Last night was the first night in several weeks that I slept in a room by myself. Oddly enough, the prospect of doing so troubled me. I felt lonely and unable to sleep without the whirl of someone's energy near me. Funny how that happens. As I tossed and flipflopped, all I could think of were the activities of the day. Already, my new home in the Azza refugee camp is turning out to be a source of light, if not utmost stimulation. I kept reviewing in my head how much Arabic I sputtered, stuttered and unbelievably butchered in the course of several hours.
A young mother in my family just had twins. Last night, the grandmother asked if I would walk with her and the mother to the hospital, where the twins are being kept until they are big enough to face the world. We walked up the hill, along the sad wall that surrounds Rachel's tomb at the very top of Bethlehem. Just before the checkpoint, where the Israeli soldiers stand with their big guns, we veered right, along a smaller road to a building that stood on a bluff, overlooking the entire valley below Bethlehem.
While the young mother went into the hospital to breastfeed her newborns, the grandmother and I sat together for two hours on a stone wall on the hillside, while the setting of the sun illuminated the Muslim call to prayer. The grandmother spoke only Arabic. She was an engaging, enthusiastic woman who seemed to take great pleasure in being my first teacher. Like a child, I sat with her and played a game of pointing to things and learning new words. Flower, bee, wall, grass, tree, sunset, hospital, prayer, etc. At one point, a Muslim woman emerged from the hospital and sat next to us on the wall. It happened that we were facing east, and so the woman prayed.
Maybe I'm crazy, but the woman simply radiated as she prayed. I was only a foot away from her, and even though I could only understand snippets of her prayer, I could feel her spirit resonated through the wall, into my feet, down my spine, and out through my hands. Out of respect, I sat there in utmost stillness and allowed the moment to take me. It's in those moments, when I allow myself to free fly that I suddenly hit my own existential walls. This time, it was the realization that I was sitting outside of a hospital in Palestine. With all of Bethlehem at my feet, I was compelled by the feeling of flying and swallowing too much of the ocean at once. It was such an odd feeling.
Not being able to sleep last night was also due to the fact that I couldn't take my mind off the bedtime story that I'm going to tell my daughter one day. I think it will go a little something like this:
"Once upon a time, when your mommy was living in Palestine, she met a very nice lady who took her by the hand. The lady walked her up a hill to a place where babies were born, and together they watched the sun set over the place where Mary gave birth to the Baby Jesus..."