Category Archives: Palestine

I am Woman!

This is dedicated to my beautiful girls featured here! My lovely roommates in Amman,Lena and Kate, who taught me that this song can cure any heartache! My current roommates who have had to hear this song about 5 million times over the past few months,   and to the amazing women in my life!

I present “I Am Woman” by the lovely ladies of Ms. Sara’s TFP class! (Song sung in their second language without the vocals on the track!)

Teaching

“Habbibi! Habbibi! Habbibi!” She calls as she runs up and kisses me on both cheeks.  “Ms. Sara, Arabic?” She asks if she can speak in Arabic.

“Ah” I respond. And then I am swept into my daily Arabic practice, and myupdate on 10-year-old drama.

The large metal gate at the entrance of the school

The large metal gate at the entrance of the school

Every day I arrive at the gate to our school to unlock the door around 2:15, and everyday there are already 2 or 3 young girls anxiously waiting for our cheek-kiss greeting and to be let through the schools massive metal gate.

Aiashia, the school we teach at (Whose name has about every vowel sound in the Arabic language making it a foreigner’s nightmare to pronounce) has a tall wall of about 30 feet surrounding it on all sides, with equally extravagant flowering trees lining the wall, which provides an excellent haven concealed from the busy streets, a secret garden if you will, where these lovely ladies can safely be themselves without the fear of an unwanted male stare or judging elder.

Aside from the male security guard and our bosses, no men are permitted within the school grounds. The basketball court is at the center of a courtyard. The actual building is a horseshoe shape with about 2 dozen classrooms emptying out directly into the cement courtyard.

As students filter in they bounce between my classroom and Ms. Amy’s giggling about their day, listening to the music, and emptying their ever inquisitive minds of whatever questions they had stored for us through the day. The classrooms are hallow, and echo loudly. The desks sit two people, and each day, I drag them from their traditional rows to a dining room table esque form, only to drag them back to their original place at the end of the day. The drawings on the desk testify to what my students nag about every day. “School is boring.” I laugh. Some things are the same even on the other side of an ocean in the middle of an occupation.

To give you a general idea

a of how our classes are run I will give you a few examples of my favorite activities we have done.

1. The restaurant- Amy and I quickly learned that food and learning should go hand in hand. My class received a nicely written invitation to the Princess Restaurant, and the next day the two classes gathered to find a classroom that had been magically turned into a restaurant with common desks transformed into the most classy tables with the addition of vases of wild flowers, and only the freshest and most classy food in town (Strawberries, humus, and cookies!). The girls were the waitresses, the hostesses, and of course the hungry patrons!

2. Songs!- We are encouraged to use songs as a way of increasing our girls speaking speed, so this semester my girls started off with “I am Woman” then went to “Hold On” by B*Witched and are finishing off with “Firework” by Katy Perry. I tried to stick with motivating songs. I was so proud yesterday when I gave each person in the class a solo, and each girl had the confidence to sing by themselves. I think it attests to the safe zone that Amy and I have worked so hard to create at the school. The girls at Aiashia have really become a family, and to me, that’s more valuable than any strides they have made in mastering the English language.

3. Sports- After each class we run about 30 minutes of sports. This has typically taken the form of basketball since some brilliant architect placed the basketball hoops directly in front of the soccer goals. Some days we have played hide and seek, in which, the full circle around the large building turns each round into a high-speed chase of who can sprint in a circle faster than the person who is it. A few days I have taught the girls some Taekwondo and self-defense which went over really well.

4. Plays- Amy and I both enjoyed doing dialogs with our girls. Mine did two Dr. Seuss scripts, the Lorax and Yertle the Turtle, though Amy takes the cake on this endeavor. Her girls did the Three Billy Goats Gruff. This included desks being made into a bridge that the goats could walk across and the troll could hide under, teaching ten-year olds to charge with their fingers in the shape of goat horns, and of course a lot of “Trippity, trap, trippity, trap!” I proudly made my guest appearance as the Big Billy Goat, but was out acted by the well mastered Troll voice of little Tala.

The program has no specific curriculum which has allowed me to mold my class as I see fit. This has eased my concerns a bit about being a language imperialist simply spreading my language to these kids who meanwhile have bigger problems, thanks in large part to financial contributions to their occupying force from my government. As you can see, I still think about it a lot, but I am proud to say that I believe my classroom has become a place of joint learning and mutual growth between all the students and myself as well.

