Sunday, November 11, 2007

Quiet Moments

The past several weeks since I have been back have been far from boring. However, despite my big, awkward extroversion and sheer abundance of work offset by adult ADHD, I have managed to find time for a number of thought-filled moments. These moments usually occur when I'm taking a hot shower, eating alone, or walking somewhere. It's in these moments that I feel the emotional wave of the last several months begin to rise up over me. These moments are when I feel myself missing my time with my host family and friends in the West Bank.

A smile crosses my face when I think about how I was woken up at the same time every morning to sit quietly in the kitchen with Um Ahmad, the mother of my family home. Breakfast consisted of pita bread, olive oil for dipping with green zatar spice, leftover homemade hummus, sometimes a few slices of cheese, and a little bit of yogurt (also for dipping), and tea with sugar and mint. No matter what, there was always tea. I miss this. I miss how Um Ahmad muttered about the heat every day, and how I made a study of her face, her hands, her body language and the tone her voice when she spoke to me. I miss the children in the camp--particularly the triplets in my extended family, Ahmad, Ghasan and Wajd. I miss the sarcasm and dark humor of their mother, Amal. We developed a strong connection based on her desire to practice her English so that she could teach her children.

I miss Aida, my 65-year-old, multi-lingual tutor, and the repetitive stories she told me about her life and her family. I miss the squeaky sound of her laughter, but most of all, I miss how she always greeted me on her front porch with a famous Palestinian triple-kiss, and then an automatic pronunciation drill when I told her about how I walked to see her. (For some reason, she always wanted to know which way I came from the camp, even though it was always the same.)

I miss my dear friend, Ilhan. God, I miss her. I miss her voice, her intelligence, her unwavering commitment to her family and fighting the good fight. She challenged me a great deal, which I automatically recognized as a sign of respect and love. She was so incredibly gifted and strong that I often felt inadequate in her presence. At one point, I remember thinking that Ilhan's character and personality most closely resembles who I would have been if I had been born in her shoes. Her profoundly healthy outlook and determination to be a role model for her children will be a source of inspiration to me for many years to come.

No, I don't miss the uncertainty and anxiety of living one day to the next. I don't miss the blurry background of violence that was always waiting just beneath the surface to rear its ugly head. I don't miss the profound sense of guilt I had for being able to come and go through the checkpoint as I pleased, while the people I spent the most time with were stuck at home, waiting for my return. I don't miss the daily, low-level traumas associated with living in a place where gunfire was a routine disruption to my Arabic lessons. I don't miss the fear of leaving the threshold of my family home without without my passport and a bottle of water. My side bag was always packed with first aid supplies and a spare set of clothes. Fortunately, the spare set of clothes regularly came in handy for impromptu slumber parties more than anything. But still.

But still...

...I do miss eating with 6 people at once in the middle of the day. I miss how we all just sat around a big, steaming bowl of rice and meat, and how the concept of sharing meant that no one used a plate...a fork...or even a napkin. I miss how the food was always fresh and delicious, how eating became a source of strength, not just nutritionally, but socially as well. I miss how my chronic hunger fueled me to know the names of every fruit and vegetable in the market and how to bargain for them. It's funny to say it, I guess, but I miss being chronically hungry.

In my quiet moments, especially when the big house I am now sharing with two other PhD's is empty in the early morning, and I am left to the silent devices of my own thoughts, I find that I am left to ponder my lessons. As I do this, I remind myself that the weight of my solitude is not just a cultural thing, but also a gift. Why? Because I'm here. Now. And the best part is that I lived to tell about it.


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