Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Christmas Memories by a Moslem Girl......

It was always before Christmas that we got that  thrill.We 'moslem' girls at the boarding section were always part of the joy, part of the glow that overtook everyone's hearts there and then. We were also  part of the anual celebration that turned over all the despotic  rules and  dicipline , and deleted the conventional "hush hush" attitude of all the nuns, teachers and  all those in charge of harnessing our wild spirits . It was only during Christmas celebrations  that we were all within  the "safe zone"!

For ten years  I,  among others  ,have been a  part of this -almost the same- celebration.Singing the same songs, pretending astonished when Santa appeared , expressing  facination over the Christmas tree decorations ,(we happened to be the ones who decorated it , this being part of our chores related to  pre-Christmas preperations). But  I  loved it every year just as much . Maybe now is the time to remember those moments of happiness, to speak of those who gave me the chance to be part of their rituals, jubilations and even  their lives.

Talking about a boarding school in Palestine in those days , is like recalling the details of  a movie back from the sixties or  seventies.It was something like a dream.Preparations would start months before the Big Day,the 24th of December, the time for our Grand school celebration.We would practice Christmas carrols, in all three languages.I n English there was :"Silent Night", "OH Christmas Tree","Joyfull Joyfull".In Arabic it was "Lailet  3eid",and in German it was "OH Tannen Baum" and "Lustig Lustig".........

It was not a bit out of the normal  , for a moslem girl to be playing  the role of an angel, or Virgin Mary or  even a sheep  .It was the season  when we  were  all treated to chocolate, lots of good chocolate,sent to our Sisters(nuns) from their families back home  in Germany.At night , they shared with us their tea--with all the colors and flavours of German  fruits and herbs like cherry, oranges, cinamon, just to mention a couple.We were their families then ,we ,the young moslem girls from  Gaza and some Arab Countries were their only Christmas  company, and them the lonely German nuns serving God and us endlessly .Together we sat around  a beautifully lit tree , in our small playroom, shivering and almost hugging  the  gasoline stove,with the aroma of roasted orange peels filling  the air( our boarding school Sister used to put orange rind  in a clean metal  lid of' Kiwi' *shoe polish and leave it to roast on top  of the stove...and....voila....homemade scents!).

Eversince then, the Christmas spirit has captured  me.It  even haunts me untill this very day, echoeing  my nostalgic yearning to those long bygone times .It persistantly triggers memories  of those people who have left this world to be with God , He whom they chose to serve throughout their youth untill the very last moments of their lives.I still see the shimering lights of that huge tree, and see us(kids then)running loose out of our classes to join the singing chorus of mischievous girls chanting  that song

                         ......come my comrades join the chorus
                         ......Fa  la la la la, la la la la
                               happy hour are(...)**   before us
                               Fa la la la la , la la la la ......

And today  Christmas  comes again...We are not the kids that once were . So many dreams were lost on our  way towards  growing up, and I  really miss my typical back then annual celebration, my German Sisters and the colorful  aromatic tea blends  .As empty as the days seem to be without those colorful details,I stick to those  memories, retrieve the faces, the words ...and hope for a differnt Christmas.., not that  of colors, hyms and gifts...but that of justice,normality ....and dignity!

*Kiwi: a famous -probably English-brand for cake  shoe polish .Almost every Plalestinian home used Kiwi shoe polish, in a flat round tin container.
**(...) I probably forgot the right has been years.....

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Tea-Time At The Checkpoint !

We were on our way to the club.It was family time, husband ,son, daughter and myself .Leaving behind  the over-crowdwd city of Nablus to a quieter place where families gathered , kids  could go wild ,and  where teenagers would  find a legal place to be themselves.

 Giving my  non Palestinian readers some background  about checkpoint  culture in occupied Palestine ,  is quite essential  . So checkpoints are two types, the  permanent ones , and then  there is the "Jack -in-the-box" type(please respect my copyrights regarding this term).This is a checkpoint that could pop out of nowhere  anytime any place.

So that evening we were destined to be stopped by a type B military patrol ; A jeep ,some portable iron bannisters, and a bunchfull of  quite a  "jolly" mood . But then  talking about soldiers cannot be limited to types A and B,  for there  are  also   soldiers  of diverse origins, colours and certainly varied  degrees of hatred .Those comming from Ethiopia (the Flashas as they are called in Israel) are the toughest to deal with , them being treated  as inferior citizens in the State of Israel-the country they thought would free them from their poverty, their color and sustain them in dignity and prosperity-.  Finding out that that was not the case in Israel, and that discrimination  there  was at its worst ,they needed an outlet to their oppression ,anger and disappointment . It was only the Palestinian women ,youth and elderly   that they felt superior to , so  they got  full satisfaction through torturing them, dehumanizing and humiliating them .