I have 3 more days of teaching and then I think I am done teaching ESL forever, but I hope to stay in touch with these lovely ladies who will never know the extent to which they have helped me.

The Victims

In an article I wrote recently for the annual Newsletter for the International Club at our school, I recalled the events of my first border crossing from Amman to Nablus across the Sheik Hussein Bridge this past October.

I concluded with the following:

“This story is neither the calmest nor the most provoking one I could share. Aadi, عادي , is the Arabic word used for “normal” or “standard.”

When a sound bomb, an empty explosive that creates a massive boom that is used as a fear tactic by Israeli military, went off during class one of my girls said to me “Aadi”.

When we asked a local boy if we could spray-paint the massive concrete wall that divides the Arab lands from those currently controlled by Israel, including some settlements outside of the Green line, he said Aadi.

My experience on the border that day was about the same as each other time I crossed, and when my other friends with Arab names and heritages tried to cross. This crossing was Aadi.

I am not trying to demonize any party in this conflict, but simply pose the question: what are the repercussions for any society, when constant presence of a military becomes Aadi, the norm? A 18 year old girl with an M4 Assault rifle: Aadi, Roads blocked by equally young boys with even more ammunition: Aadi. Fighter jets flying overhead in formation: Aadi.

Occupation has become so ingrained in every life here, that the children don’t wince at the presence of a gun or look at the planes in the sky.”

Since pressing send on the email with my article, I had pushed this thought to the back of my mind, yet today my house mates and I had a heart-twisting reminder of the violent culture that is so pervasive in Nablus society.

“We have a dog” he said as he awoke me from my nap.

Well, similar words had been said multiple times in this household.

“We have frogs” because a kid at school needs us to take care of them.

“We have a bunny,” correction- “We have 2 bunnies.” When the kids at the private school my roommates works at had taken a field trip to Jericho, been permitted to purchase rabbits, then returned them to school at the insistence of less than thrilled parents.

Yet, the announcement of a dog was accompanied by a serene facial expression, and a tone that implied a story worth hearing.

His ears had become healed over stubs on the top of his head, surgically removed by a knife and a human hand. His tail had reached the same fate, only more recently, so its weak body had not yet patched over this wicked damage. His eyes showed resignation and terror. He displayed no will to fight, no bark, growl, or showing of the teeth, even as six humans, (no different from those who had caused him this pain) sat watching him cower in silence.

Immediately, I felt rage at the street kids who would throw rocks at, pee on, and cut up a living thing. While too often people cite the Quran for permitting violence, everything I had read in the Quran, been taught in Sunday school and from my dad so strongly condemned this senseless violence. Yes, according to the Quran animals are on earth for humans to use, yet halal meat, meat butchered according to religious expectations, must include the animal being killed mercifully, without seeing the blade, and to be treated humanely up to being butchered. Surely, the treatment this dog had endured should be shunned by a conservative Muslim community. Then my concluding question from the article I wrote came into my mind.

I began to imagine the kind of life a child must have had to cut the ear off a dog. Of course, I will never know the exact life of that child, but it isn’t so hard to speculate. Most street shabab are around 13 years old. When they were about 4 years old these children experienced an intifada that I can only hope most people live their entire lives without witnessing. Israel occupied the city invading homes. Fatah, the prevalent political party in Nablus developed street militias consisting of young Palestinian men. These militias meekly opposed the Israeli forces. The members of those gangs, many of which finished the intifada in a cell or a grave, were these children’s fathers and brothers. After the physical presence of Israeli militants in the city subsided, leaving more than 500 dead and 3,000 wounded in a city the size of Pueblo, it still remained almost impossible to travel to the city due to road closure. Until recent years it was impossible to drive into the city, and people entering would have to cross a road barrier to board a bus or another car. This suffocated the already war-injured economy of Nablus, that had once dominated the Palestinian market with Olive Oil and Olive Oil Soap.

The dog was found in the old city, one of the poorest areas of town. Martyr posters line the walls with young faces who have died in opposition to the occupation. Faces from 63 years ago, 44 years ago, 10 years ago, last week. New posters are plastered over the old.

Many mornings Ben, or as you know him, Writhnar the Destroyer of Worlds, would announce to those gathered at the kitchen table, the news he had read from his Nablus search in Google news.

“Another Nabulsi was killed outside Nablus last night by settlers.” Like a broken record his words were too often the same. Another young man killed.

