Using Another’s Words When I Fail to Find My Own

One of the most blatant reminders that you are in the west bank is the massive, concrete wall that separates Israel proper from the Palestinian territories. Built along Israeli’s re-imagined version of the green line- readapted to claim new lands- this barrier slices through land disregarding tradition, ownership, families, and UN declaration. I saw the wall many times, and twice stopped and walked along it. Each time I was overcome with an emotion that never formulated itself into a coherent post, so one of the more glaring reminders of occupation has had little mention in the too many words I have posted over the last year. (I did post some pictures, which can be found here!)

Luckily, I have Ben , who has done a wonderful job at often providing words (and posts) when I fail to find my own. Besides being a firefighter, known for saving an entire orphanage (if you don’t know what I am referring to, read this!), a brilliant and compassionate human, and a damn good teacher, he is also an artist. Ben composes melodic and gorgeous poetry, which he will happily perform for a good cause, or the relentless pleadings of his “flat”mates in Palestine. Here I include the poem he composed following our trip to the Wall, as well as a video of another piece of his. If you find Ben as amazing as I do, I recommend you like him on facebook! Also, I must brag, that the friend he falsely refers to as much wiser than himself in the last line is me. Though, rather than proving my wisdom, this line simply juxtaposes his powerful articulation with my crude assertions.

THE WALL

Once in Berlin I saw it spelled out
In letters so high they seemed to shout
“The world” it said “Is too small for walls”
So I eagerly wait for this one to fall

An ugly grey line pushes over the hills
Destroying the beauty of the land that it fills
And standing in front of it, dwarfed like a child
By its imposing nature and its sheer massive size
I see intimidation and a needless divide
So I lean my head backwards and I look to the sky
And there, just for a moment, I find some peace
In the creatures that soar and that glide above me

The birds fly so freely over the top
Of this thing that’s constructed only to stop
People moving and living as they might like
But the birds see no walls in their free open skies.

The feeling here, though, is not just depression
This isn’t just a symbol of hateful oppression
For a construction founded on racism
That seeks to create a fake prison
Has been reclaimed and given a new heart
By the spraypainted collage of words and art

For if we’ve learned one thing from our history
It’s that one of the things that makes us unique
Is the way we create beauty where none should exist
And the way we find hope and a way to resist.

So as I witness this concrete, so long and so tall
I comfort myself with the knowledge that walls
Are never built to stick around
And that this one, too, will come crashing down.

So to quote a friend much wiser than me
On the nature of inevitable decay
“One day we’ll all be buying a piece
Of this stupid fucking thing on eBay”

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Aadi

I realized when I left Amman, that I had every possible scenic photo for every place in the Hashemite Kingdom, but didn’t have any pictures of my school or the place I lived. Aadi, has become one of my favorite Arabic words. It means “normal”. In Amman I never thought about documenting what had become my standard day, so the most time and thought consuming parts of my time there went undocumented.

Learning from my mistakes, I am making this post about the things that have become Aadi in my life.

Roosters and Chickens in the Market- Better not to discuss their fate with Amy!

My running mind awakes me at 8:00 am sharp every day. Sometimes 7:56 or 8:02 but never more than 5 minutes off the 8 o’clock mark. The first semester since I was 4 years old where I have no obligations until 2:30 pm, and my body decides it wants more morning time. Fine, wake up. Do some class prep on the computer, and 2 hours later… Roommate’s home! This is exciting because, 1. She will convince me to get out of bed or 2. She will make coffee.

Drink coffee and the day can start. As alluded to by Ben, or should I say Mr.Delicious Pita everyday! Writhnar, I found a coffee maker. First week here, before my housemates had arrived, I did an analysis of the items at my disposal. Limited hot water, no problem (though I wish I could shower every day, there are worse things). No microwave, that makes reheating food hard, but I’ll survive. I made my compact list of 2 items I would need in order to survive the semester; A coffee maker and a curling iron! My determination increased with each English teacher who told me I would fail at both fronts, and after 3 weeks, I noticed that one of the Palestinian friends I had met had a coffee machine, and after inquiring upon where they had found the rare and marvelous device they insisted that I take it with me.  Coffee. Caffeine. Life’s fuel.

