August 7, 2010

Last night we all scurried up to the roof to watch an engagement party that was happening in the street. It was all men with loud music, dancing and clapping in lines. We spotted some Bardians amongst the crowd, who stand out like flamingos in the desert. Suddenly there was a loud and bright explosion coming from one of the houses down the street, the home of one of the women’s grandfather. The terrible noise and light lasted for about thirty seconds and then the men at the celebration all ran to surround this house. The boys stopped beating each other up in the alleyways, and the women on neighboring rooftops leaned out to try to see what had happened. We had no idea if anyone was hurt. I watched as women ran to the front of the yards and tried to ask people on the street what had happened. Because we are women, we do not have the right or freedom to walk thirty feet down the street to see if a loved one has died in a cooking explosion. The customs restricting women, which initially did not bother me, are starting to make me very frustrated. When our hosts went back to rolling grape leaves and our rooftop dance circle resumed, I assumed that meant everything was O.K.

A little while later the music stopped and the men drifted down the street to the mosque. They would go to pray, and then come back to finish the celebration. The bumping street music lasted all night and make me feel like I was trying to sleep next door to my high-school prom.

Sleep is very important because the kid’s camp takes so much energy. The kids are great and we have so little time with them, it is important to give everything we have while we are here. Rosi was reportedly saying “Atfall, atfall!” (“Children, children!”) in her sleep last night. I sit in the grass at lunchtime with the kids, and they point with their cheese puff covered fingers, at different body parts to teach me the Arabic names. They howl with laughter when I attempt to pronounce the words, which stick like Baklava to the back of my throat.

My classroom overlooks the boy’s school, which is unfortunate because the leader of their school tends to scream continuously into a microphone. We compensate by doing follow-the-leader-type acting activities in silence. The girl’s giggle and smile at each other and the mood is such that we are part of a secret project that the ridiculous screaming man outside will never know about.

Today we took the kids swimming in Nabeus. The place was a shadow maze of trees and picnic tables nestled in between two hills. There is an icy stream running zigzag through the entire place, which is where the tables are set up, so we sat and ate with our feet in the water. At one point, women started yelling in Arabic something that sounded to me like “Alligator! Alligator!” I screamed and pulled my feet up out of the water, but it turns out that the Palestinian girl next to me had dropped her cell phone in the water.

The kids love to dance. I danced on the bus ride there, danced during lunch, and danced in the pool. I remember thinking that I am more likely to die dancing on a school bus teetering through dusty roads on the edge of cliffs than through any politically relevant way. The ride was about an hour and very interesting because the bus driver would give us history in between pop songs, in English as we passed various towns and settlements. It is so sad to see the olive trees that are hundreds of years old, rooted next to piles of coke cans and rubble. All of the Palestinian villages are strategically surrounded by settlements and checkpoints.

The hospitality of our hosts continues to amaze me. I was rushing around the school trying to find extra straws for the kid’s lunches when I stumbled upon a room of older women drinking espresso from beautiful tiny mugs. Without any words they beckoned me in, gave me some of the delicious drink, and sent me on my way. Like under a spell, I calmly proceeded to locate the straws and return to my classroom with a new calm and love for life. Israa Sarsur, Mujahed Sarsur’s sister, is working tirelessly to ensure all aspects of this project run smoothly. She is a remarkable person. I am so lucky that going to Bard has led me to work with such fiercely incredible people.

Tomorrow we get to sleep in and go to the Dead Sea! To bed.