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.