Saturday, April 7, 2012

Yesterday was a long day in Al Aqaba!

There was a big party outside of the kindergarten, the whole village and a lot of people from Tayasir and Tubas were there. In addition, about thirty Germans had arrived off of a massive bus to join us. Turns out they were all part of the same family, on a very thorough tour of the West Bank! I can't many family trips make it so far north! But they joined us for the halflah, and their tour guide translated all the Arabic into English through their tour earphones...snazzy. Haj Sami and Marwan Toubasi gave very long speeches about the effects of the occupation on the area, and I wondered if it overwhelmed them. Clearly, they were interested in the occupation if they'd come all the way to Al Aqaba, was it necessary to pull out all the stops? Anyways, the kindergarteners performed some really cute dances for us, and I got to meet some of the visitors, who are lovely and were interested in the Guest House, so I gave them my card. Their guide was a Christian from Beit Jala. woot.

But I spent most of the morning and afternoon getting 13 applications ready for the Seeds of Peace conference in Maine this summer. They extended the deadline specially for Al Aqaba, so I went into the school with a stack of applications and the English teacher and I went over the instructions for the 10th grade boys. I made sure to ask if they were all seriously interested in the camp, and I got an overwhelming yes. It was really fun going through basic form questions with them, and I couldn't have done it without Othman, the English teacher. (Othman: intkom "male," you are all male!) They had to answer questions like, "how did you feel during the attack on Gaza in 2008/2009?" and "if you were on a negotiating team, what would be the most important issue you would not compromise on?" It was a first for me, and I wish I'd been more prepared to coach them on application-writing, but the best I could do was come back after school and tell them to finish all the long answers or I wouldn't bother sending them! There are two boys I know will be considered, it would just be so awesome to have a representative from Al Aqaba traveling to the States and making all those connections for life!!

So I spent a few hours in the office making sure the applications were complete and getting two last-minute submissions in, and once I realized that Donna was going back to Ramallah in the evening, my restlessness set in and I decided to forego the fax machine and deliver the applications myself.

So after a wonderfully wonderful lunch of makloubeh, I hopped in the backseat of a truck with three other people and Donna, and we headed off to Ramallah.

I went to Souli's and showered (it had been a realllly hot day in Al Aqaba) then our friend Basil arrived in Ramallah and he wanted to interview Donna, so I went to go smoke some argheelah with him while we waited for Donna to finish her meeting with the lawyers about releasing money for the building project in Al Aqaba. So we hung out on a roof cafe with a guy from Hebron that Basil had met on the service (who just asked, "where can I get some argheelah?") and he was really cool and invited us both to Hebron before we parted ways. Oh, and I ate a hot brownie with chocolate ice cream and it was the best thing ever.

Then Basil and I headed to my friends Nick and Derrar's house, where they were getting ready to play some beer pong. In the end, we just smoked a j and listened to dance music. I didn't film the guys this time because I already have so much film that I need to edit. They have such a funny dynamic though, it's going to make for a great video.

So then Basil and I walked back to Souli's to drop off Basil's film equipment, and we were going to meet the guys again at Beit Aneeseh, but we busted out the laptops instead and just worked until Souli got back.

So today!! Basil had convinced me to go back to Al Aqaba with him because he wanted to make a film about the village, and I was alright with going to see the demonstration. Yes, Al Aqaba is now in the business of Friday demonsrations, but I don't think the army has caught onto it yet. May it stay that way.

But then Donna ended up not going to Al Aqaba, so Basil wanted to intervew her before we left.  We met up at Zamn cafe and he set up all his equipment and interviewed Donna about how she got involved with Rebuilding Alliance and the Al Aqaba project, then he interviewed me on how Donna and I connected, then the graphic designer for the Al Aqaba project showed up and he interviewed him too. Apparently this guy wasn't allowed to leave Ramallah for years because he was from Gaza and some...restriction. Anyways, I really like him and Donna said he's a website-designing wizard, so I'm going to have him finish the Al Aqaba website starting Monday. alhamdulillah.

It was a cool thing, watching Donna and Basil and this graphic designer sitting watching Donna's presentation on building homes in Area C and mapping the West Bank, it's so well put-together and I could see these three people had so much to offer each other. Anyways, Basil offered to connect me to the Siraj Center in Beit Sahour, and Donna to people who know Palestinian philanthropists, and that's just the way it happens.

Then Donna took off because she had to fly out of Tel Aviv tonight, and I left Basil with Souli and Jehad and Bader (who were sitting outside for the first time!) and had to console Bader because his laptop and iPhone were stolen out of his car the other day. a Beamer with an open window...ouch.

Then I took off to go interview Nick at his place. It was only supposed to be a two-minute introduction for the first Amrikeen video, but it turned into a 12-minute discussion on Palestinian culture and politics, which Derrar had actually warned me about. Ah well, I got some good stuff. Then Nick went off to teach a tennis lesson at his school. I got some footage of him walking down the street in his aquamarine swim trunks. Good lord.

Then I went down the street to get some work done at Cafe La Vie, but it was closed, or being mopped, or something, so I wondered, "should I just go to Jerusalem?" A bunch of my friends and Gloria and Fred had done the walk with the cross up the Via Dolorosa at the crack of dawn this morning. I knew it was an important thing to do while I was here, but I knew I'd be miserable at that hour...with all the crowds....of tourists. no no.

