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Monday, October 31, 2011

Here is Ola beginning to interview Afifa in her bedroom. Her grandson and his wife are listening appreciatively to her recollections. Even though I understood virtually nothing of what was being said, it was evident that she was enjoying sharing her memories, and her enjoyment was shared by her relatives and Mohammed and Ola from the gallery, who were doing the interviewing and recording. During the course of the hour, we were served candy, coffee, juice, and two delicious kinds of cake.

Suzi's last night


This is Suzi’s last night. We are going out to dinner shortly, with Said and his wife Siham. The original plan was lunch, but that, of course, got changed. Eiman and Layla took us to a market in a nearby town to look for some glass decorations that we’d seen at Said’s house, and that Suzi wanted very much to bring home as gifts. The quest began rather belatedly, largely due to a very long wait at the bank. We never did find the glass, but did eventually stumble upon a shop with other glass pieces, that were, according to the young man, from Hebron. I bought several pieces, and so did Suzi, although she was sadly disappointed not to find what she was looking for.

It was too late for lunch when we returned, hence the change to dinner plans, and not including the staff, who would already have gone home. I hope they are not disappointed. Also, Suzi, when she discovered that the restaurant they were planning to take us to did not have Middle Eastern food ( I heard a mention of spaghetti) said to Said that she really wanted to have food typical of here. So we’ll find out soon where they are taking us.

Update: , Said just called to say they’ll be an hour later than they thought!

One of the restaurants here, el Babour, is renowned throughout the country. I have heard it referred to as the best Arab food in Israel, and have also heard it referred to as the best food in Israel! It’s also very expensive. When I was googling Umm el Fahem before I left home, I came across a video, in Aabic, that appeared to be a food show, and a tour of a restaurant. I am assuming that it was El Babour. I’d be curious to go there, but don’t know if I will find the occasion. Perhaps I can take Said and Sihan there at some point.

Suzi treated the staff to a lunch a few days ago, gave money to Kamle who gave instructions to two of the roof guys. An hour later, they hadn’t returned, and we began to wonder. But all worked out well.

Yesterday, I’d been planning to work with Mohammed in the exhibit, discussing some of the photos, when he suddenly, very apologetic, explained that it wouldn’t work out I have become so used to plans changing that it really didn’t bother me. Especially when he and Ola explained what the conflict was, and invited me to come along. They were going to interview and record the memories of an 80 year old woman, part of the ongoing work of the archives to preserve the history of the area.

We drove up and downhill for about 10 minutes, and then arrived at a building where the woman’s grandson was waiting outside to escort us in. The interview took about hour, during which we were served candy, then tea, then juice, then two kinds of cake. Afifa, the woman, sat on her bed, next to her younger sister, with two pillows propped under her feet on the floor. Although she used a cane when she got up to pose for still pictures, she was extremely spry and animated during the whole interview. Here are the words I caught during the hour: Umm el Fahem, Abu Shakra (Said’s family name) Moshe Dayan, and Palestine. Nevertheless it was an engrossing experience. There was Mohammed, Ola, who did the interviewing, Afiifa, her sister Jehad,(who’d previously been interviewed) the grandson, a woman who I was told was his wife, another woman I was told was a cousin, and myself. The whole group, save for me, was frequently laughing, and the grandson and wife seemed intrigued by whatever she was relating. I wondered how much of her memories they’d heard before. I hope I get a chance to hear some of what was said from Mohammed, When I remarked about how animated she was, and all the laughter, he commented that the older people were always happy when they talked about the past. That has me curious, as I was assuming that they must have some pretty negative memories about how they have been treated, by the British and by the Isreali govemment.

A part of the Memories exhibit is contemporary color photos of older couple and individuals, posing in their own living rooms. In the room is also a set -up of a traditional living space, with cushions and pillows on the floor. Although all of the peoples’ homes we’ve visited, before now, are quite modern, with sofas rather than mattresses on the floor, (but with plenty of pillows.) Afifa's house did have mattresses and pillows, upon which her grandson and his wife sat, although we sat in chairs, and she on her bed. Talking today with Mohammed, he asked me what the floor cushions were, His translator said mattresses, and I couldn’t think of any other word, but mattress doesn’t seem right. They are furniture, not beds. Although I wonder if perhaps they are at times used as beds, as well, or once were. I remember, many years ago, when I stayed with a Moroccan family in Casablanca (same one that butchered the sheep on the roof) that the apartment had three rooms, one for cooking, one for the women, one for the men to hang out in, and the same furniture that we sat on by day were our beds at night.

Yesterday, Saturday, was also the day for art classes, followed by my children’s Engllsh class. That has gone so well, the kids are so enthusiastic. We made picture flash cards with simple words on them, like face, star, tree. Then we played a simple game where I called a word and they had to find the right card. I sent them home with the cards, although last week I kept them, worried that they might forget to bring them again. I am afraid that this might be my last class with them, although it’s only the third. I believe the vacation week will encompass two Saturdays, and that will be it.

Right now, as every night, the muezzzins are singing out their calls to prayers, which are broadcast. It’s really a pleasant sound, even though I don’t know what they’re saying. Actaully, it’s probably better that I don’t understand. Sometimes, more than one of them are singing together, in seeming harmony, and it sounds really beautiful. I don’t know whether it’s intentional, or coincidental, that they are simultaneous and sound so good together. Said and Siham’s house is just behind a Mosque, and the sound was startlingly loud when we were there one night . I expect you get used to it if you live with it. Or perhaps appreciate it all the more.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Here are the kiffiylah (Arab headwear) and the tallis (Jewish prayer shawl), tied together by Farid at the end of his performance piece.

After the baby party, these are some of the relatives playing around. The older guys were giving the younger ones, and each other, rides.

Here I am at the bakery, down at the bottom of the hill near the junction with the main road. Suzi discovered the bakery and showed it to me. Glad she did, but also glad it's a long walk, which will keep me from going every day! There is a smaller bakery, though, just down the street from us. Behind me is the Jewish couple we met who comes here frequently to shop at the bakery and at the produce souk.

Of olives, performance art, a baby party, an off to school party, and an engagement party

Yesterday morning, Suzi and I, as planned, went to a nearby daycare center. It had been arranged for us to visit. Said had asked Suzi to help the staff with some art projects. Suzi has been quite clear that she doesn’t have the background to do teacher training, of either our staff here or the daycare staff, but has also strived to think of things that might motivate them.

The daycare director, however, with whom we’d been scheduled to meet, wasn’t available, and so we rescheduled for today. A staff person did give us a tour of the place, with which we were both favorably impressed. In the first room were kids under a year, and staffers were feeding them. Suzi bent down to say hello, and one kid burst into tears!

The children in the next room were eating the same porridge type substance, but were feeding themselves. We continued on to the three, four, and five year old rooms. The environments were not so different from what you’d see in the U.S. I noticed a housekeeping corner, with boxes of products, labeled, of course, in Hebrew and Arabic.

What struck me most of all was that in almost every room there was some project relating to olives. One group was putting olive stickers on trees on paper. One room had actual olives in jars, which the kids had made. There were olive charts, and dried olives for kids to count. The staffer, who explained to Eiman, who translated for us, said that olives were very important to the culture, and children learned early the whole process, of picking to jarring them. I was really impressed at how it came through into the curriculum.

In the 5 year old class, the group was sitting in a circle, singing songs. Eiman began singing and doing the hand motions with them. She later said it reminded her of her childhood. I wanted to learn the lyrics, and have asked her to teach them to me. It was kind of similar to Heads, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes, and I am hoping to go back and teach it to them.

We were supposed to return there this morning, and were literally heading out the door when Kamle, kind of off-handedly, said that the director had called and said she wasn’t available to meet with us today. I wonder, as Suzi remarked whether Kamle would have remembered to mention it to us if we hadn’t said where we were going.

It isn’t clear to us if this center is for families where the mothers are working, or to help women so they can find jobs outside the home Suzi has only a few days left, and doesn’t feel like she needs to visit the center again. We already did have a nice tour, and don’t actually need to meet with the director. I would like to go back, and will try to arrange to visit again, as I still have a few weeks here.

Instead of going to the daycare center, Suzi and I walked all the way down the hill, almost to the junction, to the souk. (vegetable and other markets.) She had particularly wanted to show me a bakery she’d discovered. It was much larger than the one nearer us, which I have been frequenting, and in addition to sweet stuff and breads, had savory pastries filled with cheese, potato, and mushrooms. We wouldn’t have known that, except that a man and woman, who did not look like they came from Umm el Fahem described them to us. We began talking. They were Jewish, going to visit someone, and were buying huge quantities of pastries several boxes full. They said they came here regularly, to the bakery and to buy produce. I don’t know how common it is for Jews to come here to shop, but it was heartening to see an older couple (read, older than me) shopping here, and interacting in quite friendly manner with the locals. We told them about the gallery, and they told us about the crafts market in Tel Aviv and an upcoming olive festival in Daliat el Carmel, a Druze village.

On the way back we stopped in some of the clothing stores. Some of the modest Muslim clothing is quite stylish and beautiful. One store had bolts of fabric as well as clothes, and I had Suzi ask, in Hebrew, if they could make something for me. I’d had that done in Thailand, some years ago. But apparently they only sold the fabric, did not do any tailoring. The clothes seem mostly to be from Turkey.

