Wednesday, October 16, 2013

I Don't Plan to Adjust

"I don't plan to adjust." My friend made this statement a few days ago when I asked him how he felt about being in the U.S. for a few months.after spending a year abroad, primarily in Albania.

I don't plan to adjust either.

When I went to Tel Aviv for a few days, it was easy to forget what was happening not many kilometers away in Palestine.  It was a wonderful break and as I relaxed, I thought, "This feels like normal life." It felt much more like the comfort of living in Louisville. However, the thought itself made me uncomfortable.

Normal life (for an international) in Hebron is so different from normal life in Louisville.  Normal life here means frequent encounters with Israeli soldiers.  Normal life means the water runs out sometimes.  Normal life means clashes.  Sound bombs.  Teargas. Normal life means sometimes having stones thrown at us.  Once a tomato.  Another time a banana peel. Normal life means waiting. Normal life means seeing children get arrested.  Normal life means being welcomed into homes. Normal life means sharing tea.  Normal life means sharing taxis.  Normal life means walking through the tunnels of the Old City. Normal life means seeing freshly butchered meat hanging and sometimes seeing the blood flowing towards the drain in the street. Normal life means buying fresh produce from vendors in the street. Normal life means eating za'atar and olive oil, hummus, and freshly baked bread.  Normal life means greeting the street cleaner in the
morning. Normal life means buying mint and sage to add to tea. Normal life means visiting the falafel stand around the corner. Normal life means answering the curious questions of those we meet and taking pictures when children ask us to. Normal life means walking through the lands I read about in the Bible.

I don't plan to align myself to the life I lived before I came to Palestine.  Though I will be happy not to breathe teargas, though I'll enjoy uninterrupted access to water, I don't want to arrive home as if nothing has changed. If I fit seamlessly back into the life I lived before coming here, my time here would be worthless.  I fear that I will settle into complacency.

I anticipate pain when I leave.  Saying good-bye is not easy. I will carry with me the question of whether anything or anyone besides me has changed.  My ego will wonder who will remember me when I return.

I anticipate pain upon arrival in the U.S.  How will I "catch up" with the people I left behind?  How will I respond to a life that shelters me from so many people's harsh reality?  Harsh reality is ever-present here. Will I choose to remain sheltered or open myself?  How will I answer those who ask about my "trip," as if it were a carefree week on the beach?

How am I going to go back, go home (if that's what it still is), and remain faithful to my time here? How will I bring both the blessing and burden of my time in Hebron to those who have never been here?

I want to share both.  I want to share the joy and sorrow.  I want to share the complexity and imperfection of this place and the people who live here and work here.  I want those who have never been here to care as much as I do. I want to keep caring.

I want to feel the depth of emotions that I have allowed to emerge sometimes in my words, but not often enough in my body.

I want to be a pot of stew, where the tastes of my experiences blend but do not mix so much that they are indistinguishable from each other.  I want to nourish others with the flavors of life I offer.

I don't plan to adjust.  I hope to keep allowing life to fill me and empty me. I hope that the mixing and stirring within me will stir others who also don't want to adjust.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Bethlehem Wall

Today some of us visited the separation barrier, aka Apartheid Wall, in Bethlehem.  This was my first and only visit to the wall during this stint in Palestine.  If you want to read/see anything from my experiences last year, try these links: The Wall: Convers(at)ion, The Wall: Photos, The Wall: Action, The Wall: Action Photos.

Rather than use words to talk about the abomination that is the wall, I will rely primarily on photos to tell the story...

There is a place one can look to the other side.  This is a peek through.  It is Rachel's tomb.

The curve in the wall on the left offers
the view above. 
Israeli border policemen enter area around Rachel's Tomb

Israeli border policemen on Palestinian
side of the wall. 

We were surprised to see CPT's mark on the wall. 

A butterfly I drew last year, red color
 washed away, black & green faded

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

And Then There Is the Sunshine...

I write a lot about the oppression, the grief, the anger, the pain of being in Palestine, or more specifically, in Hebron.  I write about them a lot because those are the experiences and emotions that are hardest to process and, as anyone might notice by reading this blog for any length of time, I do a lot of feeling-sorting here.

