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.

The Unwanted Pilgrimage

We exited the elaborate courtyard whose massive walls surround some of the holiest sites for the Ibrahimic religions. To Muslims, this is the location where it is believed the prophet ascended to heaven. The site is extremely protected and many people try and are unable to enter. Having attempted multiple times to enter during the extremely short and oddly timed tourist hours, we, myself and a friend I had met at the hostel, had decided it was time to play the Muslim card, that is, use the fact that we come from Muslim families to get into the beautiful holy sites. For my friend, this was literally a card. She possessed one of the controversial Turkish ID cards. Heavily criticized for including the bearer’s religion, it was that small crescent moon and star on her card that had allowed her easy access into an area many religious pilgrims never step foot in. My US passport had offered no religious evidence, obviously, but my Arab name and Arabic quickly convinced the guard who had greeted us with the only too familiar “Closed today, Muslims only,” to let me in. So, head scarves in place, we had entered into the peaceful sanctuary about an hour before.

A small sample of the beautiful Byzantine art

A small sample of the beautiful Byzantine art

I was immediately mesmerized by the elaborate Dome of the Rock. Each inch of the massive structure is intricately designed with Byzantine art,and the gold domed roof, the staple of the Jerusalem skyline funded during renovations by Jordan, shines with a faith instilling vibrancy. Entrance into the Dome is prohibited, and while strict rules such as what religions can enter at what times, who guards the doors, and what places are off-limits are irritable to the curious visitor, it is diligent adherence to these rules that keeps the city from breaking out into violence. In fact, it was Ariel Sharon’s visit to the Temple Mount or Haram Al Sharif, (the name of the courtyard used by Jews and Muslims respectively) after Yasser Arafat refused to give up either the holy site or East Jerusalem during negotiations, which set off the First Intifada (Palestinian uprising) The solid rock under our feet was unsettled ground, and as I tried to capture the glow of the gold roof, its demand was no wonder to even myself, one of the biggest religious pessimists.

We had moved on to Al Aqsa Mosque. We had entered the prayer area and were hit with a calm wave of energy, a sensation similar to the feeling of entering an air-conditioned room after being out in the heat. The comforting feeling of entering the prayer room in a mosque had beckoned us in from the political controversy that remained all around. The women’s prayer room was humble. Every few feet another small book-case was overflowing with copies of the Quran, the Sunnah, and the Hadith. A few people had been scattered about the room praying quietly while we looked around.

Our final stop had been the Marwani Mosque. Known to some as Soloman’s Stables for the short period it had been used to hold horses during the Crusades. The mosque is located below ground. Recent renovations by the Israeli government underneath Al Aqsa have left visible cracks throughout Marwani, causing large protests from Muslims worldwide.

We exited through one of the 11 gates around the courtyard, slipping out near the Muslim quarter. The rain was beginning to fall, and we found ourselves seeking shelter under a falafel stand. Sick of falafel, but happy to be out of the rain, I ordered a small cup of humus and purchased a kilo of fresh pita bread. As we waited out the rain, we began speaking to an older Arab gentleman. After finding that I spoke some Arabic he began with the usual list of questions, the answers to which revealed that we were both of Arab origin, with Muslim fathers, and were, of course, therefore Muslim.

He immediately pulled us into the rain and beckoned us down the street to a location he didn’t find the need to share with us. Happy to have learned I am from Colorado, he began ranting in Arabic about the Colorado River, which he had seen on TV.

“It is a big river, but not as big as the Nile or the Amazon. “ He continued as if he did not hear my repeated inquiry as to where we were going. This sort of event may seem strange, but very often we were ushered into a shop for tea or cookies, so we followed without much question.

After about 5 minutes of walking down the soaked and muddy rock road of old Jerusalem we found ourselves at another entrance to the courtyard, whose wonders we had just experienced less than 30 minutes before. At this point what was going on became clear.