.We did make it to Haifa, last night, to the Museum and Farid’s performance piece, but just barely. Traffic along the way was horrendous, I gather that it is always bad, but was worse than usual last night, because it was Thursday. (ie, the beginning of the weekend.)

Along the way, ever interested in improving his English skills, Mohammed was drivsing and simultaneously using his electronic translatro. We drove past Al Meggido (remember – Armegeddon) and he wanted the word for archeological site. For at least 10 minutes afterward, he kept muttering the word “archeological” under his breath, over and over, to get it right. Pretty funny. Then, when Suzi remarked that the driving must be very frustrating, it took about 5 minutes to define the word, and then Mohammed kept repeating “frustrating.” He said, though, that he wasn’t frustrated, and that if we didn’t make it to the event, we would just do something else, perhaps go to the beach!

Along in the car with us was Farid’s wife, Reem. When I’d met her at the gallery a few days earlier, she’d had their three year old with her. Now, in the car, she got a phone call, that her brother, who’d been asked to pick up the daughter at day car that day, had forgotten. She didn’t seem particularly distraught, and I gather the situation had been resolved.

I don’t know if any of us would have gone to the Museum if Mohammed hadn’t explained to me the Farid was doing this piece. I was immediately interested, of course, as was Suzi, and Mohammed said he’d see if he could go, and bring us with him. I don’t know if Reem had been planning to go, or not. She is a school counselor, in a middle school. We talked a bit about how she’d talked with staff, and the staff with the students, after the recent murders.

As we arrived at the museum, a man, who I assumed to be Farid, was lying on the floor, chest bare, black hood over his face, and what seemed to be chains attached to his arms. After a few minutes he rose up. The chains were actually license plates, There was red tape on the enclosing him in a box, and green tape running in a line to the end of the floor and up the wall. Hanging on the wall were a kaffiyah, (an Arabic scarf, worn by men as a headdress) and a tallis, the Jewish cloth that is worn by men during prayer. On either side the cloths were two video screens, each showing a video of a cat. We later found out, from Mohammed, who’d made the video for Farid, that he uses the cat as his symbol. Said, we were told, uses the horse as his symbol. When Suzi asked Mohammed where he’d made the video of the cats, he responded, in the archive(where they transcribe the videos of the elders). Suzi, who doesn’t particularly like cats, said, you brought the cats into the archive? Mohammed, laughing, responded that no, he got the images from U Tube!

I wasn’t quite sure of the symbolism of much of what Farid did, but it was clear when he ripped up the tape that he was removing the border between Israel and the territories. At the end of the piece, he took the kaffiyah and tallis and tied them together. License plates, according to Suzi, used to be different for Jews and Arabs in the country. Said later told Suzi that the license plates in the piece represented identity. My interpretation was that he was breaking out of his chains; whether that was Farid’s intention, I don’t know, but perhaps will have a chance to ask him later on. He did seem truly appreciative that we had come to the performance, and I am very glad we went as well.

Afterwards, we spent about 15 minutes walking through the museum, not wanting to keep Mohammed waiting overly long. One exhibit had to do with lines in various artists’ work, and I am guessing that Farid’s piece might have fit in with that theme. There was another performance piece, afterwards, that involved wearing headphones and following directions, and taking a 20 minute stroll with the artist. Although we were encouraged to participate, we declined, as the narration was in Hebrew.

On the drive home, much quicker with no traffic, we talked some more with Mohammed. We already knew that he had two jobs. In addition to being the compute person at the gallery, he also works with computers at a middle school, the same school where Farid is a teacher. And it was through Farid that he got to work at the gallery.He told us that he is taking what sounds like a filmmaking course at the Technikon school in Haifa, which meets one night a week. And, he said, he is a husband, and that it is hard work to be a good husband. He told us that they didn't have children, "yet"" and that he and his wife were married much later than most Muslims, who tend to marry early.

Today, we attended two parties! One in the afternoon, and one in the early evening. The first was to celebrate the birth of a new baby, to a niece of Saids. The party was mostly if not all family, which of course doesn’t mean it was small. It was at the same place as the party we went to a couple of weeks ago, for the man who doesn’t have cancer after all, and whose name I keep forgetting.We were introduced to many relatives, saw Farid and Reem and their little girl, Maria, again, and Farid thanked us one again for attending the performance last night.

The father of the new baby’s family is in the meat business, and the owners of the biggest meat distributor in the area. And also, I believe, the owner of one of the malls in town. A small mall, by U.S. standards, but big forUmm el Fahem. So, as you’d expect, there was lots of delicious meat, and plenty, although less than usual of the accompanying salads. And delicious hand made French fries. And then sweet cakes, then fruit and nuts.

At the last party, I’d had difficulty eating the meat, had asked for a knife, and then was given what was apparently the only knife on the premises. This time, I realized that everyone ate all the meat with their hands, which made things much simpler.

They had a clown mc again for the kids, who led them in all kinds of games and songs, a conga line, gave them balloons, etc. All the children had had their faces painted, even some tiny ones that I am surprised sat still for the process.

Home for a couple of hours, to rest. Rawan, meanwhile, was off to some kind of orientation for students from Umm el Fahem heading to the University in Jerusalem. Sihan had said she was going home to take a nap before the goodbye party for Rawan.

Kamle picked us up, and we headed over to the house, along with Eiman and Layla. So it was a fairly low key gathering. Sihan is taking Rawan to school tomorrow, for the third time this week, this time to stay. Sihan had not taken a nap, she had baked a cake. Two cakes, actually. One was very similar to a Boston cream pie, but with a whipped cream rather than custard filling. She gave me the recipe, which was from a Hebrew cookbook. I described Boston Cream Pie, and she said, yes you could also make it with a custard filling, and then brought out a box of what I gather makes the custard, which should make a good present for someone, someone who reads Hebrew. (or Arabic.) Anyone interested? Jill, I am thinking of you.

After eating the two cakes, some other pastries, candy, and fruit, and drinking soda, tea, and coffee(not just a choice of, but each, all offered subsequently) , we moved into the next room, where the large screen tv was. We spent probably the next hour watching the video of Rawan’s sister’s engagement party, which had taken place a month or two ago. The house is still decorated in bunting and lights from that party. Even though we fast forwarded it through many parts, it was still quite long. I would have expected to be bored, but in fact I was fascinated. Her sister danced through nearly the entire event, first by herself, then surrounded by the women of her family, then joined by the women of the groom’s family. After quite a while, the groom and all the men entered. I say bride and groom, but in fact it was the two fiances, because they are not yet married, and probably won’t be for another couple of years. The engagement party is as significant here as a wedding is for us. Toward the end, the bride and groom danced together, surrounded by everyone else.

The event ended with the fiancĂ© presenting Rawan’s sister with an awful lot of gold and diamond jewelry, followed by the members of the man’s family doing the same, and with each family group posing for the photographers. I didn’t see any food in the video, although I can’t imagine that the occasion didn’t include some.

Afterwards, I felt bad that we’d spent so much time watching the video of her sister’s party when this was supposed to be a goodbye party for Rawan, and said so to her. She said it was okay, she didn’t mind, and I hope that’s true.

Suzi had brought a ring watch that was hers and that Rawan had earlier admired, as a present. It was very appropriate, as Rawan had said they emphasized time management at the orientation. I contributed, with Kamle, Eiman, and Layla, for a group gift that the girls bought. It was a combination of items, some collapsible storage boxes, a jewelry box ( I have never noticed Rawan wearing jewelry, but I guess she must) a lamp, and a Snow White Planter(!) Sihan, Rawan’s mother, promptly put the ring watch into the jewelry box.

The most remarkable part of the party, though, was that Rawan was not wearing a headscarf, the first time I had seen her without one, although neither her mother or sister wears one at home. I almost didn’t recognize her, and am afraid I stared for a few minutes. She has beautiful, cascading curly hair, and I was tempted to compliment her on it, but it somehow didn’t feel appropriate.

In the video of her sister’s party, too, she was without headscarf and wearing a short bright green dress. I continue to be fascinated by the culture of the headscarf, who wears one, or not, and why, what it signifies to them.

I looked online today, trying to get a better sense of the significance of wearing or not wearing one. What I came across were a number of videos instructing people how to arrange and wear them. The tone of them was quite “girly,” for lack of a better term, and seemed at odds to me, once again, with the concept of wearing one for modesty. The video instruction reminded me, in a way, of one installation I had seen at the museum in Haifa last night. It had consisted of a series of video screens, each one showing a fake instruction video of a woman painting her nails with a different design. Each design was supposedly in the style of a different artist, although I must confess I didn’t actually see the resemblance, except possibly for Frank Stella, if indeed I was looking at the right one. But it was very clever, and well done, the mocking instruction, supposed fashion, supposed reference to well -known artists. And I have to say, the headscarf videos were equally entertaining, particularly the one with a `````baby crying in the background, and the mother/instructor virtually ignoring her.

