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Saturday, October 29, 2011

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!

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