This man, upon discovering our Muslim heritage had taken to escorting us on a pilgrimage to the Temple Mound/ Haram Al-Sharif, not realizing that we had already been into the site. “Muslims only” came the warding off by the soldier at the gate. The old man approached the IDF guards and began explaining to them in Arabic, that while we do not look Muslim, we were in fact, and that they needed to let us in. The conversation that ensued included 2 languages and zero communication.

“Shukran Amu, bes….” (Thank you, Uncle, but…) I said to the old man, but he continued to argue with the guards, one of which had begun demanding our passports from us to see if we were Muslim.

“Amu, we went to Al Aqsa already,” I paid great attention to make sure I got the past tense correctly in the Arabic sentence so if he didn’t understand that we had already gone, maybe the guards would.

“Bil Araby” (in Arabic) He demanded that I communicate with him in Arabic. I was speaking Arabic. And very simple Arabic even.

At this point the guard was getting impatient. Having acquired my companion’s passport and religious verification, he turned to me.

“Give me your passport.” The old man continued to speak to the other guard in Arabic asserting our religion and insisting our admittance.

“I don’t want in.”

“Give me your passport.”

At this point surrendering my passport seemed easier than arguing. Was it because I was a woman that they weren’t listening to me, or because none of us spoke fluently the other party’s native tongue? Here the guards who spoke Hebrew to each other were speaking Arabic with the old man, but English with us. I was speaking, or I guess attempting to speak, Arabic with the old man, and English with the guards. And the old man was speaking a bit of English and Arabic. Regardless of the words being spoken, none were being heard.

I handed over my passport, which did little to convince the guard that I was Muslim. Having quieted the guard for a moment, I returned my focus to the Old Man, but he wasn’t listening to me, but rather waiting for the verdict on my entry from the guard.

“Recite the Quran” the guard demanded looking up from my passport

“I DON’T WANT IN!”

“If you are Muslim recite the Quran”

“No”

“Yalla, Al Fatiha” He demanded me to recite the first Surah in the Quran.

“Yalla,” the Old man echoed the guards command.

“FINE!” I gave in and at a speed hastened by my frustration and bafflement, I recited the most famous verse of the Quran. The guard, satisfied, gestured toward the gate. And submitting to our fate, we followed the old man into the familiar courtyard. Once inside the old man welcomed us and pointed out Al Aqsa Mosque. Satisfied in his success at taking two Muslim girls on one of the most significant pilgrimages they can make, he left out the gate.

We stood in silence staring at each other before we broke out laughing. Here we were at one of the most worshipped places, where thousands of Christian pilgrims are denied entry every day, especially on Fridays such as today when no tourists are permitted in due to Muslim prayer. In fact, many Christians have covered their heads and tried lying to get in (hence the recitation test). We had been lead there, and despite our drawn out resistance, been forced into the sanctuary.We took one last walk around the grounds then exited through a different gate.

Later that day, as we wandered through the mystical old city, we unintentionally started down one of the many small roads that end at one of the gates into the too familiar mound.

“Closed. Muslims only” came the call like a broken record.

“We know.” we giggled as our response puzzled the guard. We turned around. “All roads lead to Al Aqsa” became our old city wanderings mantra.

All roads lead to Al Aqsa.

Math Problem Gone Awry

 Being home is surreal. I have been going to an internship with an attorney in Denver, an experience that has reassured my conviction in my long set career path. I really enjoy the work I have been doing and could see myself doing this for a long time. At the same time I have been taking 2 art classes at a community college which have made me rethink my life trajectory. Here I am almost $100,000 in debt from school. After a few years of law school, that will be doubled. Sure, I will be set to embark on a successful career in a profession that I have no doubts I will be good at, but I am starting in a hole deeper than my parents and grandparents ever imagined at my age. I’ve rarely seen my bank account over $1,000, and now I owe 100 times that. It’s like a high school math problem gone wrong. I remember my algebra teacher teaching us that once you had come to an answer you had to look at it logically within the context of the problem to make sure it was correct. How many dollars will Sara owe at the end of her time in college? “Teacher, this doesn’t seem right. I think I have added too many zeros.” Nope, you did it correctly.  Now finish the problem. Convert that into months income, add interest…… AAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH

 

Meanwhile, my dirt cheap art courses have shown me that I am actually pretty good at art. I have picked up drawing really quickly. I keep wishing each class I was on a stage instead of in a studio, but never long to be in a politics or law course. Would it have been such a bad plan to go to community college for an arts major, then spend my life with a low paying job and little debt… looking out of my hole right now, I’m finding that path doesn’t look as useless and ridiculous as it once did.