On the agenda for tomorrow: art classes for kids in the morning, followed by my English class for whichever kids are interested. I hope I can also reschedule the cancelled visit to that family’s house, the one where Kamle had neglected to tell me about the cancellation. Then, hopefully, a couple of hours working with Mohammed on his English and descriptions for the photos. Then Suzi’s last presentation to the art teachers, And then, in theory, another English lesson, with someone whose name, I am embarrassed to say, I can’t read in my calendar. Well, I hope whoever she is shows up.

That reminds me of a funny incident last night – you’ll perhaps remember that Arabic names all have a meaning. Kamle means perfect. So to something Mohammed said yesterday, I responded, Kamle, That’s perfect, right?

Mohammed’s response – Kamle perfect? No, Kamle is crazy!! I believe he meant it in an affectionate way!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

A few photos, now that I've figured it out (I think!)

Ok, I am going to attempt to add more photos to the blog now that
I have figured out that it just takes a very long time for them to download, or upload, or whatever it is that they do. If you are interested in seeing more pictures, do check out my facebook page, where I have been able to post them more easily. These three, in no particular order, are, a store window in a local mall (note the contrasting fashions, in the same store window) the entrance to the gallery, and, a photo of a photo in the gallery's permanent exhibit, which documents through photos and videos, life in Umm el Fahem from the 19th century to the present. This is a pomegranate juice seller.

Suzi and I are, in theory, going to Haifa tonite, to see a performance piece by Said's younger brother. More to come...

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

More altered plans, and a day trip to Tel Aviv

The family that was supposed to pick me up this afternoon did not show up. (Does anyone see a theme here?!)

I waited a half hour, as people are not very timely here, and then called them. The woman was surprised, said she had told Kamle they had to reschedule. Kamle never mentioned it to me. Kamle is a lovely, but not very organized person. Then again, Said can be absent minded himself.

I don’t have a grasp on how much it is cultural, how much endemic to this particular organization. I want to discuss this with Lilli, hope I will have the opportunity to do so soon. But we haven’t seen much of her lately. First it was Sukkot, which lasted several days. Then she was sick for a day or two. She is going on vacation in a couple of days! And she only works here part time. I hope to catch her for some time tomorrow. But it is Suzi’s last few days here, and tomorrow is the last time Suzi and Lilli will see one another. So I feel like I should let Suzi have priority in discussing her projects with Lilli, since I will still have another three weeks after Suzi is gone.

The class also, of course, did not work out as planned, but actually worked out quite well. Eiman and Layla said they wanted to continue, but not today, because they had too much work to do. But Mohammed, who was very frustrated and disappointed when the group didn’t meet last time, was more than eager to meet with me individually. He has been working, with another man, on a video project, which I didn’t know anything about. He began to explain. The man he’s working with is Said’s brother, also an artist. He is apparently doing a performance piece in Haifa in a couple of days. The video is a part of that. And if I understand Mohammed correctly, it is a protest piece, against the inequities suffered by Arab Israelis. So now, I am hoping to go to Haifa on Thursday.

Next, Mohammed and I went to the Memories of Place exhibit, which is a part of the archives project, and the permanent part of the gallery exhibits. He is so eager to practice English, and began to talk to me as if he were guiding a group through the exhibit. We spent an hour or so, discussing photos and looking up words. It was very satisfying for both of us. I expect we will be doing this as many times as possible over the next few weeks. It also falls in with Lilli’s desire to have me work on English translations for the exhibit.

Rawan, as it turns out, will be leaving soon, to go to school in Jerusalem. She had finished high school, and intended to study nursing. The nursing programs don’t accept students until they are 19 or 20. But Rawan has now decided that she wants to study special education, and possibly art therapy. She apparently applied, late, last week, had an interview today, and expects to move to Jerusalem next week. I will miss her, and am hoping she will be coming home on the weekends, since everyone seems to. It is a big deal for a young person to move away from home, even to go to school. She is excited, but nervous, especially about with whom she will be rooming. I said that is perfectly natural, it’s the same with college students in the U.S. Suzi remarked, to me, not to Rawan, that she thinks she would do fine with another Arab student, or with an observant Jew(!) but not with a secular person.

I don’t think I described Jamal’s goodbye party. It was a barbeque, with a grill brought up to the roof. We had steaks,, and the requisite eight or ten different salads. The food was all from Jamal’s brother’s restaurant. Not the one they had taken me to; a different brother! After the meal, there were speeches made, by Jamal, another worker who had also completed his community service recently, by Said, and by a police officer who was the supervisor for the community service workers, in 34 different locations around the area. It was strange having a police officer at our party when everyone had been demonstrating against the police the day before. But this was another branch of service, and also, this officer was an Arab. Said presented the departing workers and the police officer with bouquets of flowers, and the two workers with Korans. I will miss having Jamal around. Hopefully he will come to visit, and also continue to invite me to his home.

Yesterday, Suzi and I headed in to Tel Aviv for the day, with Said, who was going in for a meeting with the organization who is doing the fundraising for the Museum they are planning.

Said dropped us off at a bus stop at the edge of the city. We took the bus to the last stop, the Carmel Market, where we roamed around admiring produce and taking pictures. And where I finally found FIGS! And bought a huge bagful of them. They don’t seem to sell things in small quantities here So I have been eating figs in large quantities since.

At one point, Suzi picked up a piece of fruit, and the stall owner chastised her for touching it. We had done the same thing at other markets in Umm el Fahen, and nobody minded. And why couldn’t he have just said something, not in a hostile way? I don’t know if he was Jewish or Arab, ( I can’t tell when people are speaking Hebrew or Arabic, they both have, to my ear, similar guttural sounds,)was just a crabby person, or was just having a bad day. But he was the first unfriendly person I have met in the country.

We walked through other parts of the market and the surrounding area, where there were multiple fabric shops, and button and ribbon shops, and then continued to walk through other areas that were a bit more upscale, toward the shopping mall where we were to meet Said.

The meeting went longer than expected. I am really curious to get Lilli’s perspective tomorrow. We had about an hour to kill at the mall, the biggest mall in Israel, according to Rawan, who loves going there. It was not much different from any other mall, and we couldn’t seem to find anything that was Israeli made, or that we would want to purchase as a gift. Rawan says she especially likes a store there that carries natural cosmetics, their only store in Israel. As Suzi mentioned (again, to me, not to Rawan) it is fascinating to observe the young women’s interest in fashion and cosmetics, combined with their custom of covering their heads.

I would consider returning to Tel Aviv, if I have the time, but have to say I was a little underwhelmed by what I saw. It is possible that the parts I saw were not the most interesting areas, although one area we strolled through had a kind of hip ambience. It sounds as though the port area, Jaffa, is an appealing place.

I am trying to just take things just as they happen, certainly a necessity as far as classes, invitations, and other kinds of plans. I know I will go to Haifa, to visit 93 year old Hedvig, who has invited me to stay with her. And I do have nearly a week when the gallery is closed in a couple of weeks, to take an extended trip. I would like to visit Nazareth, and the Dead Sea, and Masada, and spend some more time in Jerusalem. We shall see. I would certainly like to get some more of a Jewish perspective on the country.

"I hate English, and she hates me!"


I am awaiting my 3 pm class of staffers, which is actually my 4pm class. We moved it up when I found out that that Kamle had arranged for me to visit overnight at someone’s house. Kamle, who I’d just been eating with a few minutes before, never mentioned it to me. Yesterday, a similar thing happened. We found out, last minute, that the group we were expecting at 1:30 pm had been changed to 3pm. Suzi had been planning to give her second presentation, about her art, at 2pm, so that plan got scuttled.

I am assuming the woman is the same person who’d invited me to stay over last week, then cancelled because she was sick. We’ll see. I hated the idea of cancelling the staff class, because it’s been so on again/off again. And yet they do seem to want to do it.

Yesterday a bunch of bigwigs from the art world in the US visited, brought on an art tour by a group called Artis (ie art Israel) that promotes Israeli art and artists abroad. The group included a bunch of curators, the director of the Des Moines Art Museum, a couple of arts writers. One woman seemed particularly moved, and when she and Suzi started chatting they discovered they were practically neighbors, living several blocks from each other on the Upper West Side in NYC. She indicated real interest in supporting efforts to raise funds for the greatly expanded Museum Said has planned. She is the former head of Aperture, the renowned photography foundation and magazine, founded in the 1950’s by Ansel Adams, Dorothea Lange, and others to promote the art of photography. Ellen seemed very warm and personable, and genuinely interested in the gallery and its mission. So it will be interesting to see where that goes.


I did spent Sunday evening at a family’s home, as anticipated. It wasn’t, however, the family I had expected. I had I assumed it was Amne, the woman who’d invited me a week ago and then had to cancel. It was, however, an entirely different family.

This family is also friends of Kamle. The father, Amal, is a cell phone salesman. His wife, Waseem, does laser hair removal. When I asked how they knew Kamle, Amal explained that Kamle was a customer of Waseem’s. Oh, and by the way, when I later told Kamle that I was confused, had she told me that they’d invited me , Kamle just shrugged and smiled and said she’d forgotten.

