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

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