. Her name was Hala and she had a beautiful smiling face. She was a student at al-Najah University. I told her that was a great school, and asked if she knew a Japanese man named Yuhki. Yes, she knew him! She was in her first year. I said, "haha, sanafer." smurf. She smiled, yes, she was a smurf.

I told her about Al Aqaba and my work, then the service dropped everyone off, and brought me to the main bus station.

And that was my trip to Jaba.