Amal and Waseem and their chidren, 22 year old Noor and 16 year old Ahmed, were, as everyone has been here, warm and delightful. Noor is an English teacher, in Beer Sheva, a 2 hour bus trip away, which she makes every day. Ahmed was at first resistant to trying to speak to me in English, which his parents were clearly urging him to do. I just smiled at him, indicating, I hoped, that parents were like that. But when his dad went out to pick up Noor, and his mom was in the kitchen, he suddenly, using his electronic dictionary, starting asking me questions. He did say to me that he hated English, and she hated him. But he was talking to me! By a couple of hours later, he was telling me that English was beautiful, but hard, and that I was a good teacher. He also told me all about his girlfriend.

Amal told me that Ahmed had had a terrible English teacher the year before, and he thought that was why Ahmed was so resistant to English. I couldn’t help thinking that the problem was partly that his parents pushed him too much, which he was also clearly resistant too. Ahmed was an entirely appealing young man, with a spiky hair style and a zany way of loping around the house with a grin on his face, which I couldn’t begin to describe. His sister was very sweet. When I told them I couldn’t stay over (Said was picking us up at 8am the next morning to go to Tel Aviv) they all insisted I come back another time, which I certainly hope to do.

Waseem, the mom, by the way, speaks no English, but was totally involved in, even prompting, much of our conversation. She asked me a lot of questions, which her family translated, and it was she who had originally invited me. She was gregarious, similar to Kamle, and I could see how they would be friends. She also prepared what was, in my mind, a feast, which they seemed to regard as a light meal. There was delicious lentil soup, made with red lentils. They seemed surprised that I make brown lentil soup, which they do use, but not in soups.
Then there was the usual array of salads, plus rice with almonds, and a meat and vegetable stew.

Followed, of course, by multiple kinds of sweets and fruits, including a kind of grapefruit-like fruit, but larger, and drier, for which we couldn’t find an English name. Waseem gave me the two pomegranates that we didn’t eat to take home. They are sitting in a fruit bowl on the table with the figs. I am overwhelmed with fruit and with friendship.

Twenty questions, my little electronic device, was a great success. It definitely was a big factor in encouraging Ahmed to talk. Waseem and Amal wanted to know where they could get one. Which gave me the idea that I could send them one later on, or maybe two, one for Amal, and one for Noor to use with her students .I brought several gifts with me from home, Boston potholders and chocolate covered cranberries. But there are so many people I want to give gifts to.

Before we left, for Amal to bring me back here ( they live in a small town of 1000 about 20 minutes away from Umm el Fahem) the conversation between Waseem and Noor turned somewhat contentious. Since they didn’t seem to have any shyness about arguing in front of me, I decided to ask Amal, in the car afterwards, what the discussion had been about. He explained that Noor had asked for money for transportation to school. Waseem was angry because Noor earns a salary and should be responsible for her own transportation. But Noor said she had no money in her bank account, and they didn’t understand what she had spent it on. Amal did indicate that Noor liked expensive clothes.

I will stop now, because, in theory, my staff English class is supposed to start in a few minutes. That, though, has been so on and off that it will not surprise me if that doesn’t happen. I do also have an invitation from another family to visit their house this evening. This is a family whose son and daughter are in my Saturday English class. I have more hope that they will actually show as planned, but we shall see.

When I return, from whatever events actually take place, to the gallery and to the blog, I will catch up on the goodbye party a couple of days ago for Jamal, Suzi and my visit to Tel Aviv yesterday, and our visit this morning to a nearby day care center.

Some other perspectives on Umm el Fahem

The city of Umm el Fahem, as I’ve mentioned before, is known as a hotbed of Muslim anti-government political activity. There have been demonstrations here in the past, and riots at least once. I was hesitant, before I came here, to mention where I was going, to some people I know of (through the Czernowitz network*, I know them online, not personally) I would love to meet some of them, but wondered if they would be uncomfortable knowing I was coming here. I asked some folks I do know personally if they could suggest any of the Israeli Czernowitzers who might be ok with what I was doing. Someone mentioned Hedvig, the 93 year old “grande dame” of the group, as someone who would be welcoming. I did contact her, and she has invited me to come visit her in Haifa, and stay overnight. What hospitality, toward someone she doesn’t even know.

On the other hand, I have tried to contact cousins who live here, who lived in the US many years ago, and whom I knew as a child. Granted, I had not been in touch with them for 40 years, until recently, when we spoke on the phone, before I knew I was coming here. They have not answered several emails, nor has their daughter, who lives in the U.S. Perhaps it should have been a clue, when during our first conversation in 40 years, she asked right away if my husband was Jewish. To be fair, when I said he was not, she said the important thing was that he was a good man.

I am assuming that they are very uncomfortable with the fact that I am here. I can’t judge them, as someone who has never lived in Israel and could not possibly have the perspective that they do. But I am saddened, especially that they seem uncomfortable even being in touch with me.

Suzi has relatives here, and many friends. She has lived and gone to school here, years ago, and has maintained her relationships with several people. One is now the mayor of Haifa, who sounds to be very liberal in his politics. He has mandated studying Arabic for all students, as one example. Her friends’ politics are quite leftist. Some are involved with organizations that work toward establishing bonds between the Jewish and Arab populations.

Her cousins, though, with whom she visited yesterday, were afraid of the idea of coming here, even briefly. They wanted her to meet the cousin who picked her up at the junction, a fifteen or twenty minute walk from the gallery. The cousin did wind up driving her back to the door when they drove back here, at night. Hopefully the fact that there weren’t any marauding bands in the street eased his worries a bit, and maybe even will make some small inroads in his family’s thinking.

*Czernowitz is the city in Ukraine my grandmother is from, where I worked on the neglected cemetery where mygreat grandparents are buried. Another incredible experience. If interested, you can track back in the blog to 2008.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

My fifteen minutes?

Here is some Arabic coverage of the march I participated in yesterday. I thought I was joking when I said maybe my photo would be in the paper today. Well....

Check out the link below and scroll about 2/3 of the way down.,1,2.html

Breakfast, a demonstration, and Armageddon

Friday evening

I am catching up on world news, trying to catch up on local news. The triple murders, and the prison release, merit only a brief mention in the English language newspapers. I would like to know more, still hope to have the chance to discuss things with Said and Sihan, and also with Lilli, when she returns on Sunday. For her perspective as a Jew, but also as a very broadminded person, obviously, as she is working at the gallery, and certainly supports Arab rights.

What I do see, in the international news, is mention of the crazy preacher who predicted the Apocalypse to occur some months ago `. He has now recalculated it to occur – TODAY! This is particularly interesting to me because here in Umm el Fahem, I am only a short distance from the town of Bar Megiddo, known in Hebrew as … guessed it, Armageddon! I had been thinking already it might be interesting to go there, described by my Lonely Planet guidebook as a popular attraction for doomsday watchers as well as the just plain curious. And a woman I met yesterday who lives there says that it’s a very interesting archeological site. So if I rush out right now, maybe I can make it before midnight. I’ve still got a few hours. But wait, if he was calculating American time, I’ve got about 10 hours.

Yesterday evening did not pan out as planned, a not unusual state of affairs. There was a group of high school students fulfilling their 200 hour community service commitment, by working on a photography project with the artist whose photos are currently on exhibit here. .The group uses the same large meeting room that we have been using. So we couldn’t meet. But we had met a few days back in the office so Layla could cover the front desk.
And, as I’ve said before, there are other rooms available too. Then, more disappointingly,, Jamal didn’t come to pick me up at 4pm. I know he has my phone number, and I had his wife’s cell #, too, but didn’t feel like pursuing. it. I think his hours of community service to the gallery may be over, too. I do hope I get to see him, and his family, again. I believe that he registered his children in the art classes here after I mentioned it last week. So perhaps I will see them tomorrow.

This morning, Said picked us up, as planned, and brought us to his house for breakfast. He was wearing a t shirt and crocs! Certainly more informal than his daily attire at the gallery. (not that he dresses terribly formally, no jacket and tie, but no t shirt and crocs, either. Sihan had no head scarf on. Women often don’t wear them at home. But their daughter Rawan and Rawan’s friend were wearing them.

First it was just Sihan, Suzi, and myself eating breakfast, which Said cooked, a Friday family tradition. Rawan, her older sister, (who is in dental school in Jordan, and comes home every weekend) and Bashir were still asleep. Her sister wore no head scarf,and I don’t know if she does when she goes out. What an amazing breakfast – some kind of delicious omelet, and then one after another of something I didn’t catch the name of, but was basically a whole pita covered in different kinds of ingredients ( they ranged from cheese and onions to tomatoes to a wonderful herb called zatar, which I later looked up on line. drenched in olive oil.) The oil was “”new” they said, and so had a different taste, kind of spicy, which surprised me. We also dipped plain pita in the oil, in hummus, in tahini. ,Zatar, as I read, is an herb blend that varies in composition. Traditionally, it contains wild thyme. But the thyme is threatened, and has been put on the endangered list by the Israeli government. There is a fine for picking it. Some use regular thyme, but it is not the same, according to Said. Some Israeli Arabs consider it an affront that they are not allowed to pick it, according to Wikipedia. Other ingredients can include oregano, sesame seeds, caraway seeds, and sumac berries.

