scared thrilled scared thrill scared thrilled

I find most things in life both scary and thrilling. I suppose I should hope it's always this way, but sometimes it feels like an awful lot of work.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

i feel like dancin.

To quote Charles, a character in a smart-alecky and self-righteous little novel I borrowed from the beach camp in Sinai (I’ll return it next weekend):
“The people who talk about their feelings are miserable. I’m not for repression, but really, you can’t possibly take feelings seriously. The fact is-and this is science, John,- the less you talk about them, the less you even notice them, until finally, you can become a real human being and not some ball of feelings bouncing up and down all day staring at your own ass.”
Well, Charles, since I lack your calculated and self-aware clear-headedness, I stumble doggedly into the following episode of bouncy ass reflection.

For those of you who don’t know, I’m a natural self-doubter, a second-guesser. I’ll question my motives for everything. I’ll question anything I can find in myself that’s good, and anything that’s bad. I’ll even doubt my motivation for questioning. At a certain point it becomes ridiculous. Actually, it’s probably ridiculous right from the start…
While I’ve received much encouragement from friends and family about what I’m doing here, I confess to periods of doubt. There are times, of course, when I surge forward with head high, thrilled with what I’m learning and relishing each new thought and sound and feeling and taste. In these times my warm gaze is reflected in the welcoming visages of the wonderful people I’ve met here, and it seems to make sense. Each of these moments is met with its evil twin, where I wonder what on earth I’m doing here. What I hope to achieve. How this will fit with my future. In these times I wonder what I’m running away from back home. I wonder where home is.
Last night was one of these times.
It gets dark early here, like 5:30 or so. I don’t know if it’s like this in all Muslim cities, but in Bethlehem most recreational social action occurs in private homes, among families and maybe close friends. Shortly past dark the streets are empty but for the occasional group of teenage boys who’ve abandoned their customary spots on hard couches in dusty living rooms, choosing instead to wander, optionless, through the empty streets. My evenings in Bethlehem, to be frank, are long and lonely. And last night as I sat reading “The Future of the Israeli Settlements in Final Status Negotiations” by the vintage and flickering light of my kerosene lantern, I felt especially down.
I was about to go to bed, to wage the long battle of the bored and overslept, when I heard, faintly through my open window, the sounds of Arab dance music and shouting. It wasn’t a difficult choice. The nights here are cool enough for a sweater (which I love), and a walk through the steep and winding streets and passages of the old city is always enjoyable. So I threw on a scarf and tried my best to find my way to the music.
I made a few twisty turns here and there, trying to follow the sounds of the music through the maze-like passages. Finally, I turned a corner and entered the little square, which butts up against the mosque. A group of about 30 young Palestinians were dancing in the middle of the street to the frenzied beats coming from a pair of speakers hooked up to a car battery. There was a table where the dj sat surrounded by stacks of cds. He had a mic and every once in a while would shout into it in Arabic, turning the volume of the music down in the self-styled way of insecure djs the world over. The ages of the dancers, and watchers, ranged from 8 or 10 to probably 35. Every one was male.
My plan was to lean against a wall and watch. This lasted maybe 10 seconds before I was pulled into the fray, protesting and tugging at the hands which gripped mine tightly. Immersion into the dance was instant. Faces smiled and shone and hands beckoned me into the middle of the circle, and I was dancing with them all. Arms around each other. In the west it seems like most places where dancing occurs are populated with people who would rather be having sex. This changes the feeling of the experience, and usually means that I end up dancing quite alone, lost in my own enjoyment of the collision of music and movement. Surrounded by people and utterly isolated. Here, under the Palestinian night sky, isolation was not an option. As a group of men we danced with each other. Not the self-conscious, stiff-armed and gruff-looking man-dancing that used to happen when my oil-rig co-workers and I would put on our best workboots and trundle into the closest, and least fortunate, little northern Alberta town. This was the flash and snap of hips and shoulders. It was heads thrown back and arms lifted to the sky.
The separation of men and women and the “impossibility” of homosexuality in countries with strong Muslim majorities means that men behave differently towards each other. Affection, sensual and fraternal, runs in waves, unhindered by the fear of appearing “gay”. It’s a shame that this freedom for the straight men of Palestine extracts enormous costs from those who are gay. It’s more than a shame.
But this dance with these wonderful and kind young men lifted me out of my own loneliness and planted me firmly within a moment of family. It was beautiful. And as I sat dancing high on the shoulders of a young man I’d never met before I remembered why I love this place.
Message to the boys: Quit trying to shag the birds and fight the geezers. Go dancing!

