Day 2 West Bank – Holy Tour – Saturday 02.25.12 (Nini Camps)
Sometimes you just can’t predict what the day will bring. The itinerary for said day read plain and simple that we had a cultural exchange in Ni’lin in the morning, a quick stop off at The Church of the Nativity, and then sound check and a concert in Bethlehem.
OK. Great. I’m ready.
Or am I?
The van takes us through East Jerusalem and we wind our way along the infamous wall that separates the Palestinian cities from the Israelite territory. The story of the wall (and of this country) is so vastly complicated that our Embassy liaison, try as she might, simply can’t put into words or a timeline just how complicated the situation here really is. At least not in a way that we can truly understand. However, we do start to realize just how real this situation is and how difficult it is for those who are actually living through it. I try to imagine just what it would feel like to have a wall built down 5th avenue in NYC. All of a sudden, it will take one hour to get from 5 East 5th to 5 West 5th because there is now a wall separating the two, and depending on what side you fall on, you might need a permit to get to the other side. I’m not trying to get political here and I certainly am not passing judgement, but I feel like regardless of where you fall in this debate (and from the looks of it, politicians aren’t even close to getting a solution) for people who are living in it day-to-day, it’s brutal.
Slowly the landscape changes from city to mountainside and before long we are approaching the city of Ni’ Lin. the streets wind so tight I wonder if the van will make it through, but eventually we near the top of a hill and come upon a small community center. We know there is a program scheduled where the women of Ni’ Lin have prepared some song and dance for us but nothing could have prepared us for the sight of these women lined up along the steps of the community center waiting for us to arrive.
Sidenote: Ni’ Lin village gained international attention several years ago as they demonstrated (and continue to demonstrate) against the building of the wall and continuous land confiscations by the Israeli state and the ongoing struggle for Israel and Palestine to find peace.
The sight of these women, many dressed in traditional clothing (sewn and embroidered robes representing their heritage, ancestry, and affiliations), lined up waiting for us was overwhelming. I mean, who the hell are we? We play rock and roll music and they’ve never even heard of us! But here they are ready to share themselves and their culture with us. It’s really a bit much to wrap your head around.
As we made our way into the room lined with plastic chairs, we were ushered into the front row. As everyone settled, a gorgeous little girl in full traditional dress made her way to me. I don’t know why, but I smiled at her and made some faces as she stared at me. She was about 4 years old and the daughter of one of the Ni’lin women. When I managed to get a smile out of her, I reached out and she jumped right into my arms. Why? I don’t know, but before long she was on my lap and curled into me. I think she was tired and the way I see it, American or not, I must have looked like as good a spot as any for her to curl up and nap.
It is a strange sensation to be stared at. We go to the zoo but seldom are we the “exhibit.” For much of this cultural exchange, that’s what it felt like. At one point i found my way to the bathroom and nearly scared the lights out of a young girl. She wasn’t expecting me to turn the corner and when she looked up, there I was. I mean, she jumped. There were plenty of other people around so it wasn’t like I snuck up on her. It was my American-ness that snuck up on her.
Eventually everyone found their spots and the event started. They danced and sang and while much of it was in Arabic, the narrative was easy enough: Scenes of a wedding reenacted by the teens, a local dance by the little ones, a poet, traditional songs by the elders. All the while I’m wondering how on earth we are going to perform after this. We are going to go over like a box of rocks!
It seems we are always getting introduced and having no idea it’s us they are talking about and this was no different. After a seemingly elaborate introduction, all eyes were on us. So, we plugged in and while we hoped for the best, what we got was through the roof!
Clapping, dancing, smiles and hoots — this all-female bunch was letting loose! No idea what we were saying but as the music hushed so did they, as the music crashed, so did the hoots. They followed along as if they’d been listening to the CD for weeks! It was unbelievable.
After the performance, lunch was served. Pita-like bread smothered with olive oil and sweet onions with a big chicken breast on top. We took our loaded plates and sat outside in the sun with all the women and ate our lunch together. No cutlery, just hands. No napkins (except for the smuggled toilet paper I had in my backpack!) and no beverage. But the women prepared this traditional dish just for us on this day and we dug in as if it was a slice from Joe’s Pizza in the West Village as opposed to an olive oil soaked, chicken topped pita bread in the West Bank.
This blog is hardly enough to really convey what the morning held. The energy and the environment, the women and this conflict that is their lives and the openness with which they shared themselves with us is beyond what words can describe. i feel that as Americans we are so jaded and accustomed to life as we know it – we seldom wonder about our borders unless we need to protect them and many of us (myself included) have our faces in our cell phones instead of looking out into the world.
Today i felt what it might be like for a young girl to be empowered just enough to know that her life probably won’t change no matter how hard she tries. Today i felt what it might be like to be so proud of your culture that when a music group from America says they will come and play for you, you open your doors so wide that they can’t help but see who you are.
This was just the morning.
After this we went to the Church of the Nativity, where the sweet baby Jesus himself began his sanctified life. All in day’s work right?
What a crazy life this is. To think that sometime during my high school years i decided i wanted to learn how to play guitar and forced my pudgy fingers into a G chord until I could play it up to speed with “Closer to Fine” on a worn-out cassette. This morning I was in the village of Ni’lin and followed that up with a walk through the Church of the Nativity laying my hands on the supposed birth place of Jesus Christ. The Jesus Christ everyone calls to when they are scared to death. The Jesus Christ everyone calls when they are pissed off. The Jesus Christ everyone calls to when shocked — that very same Jesus Christ!
Then cappuccino. Then the concert, in a palace that has been converted into a hotel. Who are we? This just feels like the kind of thing that you can’t make up. Oh, and there’s 1,000 people waiting for you to play and they proceed to dance and clap and cheer throughout the entire show even though few speak English. Then they insist on photos and autographs after the show. It was Beatlemania without the Beatles.
The Middle East. Who knew?