Drink tea at a friend’s house, learn of his jail time. Call on a neighbor; learn of how their house had been invaded by the IDF to use as a lookout point. Men born into, raised, and dying in war-torn streets, taught to fight, as a brother, father, friend, enemy….falls.

Should it be surprising then that these men hit their wives and their kids? No, it isn’t because the Quran says you can beat your wife (only with light force that doesn’t leave a mark according to most translations.) Young boys showing up to school with bruises on their bodies. Is it from their father? Or another street boy who was hit by his father?

Just yesterday a boy pulled a knife on one of our female teachers who worked in one of the refugee camps. Earlier in the semester, a student pulled a knife on another student for insulting his mom.

Though, as I focus too hard on the traces of violence, I fear I am demonizing this deep-rooted and astonishing culture. Nabulsi people are some of the most hospitable and morally ground people I have ever met. Aside from being deeply rooted in their faith, (which I view as a testament to their morality, yet others argue explicates the violence) the people here have a strong sense of community and family, work hard in school and show genuine interest in the wellbeing of strangers. Violence is in fact the break from the norm that stands out like an infectious disease-spreading over its victim. It is a foreign specimen intoxicating the local breed, and its victims are everywhere, including curled up in what was once a rabbit hutch on our porch.

 

http://www.euronablus.eu/eunab/index.php?option=com_content&view=section&layout=blog&id=8&Itemid=70

THIS is cultural exchange!- Guest post by Writhnar, destroyer of worlds.

***Caution!!! This post goes there. Gramma, PLEASE STOP READING NOW! I try to keep all adult topics to a minimum, but this gorgeously crafted (and highly fictional) piece was too brilliant and hilarious for censorship. Not to mention, I have heard Ben’s crazy stories and I know he would use all methods of rioting, boycotting, etc. to oppose my censorship if I tried to do so. Enjoy this piece but take it lightly.***

“Suck my dick”. Never had the words been spat with such vitriolic affection. But as Sara used those 3 most eloquent lexical items in response to some simple request it was clear that no English Language sentence would ever sum up her character, personality and life philosophy with such aplomb. It was also clear that my guest column on her blog had been given the clearance tobe rated 18. Which is probably referred to as “Rated R” in that strange backwater of a cultural wasteland that our emotionally stunted cousins from across the pond insist on calling home.

Allow me to backtrack for a second. “Guest column?” I hear you cry en masse “Didn’t we already have to put up with one of these from some cynically bitter and sarcastic Canadian?” Well, yes, you did. And now you are to be treated to a second one written, appropriately enough, by some cynically bitter and sarcastic Brit. Eventually, perhaps, we’ll gather a collection of narcissistic, bitter young men from every country in the world to infect these pages with their barely concealed self-loathing and anger. A United Nations, if you will, of sneering sarcasm and poisonous prose.

My name is Ben, I am twenty six years old and I teach with Sara in Nablus, Palestine. But that sounds so mundane, so for the purposes of the next few hundred words or so let’s pretend that my name is, in fact, “Writhnar, destroyer of worlds”, that only three people know my real age and two of them were killed in mysterious circumstances involving a herd of bison and a Satanic cult, and that Sara and I met when I was busy saving hundreds of orphans from a burning building while she stripped to her underwear in an effort to seduce me, ignoring the plight of the burnt and smoke-coughing children I was in the process of rescuing.

Skip to today, just a few hours ago. There I sit, perusing that modern oracle of social activity, the almighty facebook, when it becomes apparent through Sara’s own shameless self promotion of her blog that Adem has been allowed to write and publish a guest column. Fury fills my normally placid heart and I begin to demand answers. Why has Adem got a guest blog? Why is Adem special? Is it because he’s Canadian? What makes Canadians special? Is it the maple syrup and moose sex? I bet it’s the maple syrup and moose sex, isn’t it Sara? If I eat sauce from a leaf and indulge in bestiality do I get special treatment? I think I spotted a lemon tree and a stray cat outside, will that do?

At this point Sara agrees to let me become the second guest column writer on her beloved blog. Ostensibly on the promise that I’ll stop referring to moose sex but secretly because she respects me as a writer, values my opinion and can’t stop thinking about that magical day she set fire to an orphanage in order to make my acquaintance.

