When I arrived last August, my intention was to be useful and effective. I played a comparison game with a past-version myself during the first visa; I tried to out-compete the slightly younger Boys & Girls Club Intern iteration of my self, as the quarter-century-old version at Wi’am. As the Autumn progressed I had less and less energy to devote to task-oriented goals. After a while, my mission became more about being faithful than about what I did.
This past Thursday, the Swede and I took photographs of a children’s birthday party while the mothers slowly filled us with fattening morsels. A teenager cornered me in the garden and practiced her English on me: she would like to be a fashion designer and has been to California. I had to leave her, though, to greet a group of Academics from Ireland. For another couple hours, I took a few notes while my supervisor talked with them. I like to fold my hands together and listen for new things, allowing the familiar parts to be reinforced.
He is the same guy who almost ran over my leg the day before. I was halfway into the back-seat of the car with a bag of falafel when the car started to roll over my foot. “ABU TAREK*! STENA SHWAY!” I yelled. He stopped. Later, we showed the tire marks on my leg to everyone at the office so they all could tease him about almost crippling his intern. The conversation took place mostly in Arabic and I understood the important parts, especially when Adnan slowed down and repeated for me. Somewhere in that exchange, I stated aloud that I could get deeper into these conversations if I only had more time in this culture.
“Stay!” said Zoughbi, “Stay another year-and-half; ask them and tell them to talk to me!”
Later in the morning, Adnan returned with his little son George and we had a grand time waving hello and getting him to repeat words.
Janet wanted pizza and beer. I arranged a meeting with her to discuss my feelings in general, though that Wednesday I felt great despite the tire-track on my pants. “You know,” I began, “I could understand how someone might be frustrated with working at Wi’am if they wanted to put together a portfolio of some kind. At some point, I chose to let that go to the back burner so I could just be available and open to learning. I never write anything good anyway right?” Her brow furrowed.
I began to tell her about my plans for graduate study, in vague terms, and about the prospect of staying. Without missing a beat, she said “but you’re under contract… well, a letter of agreement…”
“What’s that even mean? The Methodist Church isn’t divested [from occupation activities] and I feel more loyalty to Wi’am than the agency. Maybe it’s because of the position I was in when [UMC] annual conference happened…”
“Well, you’re still under a contract,” she shrugged. I shrugged-off her shrug, knowing that people of earlier generations put more stock in things like contracts. My mission is undermined by the parent organization that sent me, especially when they send a pair of Hewlett-Packard laptops to the new office. “Do they know how to read? I thought the UMC agreed to boycott?”
As the conversation continued, though, it was obvious that I do want to return to the US and cut purse-strings like theirs (and the US government’s) from the Apartheid regime here.
“My problem is that I started letting myself love the people deeply, as soon as I knew I would be in Bethlehem for six months straight instead of three. I want to keep all of them with me…”
I drank a little too much and went to bed early, without finishing my piece about the wedding. Sublime happenings are painful to portray so briefly, leaving a sense of emptiness. I started running from that emptiness long before I came to Palestine. It came with me that August.
Thursday morning I rose early to talk to a contact in Japan about Arts Based Approaches to Community Peace-building. Where I expected awkward pauses, and emptiness, I found some understanding and positivity. I saw a path going forward: I realized I have the right talents. That moment can come for anyone, we hope when they are sixteen for their sake but I mused that if it comes at twenty-six then its no less precious. I went to breakfast with my Swedish colleague. He is another great person in my life. We also went to an amazing concert together, where artists from the middle-East and Scandinavia combined in mixed ensembles.
“I almost cried when the girl from Syria started to sing by herself…”
“Yes, I did too. It touched my soul…”
There is no doubt that I am getting closer to finally being home, even as my time is ticking away so quickly. I found a rhythm at the office that allows me to work for and with my colleagues. Effective and efficient are not the same. Effective is synonymous with perceptiveness – with knowing what to do at the right time, rather than filling the time totally. I carry chairs, pour tea, pick-up trash around the grounds, and appear automatically whenever there are new visitors. Now, I also appear automatically when there are children – even if I understand them less than half the time. Whatever is missing in my portfolio was added to my character, where I really need more help.
My thoughts are running in so many directions right now. It seems that this is an especially significant equinox but its qualities are still hard to understand. There is a new impetus in my life that is carrying me away from media addiction, away from codependence, away from self-deprecating constantly, and possibly toward a life of relationships and even creativity. My motivation to create seems to run dry whenever I am alone with my emptiness. I’ve been blessed to have so many meaningful experiences to reflect upon in Palestine. I may not be dry forever, after all, now that I am healing. I’m pushing away many lesser coping mechanisms and starting to look back on the pain in my past knowing that the people in my life, right now, care about me for my own sake – not for the sake of the things I do but for who I am. Pride ebbs and Love flows. The story is not over, for me. I still have feverish episodes when I become politically charged. I still have quiet times of depression. Yet, I might be ready to write new narratives ~ for my past and for my future as a writer. What matters the most, tonight, is that I choose to go forward. I could never have done that if Bethlehem had not become my home.