It was as inevitable as it was unfair. My co-worker lifted me from my bed-bug infested sheets in the valleys of Amman to an air-mattress between the polished sky-scrapers of Hong Kong. She took me swimming and I toured the city, from a beautiful temple to the zoological gardens. There were fine meals and trips to the movies. After a week, I snapped. The second Monday, word never came from Haifa about my visa and I lost control. “I should already [FUDGING] KNOW,” I erupted. It visibly stunned her, though it is not hard to guess what she expected: a vacation would release the tension inside me.
Her organization hosted an event for migrants that weekend, so we went to the Indonesian market to get their favorite coffee. When it wasn’t where she thought it would be, she was verbally distressed. I lost patience.
“Why are you worried about coffee? Free yourself: you’re working a placement ripe with opportunities to be successful – and they love you! To hell with the damn coffee!” I prayed we would not find it but God edified me, poetically, by ensuring that I found the coffee myself…
* * *
* * *
Janet’s friend in Haifa spoke fluent Hebrew. The Israelis at the ministry of interior admitted there were clerical errors and faxed us paperwork to keep me ‘legal’ until my official appointment. I settled into the passenger seat of her cheap but clean Renault and breathed a first sigh of relief on the highway back to Bethlehem.
“How was Hong Kong?”
“Too good for me, apparently – outdoor escalators, air-conditioned subways…”
“Too good for you?”
“I relaxed for about a week and then… the same as Ireland, there was a weird stage.”
“I tried explaining this to the mission psychologist,” said Janet, understanding perfectly. “She said ‘oh, just go to the Galilee and relax’. That makes it worse because all the pressure that builds up working here just, I guess, comes out!”
“Yeah and its impossible to explain to people – especially in the States. It’s like deep-sea diving and climbing on an airplane the next day…”
“Exactly: we’re always pushing against the stress of living here. When there is nothing pushing back on you—“
That night, I sat down in the recliner and fell asleep in front of several people. Instantly…
* * *
I would not let myself write, I said, until I finished the reimbursement form for my visa exit. I was right but not the way I wanted to be. If my writers’ block is numbing, my mathematician’s block was paralyzing. As I laid out the financial burden of my trip, piece by piece, I felt all impetus leaching from my body into the atmosphere. It was a short time before I was obsessively checking twitter, or beseeching friends for attention on facebook, or reading about the Higgs-Boson. The hole began to deepen…
* * *
I laid down on the dusty, legless couch in the lower cave and balanced the trumpet on my chest like a brass teddy-bear . I slipped into a stupor: three months passed, without a note. If only the mouthpiece hadn’t been stuck, I could have buzzed to keep in shape at the hotel. Instead I waited, and every attempt fell flat for a week until, finally, I just prostrated myself…
* * *
I decreed we would get kayik and falafel, just like we did almost weekly before my eighty days of exile. Kayik is rings of fine bread covered in sesame seeds and baked to a perfect brown. I stayed patient while we bought the falafel, not daring to touch the kayik. It needed to stay special. Driving back to Wi’am Center, we saw a man wave to Zoughbi.
“I do not want to talk to him right now,” said my boss, to my mild surprise. Coming from Zoughbi, that was an omen. The man arrived at the office five minutes later, just as Adnan brought the coffee. He monopolized Zoughbi’s attention, speaking in disruptively loud Arabic and eating freely from the kayik and falafel I had purchased as a gesture to my co-workers. Hospitality dictated that I pour his coffee for him, too…
* * *
The Fourth of July is an excellent day to remember. Gettysburg. I remember the fine rhetoric that oligarchs and imperialists clothe their interests in so that young men die valiantly killing each other. One-hundred fifty years later, a UNITED States protects and endorses an apartheid state masquerading as a ‘Holy’ people: manifest destiny. Nationalism makes me nauseas…
* * *
The chickens start to call just as my cell-phone alarm sounds. I mumble excuses while I reprogram it and settle back into bed, for the tenth time. My morning meditation practice evaporated and my general thought discipline has eroded. Walking back from work, I caught myself dwelling on old family matters – all the times I tried to change my father. Insanity is doing the same things over and over but expecting different results…
* * *
The guy at the spice store asked me if I was tired. I smiled and thanked him for noticing. I took my nutella and baking-soda home and looked at my face in the mirror for a long time…
* * *
The volunteer from Texas lit a cigarette and started playing psychologist-mother with me. In compassionate tones, she let me know I could approach her about anything I needed to talk about whenever I liked. Sweet lady that she is, she admitted she has cried at the end of every day here in occupied Palestine.
“People who cannot cry have reached and even deeper level of depression, you know.”
Since then, I have been more careful when I converse with her. On her first visa, I cannot expect her to understand, let alone be able to offer anything…
* * *
Tim invited me to my his patio for some arak. Passing through my his apartment, it felt like the same place, even with all my things gone and his there instead. I was still trying to get a bead on who Tim was and what brought him to Bethlehem. First I learned he was Unitarian. Second, I realized that I had no idea what that meant. Third, it dawned on me that I didn’t want to hear him explain, anyway. I tried not to think about the fact I was also fleshing-out the details of my sect by behavior, drinking alcohol in small sips and blowing-off the term ‘anti-Semitic’ just like most people dismiss witch-hunts and the notion of “savages”.
“It’s just the ugly rhetoric they hang on people they don’t like—it doesn’t mean anything anymore.” My tongue started to loosen a little and I mentioned the volunteer from Texas.
“…she’s alright but I’m not ready to talk about that, man, especially with someone on their first visa. She basically said that I had slipped into a deeper level of depression. Well, I can’t [fudging] cry every day and expect to do my job. I know Zoughbi says not to have a hierarchy of pain but I can’t go around weeping as if it were my personal tragedy. I guess my insides are fragmented — the tears are locked in a part I can’t seem to get to, right now.”
Of course the air was pregnant with irony: the last time I wept uncontrollably it was on that same patio, the rooftop balcony where I can see the hill by al-Waleje. The annexation wall ties a tourniquet across the main highway, absorbs acres of olive trees, skirts Beit Jala, and then CLEAVES THE HILL BY AL-WALEJE IN TWO. Why? I thought the land was significant because it was Holy but apparently its only important if they can possess it…
“…then I remembered when Jesus rode the colt into Jerusalem, and the way he wept for them. I mean, the people and their self-fulfilling prophesy. I realized Christ really loved all those people, like the ones who started chanting for Barabas to be released, at the merest suggestion… I balled my [fudging] eyes out…”
“Yeah, man…” he said, tinged mellow by the arak. I mellowed a little too.
“I had a hard time connecting with my co-worker in Hong Kong; she is doing such an excellent job, there. The thing is, Hong Kong is a little more conducive to the work, you know?”
“Yeah but, you know, I think suffering is relative man.”
“You’re right: that’s the main thing I learned in Hong Kong. We play to the level of what we’re up against. The pressure is higher here. I guess the deep-sea fish shouldn’t judge the fish on the reef.” He nodded and we finished our drinks…
* * *
It set the vice-grips on the rim of the mouthpiece. I had already tried icing it to make the metal shrink and wrapping it in towels of all different textures to get a better grip. I knew using tools was a terrible idea but I wanted, so badly, to get it loose so I could at least clean it. Instead, the brackets on my lead-pipe gave way and it came loose with the mouth-piece still attached. The trumpet is unplayable but its fragments surrendered a last lesson: sometimes we are falling apart not because we were made too loose but because we have been stuck for too long.