Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Playing Catch Up

Transitions are always tough. Moving from the refugee camp in Bethlehem to an air-conditioned 5 bedroom flat with amazing water pressure just 15 kilometers away in East Jerusalem has felt like moving to the other side of the world. I have a mailing address now. I also have an identification card that I carry to show that I am a good little international student of Israel. Even though I can take a shower whenever I want, this doesn't mean that I don't feel completely guilty. In fact, I don't think I'll ever look at water the same way again. Once upon a time I was the girl who sometimes took three showers in a single day. Now, I won't leave the water running when I shave my legs. When I do, I just feel guilty.

A week ago, I was being pulled in several directions for social engagements. I was going to engagement parties and buying birthday presents for children. My tutor took me to her sister's house for lunch. I barely slept for several nights because I was busy passing my evenings on the rooftop of my family home in the refugee camp. Midnight was the only time when my Muslim host brother and his friends could get together and have a few drinks. When I wasn't running all over the place with the children, I was drinking tea and listening to the ladies talk. When I wasn't drinking tea, I was eating something with meat, something with rice, and always something with yogurt. Secretly, a part of me looked forward to eating from my own plate again with a proper fork and knife. Now, I find myself missing the communal atmosphere of food and love. Yes, I miss the camp.

Here, there is no tea drinking for hours. There is no loud talking. There isn't a cadre of children running toward me when I turn the corner and enter the camp. I am shaken by the antiseptic environment of my gated community, where there are two, 24-hour guards at either entrance of what I refer to as "the student compound." Yesterday, the guard at the grocery store demanded that I furnish my grocery receipt when I exited the building. Prior to this, I had no choice but to allow him to shuffle through my bag when I entered the building. There was once a time when I felt like the Bethlehem border crossing was dehumanizing. Here, every building is a border. Here, I have someone with a gun look at me and my bag several times a day.

Oddly enough, I went from living in one place of fear to another place of fear, yet it is interesting to note how the reaction to fear from 15 kilometers away differs. In the camp, the water is shut off, the lights don't work, the internet "suddenly" disappears, and life goes on. The children keep playing, the food keeps on getting made, people grumble and get edgy, but nothing really changes. In Jerusalem, an Arab and a Jew don't walk down the same street without the Jew putting his hand on the gun that he is legally permitted to carry in public at all times. Here, there's a guard at every gate, yet no one feels secure.

I've been doing my very best to maintain my balance. I'm coping. I'm opening my mind to Hebrew and letting the writing and sounds around me take shape. It's happening. In a cab ride the other day, I was able to read all of the languages on the signs: English, Arabic and Hebrew. I'm now being invited to Shabbat dinners, Torah study and frank discussions about why I prefer to speak Arabic with the Arab students during our breaks from Hebrew class.

I'm looking for a yoga instructor. And I badly need a massage. If the intensity of the past two months are any indicator of the next two, I'm just going to do my best to keep my arms and legs inside the moving car and hang on for the ride.

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