May 17, 2011

Distortion of Media

I am not even going to attempt to rationalize or sound intelligent about this topic because that would be touching an area I do not have enough knowledge about in order to properly do so. However, some things I have noticed especially this time around in Israel are how much the media tells you what you want to hear or expect to hear from a given region and uses vocabulary that portrays something to the audience that really distorts actual situations and events. As you might imagine being an American in this region has its perks among all ethnicities as well as its downfalls. Being here I am in contact with you all from the US and have heard third/fourth hand what your media sources have said about the goings on in this region while I have received secondhand information or even firsthand depending. 

For example, I was in Jerusalem this past Sunday and Monday mostly just puttering around the city, returning to places I had been in the past. Sunday was Nakbah Day which is primarily an Arab/Palestinian holiday. The Israelis/Jews know what the day means for the Arabs but for them it is not a recognized holiday so much as a day that their military and police force sense a need to be on higher alert. We were aware of what might happen especially in Jerusalem on Nakbah Day in terms of demonstrations and violence and kept our eyes out for situations to stay away from. I'm not going to take the time to explain Nakbah Day right now but if you're interested you should look it up. Anyways, I returned from Jerusalem yesterday to find an expected email from a family member worried about my safety because of what he/she had heard about happenings here. 

But I tell you, there was never a moment while in Jerusalem or since I've been here that I have been worried about my well being. The family member wanted to make sure that I hadn't been injured in one of the many riots that happened in Jerusalem on Sunday, Nakbah Day. I didn't know there were any riots on Sunday until I read the email from the States Monday evening. Hmmmm. What to think about this.... I'm not at all surprised that there were demonstrations but unless there are deaths like those 14 killed on the Syrian and Lebanese borders, one can easily not know of such events. There may be a small article in the paper about what the demonstrations were about and the area they were in but the majority of the time, these situations are made way more serious in international media than in the local. Are these situations good? Certainly not. I very much hope that one day it might be a bigger deal for a riot to happen but there are much larger things to worry about in this region. It makes me sad to think that demonstrations that might possibly end with violence and wounded people are a part of everyday life for these people. 

On a completely different note the weather here continues to be absolutely absurd. Once again, it rained over the weekend and not just a few drops. Saturday it poured and Sunday in Jerusalem in rained for a few solid hours. Today though it is a semi typical, dry season day. There are what's called Khamsins or Sharavs which are basically like an ultra mild sandstorm. Not extremely hot temperature wise but really thick air and very windy. The air looks a bit like a snowstorm; sort of pinkish, orangy, beige fog that you can't hardly see through. Except, it's sand/dust blown in on the eastern winds. You might be thinking gross! And you would be correct. I don't mind the heat at all but add some dust and wind in there and you've crappy weather. So over course of a couple days we've had pouring down rain, 27 C/80 F and perfectly clear, and sandstorm. Sweet! No really, I love all this dynamic weather that we don't have in Vermont; keeps things interesting.

I have one week left in Israel; a real bittersweet feeling. I love it here as much as I ever have but there are also great things to look forward to when I come home. It's quieting down around here though for about a month. After tomorrow nearly all of the volunteers that have been here for a long while, will be gone. There will be only four of us: two Fauzi volunteers, one Jesus Trail intern (Taylor), and Linda (the Fauzi tour guide). Thankfully another volunteer just arrived yesterday so I'm not the only one for the Fauzi like I thought. She is a real quiet but sweet girl from Finland. Anna is a college student doing an 8 week internship here for her major in Geographical Tourism. I feel like such a lame American when I meet people like her. So many people from other places know umpteen bazillion languages and are so much more in touch with what is happening in the world around them. And because I am American, I know one language fluently. Everyone speaks English so I haven't ever needed to learn another language. Stupid. America is involved in everyone else's business around the world but we are least culturally educated of any ethnicity I have met thus far. I wouldn't say that America has held up its end of the saying, "With great power, comes great responsibility." Just some food for thought...

May 10, 2011

Holidays and The Thoughts That Ensued

Yesterday was Memorial Day for Israel. I never really think much of Memorial Day when it comes around in the States and what it means for us as a nation. Maybe because it is not personally relevant to me or my family. It's quite a different story for the people here; the deaths of many soldiers during the various wars this young country are still causing a great deal of grief for many families. It continues to be a difficult day in the lives of countless Israeli families and something I was forced to think about yesterday.

