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Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Masa alchayr (good evening) from Umm el Fahem

Wednesday,my fourth day here:

I am overwhelmed with the enthusiasm and friendliness of people here. And not only the gallery staff. The people we meet on the street, in shops, are also friendly and curious. We mention the gallery, or Said’s name, and they immediately understand why we are here. Although this city is a center of fundamentalist politics, I would never guess so from the atmosphere. There are apparently some who are at odds with what Said and the gallery do here, but on the other hand he is from a renowned and well respected family. He is also a retired police officer, who worked with young adults, as I understand. Lilli thinks it is largely because of his background that he has been able to accomplish so much here. And he has bigger plans still. The gallery is in the process of becoming a museum, and is forming a “friends of”organization with the pro bono help of a New York law firm, and also of a New York producer named Manny Azenberg, who has produced most of Neil Simon’s plays and others, and who brings a group of people to visit Israel each year.

So this modest and mild mannered man, who is low key in temperament, at least to my observation, has been able to work wonders here with the gallery, and hopefully more to come. The plans are drawn, there are architect’s models on display, the city has donated the land.

Here are some of the events and meetings that are scheduled just in the next few weeks:

A woman from Sotheby’s and several other curators will be visiting.

A group of NGO’s will be meeting here with the Alliance for Middle East Peace to discuss coordinating together.

A group of reform Jews from Jerusalem is coming to visit this Sunday.

The gallery is very interested in encouraging more people to visit, and especially foreign visitors. They do already get quite a number of Jewish visitors, but would like to see more. This is something I would very much like to work on. A previous volunteer from England put together a very nice brochure last year, but they never printed it. I would like to bring it up to date, maybe encourage a day trip that would include the gallery, lunch, maybe even a visit to someone’s home. I am hoping that the people who organize the trips from the Abraham Hotel might be interested. I am not exactly sure of the relationship between them, the hotel, and GoEco, but have already begun to inquire.

I have begun my English groups, and they have gone really well so far. I have a group of five staff people who I met with yesterday. They are particularly interested in practicing conversation, and especially around subjects like art and history of the city. I am planning to use the unfinished brochure as the basis for a lesson tomorrow, having them read and understand it, and also help me with additional information about the city. We will be meeting three times a week. It was twice, but after the first session they said they preferred three times.

I have another group, friends of Camle, Said’s administrative assistant, who are not part of the gallery staff, but who also want to learn more English. Camle plans to be in both groups(although I think she slept through yesterday’s!)

I am scheduled to meet with two different age groups of kids on Saturdays, when they have art classes here.

One worker here, Jamal, has asked me to come to his house on Thursday afternoons. At first it was to work with his 10 and 11 year olds. Now it seems like he wants me to include the 3 and 4 year olds too. He has also invited me to dinner, which I am really looking forward to.

Jamal is one of a group of workers who I have taken to thinking of as the roof guys, because they hang out on the roof deck outside of our apartment when they aren’t busy. From what I understand, they are people doing community work because they have some kind of record, for what, I don’t know, but nothing major. They are as kind and friendly as everyone else, and have started bringing us cups of coffee every morning. Then we get offered more when we get downstairs to the gallery.

When I told one of the other staff that I would be tutoring Jamal’s children, she said, oh, Jamal, and then pointed up, as if toward the roof. I guess she thinks of them as the roof guys, too.

This morning, one of the art teachers, Halima, indicated in very rudimentary English that she would like to learn more English, too, but is only here part time, and not during the hours the other staff meet with me. So it seems we are going to meet twice a week also, after she works with the school groups that visit in the morning.

Yesterday, I watched her and the other teachers with a group of adorable 5 year olds. One of the current exhibits is by the artist Fatma Abu Rumi, who deals with issues of identity. She’s done self portraits in various kinds of attire. There are other pieces that use her mother’s hair, a portrait of her father wearing a veil, etc. When I came into the gallery, they were playing a game where one kid left the room, one kid was hidden under a veil,, then the other one came back and had to guess who was hidden. It was very powerful, in a room where they were surrounded by portraits of a woman veiled, unveiled, partly veiled. It seemed like such a great idea for a game, in any case, and I wasn’t entirely sure it was intentional because of the exhibit. But it was, Halima explained to me today in her halting English, and for the next exhibit the activities will be different. They had also, according to Halima, had the children all just play with veils before the game.

In one corner of the exhibit was an actual headscarf, just hanging on a hook. As I raised my camera to take a picture of it together with some of the other artworks, it suddenly fell onto the floor. How strange.

Halima does wear a headscarf herself, as do probably more than half the women staffers. It doesn’t seem particularly related to age, some of the younger women do, some of the older ones dont' . And some wear traditional clothing also, while others wear headscarves with casual modern clothes. The gallery, though, may not be particularly representative of the whole community. I hope I have a chance to discuss some of their thoughts and values at some point. As they seem quite open, I imagine I will.

Time to go do some lesson planning!


nicollebol said...

I Love reading your Blog, it's great to read some western views on life over there, instead of what the papers say.

Joanna said...

thanks, Nicole, that is just the effect I was hoping to have!