Tag Archives: west bank

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.

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”.

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.

Arrived

Yes, I’m here. Nablus, Palestine. Though, in the last few weeks the world has been pulled out from under me, I am learning to find my feet and make my way. During the last week, I have been hurt in a way that I have never been hurt before. So cruelly, I have been emotionally and mentally destroyed. I have felt, for the past week that I am a robot and have forced myself to participate in daily actions without being mentally present.

My initial promise with this blog was that I would be as honest as I know how to be. At this point, I am certain any blog post I could write would lack honesty. I am still processing what has taken place and am not sure that I am capable of being honest with myself, and accepting all that wasn’t, shouldn’t have been, but is. While I could recount the events that have taken place, these events, void of the emotions and personal events that took place at the same time, would lack completeness. And, as was apparently not clear in my last relationship, intentional omission is an absolute form of dishonesty.

 

Inshallah, teaching, learning, and living here will help me remember who I am, and then comprehend what has happened in a way that is honest to share.

 

Masalama, Hayati

 

The Adventure Continues… a decision made.

I had every intention to return to Ithaca this spring. Every intention. When the lady in the administrative office said “and just so you know if you decide to extend your leave of absence another semester it will be an additional $2…” I cut her off and said, “That won’t be happening.” Her response “You never know.”

If my life were written out as a book that would be seen as a cheap foreshadow, ungracefully included to add some depth to the writing and add a little reward to anyone who read it more than once (who would read a book about my life twice! Of course who would ever write a book about my life, cuz it sure as hell won’t be me.)

Yes, 2 weeks ago, the plan was secure. I had the sweetest set up waiting for me back at Ithaca. I had been rehired as an RA (this time would have possibly been in a bigger room!) and my best friend Chris had been hired in the same area as me, possibly even the same building. I was returning, so I had already planned out programs, even got so far as to create some of the funding request forms, because I was coming back. 14 days ago, I had excitedly picked out my choice committees for the Model United Nations team for the spring, because I would be returning to the team and taking part in this year’s Harvard conference

Perhaps my certainty was seen as a challenge to a higher being, or perhaps to myself. Maybe I was so sure that I was returning that I subconsciously needed to challenge myself. Or perhaps all these examples of confidence in my plan to return, (ie. Not listening when the lady was telling me the procedure for extending my leave of absence and getting a head start on my RA work) was simply a mask of confidence in the plan and an attempt to hide that I hadn’t completely sold myself on the return to Ithaca plan yet. Who knows?

Though to be fair, I am not sure that any other plan was really logically suggested. I mean, if you are in college, you are expected to finish college. That was what was expected of me, or at least what I thought was expected of me, and what I most adamantly expected of myself. Well, not too adamantly, since, in a matter of 2 weeks that expectation has been thrown out the window. 2 weeks ago, I would be going home in December. On the 25th I would be in Pueblo celebrating Christmas with the family, which was the plan, which is always the plan.

But this is not 2 weeks ago, this is now. And now, that plan of returning home, Christmas with the family, and being an RA this spring are drowning in a flood of cold irony.

I have chosen to go to Nablus to teach English for a semester. It scares me that the whole plan can be summed up in one sentence. And that the details would take up only a few additional lines. A plan so simply stated means extending my trip five months, missing the holiday season, not seeing my recently divorced parents for 9 months total.

But those are the negatives; the positives are much more colorful, much more demanding.

The positives are getting the opportunity to live in Palestine. Getting to be in the heart of the most emotional and pain filled battlefield on earth and knowing that everyday what I am witnessing is real. It means getting a chance to continue working on my Arabic in an Arabic speaking society, the most constructive way possible. It means getting to be a teacher if only for a semester, which, as silly as it sounds was always my childhood backup plan if singer, film actor, and Broadway star all failed. It means living in the same city as X for the first time in a year and seven months, which is really just the icing on the cake. Were the cake not there, I wouldn’t change my plans for the frosting. Those of you who know me know I wouldn’t throw away all my plans and follow any man around the world. But the fact that I will get to share this experience with such an amazing person makes the whole idea much more exciting and a lot less scary.

As I have mentioned before, I believe our travels (and perhaps life for that matter) are defined by the people we encounter and the mutual growth that can occur when a positive encounter takes place. I will get the opportunity to learn from young girls every day. To gain an understanding that allows me to, at least for a moment, view the world through a completely new set of eyes. Palestine is depicted in the media as a 2D image. There is death and conflict, religion and hate, but my excursions so far have lifted that flat image off the paper and added a great deal of dimension. It is time now to fill in the details of the design. There is so much to learn about Palestine, about the entire Arab world, and this is my opportunity to be in the center of it all!

In simple terms, I’m not ready to leave yet, so I’m not going to.