However, the oppression, the grief, the anger, the pain are not the whole story.  Not even close.

Flowers and the blue
sky in Hebron
For the last few days, our team has been doing a training on non-violent communication.  We've done some talking and listening, sharing, teaching, and learning.  One of our activities today was, in pairs, to write an 11-word poem.  Our facilitator gave us the first and last words of the poem, so we were responsible for the middle nine words. Our first word: Hebron.  Our last word: Peace.  As I brainstormed with my partner, he asked me what came to mind when I thought of Hebron.  My response: Checkpoints.  His response: Sunshine. These two words say a lot about what it means to be in Hebron this time of year and in Palestine, in general.

Today I want to focus on the sunshine.  There is, of course, the bright sun and glorious blue skies that we see every day, at least until the rains start (in a few weeks). But the sunshine here is much more than the actual light that comes from the sun. There is so much radiance in the day-to-day interactions with Palestinians; the spirits of generosity, of kindness and hospitality permeate the culture.

School girls in a village near Hebron
I have written about school patrols and the joy of seeing the children each morning as they parade to school. This continues to be a joy.  There are the teachers and the children (usually boys) who greet us each day as they pass us.

The teenage boy who makes a point to come and shake our hands and ask how we are each morning. Last week he was eating breakfast as he came to greet us.  He offered us some of his pastry.  We declined, but it was clear that the offer was sincere.

The two pre-school boys who, as they walk with their mother to school, stop to give us a high five.  These boys are serious about giving our hands a slap.  For them, it is a full-body experience.  They raise their little hand high above their head and give our hand a good slap.  Today, the bigger boy, who can be no older than four, was wearing a blue cat mask on his head.  A few weeks ago, he was carrying a large (compared to his size) stuffed giraffe.  The giraffe did not deter him from his high-five mission. He handed it to his mom so his hands would be free to go through the ritual with us.

The headmaster of the nearby boys' school who comes to talk to us sometimes and has recently begun to teach me a few Arabic words each time he sees me.

The shopkeepers in the Old City who offer us a seat and conversation over tea or coffee.

The strangers who invite us into their homes for conversation over tea or coffee.

The vegetable vendors who throw a few extra vegetables into the bag as we are paying for the food.

The shopkeeper who gives us a piece of candy every time we go to his shop.

The falafel vendor who gives us a piece of falafel to eat as he makes our sandwiches.

Harvesting grapes
The friend who took us to his land and sent us home with two huge boxes of grapes we'd just harvested.

The man who, when he walked by us one morning while we were monitoring at the mosque, opened his bag of still-warm sweet rolls, and gave us each one.  We didn't know the man, but that didn't matter.

Then there was my shampoo experience in Bethlehem.  I wanted a small bottle of shampoo, so I went into a pharmacy, but found only large bottles of shampoo.  I asked the man behind the counter if he had any small bottles.  We walked together to look at the shampoo selection.  There were some large bottles with small free bottles packaged with them.  The man unwrapped one of the packages and handed me a small bottle.  "It is free."  I offered to give him money, but he wouldn't accept my offer.

Last week I was in Jerusalem trying to buy a ticket for the tram.  I had didn't have enough coins to pay and my smallest bill was 50 shekels.  To buy only one ticket, the machine would not accept a bill larger than a 20-shekel note.  I turned to the people behind me, who happened to be Palestinian.  I asked if they had change for a 50-shekel note.  They didn't, but told me to wait.  I assumed this meant that, once they used the machine, they would have enough money to make change for me.  I waited as they bought their tickets.  Then they turned around and didn't give me change, but gave me a ticket.  I thanked them and offered them all the coins I did have.  "No, no.  We bought your ticket. It is not necessary to give us anything."

 All of these stories are from my two months here.  If I were to talk about past visits, I could add more stories, so many more.  If I were to talk about the experiences of international colleagues and friends who are here now, I could add even more.  Because these stories are ordinary, not exceptional. And in their ordinariness, they are beautiful.

These are rays of the light that shine through Palestine.
Sunrise in the south Hebron hills