Friday, July 27, 2007
Wishing on a Drone Plane
The thing about Palestinians is this: One friend instantly translates into 50. When you are living with a family, you become a part of their heart and fabric. You inherit the mothering of a community of women, the fathering of prideful men, the camaraderie of a tribe of friends, and the showering affection of an army of children who wait breathless and sweat-soaked at your door every day for you to appear on the street with treats in your pocket. And when these children do not see you, they sit on the doorstep and cry your name in unison until someone shushes them and tells them to go away and play or come have something to eat.
In Palestine, you spend a lot of time sitting in the company of others and drinking tea with copious amounts of sugar. I am convinced that the tea--much like the conversation--never runs out. Because there is always something to discuss, there are no long silences. Here, in spite of the fact that the sun is the most constant aspect of life in Palestine, the weather is by far the most favorite topic of any day. Oddly enough, the other constant of Palestinian life is the reified cycle of powerlessness, economic depression, systemic political corruption, violence and foreign military occupation. Maybe because this is far more constant than the weather that fluctuates by one or two degrees on a daily basis, people tend to focus on other things, like the price of eggplant and who was seen walking with whom on the street today.
Because my time as a resident member of the Palestinian community is winding down, I'm spending even more time with my new family. Last night, we had a barbecue on the rooftop of our family home. Between the water tanks and laundry lines, we spread pieces of newspaper across a big table and circled around it in our respective plastic chairs for a small feast of hummus, bread, yogurt, roasted fish from Gaza, local chicken, tomato and cucumber salad and generic coca-cola. Nearly every adult had a small child sitting in their lap. In my case, 4-year-old Wajd, one of the triplets in my family, crawled up with me. While we waited for the food to cook, we played the game of declaring who loves who more.
"Do you love me?," she began.
"Yes, I love you, Wajd. You are my habibti," I replied.
"No. I love you more than you love me," she said in Arabic, in her beautiful baby voice.
"But I love you more than you love me," I replied with inflection in my American accent.
"No you don't," she sighed and threw her little arms around my neck.
"Yes I do," I replied and gave her a loud, dramatic kiss on the cheek.
"No you don't."
"Yes I do..."
We continued like this for a while, which drew an audience of the other adults. Like the weather, my popularity with the children is a constant source of amusement.
Wajd sat in my lap while the adults fussed over cleaning up after our meal and bringing water to boil, as one might predict, a couple more pots of tea. At my feet, the other children ran about and played their self-invented games. With the sun no longer burning us from above, Palestine was finally starting to cool down. Good humor and a precious sense of peacefulness was emerging. In my plastic chair, I looked up to see a half moon above me and a sky full of stars. In the distance, the familiar sounds of sporadic rounds M-16 fire could be heard from the Israeli training facility across the hillside. The adults were laughing and animately engaged in a discussion that I didn't understand. Wajd quietly sat in my lap, swinging her little, honey-colored legs back and forth while she precariously balanced her pink flip-flops on the tips of her toes. I held her little hands in mine and became filled with the sense of how much I love this child who is always the first of her siblings to demand the space in my lap. I looked around in the dim light to cherish the moment and the faces of every member of my Paletinian family. It occurred to me how impressive and amazing this part of the journey has been for me. I never expected to feel so safe and welcome, but most of all, so unconditionally loved. I looked up at the stars again and said a silent prayer for everyone's health and happiness. For little Wajd, I wished on the brightest star in the sky and asked that the Universe bestow her with the ability to follow her dreams and answer her call. At that moment, I blinked back tears when a small flash of light high above me caught my eye. I realized that I was wishing on an Israeli drone plane doing reconnaissance of the area.
"Only in Palestine," I thought to myself. I attempted to shrug and even chuckle at the irony, but the weight of that small flash of light felt too heavy to simply shake away.
Perhaps this is the only place on earth where radical injustice is the brightest star in the sky. It made me hope that whoever captured my picture up there won't just see a Western girl sitting with family of Arabs on a rooftop in the middle of a 60-year-old refugee camp, but a human being sitting with someone's child in her lap who simply asked the Universe to recognize that we all have the right to follow our dreams. In this case, our right to exist is mutual and inalienable. But freedom can't be stolen from some in order to secure the dreams of others.
What is this world where children have to wish on drone planes?
May the Universe be merciful to us all.