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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.

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