Al Khuds/ Jerusalem

Al-Kuds (ألقدس)– Jerusalem

I spent the first three days of my Eid trip in Jerusalem, which is known to its Arab population and all Arabic speakers in general as Al-Kuds. I was traveling with my friend Kirsten who I went to high school with and is also studying in Jordan this semester. Both Kirsten and I had more fun than we had expected to have! I hope that I can find the words to describe this magical city, but I realize expressing lack of words really does nothing to help you understand how being in this holy city felt, so I will do my best to describe the experience and allow my pictures to help where words fail.

I’ll be honest, going into this trip I knew next to nothing about Jerusalem as a holy city. I knew the politics of Jerusalem and the role it has played in the conflict. I was aware that while Israel claims Jerusalem as its capital, no country recognizes it as such, including the US. This is why all the foreign Embassies are located in Tel Aviv. I also knew that under the proposed Two State Solution plan, Jerusalem would be an international city not belonging to either country. But, as a relatively unreligious person, I could never fully grasp why Al-Kuds had such a drastic role in the conflict until I visited. In order to enjoy the city, you need not to be spiritual yourself, but have the ability to appreciate the beauty of pure devotion and spirituality in others.

We spent almost our entire time in the old city, which is the most historical part of Jerusalem. We had some small excursions into West and East Jerusalem, but the old city is the heart of Al Kuds and we really found little reason to venture outside its walls. Entirely surrounded by stone walls dating back from the 1500s and surrounded by steep drop offs on three sides, the city was built as a fortress. In its most recent conflict, the wall sustained bullet holes during the Six Day War, the 1967 war between Israel and its Arab neighbors, Jordan, Syria, and Egypt.  Now days, the wall does little to keep armies out. What I find more interesting is what the walls hold in. Israel has fought most of its battle for land by expanding into Palestinian territories and in that way, the “Israeli State” as it sees itself is constantly changing shape, with the most conservative politicians hoping to one day posses all of Palestine. Being strictly defined by its walls, the Old City does not have this flexibility. While the inhabitants may change slightly, the cultural diversity, buildings, and other dynamics remain stagnant within the walls. This creates a sense of permanence that I have not found anywhere else in the area. Everything changes accept for the Old City. Of Course this hasn’t always been true. Following the 6 day War Israel did large amounts of renovations to fix parts of the Jewish area that were destroyed, but in the end of the day there have been Jewish, Muslim, and Christian populations living in the Old City for hundreds of years, and they have continued to coexist regardless of the hostilities felt outside these walls. Again, not to say that there are not hostilities within the city, but as long as the inhabitants want to continue to reside in the city, they must coexist. Within the city there are four quarters, Armenian, Jewish, Christian, and Muslim. While they are called quarters, the divide is in no way even. Muslims, for example are found living in all parts of the city and make up 70% of the inhabitants. The Armenian Quarter is the smallest of the four and Armenians make up the smallest percentage of the city. But, enough with the history lesson, on to the life lessons.

Like I said, I loved the city, so much though that X and I decided to return for a night later in the week. I’m just going to make this in the form of small vignettes. So here it goes.

The Church of the Holy Sepulcher:

It was Friday in the late evening and Kirsten and I were wandering almost aimlessly through the city as had become our way of traveling. With small twisty roads and alleyways that might lead nowhere and anywhere, it really is more fun to just explore and not try to follow the map that the tourist center had provided us with. I was also a tad bit resentful toward that map because it didn’t label Al-Aqsa Mosque, and showed only grass in the section where East Jerusalem is, but what do you expect from an Israeli issued map? So, we were wondering. All the sudden we found ourselves on Via Delarosa walking against a crowd of about 300 people, foreigners, locals, Armenian Christians, orthodox. The most diverse group walking in what first appeared to be an unorganized mob until they all began to recite words in Latin that it doesn’t take a Christian to recognize as verses from the Bible. Kirsten and I stepped out-of-the-way and watched without saying a word completely lost in the moment until the pilgrimage had passed. The event that had gathered Christians of all denominations was the weekly trip following the path Jesus walked carrying the cross leading to his crucifixion. While small groups perform this ritual several times a week, the Friday gathering was both the first and the largest walk that we witnessed. Men at the front of the line carry a large cross, and a man leads the group on the megaphone, explaining the events that took place at the 13 points labeled by plaques along the way. The trip ends at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, which is believed to be the place where Jesus was crucified.

While all denominations may join the traditional walk in peace, the possession of the Church has not been as tame a process. 5 different churches share possession of the holy site, and moving anything within the church or doing any renovation requires approval from all five churches. (There have been fights started by priests moving their chairs out of the sun!) Two Muslim families are in charge of the upkeep for the front entrance and unlocking and locking the doors everyday in order to avoid more conflict. While I would hope a place so spiritual would exist in peace, being inside it is easy to understand that it is worth fighting over.