Amy and I will often depart from the house around 10 if we want to go to our favorite restaurant for breakfast. Hamza, the cute waiter, as he is referred to in our group doesn’t even bother bringing a menu anymore. Shakshouka all around and a few coffees and teas! Aadi.

The first time I went to this restaurant was with X. The first time my fellow teachers tried to drag me in there, I refused. Funny the things you will miss if you limit yourself for stupid reasons. Not only did my roomie drag me in there, she made me sit at the exact table he and I had. Well, the food taste better without him there, and now we go at least once a week. Any less and the Cute Hamza will feel neglected.


Ibrahim working his magic making Kababs!

The days we don’t go to the restaurant we may go to the campus food center which has delicious egg and parsley sandwiches for 3.5 shekels (about a dollar).  Other options include a falafel from one of the many places along our walk to school, or a kabab (vegetarian Amy does not participate L ) from Ibrahim’s store. Ibrahim had a small hole in the wall where all effort lost on décor and ambiance is put into the food. Nothing fixed a day like Ibrahim’s kababs.

Then we go to the office to print whatever we need to print, and then comes the best part of the day…. Our walk to school!

Al Nijah University, literally right out our window.

We start by walking down a massive hill from the Al Nijah University, the large university just across the street from us, past the cemetery, to the old city. We enter the old city to begin the trek through the hoards of people out shopping.

“Football!” or “Hello” we hear. While the constant attention is trying, we have gotten used to it. Within the old city are many of my favorite places. The best kanafeh ever, and cause for me regaining all the weight I initially lost when I got here, is found in a

Inside the beautiful cemetery. We had to cover our heads to go in.

small shop along our route. Amy usually drags me away from the kanafeh and makes me wait until after class to get some. The first section is more quiet, with a lot of homes and few shops, but as we get further inside, the streets become lined with men selling fruits and vegetables, and shops selling everything from lingerie to towels. Men carry trays of tea, women carry babies, and we carry the basketballs… the biggest attention getter of all….

“Football!” We hear. Nope, basketball we think. I correct the younger children in Arabic. Not surprised, while basketball is more common, sport and ball are synonymous with football/soccer here. Men make gestures trying to get us to pass them a ball. Boys come up asking if they can play with them. Seriously, life would be easier, and our trip quicker, without the damn balls. We make note of which fruits and vegetables are plentiful that week, and decide what we want for dinner so we can make purchases on our way home.

The outside of the Kanafeh shop. MMMMMMM!

The constant attention and calling are tolerable. Though, how half of the old city came to learn my name, I don’t know. I think it is because I played football one day with some of the boys from the Teach for Palestine boys site, and those boys also help sell fruits on the street, but now when people call me they are calling by name. A few marriage offers have been made as well, leading our household to have the rather serious discussion of what they would be willing to marry me off for. I believe the going rate is some horses for Amy, some camels for the boys, and large amounts of kanafeh for all. Maybe our boys have been in this world a little too long if they are negotiating the price for my marriage. If a group does become a problem, we are never far from one of the various stands or stores we frequent, where the male shop owner will be willing to shoo our harassers away.

Juice Shop!

To drink we would often stop at the fruit juice stand just around the way from Aiashia, the school we teach at. Most often we get fresh squeezed orange juice when it is just the two of us, but occasionally we will take a class fieldtrip with the girls to get what they call cocktails. Sorry to disappoint, no alcohol here. Cocktails are more like our sundaes, including bananas, nuts, ice cream, and syrup. Our trips usually included short English lessons where we taught the girls the names of all the ingredients in English. Gotta justify the outing somehow.

And this, for now at least is my Aadi. To read about my teaching read this post or this one or watch my girls sing. The various evening shenanigans we get into have been well alluded to by my guest posters, Ben and Adem  so I will allow you to infer the rest.

