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Friday, November 4, 2011

Thank you for coming!

It seems as though hardly a day goes by without an interesting visitor or group. Yesterday, there was a young writer from the United States who is doing a piece on art and politics in the Middle East. She apparently writing for the NY Times. I am impressed, she seems hardly out of college. But she seems quite astute. She mentions that she is from the Boston area! Turns out, she went to U. Mass. Amherst and to Brown. She has been travelling and interviewing all kinds of people in Israel and the territories, expects her story to appear in a couple of weeks. I am a little surprised, because the Times did a story about collecting Arab art that featured the gallery quite prominently, just a few months ago, in March. That will be great, if there is another story in the Times that mentions the gallery, especially as they are getting ready to launch the American "Friends of " the gallery organization, in NYC, next year.

My time feels like it is starting to wind down. Tomorrow starts a major Muslim holiday, and the gallery will be closed for the entire week. I am heading off tomorrow for the week, travelling to Tel Aviv (I decided it merits another chance, when I heard about their Friday crafts market and flea market!) I actually have a couple of invitations to get together with people there, don’t know if I will have the time to do so. Then, back to Jerusalem for a few days. After that, Nazareth, then Haifa, then back here to Umm el Fahem.

I will only have six more days when I return here. In addition from the English tutoring, I have been working on writing a web page for the galley on the permanent exhibit here, Memories of Place. And I’ve been working with Mohammed on his English/tour guide skills. Which has been great for both of us. He took a group of young American adults through the other day and did a great job.

Yesterday was Eiman’s birthday. She is the most modest and conservatively dressed of all the staff the most serious (except when singing children's songs at the day care center.. She is engaged, and yesterday Mohammed, her fiancĂ© (a different Mohammed) gave her a diamond ring. She was beaming and showing it off. I asked if it was an engagement ring, and she said, no, he had already given her an engagement ring, this was a birthday ring. He also had given her a huge basket of mostly purple flowers.I had asked earlier if Eiman and Layla wanted to do English that day, fully expecting them to say no. But when I came into the office in the afternoon, they were both folding scarves, the ones Halima uses with the children. They looked very appealing in the basket, and they invited me to join them. So the three of us sat on the floor, folding scarves and putting them in a basket, and talking. Folding the scarves had been Layla’s idea, and a good one. Before then, they had just all been stuffed into a couple of plastic bags.

I decided that this was my chance to bring up my curiousity about wearing the hijab. Their first answer was the standard “it’s an individual choice.” But I prodded a little further, saying I understood that, but I didn’t understand what made someone choose to wear or not wear one. I was hoping they’d talk a bit from a personal perspective. I think we have a very good relationship at this point, and felt comfortable asking. And it seemed an appropriate time, while we were folding the scarves.

I mentioned my interest in knowing that Halima just started wearing one a few years ago. And I said one thing that puzzled me was that some women wore the hijab but also wore lots of makeup, which seemed to me to be a contradiction. At that, both young women got quite animated, saying they didn’t understand, either, how people could do that, it was just wrong. Both Eiman and Layla, who doesn’t wear a headscarf, were quite in agreement about that. But it goes beyond makeup. Lots of women wear fancy scarves, and some use special fancy pins to anchor them. I would just love the opportunity to sit down with someone or several women and discuss what wearing the headscarf means to them. Generally, married women wear them, and unmarried women have the choice.

Before I came here, I asked Lilli if short skirts and sleevesless blouses were appropriate, guessing that she would say no. But in fact she said that she wore sleeveless blouses frequently, and that skirts to the knee were fine. She told Suzi, though, that sleeves blouses were not appropriate (?!) And I don't think I've seen her wear anything but long pants. And somehow, I didn't notice until a couple of days ago, after three weeks here, that it doesn’t seem like anyone wears clothes that don’t cover their arms and legs. No matter whether they wear the hijab or not, it’s long pants, long skirts, long sleeves.So now I am feeling a bit self conscious. I only have two pairs of pants, and one long dress, and even that has slits on the sides.

Today I went to the post office to mail a postcard. The space was filled with rows of chairs, perhaps 40 or50. I took my number from a supermarket deli-like dispenser, and tried to estimate how long it might take. It reminded me of the DMV office. Meanwhile, I was very aware of a good number of eyes upon me. I guess it was because everyone was waiting, for quite a while, that I really stuck out. In the elevator, a bit later, a woman said thank you to me. I wasn’t clear what she was thanking me for. Another woman, who spoke a little English, said she was thanking me for coming to Umm el Fahem.

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