Thursday, January 28, 2010

The day-by-day

I realize that the last two blog updates have been more political rants rather than life updates. I’m sorry for this and thank you to those who stuck it out and read them anyway. The first two weeks here were total shock and a head first, hands dirty and deep in the I/P conflict. I have been thinking of a proper way to share my daily experiences and observations and have yet to come up with something that resembles a coherent chronicle of events; so I think I will just share and not worry about the calendar.
My week usually looks like this: most days at Sheikh Jarrah, a night of uninterrupted sleep at the ISM apartment in Ramallah and Friday a demonstration in a West Bank village. Shekih Jarrah is good, but I don’t sleep well here. At most, you get five hours rest because there is night watch to be done. Recently, the sleeping part of the evening has become more stressful because the settlers have taken to stealing things from the tent where we sleep-sometimes while we sleep. It is small things-shoes, chairs, shelves and the families don’t really complain. They sigh and put it into perspective for us, “they stole our house, why should we care about a shelf?” I can’t argue with them. Fucking sticky fingered settlers…stealing shoes, furniture and houses. It is such a messed up situation. The Al-Kurd front home was built by the Al-Kurds without a permit (building permits for Palestinians are extremely difficult to obtain) nine years ago. When the home was completed, the Israeli government slapped them with a 90,000 Shekel fine. Upon full repayment, the government then took them to court saying that the house did not belong to them and gave it to the settlers. There is so much racism here. I can’t stand it. So at night I think we all sleep a bit lighter, in case they try and bother us more. Winter has also arrived and with it comes the rain and wind. There are downpours at night and gusts of wind against the tarps. We must be very vigilant about keeping things dry. We have made some sketchy repairs to the tents. Right now, the Al-Kurd tent is held up mostly by string-bound boards.
There are positives to being here, heaps of them. I made two hula hoops for the kids in the neighborhood and it is a huge success. There seems to be only one girl in the neighborhood, Mona, 12 years old. She picked up hooping really quickly and I’ve been teaching her tricks. She then turns around and teaches the boys in the neighborhood (a big role change, I think). When Mona sees me, she goes to get the hoops (which she thankfully stores in her house or else the neighborhood kids would destroy them) and we hoop in her front walkway, which is the same shared path that the settlers use to get to their stolen home. It makes for a nice obstacle for them. Mona is the youngest in the Al-Kurd family and we sleep in her family’s tent at night. She and I have a good friendship and I accompany her on firewood-finding missions. Her mom feeds me tasty Palestinian food too. The other day she gave me spinach, phylo dough pastry right out of the oven. When I finished it, she gave me another, and when I finished that, another! It was a very happy panda.
We have also started doing weekly dinners at the Gawi tent. I teamed up with another girl my age from the neighborhood and together we made maklube. Maklube is Arabic for “upsidedown,” and that is pretty much what it is. A base of veggies (usually chicken too) and then rice, all cooked together with tasty spices. Then you place a huge platter on top, flip them both over and pull off the pot! Viola! The dinner was a success, with 10 internationals and Israelis joining us but there still are some challenges. We want to outreach to the neighborhood residents who don’t normally come by the tent, and the wives of the men who do. There are some social norms that I’m learning (mostly about how men and woman interact here) and trying to incorporate into the weekly meals. I’ll keep you posted.
I don’t mind being at Sheikh Jarrah so much. I feel like we are actually helping here. We offer the international presence the neighborhood wants while also allowing them time to rest while we take watch. Trip and I were just talking about how our skill sets really are designed to be outdoors, not in offices, so for us, this is good.
In Ramallah, ISM has an apartment that keeps out the rain, has hot water (but no household heating system) and a kitchen. After a few days “on” in Sheikh Jarrah, an evening in Ramallah is very nice. It is a fun place to be because at any given time there are between 5-15 activists staying in the two bedroom place. ISM activists are super cool-I mean, they’ve traveled around the world and are working for free. If that doesn’t weed out the unmotivated slack-tactivist, I’m not sure what does. So everyone is cool and works super diligently until about midnight or 1am every night. Mornings begin early too, around 8am with everyone back in the living room converted office space sharing a pot of tea or coffee.
It is great to have a kitchen and I’ve been trying to experiment with Palestinian food. This is a bit difficult because going to the market is stressful. It is loud, crowded and chaotic. Those things actually don’t worry me at all but what does get stressful is the purchasing part. Apparently, Palestinians buy in bulk and anything not in bulk is considered worthless. So for someone like me who only wants 5 carrots or two tomatoes, it is hard to pay for anything. They just give it to me for free. At first this was a nice surprise, but now I feel like it is an abuse of privilege. The other challenge is the Battle of the Plastic Bag. Trip and I go to such great lengths to bring our own bags or not accept bags for three bananas or two apples. Vendors really do not understand this. They insist on giving you a bag and as I’ve experienced can get pretty heated and offended if you refuse or offer your own. I do not understand this. The other day, we had successfully escaped without a plastic bag for our bananas only to have the baker where we were buying our fresh-from-the-wood-fire-oven, bag our bananas! Gggrrrrr!!!