Said kept cooking these wonderful concoctions, starting with half cooked pita, and cooking them in an electric appliance that looked somewhat like a Dutch oven. And Sihan kept cutting them in quarters with a pizza cutter, and plying us with more and more until they finally believed that we couldn’t eat any more! Meanwhile, the woman who cleans their house was there, and, after she had done a lot of dusting, she came to join us at the table. She said, as Sihan translated, that she likes being there on Friday because she gets to eat so much delicious food.

I can’t remember what prompted it, but somehow, halvah got mentioned, and Said climbed up to one of the upper cabinets and took down two large containers, with two kinds of halvah. I had almost purchased one in the local store a few days ago, until I realized I didn’t have enough cash, and hadn’t brought my credit card.

I wasn’t sure how similar halvah would be here to the kind one gets at home. Recipes I’ve seen for it vary quite widely. But I was pleased to discover it was quite similar, and managed to eat several pieces despite all I’d already had. And, I was even more delighted to find out that the Halvah factory belongs to someone in their family, and they will take us for a visit!

We never did get to the olive preserving process. Perhaps next week.

Last night, we’d heard noises, chanting, coming from outside the gallery. When we went out to the roof deck to look, we could see people marching in the street parallel to ours, and hear them chanting some slogans. They marched down, toward the junction with the main road. Some time later, they came back up, on our street. We didn’t know if this was connected to the violence, the returned prisoner, or what. We weren’t particularly worried, thinking that if it was anything of concern Said would surely call us.

This morning, at breakfast, we learned that it had indeed been a protest against the violence, and that a much bigger demonstration, including women, would happen today, at about noon.

Suzi and I were both interested in going, and found out that Rawan was planning to go, with her friend, and we could accompany her.

I still remained puzzled about against whom they were protesting. The murders, obviously, were a terrible thing. But what they were asking of the police, and why the municipal government was protesting the police, was a mystery to me. Finally, after many questions, I began to understand. The police are federal. As Rawan explained it, the police don’t do anything to protect the people.

I asked how she thought the police could have prevented or helped in the situation of the murders. Rawan mentioned the idea of checking people’s homes for arms. I questioned whether people would really appreciate having police come into their homes. She thought, maybe just periodically, once or twice a year.

Basically, I think people are protesting against the lack of the Israeli government to recognize their needs, police, health, education, all kinds of services. The Arab population is, after all, 20% of the Israeli population, and they clearly do not get the services they should.

We soon set off, Rawan and her friend, Suzi, myself, uphill toward one of the larger mosques, where people were congregating for the march. There were women, old and young, and quite a few children, and we soon found and joined the large group marching through the streets. I saw men only at the very beginning of the march, and believe that there was a separate group of men marching from another direction>

I have to say I hadn’t thought this through very well, guess I was envisioning e watching the demonstration, not marching in it. I have never been a marcher, even when there is a cause I strongly support, just don’t like the group mentality, the chanting, etc. But there was no chance of our “just watching”. Rawan took me, and her friend took Suzi, literally in hand, pulling us forward faster than the pace of the group. They wanted to get towards the front, where it would be more interesting, And, they clearly took very seriously their mission of being responsible for us. Mostly the concern was about our getting lost, not any other worries. . Rawan mentioned, at one point, thatshe thought people would be very appreciative of us, as foreigners, joining in and supporting their cause. And here I was, not even sure I was understanding the cause, and also getting hotter and more out of breath by the moment. I wondered how these women, many in long coats and head scarves, managed in the heat. I often wonder this, not only during the march, but my concern was amplified here.

Rawan said that she had been worried about the demonstration last night. But she thought this one would be different, because women were marching too, and that would provide a different kind of atmosphere. I would guess that she’s right. This, I heard later from Suzi, was the first demonstration that Rawan had participated in, the first time she had felt strongly enough about protesting. She is, after all, not quite 18.

When it became clear that the march was going to continue on a lot longer, and have many more ups and downs through the winding streets, I told Rawan to head me back in the direction of the gallery, and we soon came to the road it’s on, and the march went on, uphill, and I headed down toward home, not far.

I am not sorry I participated: it was quite a remarkable experience, certainly an insight into Israeli Arab society that I hadn’t anticipated having. Surrounded by women, of many ages, shouting slogans that I couldn’t understand, in the familiar cadence of political chants around the world.

Oh, by the way, I noticed a photographer, along the way, taking a picture of me. So maybe I’ll make tomorrow’s local news. Unless, that is, Armeggedon occurs tonight.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Memories of Place, and visitors from Jerusalem, Ramallah, and the United States


It’s now been two weeks since I arrived in Israel, ten days that I’ve been in Umm el Fahem, When I start dictating to myself about my experiences, in the shower, or worse, when I am trying to read, it’s definitely time to hit the blog again! I used to have a similar kind of experience, years ago, when I’d been doing a lot of typing, realizing that I was mentally typing my thoughts in my head. That doesn’t happen when I’ve been typing on the computer. Maybe because the touch of the fingers on the keyboard is much softer on computer that on an old manual typewriter, (or as Max and Carolina once referred to it, an old fashioned computer.) But I digress, before I have even begun.

Yesterday was a quiet day here. Everything was indeed closed, it seemed. But as I didn’t go out until evening, I can’t say for sure. By dinnertime things were bustling again. The gallery was closed, at least until the leader of a group on their way here called Said. It’s a good thing they called, so Said was able to come to welcome them and give them a tour. They were American. I don’t know if they were even aware of the strike.That’s all I know, because I slept through their entire visit!

I am curious to know more about both of yesterday's situations, the murders and the returned soldier, jailed for murder for 20 years. I am hoping to have some conversations this afternoon, with my class, and with Jamal and his wife, about their perspectives on both situations. We already know Jamal’s opinion on the soldier, he was clear about it the other day. But what do people in general think, and is there any more detail to the triple murder/family feud story? Family seems of the utmost importance here, nuclear family, but also extended family. What preceded this event? What will happen to the young couple now? I admit to being fascinated by true life crimes, especially one that occurs in the very place I am living. Will it make a good topic of conversation in my class of the young women staffers? Or is it something they would shy away from? Do most couples arrange their own marriages here? How important is family approval or involvement.?

Can we have a discussion on these topics and then play 20 questions? Or would it be too drastic a shift in mood?

One thing I have been doing with this group is reading over the brochure, which needs some updating before it is printed and distributed. It seems to be a practical and useful exercise, for them and for me. Luckily we have almost finished it, since two of my four students have now declared their reluctance to read!

Next, I plan to try using a book published by the gallery called Memories of Place, which is part of the permanent exhibit aat the gallery. It is a collection of photos, some vintage, and some contemporary, that documents life in the city and the surrounding area. All of these photos, and some videos, are part of the growing archive of the gallery. One video is filmed from a car driving through the city the last time it snowed here, about 20 years ago. Although this project is different from the major goal of showcasing contemporary art, Said feels that it an important part of the gallery’s mission.

Many of the photographs are of an historical nature, but some are contemporary pictures of older couples, posed in their living rooms. The room also features a set up of a traditional living room, with low couches and pillows. I haven't seen anyone sitting in the furniture there, but hope that some do. I would especially like to see the school groups using the room, which perhaps they do.

I don’t know how this will go over with the staffers, but I am going to try to ask them to choose a photo from the exhibit and then talk about it, explain what appeals to them about it, why they think it’s important. It seems very relevant to their desire to learn language that is related to the gallery. But it may require more sophisticated language skills than they have. I don't want to frustrate them. I’d better come up with a back up plan before 3 pm!

Layla, Rawan, Eiman, and Mohammed are all working on the archives project, which encompasses the Memories of Place exhibit. The young woman all work on filming and transcribing the memories of elders. They can often be found in the archives office, headphones over their headscarves, listening to and transcribing the accounts Mohammed is the computer guru. I don't know if the project eventually includes translating them, but I would hope that local people, at least, would come to watch and listen.

Lilli has asked me to help her with the website. I made clear to her even before I came here that I did not have technical skills, but would be happy to help her with writing, proofing, editing, etc. And so I have been going over the website, making notes, and will go ove r things with her next week, when she returns from her Sukkot vacation. The site is basically quite nice, I would like to know who did the translation, because it is very good. But there are a couple of places where I feel the language is a bit too flowery, at least for an English language audience, and it will be interesting to discuss that with Lilli.

There are a couple of places on the site that are under construction on
The website .One is the the section for the Memories of Place exhibit.

Right in the middle of the prevous sentence I had two unexpected visits, so a half hour or so (maybe more, it’s hard to keep track of time) ha s gone by since I began writing about the website. One was a man and woman, with Said, from an arts foundation in Ramallah, in the West Bank. The other was three friends of Suzi. They both came by the apartment, where I am writing. These are the first visitors we have had here to the apartment (they've come to see the rooftop sculptures, and they arrive back to back. I will write more about them when I finish up my previous train of thought.

Lilli wants my help on writing up the website section on the exhibit and the archives, another thing I will be happy to do. If I actually accomplish these several projects, create the day visit in coordination with GoEco, and continue my language classes for the next weeks, I will be very pleased. Then, of course, there is the issue of follow-through. I wonder if Ann, the English woman who put the brochure together last year, knows that it never got printed, much less distributed. I do hope we can get that together, too. One encouraging thing, in terms of organizing the visits here is that the family of Jonathan Gelbin, co founder of GoEco, and Said are good friends.

