A home is the place where your family is from. It is the trees and the sun of that place only, though you may find another more desirable. The further I travel from home, the more clearly I know what it is. Each household of the Sarsur family (and I have been to many now) boasts what is essentially a shrine to San Francisco. It includes the typical tourist purchases: calendars, postcards, glossy prints of the Golden Gate Bridge, all perched on an eye level shelf. San Francisco is where many of the Surfur family have gone and stayed in search of medical attention. It is their medical Mecca, if you will. Every household of this family devotes a shrine of similar content to my home city. When I mention that is where I hail from, the Sarsur family lights up and lists how many loved ones live there. In fact, Esraa Sarsur, Mujahed’s older sister and the hardest working individual I have ever known, will be married in San Francisco during Bard’s winter break and I am invited to the wedding!
It is my fifth day of fasting for Ramadan. I have cut down to just the evening meal and skipped the 3am “breakfast.” I picked hunger over
exhaustion as the lesser of two evils. We have adjusted the kid’s camp so the classes are shorter and there is no lunch break. This way we have more time in the afternoons to rest, because on an empty stomach that’s about all we can do. During the day I am fine without food, though I now appreciate it at a whole new level. What I miss is the act of eating. It is a period of time when we get to sit down and chat, and are then propelled into the next part of our day. With Ramadan, we lose this motivational structure and can’t quite stomach Rosi’s cheerful suggestion to use the time to clean instead of eating. In the evening we cook together and will the sun to set more quickly. We are allowed to taste the food as we cook, but must not swallow.
A few nights ago, we were invited to break the fast at Asia’s house. She lives just on the other side of the wall from Mas-Ha. In order to get there, we had to pass through two gates, which the Israeli government has given her the key for. Their home is a tragic no man’s land, entirely enclosed by wall and fences. It is part of the village of Mas-Ha, but surrounded by an settlement (which looks eerily like American suburbia). The family was the subject of a beautiful film called the “Color of Olives,” which I watched as soon as we got back from her house. Before the family was given keys to the gate they would have to sit and wait for hours to be allowed to their land or to school. Settlement residents throw stones at their home and soldiers threaten them, but they would not abandon their land. The family hosted an enormous feast for us and we ate outside her house, in the shadow of the wall. I cannot fathom this family’s’ strength. I often wonder how they go on. To them, the land is as important as life itself.
This is why the most terrifying weapon of our time is a bulldozer, for it is capable of erasing “home” in an afternoon. This is still occurring, though the wall is already built. They are Bedouin communities, essentially goat and sheep herding gypsies, who are being shoveled aside to make room for settlements. Protests continue against these demolitions, some of which Lauren’s Israeli boyfriend has been attending. He goes to Bard and was going to be a part of BPYI, but his parents didn’t support his participation in this initiative. So instead he is involving himself in non-violent protests.
During one of our L+T’s we learned that the Palestinian women, for the most part, consider “throwing stone” as either non-violent or justified even in a non-violent protest. We talked this topic to death and the discussion resulted as many of ours do, like Sisyphus, rolling his stone up the mountain only to watch it crash back down. They protest our pleas for a non-violent strategy with the example of a child defending his mother’s life. How do you tell that child not to throw stones? In the end the only solution I could think of is for everyone to sit down and sing.
I miss the boys. We were able to speak with them briefly at the University to learn that they all happy, sick, and miss us too. I enjoy the company and conversation of men, and have never felt its absence so acutely. We are almost always separated from men. Even in lectures or film screenings we sit separately, and I get the feeling that we are to watch the men watching the film from the way that the chairs are set up. The young Palestinian men wear skinny jeans and tight fitting shirts with loose ties slung around their neck. In comparison to the full coat and head covering, they look like prostitutes. How did this outrageous inequity in dress come about?
This issue comes down to the baffling intersection of religion and tradition. In the Koran, it says women must cover themselves for protection from society, because men cannot control themselves, and will gawk and stare. There is also a slightly more romantic notion that women cover to save their beauty for their husband’s eyes-only. But what about the men in their too tight jeans? We asked our Palestinian friends and their chorus was that they proudly choose to wear their hijabs because they are “convinced,” by the Koran. But what if a Muslim woman chooses not to wear a hijab? She would undoubtedly be shunned from the society especially in such a small, conservative village such as Mas-Ha. This is where religion shrugs and tradition takes the reigns, which is precisely what makes it all so uncomfortable for the Americans. Choice is power.
Someone brought up the point that we were asked to wear head coverings during our stay in Mas-Ha though we are not Muslim. Fine. Tradition calls, we followed gladly out of respect to our hosts. However, if we hosted one of our new friends in say, the Deep South, and asked them to move their hijabs (which we would never actually do) so the neighbors wouldn’t gossip, they would not agree to do so. In this situation, it is religion that makes the call.
Rehearsals for “Shams wa Kamar,” the play to be in the children’s festival, are chaotic. There is one director (me) and one translator
(Thaweb) and about 30 girls who think they are both. The puppets look wonderful and as we approach the festival (August 20) more time will be devoted to getting this play together. There is a lot to do, and I am working very hard to make sure it all happens. It will be the prominent contribution of the girl’s camp to the festival.
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