Well, friends, I am finally crashing. I have been this exhausted only a few times in my life. I really almost couldn’t stay awake during the presentation of Father Emanuel today, and I was incredibly embarrassed. Tomorrow we wake up at 6, breakfast at 6:15, leave on the bus to the Galilee at 7. We will be staying in rural Palestine for the next three days and two nights, seeing villages that are more typical of life in the majority of the West Bank than Ramallah – which is a pretty modern city, all things considered. I won’t have internet there, so no posts for a while. Unfortunately because I’m tired, this last one is gonna be all rambly and maybe a bit short. But I got some great pictures today, and I’ll let them largely speak for themselves.
Our schedule, for anyone curious, is to meet with the group Neve Shalom/Wahat Salaam, an intentional Arabic and Jewish peace community. In the afternoon we go to the Sea of Galilee, take a swim, and next the site of the Sermon on the Mount. On Tuesday we do work at the Friends school at Mar Elias. Wednesday we go to Nazareth, Jericho, Qumran, and end with a swim (float?) in the Dead Sea before heading back to Ramallah. Hopefully I can muster up the strength to post that night, but if not, on Thursday we’re going back into Israel to tour the South Hebron Hills with a group of ex-Israeli soldiers turned peace activists called Breaking the Silence. Then we meet at the Wi’am Peace Center and take a tour of Bethlehem. What an incredible week.
Two things to tell ya’ll about: nightlife and more spirituality. I guess nightlife first, being true to chronology. So last night I didn’t really feel like going out at all, but I figured we might not get another chance so the whole group went out to the bar we knew of in walking distance called Pronto. It was pretty dead, and pretty expensive – more of a restaurant, honestly. Once there, we phoned Taraq (the administrator of the school’s son) and met him a different bar called Beit Aneeseh, in English “House of Aneeseh.” It used to be an old woman’s house, and when she died her children repurposed it into a bar, since it had been a sort of a social landmark anyhow. It was full of young people and foreigners! Very fun place. Most people spoke English. I even ran into Hamad, Bashir’s friend, and we talked about things and politics and such. We all really had a great time there, and I met some really cool people. Far less conservative than most of Ramallah, as you’d expect, which in any case is far less conservative than most of Palestine!
Later that night I had a really intense talk with Stephanie. I’ll spare you all the details, but needless to say it was on my mind the next morning at worship. I’ve really been having an incredible time discovering my relationship with spirituality here. From discovering the joy of expressing my thoughts in prayer at the mosque, even if I don’t necessarily have the faith that I am praying to an entity, I have faith that I am drawing strength from the Spirit of Life that connects each person to each other and to eternity. This morning at meeting for worship, I had an incredible time and space to be alone with my thoughts. We sang several hymns, including one called “A Garden of My Own” by Patricia McKennon (not how you spell it, I don’t think – but close) which was really incredible for me, because it perfectly describes how I feel about reaching for my faith and drawing on my spirituality right now. We sang “A Song of Peace” and two others, which I can’t remember that well right now. After them, I was in an intense moment of reflection and prayer. I prayed for understanding, and to be able to accept where I cannot understand, and for everyone in the world to find the strength to do the same. It really was an incredible moment for me, and I wrote down a prayer that goes like this:
A Garden of Our Own
Oh God, oh Spirit of Life,
Let us find the strength that exists in the energy that runs between us
The emotions that tie us together
And sometimes push us apart.
Oh my heart, my soul,
Let us find our way together to eternity
To the garden where love grows
And the fruit of happiness lies not behind walls,
But in the open for all to share.
Where the waters of Truth rinse away
The dust of our despair.
On this journey we need only
The strength of understanding
And of compassion for all beings
To open our eyes and find ourselves
Already at peace.
Oh Mother Father God, oh Spirit of our lives,
In our own names we pray.
In our own hearts we will find our way.
It almost seems inappropriate to share this on the internet, but take it how you will. It’s so hard to accept over here that we can’t help people. We can’t just make their lives better. From the mayor of Al-Bireh, to the woman in the streets who showed us a picture of her son (who hung himself after he couldn’t find a job and means to support himself), to Father Immanuel in the Church of St. Mary’s today, there is one common cry that rings out from every person: make sure people know we exist. Now that you are here, bring our stories back and tell them, so people know we are here. They do not ask us for money (mostly) and they do not ask us to change what we cannot change. They just ask us to observe and share. And if this is all we can do, this is what we have to do – it is our responsibility as Americans who’ve seen the conditions here. I’m not gonna lie, I’m tired of washing my clothes in the shower, of worrying about running out of water. We visited a village about 30 km outside of Ramallah today called Deir Ghassaheh, where we were cooked lunch by the members of a women’s cooperative. Fantastic dish called Mosakhan (poor transliteration, I’m sorry), the best I’ve had so far. Can’t replicated it because you bake the bread on stones. It was incredible the self-confidence that these women have, in their mission and the knowledge that they are supporting themselves and living independently. I loved it. We visited Bil’in, home of the Stop the Wall Campaign (look it up, it’s incredible! I just linked to the media coordinator’s FB on mine, he’s younger than me!) and I love what they are doing there – so creative, so nonviolent, so involved. This problem will never go away from throwing money at it, or from divesting in Israel. It’s going to take real development, economic and civil society growth on the grassroots level in Palestine to heal this conflict. I’m so blessed to have people reading about my experiences, it’s the first step to spreading awareness about life here. Now check out these pictures while I sleep!