So fate was merciful that evening ,  no "Flashas"  were in sight .Approaching my husband's window the  "merry" soldier asked in broken Arabic :"La wein (meaning where to)"?
Husband replied:"to the Club"
"What club ?",he asked with a grin(as if he did'nt know)
With his blood pressure starting to raise ,  my husband answered:"would it make a difference if i told you?"
"Ok ,Ok where do you live" insisted the gunman ( apparently he wanted a conversation  ...regardless.)

 Tension was gradually eating up the remaining positive vibes around us ,my husband started to lose his patience, my usually very friendly 21 years old son became restless, and his face revealed feelings which i feared  the soldiers would notice.My 15 year old daughter started shrinking in her seat.

He insisted to know where we lived, still grinning,and snearing and nodding his head in admiration of his all generous and "friendly"act of  communicating with  us...
I decided to divert his attention away from my husband,so i stepped into the conversation,pointing with my hand to the direction wher our home stood..
"There" , I said
"Maybe we can come and visit  sometime ...and maybe have tea..."...replied the oppressor.

It would have been so   normal of me to say,"yes, please do"...but i could'nt......I will be a all those  humiliated Palestinians like myself and my family, to all those who were killed at checkpoints, to all those who were deprived to pass ,deprived access to a farther place where they could have worked for a  whole day to buy some food for a family of ten or maybe fifteen.

The occupier, whose only credential was his weapon, stepped aside, still putting that lifeless , meaningless grin on his face!He waved  to us with his arm in a "go if you want "  manner, without even looking at us,...we the unworthy , the unseen and the non-existing.

Silently we drove on to the club, each staring out of his window, having his own thoughts which we never shared.Suddenly I  recalled how during the seventies The Israeli Military Governor would impose himself on Gazan families.He would call and express his "kind" wish to come over for a cup of tea".Accompanied by armed forces, he would invade homes of dignitaries ,terrifying their  kids,provoking  rumors around them .....all for a cup of "enforced "tea...

At the club we were so quiet.We did not order our usual tea with mint .We  opted for ice cold fresh juices.But even that  could not drag us out of our drooped spirits...So they  have murdered our happiness at the checkpoint, (no , happiness is an exagerated  fairy-tale oriented term) better say they smashed our hope for spending a  basic normal time when possible...!

Nevertheless  the incident was  not wasted without any input from our side. For as always...we were not totally helpless.We made a choice....Tea was not an option at that  point....and  I'm  definnitely not talking about the club......!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Wedding Invitation ......Gazan Style!

Call me me biased to the Gazan creataivity genes if you will. You can also let out the secret of my  devout conviction of  the "mountain vs plain  theory"....I have always thought  that people of the plains have the ability of producing original ideas,they are more at home with creating, its like  the open space allows them to do so..In mountainous areas there is always the problem of "echo". Mountains echo what has   already  been said, but in a different sound . So an an echo echoes an echo , which echoes "that" echo creating a totally fresh ...."echo".....which could be a totally different outcome of the first ....well ,  still a creative outcome  but in a different  sence.

Ever since the Israeli military "closure" , after Hamas took over ,Gazans  have surprised us again and again    with alternatives to just about anything .Alternatives which a normal mind under normal conditions could not possibly  produce.It is the supreme kind of creativity that comes at the spur of a   moment ,out of no givens, no accumulation on past creations...,creativity from scratch if you like.

After the "Tunnels"  ,(actually ,"the veins of life"), then using Falafel* frying oil as car fuel when none was allowed in  ,then organizing an "Animal Parade where   animals wore banners arould their necks and tails condemning the "Closure .Being asked for an explaination  ,the organisers reasoned that the international society would care less for Gazan suffering  but would definitely sympathise with animals.Just as they  have expected, the parade intensly caught the eyes of the international media , and letters of support flocked through emails , mobiles and throughout chatrooms.The parade was a success !Then there was also the establishing of an art gallery.Object d'Art  were made from ruins caused by the Israeli bombardment of Gaza :  ruined walls, ruined factories,shattered glass  and  finally...."dead" trees.

Gazan families have been dispersed by the a most cruel way!Students  studying abroad prefere to stay in their study-countries .It is  only wise to stay away from home  maybe for years ,in which time a parent might die, and of course they will not be able to attend their funerals, it is only wise not to. If you are permitted into might be a trap.... because it is most likely that you will never be able to leave...when you chose to , or better still ...when you urgently need to!

But life still goes on there in a most  normal way, well normal as  people there still allow the word to mean .People still get married, organise weddings in the best possible way.Brides still spend long hours  at the hairdresser's ,and big money on white gowns, jewelry, flowers, dinners ,and  trousseaus.Well my own cousin  in Gaza  just got  married two days ago.And guess what, I -living in the Wet Bank-, attended the wedding too.And no...i did not beg for a permit, and it did not cost me the usual 600NIS ($150)  taxi fare, actualy i did not pay a nickel.