So here I am, searching for a topic. I have already dismissed the idea of a long and detailed post on Manchester United’s amazing comeback against West Ham yesterday in an enthralling Premier League clash that saw Wayne Rooney rediscover the form that makes him one of the most lethal strikers in the world. Partly because I begin to bore even myself when I discuss football at such length but mostly because I’m assuming Sara’s readership is mostly made up of North Americans upon whom such a post would be wasted as they struggled to identify the word “football” as referring to a game played largely with one’s feet. And without such a mess of padding and helmets that one might as well stick a big group of athletes in padded cells, throw in an oddly shaped ball,
televise it (with an advertising break any time someone inhales, exhales or blinks) and call it “sport”.

So in order to play to the audience Sara had so delightfully offered me I thought I would need to look closer to home. A mutual interest or shared fascination between me and you, the reader. Suddenly the spotlight turned from the outside world to the apartment in the West Bank in which I currently reside. It focused a little, its narrow beam illuminating one individual in particular. Sara would be blinded by such an intense and brilliant light if she wasn’t, in this metaphor, bound to a chair, gagged, blindfolded and utterly terrified by the unwieldy chaos I may be about to bring to her blog.

My first thought was of developing a Freudian analysis of Sara’s facebook page, from the distinctly phallic connotations of the way she’s “grabbing wood” in her profile picture onwards, but it seems a cheap jibe and although I know Sara loves the way we ridicule each other on a daily basis, I think she’d just be offended if my insults got that lazy. Next I wondered if we should, collectively,perhaps, psychoanalyse Sara’s ridiculous compulsion to swear. I mean, I’m no silver fucking tongued angel of innocence myself but this girl takes the biscuit. Or cookie, for my American friends. Casual swearing is one thing, I might even argue that the sparse and well deployed use of a cuss word can add infinitely more emphasis to one’s speech than its omission, but addressing a class full of Palestinian schoolchildren with the phrase “Whaddup, mother-bitches, are we gonna fuck shit up today or whaaaaat?” goes a little far for my liking. Regardless, I decided that affliction was one for her counsellor, and the authorities, to deal with and possibly not appropriate content for an online publication that might later be used against her in a potential lawsuit by some disturbed child’s understandably shaken parents.

So instead I find myself perusing her creations on this typically twenty first century indulgence, aweblog, in order to find inspiration. I’m immediately struck by the way her mastery of the language weaves its way through carefully constructed passages and intelligently thought out arguments. I’m then struck by how little she has chosen to write about her time here and the topic of my blog is chosen.

I don’t know if it’s born of laziness or perhaps a horribly frustrating case of writer’s block that has led to such a lack of updates. If I’m honest, dear reader, I must confess that I believe it’s a symptom of nothing more than her inherent contempt and disrespect for you, her readership, on a very personal and individual level. Clearly you are blessed to be reading the words of a columnist who actually cares for each and every one of you, like a litter of lost puppies found, scared, alone and neglected in a dark corner of cyberspace. Don’t worry, everything’s ok now, Ben is here to care for you my loveable, if shambolic (and possibly diseased) pack of mutts.

So Sara’s time in Palestine will now be told as it should be, through the eyes of someone who lived it with her, who rode the rollercoaster alongside her, comforting each other at the lowest lows and hiding the crack pipe from each other when everything got a little too high. Here’s the story the world should know, the one that will be told for generations, though possibly only as a cautionary tale of warning against the dangers of “Perfect”, the cheapest brand of vodka in Palestine. Here is Sara’s story:

Sara came to Palestine on a chariot of heartbreak and betrayal that would leave even Judas Iscariot claiming she’d been harshly done by and his mate Jesus asserting that she should forget all this “other cheek” crap and wreak some decidedly violent revenge. Her emotional plight was one that would have broken a different person, far away from home and confused by the strange accent of a portly British man who she had been forced to share an apartment with.

But where some would have cracked, Sara strode on. An inner strength, obtuse stubbornness and insistence on playing a particular Helen Reddy song on repeat to the point where even a note of that tune is enough to make an entire apartment in Nablus threaten to kill the person playing it, refused to let her quit. A teacher she had planned to be, and an amazing one she would become. Her teaching skills were not limited to the classroom, though. She became the Arabic reference to all the plodding ignorant souls who trod heavily into her life, unable to even order a cup of tea in thecorrect language. She even managed to educate me, a self confessed theatre snob, on the wonders of musical theatre. Never before had I realised the acronym “OBC” referred to anything other than countries such as the USA and Palestine, I simply thought she was talking about “Old British Colonies”.