Buying spices has also been interesting since I am mostly unfamiliar with the spices here. This means I sniff out each spice and on more than one occasion, inhale something well…spicy! This makes the shopkeepers laugh and I usually end up buying that spice just to get the whole thing over with.
The main challenge with the apartment is that it makes me miss living with environmentalists. Social activists are always plugged in, electronically-minded and on the go. I miss the forest part of activism and going places without cell reception. Keeping lights on, or forgetting about the water heater being on are foreign and difficult for me. Also, everyone but Trip and I smokes….inside! This is commonplace in Palestine (and probably the rest of the world, but very different for us west-coast’ers).
Fridays are special days in activist world here in Palestine. FYI: the weekend here is Friday/Saturday. Friday after noon prayer, many villages across the West Bank hold weekly demonstrations. The topics vary slightly but always center on some aspect of the occupation. There are some against the Apartheid Wal,lwhich in the village of Bil’in, takes over 60% of their land, denying access to fields, orchards, homes and other employment. Lots of other demonstrations focus on settlements-settlements taking over villagers fields for their own propagation, settlers uprooting 500 year old olive trees, settler violence against nearby Palestinian villagers, etc. For the past two weeks, Trip and I have been attending the demonstration in a small village called An Nabi Saliah. If you read my last blog post, it began with my report for the ISM website about the demo. The Popular Committee has decided to make the demos weekly until the land that the settlers have illegally taken and are illegally propagating plants for an Israeli nursery is returned to the villagers. This week, like last week, we were turned away from the village on Friday morning at an Isreali checkpoint. This time, the checkpoint was only 30 meters from the village! The soldier stuck his head in the car, looked at us and said “if I see you with the Palestinians, I will make trouble for you,” and he motioned up to the village center were we were all to meet. Slightly unnerved by this interaction, we asked the taxi driver to drive us the back way to the village which involved a one hour detour.
We arrived in the village and Trip showed me to the house of a woman he had interviewed earlier in the week for a short film he wants to make about the stolen land and the village. He told them I was his wife (I bought him a 33 cent ring to make it official) and he would bring me to meet them before the demo on Friday. We knocked and entered into the house, which had a perfectly disgusting view of the cookie cutter condo settlement on the opposing hillside. I was greeted as “Trip’s wife” and they told me how much they looked forward to meeting “Trip’s wife.” Hahahah. Oh well. They were all really cool women who are involved in the demonstration (pretty unusual for Palestine). We drank coffee and stashed our stuff at their place and met up with the march of hundreds of demonstrators as they walked by the house. We didn’t get more than 50 meters before military came at us from both directions shooting tear gas and rubber coated steel bullets. For the next few hours, full on warfare ensued in the village. The main street turned into a battleground, shabab (young boys, literally translated as “spirited ones”) slung rocks from behind gates, houses, fences, walls, and military reacted with more tear gas, more sound bombs, and more bullets. This demo was supposed to be a march to the fields, but it never left the town.
I was really unsure about my role in the demo. I don’t have a nice camera to capture the action, nor am I going to throw stones. At first, I went up to the rooftop to watch and take photos from above with the woman from the village. This turned out to be a good idea because Trip was down below shooting video and a slew of soldiers came running up behind him and I was able to shout a warning to him to get out of the way, this came just in time for him jump down into a yard to avoid tear gas canisters flying in his direction. I returned to this house towards the end of the demo, a few hours later. This time, I was brought inside by a girl who wanted to show me a sound bomb that broke thorough the fourth story window of the house. While I was up there, a tear gas can flew through the living room window and we had to evacuate the 7 toddlers who were supposed to have found refuge in this home. I carried a boy, no older than 3, down the four flights of gassed stairs as he cried, his nose ran and mouth drooled due to gas inhalation. The mothers of the children, irate with the soldiers, went up to them and began yelling at them for nearly suffocating their kids. They were all arrested. Three days later, I have yet to hear of their release. So… that was a pretty intense day.
Other things I’ve been up to here are:
Taking a 14 hour field trip to Tel Aviv and Israel’s finest immigration detention center to bail out an ISM’er who had been in for one month.
Wishing I had cleaner socks as I sit down to a delicious dinner on traditional floor cushions in Palestinian homes.
Learning to speak a few words of Arabic.
Spending at least two hours at the checkpoint into Jerusalem crammed together like cows, at the pure will of the 19 year old Israeli military guards EVERY time I enter (usually once ever two days).
Eating at least one falafel. Everyday.

Love to you from my falafel-filled heart.

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