Friday, June 22, 2007

Pigtails

(My neighbor cried when I ask her to tell me about the wall behind her.
She cried because it destroyed the house that took her family 10 years to build.)

Because water is a privilege and never a promise here in Palestine, I've grown accustomed to wearing my hair in two braided pigtails in order to keep it clean for a few more days. Beyond this, I wear a cap and try not to allow the American in me (who sometimes takes 2 showers a day) to anxiously consider my funk. With temperatures reaching beyond the boiling point, I happen to find the trickle of a cold shower extremely refreshing, even when the water has a yellowish color, I can't seem to wash off the soap that I scrubbed into my skin with the water turned off, and the part of it that came into my mouth tastes like metal.

It is during these moments that I remind myself that I have nothing to prove. I didn't choose to live in a Palestinian refugee camp so that I could use all of my family's restricted water in an effort to demonstrate to them how Americans really live. Rather, I am here to let them teach me about the world from within their windowsill. It is my choice to be here, and so it is my choice to live as they do without reservation or pretention. In fact, the most difficult thing to reconcile is that while I have both the means and ability to leave at any moment because of my American passport, the people who have welcomed me with so much warmth cannot even leave their homes without their identity cards in tow.

Each night, I join some of the women in the camp in their multi-generational circle of plastic chairs. When the sun goes down, they set up camp across from the house where I now live. The children of the camp run to and fro across the narrow alley, which is actually the main street of the camp. The women all seem to genuinely look forward to having me sit among them. After studying their faces, I've concluded that they are all related, some more closely than others, but a family of sisters, nonetheless. Sometimes I am able to follow along in their conversation. Mostly, I just sit there, smile, accepting copious amonts of sugar-sweet tea and occassional patting. Every new person that comes along looks at them, then looks questioningly at me. I've grown accustomed to the stares and relatively unselfconscious when it comes to the predictable scrutiny that ensues when they curiously examine my face, hair, clothes and body. I find it interesting that they don't look away when I catch their eye as they examine me. They smile, which I take as a good thing. After all, I am the only uncovered woman in the group, the one who stumbles through basic conversation, the one with the funny pigtails. It must really be a novel thing to them to have a single American girl living in their camp.

When words fail me (which happens countless times in a conversation), I've learned to express myself with my eyes. Because I've received so many nice responses, I'm certain that I must be doing something right. And since it takes so long for my brain to gather all of the words that are fired around me at rapid speed, I've learned to tune out the noise and simply pay attention to interplay of energy between people and how this turns into a game of intonation and body language. Sometimes I feel like a deaf person, with a heightened sense of perception for everything I see.


3 comments:

FSOgirl said...

A smile and a glance say more than words ever could sometimes.

And pigtails are a hot look.

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Jay said...

Santo Dios. This is my experience every Sunday at church, except I'm certain you are more deft with your Arabic and your eyes than I am with my non-conjugating Spanish and French additives.

It's good to hear you're blending in so well. You are in my thoughts and prayers.