Re today's two visits, the first people were from an arts foundation in Ramallah, in the West Bank, the Qattan Foundation. I assume they are discussing with Said how the organizations can work together. The other folks are a friend of Suzi, and two friends of hers. One woman is an enamel artist .The man is a tour director, gave me his card, and said to call him, not with the idea of giving him business, but just if I had any questions or needed advice about travelling.

I have my staff class in a few minutes, and after that am going to Jamal’s house, for English conversation with him and his family, and, no doubt, some delicious food. Tomorrow morning (remember, Friday is the weekend here) Suzi and I are invited to Said’s house, for breakfast, and for a lesson in preserving olives!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

A celebration, a released traded prisoner, a tragedy worthy of Shakespeare

I am about to eat some traditional local food, purchased in the tiny neighborhood market a couple of days ago. Would you believe – ramen noodles! Or the local variation, anyway. They are called Indo Mie, and I am guessing they are from Indonesia, although I can’t seem to find it on the package. They have the little seasoning packet, although it’s three seasonings, bumbu sauce, chili sauce, and a liquid oil and curry sauce. I can’t wait, as soon as they cool off a little. I have to confess, I am a ramen noodle addict. Seriously.

So while I wait for them to cool a bit, let me backtrack and catch you up on the last couple of days. This morning, I had my individual tutoring class with Halima, one of the art teachers. I brought a catalog from another exhibit that featured the work of Fatima Abu Rumi, whose work is currently on exhibit here. Since the text was in English as well as Arabic, and Hebrew, I thought we could focus on a few of the words, and then Halima could read the text in Arabic later to get a better understanding. But Halima was clear that she didn’t want to do that, she wanted to focus on more practical conversation, like shopping. So we went into practicing a conversation about asking about size, price, and color in looking for a blouse. And this led into a conversation about traditional and modern clothing, head scarves, etc. I mentioned that I was fascinated by the variety in women’s style of dress, and that it didn’t seem to be a generational thing. She told me that she only started wearing a head scarf about 9 years ago, just because she liked the idea. (and, she said, because it’s easier to get ready in the morning, you don’t have to worry about your hair!)

Okay, I’ve tried the noodles now, and they are good! Better than the ones at home, with the curry flavoring and the kick from the chili. I may have to bring some back home with me. I wonder if they’re allowed by customs. Oh, and I did find the tiny print indicating where they were made – Saudi Arabia. So much for my guess.

After the clothing conversation, Halima had something else she wanted to explain to me. First she said police, then drew a square. It’s like charades. She eventually managed to convey the word jail to me. Then she mentioned Shalit, the Israeli Jewish soldier who is being released today in exchange for about 1000 Palestinian prisoners, 500 now and 500 a month from now. I know about it, it certainly is big news in Israel, but my own info has come mostly from US sources online, not from any discussions with folks here. Until today. Well, it turns out that six of the released are Israeli Arabs, not Palestinians, and one of them is from here.

This is what Halima eventually managed to convey to me, that on her way to work here today there was a lot of traffic , people coming to see the released prisoner. The other staff kept hanging out the window, reacting when they heard honking horns and firecrackers. (but there are frequently horns as well as firecrackers, and I don’t think they actually had anything to do with the prisoners). Eventually everyone went back to what they were doing. I have no idea if the guy arrived, or what happened. Someone told me that he had been in jail for 20 years for killing someone.

Jamal, with whom I’ve already had conversations about Jewish -Arab relations, said quite clearly that he has no sympathy for the returning man, that he is a murderer. I am very curious to learn what others here think.

Kamle, Saids’ secretary, who has supposedly been coordinating my English classes, said there wouldn’t be a class today, everyone was too wound up. But everyone else in the class said they were planning to meet with me, and so we are meeting at 4pm, in about 45 minutes from now.

As I write this I am pondering whether to bring up the returning prisoner as a topic of conversation. I think I will just ask them what happened, did he arrive, and see where it goes from there. And then we’ll play 20 questions!!

Last night we had an amazing experience. (I feel like I keep saying that!) We were invited, not just us but the whole gallery staff, to a party. It was for a man who used to be one of the community service people here (he had supposedly sold some pirated books, but he denied it.) The man, in his thirties, had been diagnosed with cancer, but last week doctors told him he didn’t have it after all. Hence, the party. I don’t think anyone had a clue how big a party it was going to be. It was at a function hall. Well, not exactly hall, it was outdoors, overlooking the city. It was a huge crowd, I was later told 700 people. We’d been told earlier that it was a lamb barbeque, and Lilli warned us that they might slaughter the animal there, that was a common thing. That led me to remember the sheep’s eye I’d once been offered in Casablanca after they slaughtered the animal on the roof, which I declined and have always felt guilty about, hoping I hadn’t terribly offended them.

Last night, there were platters of lamb skewers, steaks which I believe were also lamb, and meatballs that I think were lamb too. But no slaughter, at least not at the event, at least not that we were aware of. Of course they kept offering us more and more. .And there were at least six or eight different kinds of salads, vegetables, hummus, etcetera. I ate a lot more than I should have. It was all delicious.

After we’d finished, we moved to another table closer to the stage, and there the waiters were serving dessert, some very rich baklava- like layered pastries, but with cheese. I had two!

We had also been told that the party might be segregated, men and women apart. But that wasn’t true, either. It certainly would have been a very different event if it had been. I wouldn’t have minded, it would have been interesting.

Before the party, we had gone, first, to Said’s house, where we met his wife and youngest son, Bashir, who is 15. His house is incredibly beautiful, architecturally, and is decorated with all kinds of wonderful art. His wife, Sihan, is an elementary school principal. She had worked with the man whose non cancer we were celebrating, when she was a science teacher. He, whose name I have forgottn, is a history teacher.

After tea and candies and a tour of his house, including his studio, we left for the party. The staff had collected money, and we contributed too, for a gift. They bought a vase and a lamp. I can’t imagine what he must have received if all 700 guests brought gifts!

After the party, Said and Sihan said they wanted to take us on a driving tour of the city. We went all around to the other side of the hills on which Umm el Fahem sits.The view was exquisite. He then told us there was a small Jewish community nearby, with whom the people in the city had a good relationship. It was not exactly a kibbutz, but a moshad. There, people own some things, like heavy equipment, collectively, but not their homes.

We came up to the entrance of the community, which was gated. Said spoke to the guard, who said he couldn’t let us in then, that we could come back during the day. As we were pulling out, another car, of residents I assume, pulled up and asked if they could help us. Said explained that we wanted to visit the place, but that the guard had said to come back, and that was fine, he was doing his job. It was all quite cordial.

I thought we were heading home (it had certainly been a busy enough evening for me) when Said said that we were going to their house to drop off, Rawan, their 17 (almost 18!) year old daughter, who is one of the staff people here, and one of my English students, and pick up Bashir, their 15 year old son, to bring him to the pool at the country club, where he swims 3 times a week. We are invited to go too, to use the pool or machines, on one of the women’s days.

Next, Said took us on a tour of another neighborhood, newly built, of immense houses. They explained that they were multi-family houses, either parent-son families, or multiple brother families. He drove us into the driveway of one of the biggest, said it was ok, the man was his friend. The friend promptly came out and invited us in. His business was selling livestock, often to Jewish families. It had been his father’s business before his.

His young wife, carrying a baby, served us coffee and apple juice. Said had already told us that the man had two wives. The first one hadn’t been able to get pregnant. Each wife had her own house within the compound. I asked if the two wives were friends. Said said, of course. Suzi said, you’ll never convince me. Said said something to the young woman, who laughed. Boy, would I like to continue that conversation. What we did find out was that having more than one wife was legal (really, under Israeli law?) but uncommon.

We continued on our drive. Before long, we passed a couple out walking, and Said rolled down the window to chat. More friends. They apparently also invited us in, but Said declined. A minute later, we passes still another couple, who also invited us, and we accepted. The ones we had declined joined us as well, and soon we were a group of about ten, including the son and daughter of the folks whose home we were at, and a neighbor who I am thinking was also a brother!

We had some very interesting conversations with our mint tea, dates, and almonds, and I’ll pick up again in a while, after my English class.

I’m back, a couple of hours later.

I wanted to mention a few things about our second visit to the friends´homes. Most of the conversation was in Arabic, so we obviously missed a lot. But we had some interesting conversatons with individuals, and a few times, with the group at large. Said k new that I was interested in finding some live Arabic music. It turns out that the father of the house directs a performance of music and dance every year in Haifa, and that it’s next week. The son produces it. Whatever it is, I am sure it will be great, and you can bet that I am going.

At one point, everyone in the room erupted in laughter. Said then explained to us that someone had mentioned a woman being pregnant with twins. And Said misunderstood that it was the mother of the family. She looked to be about 50 years old. Said said maybe she could give some advice to his wife, because he still wanted more children in addition to their five. Turns out it was the daughter who is pregnant, not the mother, and that his friends are going to be grandparents. Everyone was immersed in laughter at the idea that it was the mother who was expecting twins.

To the extent that I could interpret their interactions, it seems like the women were entirely on an equal level with the men in their conversations. The women did not seem in any way subservient, although they did do all the serving of tea, coffee, etc. But that isn’t so different from American society.