So I started walking back to get my backpack and head to Jerusalem, then I saw Beit Anisseh. It was a bar, and I'd only been there at night, but people told me the food was good, so I tried my luck for somewhere quiet to sit. I walked around the house (it's a house-turned bar) and through the garden/yard thing, and saw that it was empty inside. But when I asked the manager if the place was closed, he just said, "but you can get a drink if you want..." So I sat down at an outside table and set up my computer. The man brought me orange juice and a piece of really dense chocolate cake. He asked me if I smoked, and I said something, but I don't buy ciggarettes. So he brought me an ashtray with two ciggarettes in them. haha.

I spent the next few hours chatting with the owner of Beit Anisseh, who was a few tables over. He was from Ramallah, but was raised in Houston. He was a filmmaker and PR specialist, in addition to running this bar, which had been his great aunt's house. He wanted to open up a new place, for live music and more American food. I asked him if he would consider karaoke, and he said maybe, but he was interested in amateur night, open mic stuff....I agreed, that would be a great idea. At least, the ajaneb would love it.

He was interested in my work, and I gave him my card. He said maybe he and his wife would come and visit Al Aqaba sometime. We kept talking on and off while I sorted my videos and pictures. He encouraged me to write a proposal for one of my projecs in Tubas, and send it his way. Maybe his wife, who worked for a council for churches in Palestine, could help me network and get some financial support. It was a beautiful sunny and my new friend John had just made it way better. His wife and kindergarten daughter came by, and his daughter Mia ran circles around me then picked purple flowers from the garden and gave me one, then her mother put the rest in her hair. I tried to take a picture of Mia but she kept running away and darting behind the chairs. She was so cute.

I kept talking to John about politics and religion, and he thought religion was just another institution, and we weren't living like the peple we worship anyway, and it was a lot of bullshit, basically. He also didn't like doctors, as he'd been in and out of hospitals for so long. I wondered what that meant, and didn't realize the next story was explaining that. He told me he'd been driving around Jericho over a decade ago, when he hit a checkpoint between Jericho and the Jordan River. The Israeli soldiers told him he couldn't drive down this road with a Nablus license. So he asked what road he should take, and the soldier directed him right, then straight. So he followed his directions, and ended up in a military camp. Not that strange, for that area. But he was approaching a group of soldiers and jeeps with heavy artillery, and the ordered him to put his hands up. So like a smart-ass (or would we all do the same thing?) he put his hands up and the car starting swerving, and when he stopped they threw gas in his car. The next thing he knew he was being revived by an Israeli parademics team. He went home and a few weeks later, he lost feeling in his legs. He went back to the States to get diagnosed and they said he had some form of multiple sclerosis. So he's been in wheelchairs or walking with a cane since then. But he had gotten married and had a daughter and ran a business, and things seemed to be ok. But he couldn't predict if the symptoms would get better or worse. I hadn't noticed the cane by his chair, or really wondered why he'd just been sitting around. The owner would probably be up and running, right? We started talking about other things. I brought my computer over and he gave me his card and I friended him on Facebook. He inquired about where I got all of my technology and how much I paid, since he was a film editor and photographer himself, but he hadn't been taking pictures lately because his hands were getting shaky. I gave him my camera and asked if he could fix my photo settings to make the quality better. I realized it was difficult for him to hold the camera steady enough to look at the photos, so I told him not to worry.

I worked on my project proposal for a little while, but he kept making conversation. He referred me to a song by an Australian comedian about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that goes "you don't eat pigs, I don't eat pigs, why don't we not eat pigs together?" and I watched it and cracked up. When I saw his daughter again I told him about one of my favorite songs, "Daughter" by Loudon Wainwright. I think he'd like it.

Eventually the sun started going down and I figured it was time to head out. I hadn't told Basil or Souli or anyone where I'd gone, I just wanted to work. But I hadn't gotten any work done sitting by John, so I looked up at Ankars Hotel and the Sky Bar on top and wondered if they had wireless. So I made my way up to the top floor and sat in that swanky restaurant for a few hours, watching the sun set over Ramallah. I did a lot of research on Tubas for my project proposal, but I didn't get to weed out and start editing my film clips like I wanted to.

I walked back to Souli's and decided I wanted to watch a movie. I really want to watch that movie Say Anything but I haven't found it anywhere. So I hunkered down and turned on MBC4 and watched the end of Red Eye and got some more work done. Then I turned on the news and learned that Qalandia checkpoint was closed today. There was a clip of Christians walking through Beit Jala, because they couldn't get to Jerusalem (because of today's closure or the general lack of permits)

I'd been debating whether or not I should go to Jerusalem for Good Friday today. Turns out I wouldn't have been allowed to, because the checkpoints are closed for Passover.

I check the internet news, and one of the articles said the checkpoints wouldn't be opened until Sunday. I said, no no no no, that's no possible. I'm supposed to go to Gloria and Fred's tomorrow and have a slumber party with all the Lutheran volunteers before the sunrise Easter service! I've been looking forward to this for weeks!

Souli corrected me. I would be able to get into Jerusalem, and Jerusalemites would too. Just not West Bank Palestinians, like him.

What am I hoping for tomorrow? Damn.