She became a student, too. Improving her own Arabic both at a grammatical level and, more importantly, by dedicating an entire page of her notebook to some of the most obscene and offensive insults the language has to offer. I had never thought of it before, but I’m proud to know somebody who is familiar with the Arabic for “I’m going to rip your leg off and shove it up your ass”. In fact, I think it’s an association my life was lacking until this point. She also took up guitar lessons, forcing herself to attend at the end of long days when the most effort I could make was to open another bottle of illicitly procured wine in this dry city.

There have been losses along the way. We still mourn our beloved pet rabbits, Backflip andVelveteen, who died in mysterious circumstances. I’m not suggesting foul play at all, but let’s just say that in the absence of a reliable autopsy we can only assume some cold hearted Coloradan murdered them in their sleep.

She has travelled, danced, joked and imbibed her way around the West Bank and helped to create a sanctuary of a kitchen area where no subject is too taboo and no accidental innuendo is allowed to go unnoticed. She has acquired a coffee machine where some thought the task impossible and she has retained a sense of fearless adventure that will doubtless one day see her killed by a sting ray while filming for a new television show in Australian waters.

So, for fear of allowing this to turn into some hippy love fest that destroys my own deliberately crafted facade of detached cool, I shall simply sum up by saying that Sara has proved herself to be a good housemate and a wonderful friend. Vomit, clear throat, brush teeth, get back to the insults.

What will come in the next month is an even more exciting thought than the memories of the previous two. Trips have been planned, ideas discussed and, as always, if we can rely on nothingelse we can rely on the fact that Sara will drag the rest of our ragged bunch into some adventure or other. She’ll probably get us lost, possibly get us killed and undoubtedly get us drunk but we’ll all come out of it (potentially) with a story to tell. And if we do manage to survive through some odd combination of good fortune and the pity other people may take on us, I’d like to come back to report on such happenings here on Sara’s blog, if she’ll allow me another go.

We Want You!

Hello to the 60 or so people who read Ms.Fitouri’s blog. I am one of her colleagues at Teach for Palestine and when I joked with her about giving me a guest column I never expected I’d have to do it. Now I’m stuck writing this column on her laptop with the s key that sticks. I’ll just treat this column like I did my university work, wait until the day of the deadline and make something up.

How did I become a teacher in Palestine you ask? Well great question let’s run with that. When I was in university there would always be job fairs at the student centre. The usual business companies and what not would try to convince you why accounting was fun or how marketing was a creative process where you picked an old top 40 song to sell hotel rooms. The two that promised travel with little requirements were the military and teaching English abroad.

While Canada’s military might is not on the level of the USA’s juggernaut it still exists. They promised positions in exotic locales like Fort McMurray or Afghanistan and if I reached the rank of captain I may even get to use one of the 10 guns my armed forces own. The only problem with making this choice was the whole following orders thing. Maybe if there was a war in an interesting place I’d of signed up.

Teaching abroad stood out for me because I could go interesting places where I didn’t know the native language and demand that youth and adults alike speak English. Most places just wanted me to be a native speaker and have a degree not really carrying about much else. It was like being an imperialist or signing up for Vietnam. They needed bodies, especially in South East Asia, and if I could string together a sentence with an America, Canadian, Australian, or British accent I was a candidate. Well game on.

I’d encountered ESL teachers before in Beijing when I was there for a semester abroad. They complained about their students, talked politics, and when toasting all used different languages. The few I hanged around with knew all the best places to eat and bizarre vacation spots. Nothing compares to going to a zoo and feeding a tiger a live goat. The life they lived seemed fast and reckless, which I was used to, but done in a foreign setting, which made it seem hilarious. A night out involved; translating strange texts, eating insects, drinking Chinese moonshine, arguing with a butcher about the price of dog meat, entering karaoke competitions and having Nigerians offer you strange powders. Definitely something I could get used to.

Teaching in Palestine isn’t like teaching in Beijing. We do complain about are students and talk politics, but none of the crazy Chinese antics are found here. I’ve started looking at jobs in Beijing. I also might try Latin America or Africa after this.
I think that has killed enough space to make Sara happy. She isn’t around right now so I can’t ask. Let’s just assume it is. The Blue Jays won yesterday 13-3 against the Minnesota Twins which was awesome. Go Jays.