The class this afternoon was interesting. We read the brochure and discussed the vocabulary some more. Mohammed and Rawan are both active participants. Layla and Eiman much less so. Eiman has told me she is shy about reading, self conscious because she has difficulty pronouncing some letters. And yet she isn’t shy about speaking, only reading. I ask her how she would feel about practicing if it was just me and her, and she says that would be much better. So perhaps we will try that. Now Layla is saying she is shy and doesn’t’ want to read either! And yet they both seem to want to come, this is totally voluntary, not something they have to do. So since I am meeting individually with Halima, because of her working schedule, I feel like I should offer Eiman the same option, and probably Layla, too, if that is what they want. I think I, personally, would feel the opposite, less shy when among friends than just one on one. But, I have the time, so whatever works for them.

We did play 20 questions again, and it guessed pomegranate (which we were eating during the class) correctly this time, and then, water, as well.

We also did speak a little about the prisoner trade situation, which I brought up, and my sense was that they all were pleased and proud about the local man being released. It will be interesting to speak with others, like Said, and hear their perspective.

When I mentioned that I’d see them tomorrow, they said, no, there’s a strike tomorrow, everything, gallery included, is closed. The reason for the strike: protesting violence in the city. Not Jewish-Arab violence. The fact that violence in the city had been increasing in the city in general, and demanding that something be done to stop it. It turns out there was a tragic killing here last night, in the early hours of the morning. Mohammed attempted to explain it to me, with the help of his electronic dictionary. It is a story of Shakespearean proportions. It is absolutely incredible that two events, this and the return of the prisoner, have happened here in Umm el Fahem on the same day. And that I could have been totally unaware of both, if people hadn’t explained them to me. Until tomorrow, at least, when I would have discovered the gallery closed and the city shut down.

Here is the story as I understood it from Mohammed. What we have found online differs in some details, and doesn’t have as many details.

There were two families. The daughter of one, a well to do family, was in love with the son of the other, a poorer family. The father of the girl refused to permit the engagement of his daughter. The two ran away. The girl spoke to her mother, who convinced the father to allow the engagement. The pair returned to their homes, and the girl’s father agreed that they could marry if the boy was able to build a house for them within a year. But, either he, or people he hired, went to the boy’s family, and shot his father and his two brothers. The brother in love with the girl escaped unharmed. The father and two brothers died. The boy returned home. The girl and her mother and the boy and his mother all survived. The girl’s father has disappeared.

This is what happened today, along with the welcome home of the prisoner, in Umm el Fahem. While I had a leisurely morning, took my clothes to the laundry, taught my students, ate pomegranates and ramenesque noodles, and played twenty questions.

On Saturday, Fatima Abu Rumi, one of the four artists featured in the currrent exhibit, came to the gallery to touch up one of her paintings, of a scarf. Her paintings deal with issues of identity. Many are self portraits, depicting herself in traditional attire with headscarf, without, and more fully veiled. I asked her if she would pose for me between a couple of her pieces, a self portrait, and a portrait of her father as a saint.

Notice the Hello Kitty t-shirt!
Just another facet of her identity.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

One week into my stay

Sunday evening

Suzi and I have been here a week now. I have been spending the major part of my days at the gallery, and there have been a couple of days when I have not ventured out at all. Part of it, I think, is the psychological effect of the roof deck just outside our door, with its amazing view of the city. After the roof guys have left it is ours alone, and even when they are there we often leave the door open.

Today, I spent more time outside the building than any day so far. First, I went for a long walk uphill on our street, just past the modern mosque. I took lots of photos along the way, mostly just trying to document scenes of the city, houses, businesses, etc. There was the car shop with the Toyota sign and I couple of totally dead cars sitting in front, one upside down. They reminded me of dead cockroaches, no doubt because of the huge dead cockroach in our bathroom this morning. More about that in a bit.

I wondered if they were saving the cars for parts, or had already stripped them of all possible parts, which is what it looked like. Why then would they keep them there. Then again, why not? One not so positive thing here is the amount of trash, all over. Everything from small plastic trash to sofas. Lilli says it’s a real problem, due to lack of money and infrastructure. I don’t think it’s limited just to Umm el Fahem. I noticed the trash in Jerusalem as well, although not in the same quantities.

Then there was the cleaners, where there was an elegant white dress hanging outside the doorway. The man inside saw me taking a picture and came out, perhaps,I thought, not wanting me to take a photo. Instead, he held out a tray filled with candies, offering them to me.

Everywhere I have gone, people have been friendly and welcoming. I know that there are hostilities here, that there are some people who resent the inroads that Said is attempting to make. But I have to say that, so far, I have not experienced an iota of unfriendliness. Many people smile, recognizing me as a stranger. I smile, too,and say saba alchayr, good morning, or masa alchayr, good evening, as the case may be. Numerous times, someone, often a child, says “shalom,” assuming, I guess that we are Jewish Israelis.

Suzi, who does speak Hebrew, which everyone here speaks, invites everyone she talks with to come check out the gallery. Wouldn’t it be great if some of them do.

Okay, back to the cockroach story. Suzi tells me this morning that she made a great effort, last night, to not scream and wake me up when a huge roach jumped or fell down from the ceiling in her bedroom and then scrambled off somewhere in the apartment. She found it and doused it heavily with Glade or whatever, and later found it belly up and dead in the bathroom.

My second trip out of the gallery today was to the market (souk) this afternoon. It is several kilometers from here, and uphill on the way back, when we would be loaded down. This is the vegetable market, not the kind of exotic souk the word conjures. But it was a delight to see all the produce. Even though we still have quite a few apples, avocados, and more from when we arrived, we were out of bananas and other fruits, on which we have now loaded up once again. Eiman and Rawan brought us to the market in Eiman’s car. Names in Arabic all have a meaning. Eiman means belief in God, and Rawan means paradise. Both of them are in my English class. Both are young, and both wear headscarves. Eiman wears a long traditional coat, but Rawan wears jeans and a blouse and stylish shoes.

My third trip out into town was earlier this evening, with Suzi. We walked down our street, one of the main drags, filled with shops and restaurants and various kinds of businesses, clothing stores, furniture stores. There are a couple of newish buildings of three or four stories, small malls. In one of them is a McDonalds and a Pizza Hut.
We are both amazed at some of the womens’ fashions, especially the evening gowns, which are quite revealing. As far as we understand from Lilli, women may wear these at segregated events, or perhaps with a covering, I have a hard time imagining any of the women I have met here wearing any of these dresses.

My classes are going quite well, although only three of the previous five of the staffers came this afternoon. I have decided to use the unfinished brochure as a jumping point for language practice. We take turns reading and discussing vocabulary, and then I ask them for suggestions about other points in the city that might be interesting to include.

Then, to end on a fun note, I take out my electronic 20 questions game, have them think of something (a projector) and then we answer the device’s questions. I am disappointed that the darn thing doesn’t get it right, it guesses “steel.” Oh, well, maybe the next time, and then they’ll be startled when it does. But it was a good exercise anyway, just having them understand and think about the questions.

Yesterday, Saturday, was the day that children come for art classes. Lilli had spoken to me even before I arrived about classes, and I am happy to do them. But since no one, that I am aware, had spoken to the families, I was a bit unclear on how this would pan out. I sat in on a little of each class ( there were three age levels) and at the end, to my surprise, about a dozen kids came, some of them with their parents. We did a “my name is ----, what is your name?” game,, then sang “Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes” then I brought out the I Spy bingo game I’d picked up at a yard sale a few days before I left. The kids caught on quickly and really enjoyed it.

During the older kids’ later class, I asked if they would like to learn some more English, playing games. They were all interested, but they have a karate class after the art class. So I told them to think about if there was an afternoon after school that they would like to come. We’ll see.

Some of the art teachers here also teach art in local schools. Said’s wife is a school principal. Lilli’s son goes to a mixed Jewish-Arabic elementary school, one of only four in Israel. I am hoping, between all these contacts, to visit one or more schools during my stay.

This morning a group of reform Jews from Jerusalem came to visit the gallery. There were probably about thirty of them. One couple had been Lilli’s neighbors when she lived in Jerusalem. They had visited here before, and then wanted to bring the rest of their group. They all were English speaking and my impression was that most of them were originally American. I didn’t detect any Israeli accents in the ones I spoke with, although a couple had British accents. Said spoke to the group, quite eloquently, before they toured the gallery. I didn’t find out much about the group itself, and am curious. I will have to see if I can find out more.

I had been invited to the home of Amne, the poet who I think will be joining my other adult group, to spend the night tonight. But she called me this morning, sounding terrible, to say she was sick. Kamle later explained to me that she had been in a car accident, and had spent 10 months in the hospital.I hope she is better soon, for her sake, of course, and also for mine, because I am touched and intrigued by the idea of staying overnight with her family.

Friday, October 14, 2011

No Cause for Alarm

Friday am

I am alone, as far as I know, in the gallery this morning. Suzi, my roommate for the first three weeks of my sojourn, has gone away overnight with friends. I awoke at 7:30, was enjoying a cup of tea, when the gallery alarm, a piercing high pitched noise, went off.