Pictures of the Rescued Dog

While in Palestine I wrote this post about a dog that our apartment had rescued of the streets. (read it here) During his short stay in our apartment (a tough situation as it is forbidden to have a dog in a  Muslim home, and there was an entire Muslim family living in our same building) he was given the name Conrad. I thought I would share some pictures of him with you.

As for Conrad, we gave him lots of food to give him some strength and then my roommates released him on the wealthier end of town where hopefully he will be safe. 

Better than Good

The poster on Ms. Amy’s classroom wall read “Better than good”. Crafted by students as a class project, the girls were given words such as ‘Phenomenal’ and ‘Fabulous’ to use instead of the mundane ‘Good’ which is almost as over used as ‘Fine’ , the nationwide taught response to ‘how are you?’ In an empowering moment the girls had, on their own accord, included ‘I am’ all over the poster. Yet, convincing the individual girls here that they are better than good, has proved to be more of a challenge than the poster’s creation would imply.

We had planned a field trip to what is within Nablus debated, but internationally recognized, as the best Kanafeh shop in town. After seeing how the kanafeh was made, we pulled our students into the small hole in the wall to engage in what had become an at least weekly tradition with Amy and I, tasting and evaluating (aka just eating) this Nabulsi tradition.

“I can’t eat Kanafeh” one protested. After prodding the truth came out. “Because I’m fat.”

I looked at the properly thin 14 year old before me. “But I am bigger than you, am I fat?”

“Yes, but it’s OK because you are older.” Ouch.

I remembered the 14 year old me, who was thinner at the time, but didn’t feel any thinner. For some reason I assumed that removing dating from the scene and covering hair with a scarf would remove these pressures, but here this girl was struggling with the same weight expectation that had burdened me at her age. (And, while not as large of an insecurity, bothers me now.)

What seems to have become a universal demand on women to be stick thin and deny their appetites for, in this case, this delicate, cheesy, sweet weighs down on both our shoulders. Is it any surprise? As USian movies and TV shoes are mailed, downloaded, and illegally burned across the world, our anorexic, airbrushed actresses are becoming the envy of the young girls here, and while they will never be blonde, have blue eyes, or a seductive American accent, at least they can strive for skinny. Skinny is something anyone can be, and no one can be enough.

Handmade Mother’s Day Cards in hand, the exuberant girls were being herded to the front for a picture. As most girls anxiously awaited the camera’s flash, molding their practiced smiles for the camera, Tala held back.

“No picture”

“Why?” I asked Surely it wasn’t for religious reasons as Tala’s older sister was already posing with her card.

“Because I am not beautiful.”

Not beautiful. By the age of 11, not only had Tala developed and accepted a definition of beauty, but had confirmed that it was not her. I looked at her wildly curly hair and large eyes. Her features are bold and defining. To her, all the positive traits I could mention would not convince her that she was worthy of the term beautiful. Before hitting puberty, she was convinced that her appearance was sub par.

It is unfortunate that these girls are struggling to adhere to an impossible image. That after only 11 years, she could look in the mirror and find faults. Technology has entered us into an international age. The words of this blog are no longer limited to my diary as they may have been in the past, or even a local newspaper. As I press post these words are instantly sent throughout the world. Similarly, the movies that the Hollywood industry creates are no longer simply destroying the body image of the blonde hair and blue eyed population from which the actors and actresses were selected, but also that of the gorgeous young women in our classrooms who are, to me, way better than good.

It’s time for a name.

It has been over 1 year since I created this blog! I’ve been around the world, met a ton of crazy people, had various awakenings and digressions, and simply lived. I think it is time to find a name. I am going to set a deadline in my phone for Aug. 1st. So if you have any suggestions, please send them my way via comment, email, or carrier pigeon. Note that messages in a bottle will not be accepted for this transaction due to unpredictable and long delivery time.

Porn Flowers

I recently found the website for the  Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art, a section of the Brooklyn Museum entirely devoted to the feminist art movement.  I was particularly impressed by the large database of feminist artists and their work, a resource I have found to be unmatched by any other on the internets.

A recent search through the site introduced me to artist Yun Bai.