The first time I heard the siren last year while living in Jerusalem was in recognition of Holocaust Remembrance Day. It is the same siren that would have sounded during an air raid in World War II so of course when I heard it the first time around, I was startled and a little frightened having received no warning. It is an alarming almost eery sound that lasts for several minutes. Yesterday it sounded at 11 am and again later in the day. It wasn't so alarming this time but it has given me a new perspective and something to think about. Not just Israelis, even though they are primarily who is acknowledging the holiday, but also Palestinians have suffered a great deal for this treasured land. Arabs, Christians, and Jews alike have sacrificed so much for their present homes and land. Like I struggled last year, is something that seems so material to me really worth giving your lives for? It is hard for me to put myself in the shoes of these people; to grasp the extreme importance of this land but I must respect what is of great value to people no matter where I am.

Today is Independence Day for Israel! A celebration. However, as soon as I walked into the kitchen/dining room where I help a Christian Arab woman prepare breakfast each morning there was a seriousness in the atmosphere. There are three girls who do the majority of the housekeeping around the inn each morning and two of these girls were also in the kitchen when I arrived. They sat apart from me and had a serious, heated discussion (in Arabic of course) I'm assuming about the present holiday. I normally open the windows and doors of the dining room to let the sun shine in but this morning they made sure I knew not to open any of them. There had been some Israeli soldiers around this part of town which I have not ever seen before. These women did not seem to be celebrating the holiday in the slightest; in fact they seemed to be completely closing themselves off from the joy that Israelis have. Despite the fact that they live in Israel, it seems that before they are Israeli these women are Arab Christian which perhaps means that they have a closer bond to the Palestinians who are still under occupation. The women/girls I work with do not know anything about me or where I come from mostly because their English isn't good and my Arabic/Hebrew is worse so we have little to no conversation. But more often than not when I am walking around various towns, people assume because I don't look Arab that I must be Jewish and in this land the two do not often interact. I felt sad today especially because even though I am not Jewish and am relatively uninvolved in the conflict here, the women put a barrier between me and them. Maybe they think that I am Jewish (and so celebrating today) or maybe not but either way I felt something that I had not felt before. A silent shunning. 

I experienced something very similar during the very tense week last year when I lived in the old city of Jerusalem. There were a lot of political happenings with a fair amount of social tension and some violence in various areas of the city. At one point I was walking through the Muslim quarter with another girl and a shopkeeper said something I doubt I will ever forget. He repeated loudly several times: "F****** Jew" as I walked past. For some reason I felt the urge to turn around and make it known that I was not who he assumed I was but instead of correcting ethnicity/religion I said I was American. Well for one of course Americans can be Jewish but also I have never been proud to be an American for countless reasons so why should he not bash me as an American... He responded no differently to my proclamation. "Still you Americans have soldiers fighting a pointless fight in the Middle East. You are no better than the Jews!" (something along those lines) Did I feel awful inside? Of course! I could not stop thinking about what had just happened for a long time afterwards. It was a huge eye opener for me as was my experience in the kitchen today. There is extreme hurt in this land that is so complex it seems almost impossible to heal. I hope and pray that one day these people can find peace. It sounds cliche perhaps but it's also the truth. There has been enough hurt and suffering here and these two experiences though brief gave me a firsthand perspective of what these people live with every day no matter how far or how near they are to the wall. Why should I not taste what they have had to consume... They need people to really understand and share with the world what they have learned and what better way than to be put in their shoes if only for a moment.

May 8, 2011

The Fauzi Azar, etc.

This is a small sitting area opposite the main door of the Fauzi, through the courtyard on the ground floor. There are a few guest rooms off this area (right and left) as well as the dining room where I help serve breakfast most mornings (right)

The far green door is the main entrance to the Fauzi Azar. You are looking at a part of the courtyard from asitting area. 

view of the south wing from the north wing; through the open doorways you see are the hall/reception area (right) and the kitchen where we serve free tea, coffee, and cake all day every day in great abundance. When the volunteers are motivated enough, we also make large meals in this here place for us all to share. The kitchen tends to be a busy place with lots of laughs, conversations, and eating.

view of the north wing from the south. When I was here staying for two weeks last year, this entire section was blocked off because the Azar family still lived here. The large windows you see were filled in with cement and the door below locked. Renovations started sometime last year and they were pleasantly surprised how well they were able to preserve the original structure, white marble pillars and all! The new guest rooms in this section are gorgeous.

Our house from the front door. Straight ahead is the dining room, kitchen and bathroom. The windows to the left are mine and Caitlin's room. The stairs to the right go up to the roof and the rest of the house. The picture on the right here is our house from the Fauzi (the one with the reddish brown roof straight ahead. You can see a small, flat, white roof top with the top of a lemon tree in the foreground. I sit here on a regular basis, reading and writing or talking or just soaking up some rays...