Until it Falls

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I am Wise, but It’s Wisdom Born of Pain

1 year and 364 days after he and I started dating, he broke up with me. 3 days before I travelled across the world to Nablus, Palestine, with the naïve dream of spending a whole 3 months with him after what was, for me at least, the most painful year and seven months living apart, he decides he doesn’t want me anymore. I was destroyed. My towers were crumbling down. Then, as the plot in my love story thickens, I find out that while I was spending my time wishing we were together, he had already gotten over me and by the time he broke up with me, I had been replaced. Yes, replaced.  In a plot so cruel that only reality could compose it, she has the same name as me, is full Arab, and one of my new coworkers. (At the time he informed me of this, I was living in the same house as her) Yes, my life had turned overnight into a living nightmare. For days it seemed the only positive thing that could come of my wretched state was that someday I could sell my story to become a Hollywood film, or at least a lifetime movie.

A day shy of 2 years. Too late to not get on the plane. Sara doesn’t quit even after being discarded like a day old newspaper.  I thought I was too special to be replaced. Well, I was wrecked. Am wrecked.

Cruelty is augmented when its source claims to love you, and stings for longer when that love is reciprocated.

As important as a love, he had become a best friend.

Sanity in the Most Insane Form

I spent an entire week sleeping and crying. Here I was in a new place, a place just a week earlier he had promised we would experience together, and I couldn’t get out of bed. I was nauseous at the smell of food and completely alone. How that week did not include me drinking myself to death or conclude with me on a plane headed to Ithaca, NY will forever be a testament to my inner strength.

Then the new teachers arrived. As they pulled up in the car I was thankful for the five distractions that lugged their bags into the house. Our clan of teachers is the least homogenous group I have ever had the privilege to be a part of. We were all different colors, sizes, and ages, have drastically different senses of humor, tastes in music, and experiences, yet, so far at least, we all seem to fit together like a puzzle.

I bonded with my new friends using the fear of future regret as motivation to begin building friendships and for the first time, I smiled. I laughed. For hours at a time I hid the tears. My new roommate had the best attitude and could rarely be seen without a smile on her face. The new boys were crazy exciting and amazingly supportive. But still I could barely eat, I had no focus, and I felt like the pieces of garbage that litter each Nablus street.

Struggling from malnourishment and a substantial decrease in desire, my mind struggled to comprehend the labyrinth I had somehow gotten myself into.  Who was I? Why had I trusted another person so much that his violating that trust (at an explosive magnitude) could so utterly destroy me? How could anyone that I loved so much, and would have done anything for, be so selfish?

My new friends were a distraction and offered shoulders to cry on, gentle words, and encouragement. With nights of sacrilegious conversations in the kitchen, newly created inside jokes, and always a hot pot of tea being made, there was the perfect amount of insanity to divert me from going insane.

A Rational Mind

I walked out of bed one morning to find a new face in our living room. Every now and then you meet someone and immediately know that this is someone you will miss once they were gone. Linda was one of those, and in fact she was gone quite soon as she was only volunteering with TFP for one week. A beautiful combination of a Turkish mother and Palestinian Father, Linda holds herself with pride. And, while many would point to her elaborately styled Hijab as evidence of weakness and submission, she is one of the strongest girls I have ever met. Though, she did suggest I don’t put my private life on the internet, an ignored suggestion perhaps soon regretted, I have to share just one more personal story to illustrate how Linda worked her magic.

I must backtrack to Christmas.

The Story of the Kindle

As X always loved to read, he was disappointed that he wasn’t able to get many books in Nablus.  I realized at this point that a Kindle would be the perfect Christmas present for him, since he would be away for a full year. The problem was, since I was in Amman, there were no Kindles to be found. I was determined, so I contacted his sister about splitting the costs. Then I asked my mother to please order a Kindle from Best Buy ($200) then mail it to me ($50). My mother happily helped because she realized it was important to me. Then I had to spend 5 hours hassling to get it out of Jordanian Customs and paid $40 in taxes. This entire process had already taken 2 months arrangements, a lot of time, and money, but it was important to me because I knew he would love it when I gave it to him on our trip to the Dead Sea scheduled for the weekend before I returned home to the US. But then, he cancelled the trip the week of, and simply suggested that I leave whatever my present was for him in Colorado. Ouch. Incredibly disappointed, I tried hard to be the understanding girlfriend and kept trying, I asked a friend of mine who was going to the West Bank for Christmas if she would carry it across the border and deliver it for me along with some other goodies I’d hoped would make him smile. Here I had spent a lot of money, enlisted my mother and a friend’s help and managed to get a Kindle to him in the fucking occupied territories. But I wanted to because I loved him.