Several nights ago, our first or second night here, I was awakened, by Suzi actually, not the alarm, at about 1:30 am. I had been vaguely aware, in my sleep, of the sound, but had incorporated into my dream and hadn’t awakened. Suzi was somewhat panicky (oxymoron?) asking what we should do. As I remember, my somewhat facetious and groggy reply was to ignore it and maybe it would go away. I am thinking I may still have been partly asleep and only said it to myself. When she mentioned something about finding a weapon I guess I decided I’d better get up. We quickly decided to call Said. It took him about ten or fifteen minutes to arrive. I wasn’t worried about intruders but the noise certainly wasn’t pleasant. When Said and another man arrived, it took another twenty minutes or so to figure out how to turn the alarm off. And they showed us how to disable it if it happened again.

This am, when the alarm sounded again, I went to the box, hit the appropriate buttons, which turned off the alarm. For about a minute. Then it began again. After three or four rounds of this, I was thinking maybe it was time to call Said, when he actually called me. I don't know if he heard the sound, if someone called him,or what. The system is not connected to his home, or to the police. And after seven or eight episodes of quieting it for a minute or so, it turned off and has been ok since, several hours later.

I never did see Said. The roof guys are not here today. There is a separate entrance that leads to our apartment. I walked downstairs earlier, no lights were on, no sounds of anyone. I didn’t dare venture into the gallery itself for fear of triggering the alarm again, but don’t know at this point if it is even on.

I don’t think I had fully internalized that the gallery is closed today.Friday is the Muslim holiday. Saturday is the Jewish. So the weekend is actually Friday and Saturday. But I am content to hang out here, write, read, eat, probably go out for a walk sometime later in the day. It is so pleasant here on the roof deck, I don't have any inclination, after I finish writing, to do anything but read and probably take a nap.

I have not purchased any groceries since I arrived, except for a package of instant soup, in Jerusalem, when they told me at the hostel that nothing would be open on Saturday, Yom Kippur. (actually, I was fine, with a big hostel breakfast, and then a lamb sandwich is the old city later on in the day.) And a box of pasta, which I have not yet used, and a package of delicious chocolate hazelnut cookies, which I have been trying to eat in small quanties.

The first day Said treated us to a late lunch. Last night I was invited to Jamal’s house (more about that in a bit) and yesterday lunch we were told not to eat, that someone was bringing hummus. In between we have been eating some of the food they stocked the apt. with, pita with hummus and veggies, yogurt (or it may actually be what they call white cheese, which my guidebook describes as similar to yogurt) and fruit: bananas, grapes, apples, oranges, pomegranates. When Lilli drove us here from the train about 20 minutes away, we passed through fields and fields of pomegranates. And I’d had a glass of pomegranate juice in the old city in Jerusalem, fresh squeezed and delicious.

I’ve eaten the yogurt/white cheese first with bananas, then apples, and this morning with pomegranate. The pomegranate is both sweet and tart, in a way like cranberry juice, but without adding sugar. I liked both the way it looked and tasted with the white whatevery it is stuff. The juice kind of oozed in rivulets around it. Pomegranates are in right now in the US, the whole antioxidant thing, so maybe I am making myself very healthy while I antioxidate myself. They are so beautiful, and appealing in the way the seeds cling to the membrane. And it seems that just when I have reached the last of the seeds, another layer reveals itself.

Before I move beyond the topic of foods, I want to mention the olives we picked the other day, on our tour around the city with Said and Lilli. We were on the land of a friend of his, and it’s exactly the right time to harvest olives. So we each picked a bunch, and Said said he’d show us how to preserve them, in just water and salt, I believe. But he is always going in a million different directions, and we haven’t gotten around to the olives yet.

I keep getting requests from more people to do English classes or tutoring. So far, I have met with the staff group, another group of women, with Jamal’s family, and with Halima, one of the art teachers, individually.

We were supposed to have the second session of the staff group yesterday, but when I arrived they were all sitting in Kalme’s office eating hummus and French fries! I asked when they wanted to start, especially since I was scheduled to go to Jamal’s an hour later. They indicated there was a group using the space we’d used for the previous session. True, but there are plenty of other spaces in the gallery we could have used.

I don’t think they were trying to get out of meeting, they had been extremely enthusiastic and asked for a third weekly session after the first. I think it just part of that "manana" attitude (I should look up the word in Arabic) that seems to prevail here. Lilli, on introducing us to the gallery and city, had said, it drives her crazy that people are inefficient and unorganized, it's just part of the culture. I had thought she' been about to warn us that people weren't welcoming to foreigners, or something like that. Lilli herself it very directed and energetic. Me, I'm kind of a manana person myself.

So, hearing music from across the hall, I asked my hummus and fries eating supposed class what the group in the meeting room was. Not children, they said, indicating taller, so I assumed teenagers. And the music sounded like something teens might dance to. But when I went across the hall, it was actually a group of disabled adults, perhaps 20 of them, who were dancing, in traditional and in their own individual style, and having a great time. Some clearly had Down Syndrome or other disabilities, in other cases I really wasn’t sure if an individual was a client or staff. Suzi and I and the staff joined in, first clapping, then dancing. It was truly wonderful. I think this is one of many groups Said incorporates into the gallery, in different ways.

Yesterday morning I was scheduled to meet with the group of women who are friends of Kalme. At the ageeed to time, just Kalme and one other woman were there. Zakia is Kamle’s friend, best friend they said at first, but then it was clear that there was another word, that they couldn’t describe in English. So I asked them to find it out for next time.I was very impressed with Zakia, she seems strong and motivated and clear on what she wants. She speaks quite decent English, wants to improve her grammar. I said I don’t teach grammar directly, but would be happy to correct her on tenses, usage, etc. as she spoke, and in writing if she wanted me to give her some writing assignments. She came up with the idea, that each of them (by now a third woman had joined us) should find an article in English, read it, and then present it to the rest of us. It will be interesting to see who follows through. Zakia has studied English on her own, and also has had foreign students live with her who are studying Arabic who have helped her with her English.

When I mentioned the idea of hosting day visitors for a meal (one of my ideas in encouraging visitors to the city and gallery) Zakia said quite clearly that she is not interested in that! A woman who knows what she wants.

The third woman, Amne, was introduced to me by Said as a poet whose poems are published regularly in the paper. She is also a teacher of Arabic, and is working on her Master’s in Arabic studies. She invited me to her house, to stay overnight if I would like. Once again, I am overwhelmed by people’s hospitality.

Kamle’s husband owns a restaurant, and she has her own clothing shop, in addition to working, full time as far as I can tell, for the gallery. She tells me there were a couple of others who planned to come today. And she is sure there will be more once word gets out. I tell them that whatever works out is fine with me, that I think if there are more than six or eight they won’t have as much chance to converse, but I will leave it up to Kamle.

I know I’d mentioned before the roof guys and that they were people doing community service for minor violations. I knew Jamal was part of that group, but because of his demeanor and my general impression, I was guessing he was their coordinator. In fact, though, as he explained to me as we drove to his house, he was one of the people fulfilling their community service. His transgression, driving without a license, twice. ( he assured me he had one now!) Didn’t quite understand the circumstances, but he said he had not taken driving lessons, didn’t get a license, and just drove. He also said if he were to be caught a third time, he would go to jail.

We arrive at Jamal’s, a very large and modern house. He has told me that this is a very new neighborhood, built within the last five years. One of his brothers (there are 10, plus 5 sisters) lives next door. We spend the next hour or two conversing on the patio, with the children coming and going. At one point I notice the 4 year old isn’t there, and ask Hanan, Jamal’s wife, where he’s gone. She answers that he is out riding his bike. I tell her how that wouldn’t happen in most US neighborhoods, and she says that she’s read that. Hanan and Jamal are both very open minded and interesting to talk with. She says to me, he is a very good husband. She mentions that he is always encouraging her to get further education, etc. She is a speech therapist. Jamal is in the meat importing business, selling to both Muslim and Jewish businesses throughout Israel. They seem to be doing well financially. When we get into the car later, Hanan mentions that it is brand new, an MG, one of only ten in Israel right now, although they will now be importing more.She is not in any way bragging, just wondering if they are popular in the US.

We sit around their patio table, first drinking lemonade with fresh mint, then mint tea. And eating a variety of candies and dried fruit. I take out my visual dicitionary and we find the words for kiwis, raspberries, pineapple, etc. Then I bring out my electronic 20 question game, a last minute thought on my part to bring on the trip, and see if it can guess “kiwi” which it indeed does.

Later, after lots of discussion about life and values here, in the US, etc. Hanan takes me and the children to eat, at a restaurant owned by one of Jamal’s brothers.

The choice is falafel, which they prounouce felefel, or schwarma, shaved lamb, in either pita or a baguette( actually more like a sub.) then you can add on as much as you want of at least a dozen different salads and sauces. And they provide plates so you can take more than will fit on your sandwich.

I ask if it’s ok to take a picture of the beautiful buffet, and Jamal’s brother says sure, but he wants to freshen up the food first. He brings out more of everything and creates aesthetic mounds of the salads.

I am getting hungry describing this, will have to stop now and have some lunch.

One last note : I do plan to publish some photos here soon, as soon as I figure out how. To see a few dozen, check out my fb page.