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!


At 10:32 PM, Anonymous Josh G said...

I'm excited each time to read your blog entries and see the awesome photos. Thanks for sharing it all. We love you.

At 11:13 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I feel like dancin too.

At 5:09 AM, Blogger toby said...

This is fascinating...!

At 2:20 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


This is precisly why I am not a dancer! I prefer to do my "bird shaggin" at home! (does that make me an old geezer?) Your right about that lonely feeling out there on the dance floor, when I bust my moves they are so unsexual that they border on the fringe of repulsive.

At 3:28 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sadly, I don't know you. A friend of mine and yours too, Julie, thought I'd like your blog. I have to say I've never been drawn to reading stuff written by people I've never met. I'm totally enthralled by your descriptions of the Middle East, a place that's very special to me. And, I applaud you for seeing and sharing the people, the culture, and the magic that exists there-- beyond the conflict. Thanks for giving us insight into such beautiful experiences as this one!! It makes me want to get up and go!


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