Kirsten and I went to the church at night, which while unintentional, was the best decision we made. Throughout the Church there are large brass lights. The walls are decorated with large murals that were enhanced by the absence of sunlight and the glow from the hanging lanterns. Within the church there are different sections assigned to each of the denominations that own the church. In one part there was a very long line of people waiting to get communion. We were immediately accosted by 3 or 4 tour guides wanting to charge us to show us around. We declined and began wondering on our own. At one point we found ourselves talking to one of the tour guides. I have been on many tours over the past 3 months, but also during my time in Europe and the states as well. I have never met a tour guide with as much passion as this man. He explained that he had lived in the Old City his whole life, was a Christian, and could speak Arabic, Hebrew, and English. He led us to murals that we would have likely never saw, and explained the scene depicted as if he were sharing the information for the first time. His religious enthusiasm spilled out into his description. You could tell he was so engrained in his faith that his love had embraced the church in its entirety. As he spoke he was telling us about something he loved so dearly, that we couldn’t help but to start feeling that love as well. I wish every tour guide was like him.

Shops, Shops, and more Shops: AKA we make friends.

Walls of the main roads in the old city are covered with hundreds of small shops, most, catering to the tourists, selling a bunch of exotic looking items imported from India and China and branded with a made in Israel tag. Hundreds of scarves line the walls of each small cubical ranging from 5 Shekel ($1.25) to 80 Shekel ($21.00). The men working at each store lure the mostly European tourists into their shops with enticing calls. “This way to paradise!” “I give discount for beautiful girl!” “All store, 100% off!” Overcome by confusing conversion rates, aggressive sales techniques, and vacation bliss, the people buy all sorts of knick knacks that they probably never wanted. The only end to the stream of shops that look like they have been filled with the props from an Aladdin movie is in the Muslim quarter where the shops cater more to the local population, selling meat, clothes, house supplies, etc. As two girls wandering through the streets we were constantly prey to their sweet talk. Assuming that we couldn’t speak any Arabic, as is true of most tourists there; we had the privilege of hearing all the interesting things they were saying about us. An Arabic response caught each one off-guard. More than once we were invited in for tea and spent hours talking. One evening we headed to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher around 4, (what should have been a 10 minute walk) and didn’t get there until after 7 because we were constantly distracted by shop owners. Many of these people became good friends of ours, and I made a point of seeing them again when I returned to the city with X.

Other Holy Sites:

I would have loved to go and see Al Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock, but because of the Eid, the visiting hours were very restricted, and we were unable to get there during an open hour. I did get many good pictures from a distance.

Just outside of the old city is several more holy sites. While Kirsten and I only saw many of them in passing, X and I got to do some additional exploring. We went to the Mount of Olives, which has been used as burial ground by the Jews for centuries. On the Mount of Olives is the Tomb of Mary, the Church of Mary Magdalene, and an amazing viewpoint of the entire old city. Though this was quite the trek uphill, the view was magnificent!

I also got to see the Wailing Wall, known in the City as the Western Wall. Holy to the cities Jewish inhabitants, the wall is believed to be a direct connection to god where people will come to pray and slip notes into the walls cracks.

A free tour:

Up earlier than planned the first morning, Kirsten and I began searching for a good cup of coffee and instead found the Tourist Information Center. Hoping to find a city map, we entered, and instead found out about a free tour. Unable to turn down free, we found the tour guide, and along with about 30 others began our walk through the Old City. The theory behind the free tours is awesome. It turns out it is funded by an organization that offers free tours in many European cities as well because they believe that tourists should be shown the places they visit by a knowledgeable local regardless of their monetary situation. The flaw in this tour is that in order to give tours in Jerusalem, you must have a tour guide visa from the Israeli government: AKA you need to be fluent in the Israeli version of history and give tours how they want you to. In this way Israel controls much of the information accessed by visitors to the region.

The bias was so blatant, that it was almost funny. Instead of insulting or degrading the Muslims in the city, the tour guide simply ignored their existence. He didn’t mention Al Aqsa Mosque except when specifically mentioning it was “convenient” that the Muslims chose to make their holy place in the same place as the Jews. While we spent a long time in each of the other three quarters and received in-depth descriptions of what we were seeing, we arrived in the Muslim quarter (remember, this is by far the largest quarter) to hear “We are now in the Muslim Quarter, we don’t have time to stop and talk, so just keep your eyes open as we walk.” He, purposely I’m sure, stopped us to have lunch in the relatively small Jewish Quarter, and took us very close to the Wailing Wall for a long time in comparison to the time of the overall tour.

The perspective of history presented was also very interesting. He divided the history of Jerusalem into periods where it was under Jewish rule, and times where it was under foreign rule, concluding that it had always been a Jewish city.

The power dynamics in the Old City is interesting. Israel controls the information, as seen by this tour, but the Muslims control most of the Holy sites. The key to the Church is possessed by a Muslim Family; the Muslims have control of both the Dome of the Rock and Al Aqsa mosque. And while Israel controls a small portion of the Western wall, it is the entire Western wall that is holy to the Jewish people, but the Muslim quarter is built along much of the Western wall, restricting access to only a small portion of the entire wall.