Hello Tequila Produced Darkness, My Old Friend

*More brilliance from Ben! Enjoy!*
I view guest posts like the American military views illegal wars – one is never enough. So I return to you. Triumphantly, I would like to think, but as the only genuine obstacle I can really claim to be triumphing over is my own inherent laziness it seems like something of an empty statement. Once more, then, I invade this small section of the “blogosphere” in order to ejaculate my own personal brand of sarcasm and attempted wit into your eagerly reading eyes.

You’ve missed me, though, haven’t you? Admit it. You publicly pretended to be offended, disturbed or even uninterested in my last piece here but secretly you’ve been desperately waiting, hoping, hiding under the bedsheets late at night with the crumpled up printout of my last contribution, reading and re reading it by torchlight before crying yourself to sleep, wondering if my words of genius would ever return to this dusty old website. Well fear not, for here I am, metaphorically wiping the tears from your eyes and tucking you in for the night in a way that blurs the line between “comforting” and “creepster”..

So as Sara continues to entertain us with her constant invitations to fellate her and offers the culture in which she is living the respect that her moral relativism demands by founding Nablus’ first strip club I thought I’d attempt to give you all a little more insight into the life we live here. I’d like to tell you that it’s a docile, intellectual environment of friendly cohabitation and stimulating, respectful conversation. But I’d be lying, you’d be bored and Sara would be horribly misrepresented. So let’s dig for the juicy, uncensored truth instead.

Perfect vodka. I’d like to recommend it to you but the honesty of the recommendation would be somewhat akin to recommending a meth habit or the film “Panic Room”. And much like those things, perfect vodka may seem a good idea at the time but you’ll inevitably spend the rest of your life scarred by your experience, regretting your decision and suppressing the nightmares that it will undoubtedly produce. My introduction to the substance came through Sara, of course. On our first trip to Ramallah to procure the alcohol that is forbidden in the area in which we live I had picked up a couple of bottles of wine. Sara, on the other hand, rejected any thought of purchasing anything with an alcohol content of less than 40% and went straight towards the perfect. The price tag, considerably cheaper than any other spirit in the shop, didn’t seem to serve as the warning that it should have, nor did the fact that it was sold in 1..75 litre bottles, and before long we were sitting around the kitchen table imbibing the first of many bottles of this poison. Sara has been keeping a collection of the empty bottles. She will photograph this obscene assortment of hollow receptacles in order, no doubt, to remind herself when she reaches old age and senility, of the profound cultural and human experiences she took with her from this most troubled of regions. Most amusingly, one of the bottles has a written warning etched onto it forbidding the contents from being touched as the bottle was to last Sara between the time of writing and her upcoming birthday. Three more bottles were purchased in that time and the empty threat scrawled upon the glass of that bottle has simply become further evidence of the level of alcoholism necessary to survive as a foreigner in Nablus.

“You’re my shot manager”. She’ll forever regret those words and rightly so. Not only because the very idea of the challenge I was to manage for her proved to be her own undoing but also because, as every bad manager does, I put too much pressure on my charge too early, assuming she had more about her than proved the case. Backtrack. An explanation. Sara turned 21 two days ago. Where I come from this often means you celebrate the tenth anniversary of the first time you got drunk in public but Sara’s homeland likes to wrap their children in cotton wool for a little longer and so she was now of legal drinking age in the United States. Someone, some time before her birthday, had mentioned the fine tradition of attempting to drink 21 shots of liquor in order to mark and celebrate this landmark. Sara had decided to accept the challenge.
So, on the morning of the day itself I awoke, blurry eyed and groggy headed, and made my way, ape-man like as I am always prone to be at any point before midday, to Sara’s sleeping space. I flung open the door to her room(well, as much as it’s possible to fling open a sliding door), wished her a happy birthday and demanded she drink her first shot of the day with me. She willingly agreed, notched the first one up on the scoreboard and professed further willingness to complete the next twenty. It was at this point she uttered that foolish phrase. “You’re my shot manager”.