I too , like many other Gazans, once had a big family...actually it was  something  like a it's most positive sense.That was some time ago, before our elders passed away,and some of our houses were bombarded,and  a lot of orange groves were burned down to ground level.Most of our middle and younger generation left in search of education, more sustainable living resources, or even better work opportunities abroad or even in as close a place as Ramallah....the glamorous  capitol of Palestinian ecconomy.Now a few members of that tribe still reside  in Gaza by  their choice.They were all invited to attend the wedding. And of course we, ,those  not living  in  Gaza , were not  the least forgotten.

So.... a tribe has to do what a tribe has to do for maintining its bonds.Every individual counts,sharing the joy, congratulating,gossiping,and seeing people you hav'nt seen for ages .That was was not to be missed.Well our  Bride ,on the day prior to her wedding,  was not indulging in a normal bride's beauty routine.She was on the phone providing every relative and friend outside Gaza with a link, a username and a password,and inviting all to a live broadcast of the wedding.We watched  everything with a kind of a joyous pain,even the traditional car tour of the couple throughout the much missed streets of Gaza . We nostalgically  listened to the deafening sounds of the traditional Gazan Zaffah* and enjoyed the typical Awee* and Zaghareet*.We also saw relatives and friends we miss so much . On a side box of our screens , we the internet invitees,could also gossip and comment about dresses,  admiring our adorable wedding couple  and expressing our longing  and yearning.

Well our defeat may be partial , logistically speaking . But our souls, obviously are souls of concquerers , and our hearts are those of dreamers .We wake up , reach for our pappers and pen, to quickly jot down that dream. Then on a  beautiful sunny mediterranean morning, we start planning...or plotting...or conspiring, to make that dream happen.Well there was a wedding afterall , and it was cyber-attended by whoever wanted to from the "Tribe", no heartaches no resent and no feelings of being excluded or forgotten.. In fact the wedding doccuments a renaissance of a type of resistance: which i would call "creative resistence", but of course always giving credit of its revival the great great  people of Gaza!

*Gazan Zaffah:is a wedding ritual,men wearing traditional gazan outfits use drums  and kinds of flute singing old wedding songs about the bride, bridegroom and their families.They accompany the Bridal couple from the moment they leave their car ,dancing infront of them untill the entrance of the wedding hall and then untill they are seated.
*Aawee: is a  high pitched sound Aaaaaweeee! sung by the ladies at the wedding.Each Awee is followede by a loudly spoken sentence.This is repeated 5 or 3 times followed by  collective  Zaghrootah(plural form of Zaghareet.
*Zaghareet:is a sound much resembling the sound made by the red indians dancing around the fire.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

:So...Is this Gaza???"

  "Was that Gaza????????"
He kept repeating the question in a broken robot fashion ,while gazing hypnoticaly at the TV . He did not want to miss a second..He has just stepped into the living room, when his eyes caught sight of this magicaly facinating virgin shore.The view was a fair devision between yellow and azzure blue:....the  sand and  the sea. It looked like an untouched shore , so primitive, at least to the extent where no five or seven star  facilities or services were in sight.The sea, the sand , the people and some umbrallas  ,have always been the basic  componants of a Gaza beach.

           It was only some years ago that the Gaza beach was an   ABC part of  both his life and his normal eye agenda . Not that he ever loved swimming there or anywhere, but it was his mother's hometown.So the sea , HER  obbsession , naturally  became part of his childhood, his happiness and now...his yearning.

"Is this Gaza"....he repeated franticly....
She would not answer...she even avoided  his eyes.
Now  the cameras widened their scope.They were telling a  a different story .A surfer  or two appeared  , and in a blink, the shores were flooded with colorful bikinis.

        He gasped and ceased to ask.He did however scan his mother's face,a face so much older  now than then when access to Gaza was normal, possible and a matter of a personal choice and decision.It feels so backward in time, he is almost a man  now , impossible to be dragged to the beach by her .How little did he know  then , about   the preciousness of  those sea-drags .

He dropped himself  on the sofa   next to "her" , he wanted so much to hug her ,maybe to allow both his and her saddness  to burst into tears,or sobs .But he did'nt , he wanted to spare her the pain.He held her hand  , squeezed it ,   and giggled .Then with his hand outstretched he pointed towards the Bikini flooded shore . "This"... ,he said..." Is definitely  NOT Gaza". 

A word about this..
Gaza is my hometown.It is where  both  my paents rest in peace.It is where all my happy memories  reside.It is where my  miraculous sea  is.I still bare the smell in my soul,sounds of the waves  fighting in the darkness haunt me.Will i ever go there again???I still live in hope.                          .