Christmas came and went. I kept wondering what he was going to do for me. I anticipated a package in the mail. Perhaps he would give it to me once I arrived in Nablus.

Nothing.

Next day, still nothing.

Nothing.

Nothing.

With each passing conversation, each passing day, Christmas disappeared further into the past yet he gave no mention of any gift for me, though he did thank me for his Kindle.

It wasn’t until a month later he broke up with me, yet he had blown off Christmas.

In one of our two terrible conversations we have had since I got here, I brought up Christmas, and how he had blown it off. He said he hadn’t and that he had a gift for me. Feeling a little less hurt I put my hands out to receive an unwrapped, no note included, Keffiyeh, which is a scarf. They cost 20 shekels (approximately $6). He bought it at a factory that he had gone to with a group of people, which I am fairly certain included my replacement. They had gone several weeks after Christmas.  It wasn’t the price of the gift that hurt. It was the effort, or complete lack of. While I had tried my best to make sure my gift said in a million ways, I love you, his was a fuck you.

-Back to Linda-

I explained this story to Linda on one of my better days, seriously trying to ponder how any human could receive a gift so clearly wrapped in affection (including a hand stitched case) and reciprocate with a gift no better than a last-minute airport present purchased out of obligation.

That is when she said it. “Could the $200 Kindle/20 shekel scarf be a metaphor for your entire relationship?”

and then I realized how right she was. I had always been willing to put in the $200 effort and constantly received a 20 shekel response. (Again, metaphorical, it wasn’t the price that was the problem, of course)

“You are not a 20 Shekel girl”

Her words resonated for a moment. She was right. I am not a 20 shekel girl. The thought was empowering and allowed me to fully open my tear swollen eyes, which coupled with dark shadows from days without sleep had become a part of the new face that cast back from the mirror on the days I had bothered to get out of bed and check my appearance. Why had I let myself be used and treated like trash? Why had I ever allowed it to get to a point where I could be thrown away?

While I was so caught up on what I deserved in comparison to the effort I put in, I hadn’t realized the truth. He didn’t deserve me. He doesn’t deserve me. Even now, he doesn’t deserve the tears I am crying at 3 am because I can’t sleep from the pain, so I’m writing a blog post instead.

During Linda’s few days with us in Nablus, I quietly celebrated my first day not crying in 22 days. A small triumph.

As I prepared to send Linda off in a taxi she said to me “stay strong, super woman.”

Head up

Yes, I still cry most days. And each tear is another drop that I will never forgive him for. I still question my value after being treated like dirt. I wonder why I wasn’t worth treating with the decency I wouldn’t deny any human, let alone someone I had claimed to love.

My girls have become the light in my days. This past week we began learning to sing I Am Woman by Helen Reddy. While the bright young ladies I have the pleasure of teaching love the lyrics and music, they’re oblivious to the fact that teacher is relying on their singing to keep her sensible, especially since 2 rooms down, the new girl is working with her girls. My roommate and coworker is not so oblivious, and laughs at our class as we belt out.

I have started making my own relationships with the people to which, 3 months ago I was simply the girlfriend, and with the new people who never knew the two of us.  I have sat at the same restaurants we had both gone to together, but this time with better people and now, I no longer wish he was sitting in the chair next to me.

Soon, Nablus will not reek of him, but will smell the sweetness of home and true friends.

I hope to find my smile again. The one I see when I look through old high school photos. I’ve joked with the people here about wanting to be re-virginatized from the realities of the world.I feel like I have aged 10 years in the past 6 months, referring not only to being romantically burned, but also to the pain I have seen in many of my friends’ (locals and foreigners) eyes when they tell about their time in prison, their abusive ex-boyfriends, and a yearning for a home that does not include large guns and sound bombs. The high school Sara knew that things don’t end happily ever after, but she didn’t believe it. Somewhere between “Once upon a time” and where I am now, that reality has set in. Getting out of the country expedited the realization. The high school me is a stranger. I value the wisdom I have gained from travelling. And while I’ll flirt with the desire for innocence, I know that it is both impossible and unprefered, but it must be possible to recreate the emotions of joy and hope that I see in my younger eyes with what I know now.

Oh yes, I am wise
But it’s wisdom born of pain
Yes, I’ve paid the price
But look how much I gained
If I have to
I can do anything
I am strong(strong)
I am invincible(invincible)
I am woman

Salaam, Habibi

Sara