“I’m your what?”

“My shot manager, you’ll do an excellent job”. Unfortunately for her my management skills, in any situation, are pretty much entirely lacking. It’s not that I don’t take my responsibilities seriously (Well, it kind of is) or that I’m not entirely trustworthy and honest (Again, I’m actually not) it’s more that my unique management style of “leave everything alone and hope it works out for the best” just doesn’t work as some kind of universally applicable formula. I’m sure if I was asked to oversee a smoothly running, profitable business with 100% employee satisfaction and no prospects for economic downturn on the horizon I’d do wonderfully. On the other hand, emergency medicine is probably never going to be for me. I’m pretty sure this laid back style would have qualified me to run FEMA under the last US President. In any case, it’s employment in the management of Sara’s alcohol intake led to near disastrous results. The question “Hey shot manager, should I take another shot?” was nearly always met with a reply in the affirmative. Where such a reply was lacking the closest I got to dissuasion was to offer a “Do whatever you think’s best”. As many of you who know Sara will attest, Sara usually thinks another shot is best.

By half ten in the morning she had done 8 and was assembling the rest of her flatmates around the circular kitchen table in order to indulge in playing card based drinking games. By eleven she had fallen out of her chair and on to the floor. Getting back up was proving an issue. By midday the house had unanimously voted to prevent Sara in her attempts to leave and wander round this dry city in such an inebriated state. (I say unanimously, Sara did actually attempt to vote against the motion but her vote was disqualified on the basis that she was a drunken mess). Now, to me an arrest record is nothing to be ashamed of and Sara’s 21 years without a single handcuffing (I speak only in relation to encounters with law enforcement agents, obviously her side gig as a dominatrix has seen her get very familiar with many pairs of handcuffs) only speaks of a lack of experience to my mind. So in any normal setting I would have been handing her the car keys, topping up her glass and convincing her we needed to go and climb in the with the zebras at the nearest zoo but Nablus isn’t really that kind of place and if I am to be responsible for Sara losing her criminal conviction virginity then even I, with all my relaxed management skills, can recognise that it might be best to secure one somewhere where it’s not to be dealt with by the Palestinian Authority. Eventually she passed out on the sofa somewhere in mid afternoon, committing the cardinal sin of sobering up and spending the second half of her birthday hungover and unable to complete the last seven shots that would have seen her complete the challenge.. She blames her shot manager. Her shot manager was unavailable for comment at the time, shuffling off into the distance and muttering something about “bloody lightweights” under his breath.

Sara’s birthday came and went. And then so did Sara. Deserting us like a litter of unwanted puppies, thrown from the window of a moving car (What? How do you get rid of pets in your country?). She cast us aside and departed last weekend, leaving us with nothing to remember her by except painful memories, scabies and the extortionate future cost of the counselling it will require to deal with our abandonment issues. She’ll undoubtedly go on to great things, a career in law and politics beckons for a woman whose single minded determination and ambition would be almost guaranteed to see her become President were it not for the inherent misogyny of Western political systems and those photos she’ll mistakenly let someone take in a few years on the basis that he’ll “never show them to anyone”. But regardless of where she ends up I’m sure one day, as I search the floor of some mosquito ridden guest house in Amazonian Bolivia for a spare coin that would see me able to eat for the day, I’ll look up at the dusty, antique, black-and-white television in the corner to see Sara’s face as some off screen commentator praises her for doing something genuinely worthwhile, altruistic and significant with her time and efforts. And I’ll cough roughly, spit out a load of tar stained mucus onto the dusty wooden floor and announce to no one in particular: “I’m her shot manager”.

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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