Thursday, April 5, 2012

Last week we had some great day guests. Rasha, who works for World Vision, Peace It Together, and Seeds of Peace, and two young filmmakers from the Peace It Together program, which brought them to Canada to make films with Canadian and Israeli students. When I explained the concept to the school director and English teacher, I just said there were three from Bethlehem coming to talk about their experience filmmaking in Canada, and maybe this could be a good connection for the students, if they're interested in programs like this. I didn't mention the Israeli bit, because I didn't think I could explain the experience nearly as well as the group could, in Arabic. I know they get called out for normalization, and their films sparked a lot of comments in this vein at the Beit Jala screening I went to. I missed a lot of the Arabic, but I could tell they were commenting on the films' portrayal of the two sides as equal, which misrepresented the situation on the ground and ignored the occupation. I was just keen for the discussion to happen, so I introduced it carefully. But the English teacher told me the boys are open-minded, they don't object to things like that.

So Rasha and Basil and Ibrahim came up to the village to screen the films that they made, and I managed to keep eight of our high school students waiting an hour after school (not an easy task!) for the first screenng. Then I assembled a group of twelve from the village for the second screening, which wasn't too bad, considering that among them were students, a lawyer, a driver, a farmer, builders, a really interesting group for analyzing films and discussing the conflict. Some used their experience as family men and men of age, some used their knowledge of law or history. I caught about half of the disucussion and translated what I could for Donna (who has been with us for two weeks!) What made me really happy is that our guests really seemed to enjoy the village. Basil told me he was thinking of doing one of his university film projects here, and Rasha kept thanking me for bringing her here, though it was Souli who made that connection by taking me to the Beit Jala screening and recognizing Rasha as someone who could help Al Aqaba with her World Vision work.

Turns out, she saw Al Aqaba as an ideal place to interview for Seeds of Peace applicants. She got the deadline extended and encouraged me to get as many applicants as possible, for both campers and leaders. While we were eating a massive lunch that Abu Abed (the chef who used to work at the Intercontinental in Riyadh) had been cooking in my kitchen all day, Rasha told me, "I could stay here forever." After all the stress of running around the village and collecting audience members, I finally relaxed. They like Al Aqaba!

After a short walk and the second screening, I decided to go back to Ramallah with the group, so I packed my bag and jumped in their taxi. Donna would follow behind two days later.

We didn't go to Ramallah directly, instead we headed up to Zebabdeh, just before Jenin, to see Basil's uncle and Rasha's friend. After that long day of coordinating, I was happy to just relax and enjoy everyone's company. Somewhere between Tubas and Zebabdeh, Rasha stopped the taxi near a field of trees and said, "shweya, let's pick some loz." So we hopped out of the taxi and I said "only in Palestine," as we climbed down to pick almonds off the trees. These aren't ordinary almonds, they're green and fuzzy, and sour. But once I got over those aspects, they grew on me. People give me handfuls of these things several times daily, and usually I'll find a few leftover in my sweatshirt pockets.

So we filled our pockets and got back in the cab and jetted to Zebabdeh. I'd only been through the town, not in it, which was unfortunate, because everyone had told me to visit the Arab-American University there. It's still on my list. But we got out at Basil's uncle's house and sat in his living room for a while. There were Christian things all over the house, and it was quiet a change, since I didn't visit a lot of Christian households. We talked for about an hour or so, and I got to practice some more Arabic. His uncle had heard of Al Aqaba once, but his wife and mother, never. And it was 20 minutes away! He said he'd seen something about it on the news. Haj Sami and the double minaret mosque frequently appear on Palestine TV, thanks to our reporter friend Hakam.  

We left the house and took a walk with Rasha's friend George, who was in tawjihi (meaning in 12th grade, about to take his tawjihi exam). He had dual Canadian citizenship and spoke good English, but I used my Arabic and he said 3njad, your accent is really good for six months here. That made me happy.

We walked to a park, then found out it was closed, so then we walked to a cafe called Twilight, which was the strangest place. The walls were painted red and black, and the lights were red lights, and there was a big poster of Leonardo DiCaprio on the stairs. Anyway, we settled down with two argheelas (one apple and one lemon with mint), and bullshitted and told dirty jokes for a while. They were a fun group. Then Basil asked the guy if they served beer, and he said no. Only him and I seemed to be disappointed at that, but he got a call and said, "my uncle can bring us some beer and take us to Ramallah, yalla!"

So we left George and Ibrahim in Zebabdeh and got into a royal blue VW Vanogan, almost like the one my parents drove in the 90's, and even though we had to cross half of the West Bank in the boring dark, the beer made it a lot more fun. I can't even count the number of times the boys had to stop and pee by the side of the road. But the one time I asked them to pull over, they rejected my request and drove to a sweet shop instead, where I could use a toilet and they could get their knafe fix. Sitting in that brighly-lit sweet shop with a plate of knafe and a buzz, was some kind of euphoria.

An hour later we were in Ramallah. I invited Basil to stay at Souli's so he wouldn't have to catch a Service to Bethlehem at 10pm. So we went to Beit Anisseh, got a drink, I ordered a salmon and lox sandwich, we stood and chatted for a while because it was so crowded there was nowhere to sit, then I got really tired and said khalas, I need to go to sleep. So we walked back to Souli's and hung out for a while, and I realized I had another incredibly full day. And the next day I was going to the Qalandia demonstration. Really, one day at a time....

I swear I've seen that Vanogan on the road twice since then....