Transcending cultural divides

Last week there was a music festival at a local community center called Dandanat. The festival was sponsored by both Swedish and local companies and had both Swedish and Palestinian bands. On Saturday, the last day of the festival, the bands revealed that they had been working together on collaborative music “workshops” and revealed the results of these projects, which were incredible! There was Dabkah dancing alongside Swedish hip hop and jazz bands. A Syrian rock band (Hawa Dafi)collaborated with a Swedish rock band. A Swedish folk band shared the stage with a Palestinian folk band. All in all, it was a great music festival with awesome performances. Here are a couple of pictures from the night:

Some Palestinian Dabkah dancers dancing the traditional style to the music of Swedish band Adeln

Everyone rushed up on stage for the grand finale!

This is not from the concert. It’s just a picture of Zoughbi’s son Tarek wearing my tilly hat (aka dorky tourist hat) and holding the guitar. Mabrouk!

Anyway, the original point I was going for is that music is one of the best ways to build bridges across cultural divides. Without music I wouldn’t be able to stay sane here! I also met a bunch of cool people at this concert, and I’ve bonded with Zoughbi’s sons over music… Etc, etc. If more people would pick up an instrument instead of a gun, would sing with each other instead of yell at each other… The world would be a better place.

Life here is intense though and pretty tiring most of the time. The future is always uncertain in a much different way than it is in America. Life revolves around the news cycle, to some extent.. Everyone is always on high alert, anxious… It’s hard to just relax and unwind.

But we do have some good instances of just unwinding. Yesterday we went to Ramallah to the tomb of Mahmoud Darwish, a famous Palestinian poet, writer, and activist. There is a museum built in his honor. We also just walked around the city and got ice cream, then got pizza back in Bethlehem. Still, though, the conversation was not wholly relaxing. We talked about some intense things, like how to let go of hate. More on that next time, I promise.

Back to the thing about cultural divides. Culture is a complex phenomenon. It defines who we are, our identities. As a foreigner in another culture, it’s often hard to understand the social conventions. People chatting in Arabic may raise their voices for one reason or another, and it sounds to me like an argument. But really, it’s just a reasonable discussion. A good example.. Last night at a movie store, Tarek, Claire (another American intern whom the Zoughbi family is renting to, she lives in the building next to mine) and myself were browsing titles. In one section I found a very silly knockoff movie called “The 41 year old virgin who wanted to get laid superbad and knocked up sarah marshal.” I have no idea what it really was, but apparently when Claire and I were laughing at it the store owner was looking at us ambiguously. Women are apparently not supposed to be looking at movies that have questionable themes, even sexual humor.

Woops. Broke a social convention there. Oh well, we’re American and no one else was really in the store. No harm, no foul, right? This cultural divide is also something I feel at the Wi’am Center. In America, many organizations that work for social change are very concerned about process, making sure things are done right. Make sure this is filed here and this is in on time, and by the way are we in line with the national best practices? Here, though, the staff are more concerned about impact. What’s the best way to reach a certain group of people? How can this chunk of time best be spent? It gives everything a much more intimate feel, almost more laid back. We are not rushing to get things done, but working towards them effectively. I think there are good and bad elements of every culture, and we can’t be too quick to judge others, but we also shouldn’t be quick to judge ourselves – there are many aspects of our own culture that we don’t really understand.

A picture of Mahmoud Darwish reading poetry


About thichnhattim

Radically Moderate - neither right nor left brained, I try to use both. Student, activist, UU. Live life by the peaceful teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh. Redesign the flow, redefine the know, we're hanging on the ledge.
This entry was posted in Politics, Summer 2012 Bethlehem, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

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