The reality here in Palestine is starkly different that the typical perception you get in the United States. Even among the liberal minded, I think, there is a dismal stigma that we automatically cast over the conflicts and the daily life of this region. All we here is the isolated instances of extremism and violence. Yes there is struggle; yes there is oppression; but for the most part life here is normal and people just want to live a normal life. People are happy. They are not as poor as the people in El Salvador but they face constant random cruelty of jewish soldiers every day. The demeaning roadblocks, checkpoints and pointless pain inflicted on Palestinian as if they were dogs. I was totally shocked. They have no freedom of movement and cannot build on their own land. Their trees and homes are ripped from right under their feet. The ideology of the Jewish Settlers (in their own words) is that the more Jews who move into Palestinian soil, the sooner the messiah will come. The KOCH ideology.
Every stranger on the street smiles just when I say hello (Marhaba in Arabic, kifhallek how are you). They are brimming with love and affection for their children and they treat us as their own brothers and sisters. Virtually nobody wants to just take money, venders want to sell of course, but every person I've dealt with is honest. For example a taxi driver just today gave me a ride for free just out of the kindness in his heart. I absolutely love it here. I am an instant fanatic about the joys of living here, (other than the fact that it's hotter than H). The views are beautiful and the smiles of the children give me plenty of inspiration to paint. Right now I am painting a mural on the wall of a catholic school. Right now it is a summer camp. Instead of lessons the kids play soccer and chess etc. I am painting the our Father in Arabic calligraphy with children encircling the prayer with some touches inspired by Michalangelo and the local olive groves. I live in the village of the shepherds who were visited by the angels, if you remember the Charlie Brown Christmas this place is central the heart of Christmas according to Linus: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pn10FF-FQfs Simple and good. And they seem to be all proud of this foundational connection to the divine in `Isa, Jesus, Muslims included.
The region I am living in (Bethlehem) is about half Christian half Muslim. But unlike the Christians of Lebanon everyone here is proud of their Arabic language and heritige and fiercely proud of being Palestinian. Just like in Ireland, the centuries of oppression has ingrained in the people a stout hardiness and an unspoken solidarity.
I am living with a Greek Orthodox host family. They are not very religious, but other members of their family are. The people in the larger family (the Rishmawis ) constitutes a huge clan (it seems like everyone in the town is related). My mother here is Georgette and my father is Saliba. Saliba means cross in Arabic, it is a very common name in this large family. I am bunking with Saliba and Georgette's son Hassan a retarded arab with a great sense of humor and a voracious appetite for fried potatoes. We have a lot of laughs.
July 2nd 2007
My family boiled sheep innards all day yesterday and we had a big feast with about 17 people. We took sheep intestines, stomachs, and stuffed them with rice, spices, and meat. Then we boiled this, along with 3 sheep heads, in two huge cauldrons in the backyard. I managed to eat not only a couple of stomachs but I stomached some sheep brains (mokh-kh) and the tounge (lisan) as well. But I did not eat the eyes although my mother ate hers. It was a good feast and we all said "Alhumdulillah" "Thank God" afterwords.
It was quite tasty actually. I am getting better at arabic. I am trying very hard and I am getting better fast. Our class is going pretty good, but b/c I study and practice constantly I am by far the best one in it. I had a conversation on the bus with a student named Fadi today 100% in arabic, he was surprised.
July 4th 2007
Arabic class is going great, even though it's a difficult language. I am studying hard and practicing a lot. I meet students and many many people who only speak Arabic. It's been fun to chat with them because they are so nice, it is also been fun to paint... We went to Jerusalem's old city last weekend and it was quite beautiful. It is sad that most of the students at my university are not permitted or have never been to Jerusalem which is only 6 miles away. The school is about 70% muslim, it's also about 70% female. I have met a lot of muslim girls here... even though I was a little afraid of them at first--they turned out to be quite kind and friendly although many of them don't speak english well so I have to speak in arabic with is interesting.
Today we had a special cooking class with the head chef at the University of Bethlehem dept of Tourism and Hotel Management. I hope I can make this "chicken bread rolls" recipe I learned today for you and Emma when I come back because it is very zahky (tasty).