Look at the work below. Wait, what, is that a vagina? a tit? Thats right…

One of Yun Bai’s Porn flowers

She uses clippings from recycled porn magazines and acrylic paint to create these innocent looking, peaceful pictures.

“A Porn Flower symbolizes that “All women are flowers”, exemplifying that something beautiful can come out of a situation that most would deem difficult.” She explains on her website.

In this statement, she explains how she uses Craigslist’s “women seeking men” section to seek out old porn magazines.

“While pornography is a classic example of women’s objectification and exploitation, I use the imagery as a form of empowerment, thereby celebrating the spirit of all women.” She gives these images of women new light by transforming them from pages utilized for sexual pleasure, into a part of a beautiful image.

Needless to say, I tend to find her work as positive and innovating ( I would be lying to you if I said that I wasn’t itching to get my hands on an old porn magazine to give this a try)

My first reaction to this project was incredibly positive. In fact, it still overall is. There are only a few conflicting thoughts I have had.

First I question the morality behind re-displaying porn images which devalue and objectify women into a forum for even more people to see them. These pictures are a violation of women who are often manipulated into the industry, be it by economic hardships or other influences. Does simply changing the context in which these pictures are used justify the display of them, or is she simply continuing the abuse and manipulation for her own artistic needs, no different than how people originally used the images to fulfill sexual needs?  Your thoughts on this are invited.

Second, Would it have made a huge difference were they not recycled magazines? Would it be different if she had walked into a store and purchased the magazines? I think her statement would have been lost in the hypocracy of funding the very practice her art work is condemning.

Does she succeed in her pursuit of empowering the women in her work?

As I wrote before, I am interested in works social implications.

Yun Bai was an exotic dancer during college when her family fell on hard times after her mother was diagnosed with cancer. The sexual exploitation of women is clearly an issue she is entwined in.

Please share your thoughts and feelings.

What has art made you ponder today?

“Ars gratia artis”

The latin phrase surrounds the head of a roaring lion each time you watch a film by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

“Art for art’s sake”

Goes the noble translation, which does little to convince me that the same shallow romance story redone every few years with a constantly thinner damsel and ever rougher men to reduce her complete humanity to her skeletal figure- lips, ass, bust, and hair- is art. (MGM is not uniquely guilty of this plunder)

Art for art’s sake.

Few pieces of art these days seem to match the motivation stated in the slogan. Little is done today for the sake of art, and that which is, inevitably  has other underlying motivations. I could, of course, go on to blame our warped capitalism which insures that all life endeavors (if we are to attain the essentials to remain alive) have undertones of monetary value. I have even gotten to the point where I think of each move I make in green or red. (Though more of the latter as of late.)

Art for humanity’s sake.

Perhaps, instead we should value art as how it contributes to the greater conversation, specifically, its social influence, on how societal influences mold art, and how art in turn, shapes society. The beauty of this cyclical nature cannot be ignored.

To often people take a piece of art and try to critique it removed from its greater collection, its time period, its place in society. A flaw no different from taking a paragraph out of a holy scripture, and analyzing it removed from its religious connotations and historical significance. The problem is, the artist was a person within a social construct, that neither they or their art can be removed from. We cannot separate the painter from his place in society and more than we can separate the blue paint from the grey paint in his landscape’s sky.

A piece of art is more than what is on a canvas or in a song, it is  everything  that was around during its composition combined. It is a war, a romance, a depression. It is a class, a race, a decade. And, if this is true, as I strongly believe it is, our analysis of art is incomplete without truly incorporating these factors into our discussion.

I have long been interested in the politics of humanity. The structures that bind and control us. The freedom and enslavement found in being defined and composed of everything around us. It wasn’t until I began taking art classes this summer that I began to understand the impeccable and significant manner in which art embodies this concept, hence, why I am now devoting a section of my blog to Art, but not just cheap romance movies, Art that makes you think. I approach this endeavor not as a professional artist, or even an aspiring professional, but as an individual sharing my own reactions to various things; I invite you to do the same.

Comments, including links to other art, are not only encouraged, but pleaded for. A healthy dialog has more than one voice.