Saturday, September 22, 2007

the wall

Yesterday, a Friday, I had the plan to go into Jerusalem to buy some guitar strings and maybe a sweater (it’s starting to get chilly here at nights, which is welcome). I took my guitar along with the thought to do a bit of strumming on Ben Yehuda street, a type of pedestrian promenade.
I arrived at the checkpoint at 9 am to find it choked with Palestinians trying to cross in to Israel so they could perform their Friday Ramadan prayers at Al Aqsa al Sharif (the dome of the rock). There were a few thousand people milling around, pressing up against the barrier formed by a solid row of IDF armoured trucks and jeeps, the soldiers in with their flack jackets, M-16s and earpieces sitting on top of the trucks, fingers on triggers. No one at all was getting across, and no one seemed to know if the crossing would be opening in a minute, an hour, ever. I knew Israel would be closing the crossing that evening at the start of Yom Kippur, but finding it closed in the morning was a surprise to me and the crowd in which I floated and bobbed in surges towards the barrier, then back away and back again.
I took a few photographs and was pleased to have the assistance of two fine young photographers: Mohammed and a little girl whose name I didn’t catch. So here are some of their pictures, and some of mine.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

the wall

In an earlier post I made reference to a picture which I didn't post. So here are a couple of pictures of the wall, the missing one included. Peace be with you, indeed.

and more

On our trek into the wilderness of Sinai we were guided by two bedouin boys and their donkeys. While it's true that donkeys are stubborn beasts, I think I would probably be stubborn too if I had to walk around on those rocks all day. I wasn't sure exactly why we brought the donkeys... my best guess being if we got lost and thirsty and needed to drink somebody's blood it would be better to start with Eyore than with one of us people-types.

In one of these photos you'll see young Aburachman showing you how tough his feet are. The little feller went the whole way, a two-hour hike up a legitimate mountain covered in rocks so sharp they sounded like clinking glass when they moved against each other, in his bare feet!

few more

At Basata we took a trek into the wilderness. We stumbled upon a camel corpse, all picked clean but bones and hair. For some reason I have a disturbing memory of some ridiculous cartoon from my childhood where a skeleton plays a xyolophone-tune on the bones of his own ribcage. This reminded me of that.

I tried to offer the camel some water but I guess it was too late.

the last pic is just nightime on my balcony.


Mum and Dad came to visit this last week from Moldova. It was good to have them here. We took a jaunt down to the Sinai (Egypt) and stayed at a beautiful place called "Basata". Very simply and hippy style. Sleeping under the stars. Swimming and snorkeling, sleep and reading. Lovely. Eating. it's an eco-friendly place where they recycle everything and the food is all bought on the honour system. Fantastic.

quick post

hi all. just popping a couple o pics on here cause it's been a while! I'll do a wordystyle update from home, but it's easy to do these pics from the office. Today starts the weekend, and because it's Yom Kippur I'll be stuck at home for the next couple of days. Apparently, if you dare drive during the holiday you will have stones thrown at your car. I don't think I'll risk it. At any rate, I have no car, and the border between the West Bank and Israel will be closed, so it looks like a weekend of reading and Arak. Should be good. I need to relax after that trip to the Sinai...
-Dad found some moustache brothers at Abu Shanab.
-One good thing about big hair is that it serves as a defensive device against small objects tossed, with malintent, by one's father
-taxi view
-friendly (maybe hungry?) goat
-This is the wall. Looks peaceful to me!

Sunday, September 09, 2007

more pics (blogger only allows a few per post, hence the multiple posts. blah)

-This photo is right after I was very nearly bitten by this bastard camel. Camels are famous for their mean temperments, but when you've had a few beers and a self-portrait of you and camel sounds like the best idea in the world concerns for personal safety take a back seat. My lightning-quick relfexes amazed everybody around, and allowed me to keep both ears. The photo was taken mid-jump. Look at his wee beady eyes. You can tell he's mad that I got away.
-Hanna Siniora, our Palestinian co-director, gave me this huge cigar to smoke while I was working. I only made it through a quarter of it and it took hours. Smoking while working is a good way to stay awake!
-again, the church of the nativity
-martyr poster
-view of a minaret and the palestinian sky from a service taxi

picky pics at last!

-my apartment
-the church of the nativity where Jesus was born
-Jean Batiste, Simon et moi on the roof of the Austrian Hospice in Jerusalem's Muslim Quarter
-the view from my nap