Day 3: West Bank 02.26.12 (Kristen Henderson)
After being whisked from our show in a Sultan’s Palace turned hotel in Bethlehem the night prior, we were taken to an after party in the Palace’s disco tech where we proceeded to, let’s say, celebrate. As we raised our glasses for a toast, I was reminded by my manager that I would be appearing on a TV news program the following morning. The 11 p.m. imposed West Bank curfew turned out to be a blessing in disguise as the United States security detail yanked us out of the Sultan’s palace like a bunch of Cinderellas about to turn into pumpkins.
At 4:50 a.m. I was woken to the sound of Muslim prayer chanting. It happens five times a day in the city of Jerusalem, and it’s actually quite lovely if you’re not trying to sleep or aren’t caught off guard by its initial onset. On this morning it happened to come in extremely handy as an alarm clock.
I dragged my heavy head into the bathroom, sprayed my head with dry shampoo, and began contemplating what type of questions might be tossed at me on a morning program called Good Morning Palestine.
As we weaved around tight bends up and down desert hills at mach speed on our way to the television studio, I began to get car sick. I imagined getting to the studio and running straight into the ladies room just before going live on air. Then my imagination took it a step further, my imagination can never resist itself, and I envisioned actually getting sick while on the air. I wondered if that would make international news, American rocker girl loses her cookies on Palestinian TV. I then wondered if that would help or hurt our career. Before my imagination could take me any further, we rolled up on our destination.
Any thought of getting ill from car sickness left my body, only to be overtaken by the sensation of getting ill from nerves. The building we were about to enter was heavily guarded. It was also evident it had undergone some type of attack. By our standards, it was condemnable.
We climbed three of four or five flights of steps, it was all happening in slow motion at this point. There were men smoking in the stairwells staring at us. In we came, leather jackets on, Frye boots laced up, me with my hair meticulously flat ironed with week old bright red highlights in it. We were ready for a morning television appearance. The question was, were they ready for us.
Upon entering the studio I was promptly introduced to my interpreter, Osama. He reached out, shook my hand, and asked me to speak to him so he could get used to my dialect. I started babbling about the history of rock n’ roll in the United States, stealing my story from something Dena (our drummer) recited to a room full of students a few days earlier in Jaffa. Some of the program workers apologized to us for the appearance of the building. “We haven’t been able to fix it up since the last incident.”
I was moments away from going live on air, ear piece in so Osama could interpret every word being said between me, Cindy from the U.S. Consulate, and the hosts. I was there to announce where Antigone Rising would be performing for the next several days. Cindy was there for everything else, so I thought.
Suddenly, I hear Osama’s interpretive words clearly directed at me, “Why do you think your coming here means anything to the women in these villages?”
I pressed in on the ear plug tucked in my ear, as if that was going to change the question. Osama’s voice disappeared. The host’s words had been fully interpreted. It was time for an answer. I took a deep breath, and knew I had to come up with something honest and meaningful. After a fleeting vision of getting sick on the air, I opened my mouth and said, “We come here as mothers, as sisters, as daughters. We walk into these villages to learn about your culture and traditions and to hopefully share ours with all of you. We leave as friends who feel our worlds aren’t as far apart as we thought they were. And we’ll be at the YMCA in East Jerusalem at 4 p.m.” Osama began interpreting my words in Arabic for the television viewers. I took a deep breath and looked over at Nini and Julie across the room giving me a thumb’s up.
Later that evening, the host of Good Morning Palestine was at our show.
Day 4, Final Day, West Bank 02.27.12 (Nini Camps)
I’m sitting in our East Jerusalem hotel looking at my luggage and wondering how it might be possible to put this trip into words. I mean, the fact that I am in Jerusalem as an art envoy/cultural ambassador still makes my head spin. Not only that, but I only have about 20 minutes before we head out for dinner and then to the airport back to NYC. That’s the other thing, the schedule has been so jam packed that the days have become a blur of activity. Specific events are real and vibrant but hard to organize in a timeline. It’s as if my memories and experiences are a carousel of flashing colors and lights. They all just spin around and around waiting for me to pluck one out of the sky, think on it and then put it back.
I do remember today, though, and early this morning we played an all-girl school in East Jerusalem. The music director of the school had one of his classes prepare three of our songs that they would then perform with us during the show. In addition, we held a workshop with this class to talk about our music and American music in general. In fact, we weren’t given any specific information as to what we would share with the girls so in the end, we gave a crash course on improvisation by improvising the whole workshop! It was one of those times though, when you wonder if the tables shouldn’t be turned. These girls were being trained to sing beautiful arias and opera and they wanted us to talk about rock ‘n roll!
The way they sang our songs made them sound far more sophisticated than I could have imagined. These sweet, angelic voices raised together singing “Hey now mamma I’ll go anywhere you want to go…”! I didn’t know what to do with myself. As I sat there, I remembered writing the song in my Brooklyn apartment (with my pal McCowan) having a good laugh as we wrote, played and sang this honky tonk little ditty. It was impossible to take it very seriously. It was just fun. Fast forward to Jerusalem and here are these sweet girls singing away, reading their lyric and sheet music. It was too much; you couldn’t rip the smile off my face.
Later that morning, during the show itself (this time in the school auditorium for the whole school) there were a few other highlights. Or, rather, low lights. Our amps, lights and sound system kept blowing out the power! Several times during the show the electricity just shut down. It didn’t seem to matter much. In fact, sometimes I think these sorts of things make a show better. It changes the dynamic of the whole event. All of a sudden we are on our toes not sure which way this thing is going to go. You wonder, “Well, do we stop? Do we wait for the power to come back? Will it come back? Are those cookies still backstage?” So many thoughts to consider in a split second. Luckily the girls were so enthused.
Photo courtesy of the U.S. Embassy Tel Aviv
It was such an amazing process to watch. They were all very polite at the start of the show. In their seats, clad in their uniforms (which brought me back to my own school days), they were excited and eager and they clapped and waved their arms in the air. At one point the girls in the back rows started getting up and standing on their chairs. Soon the girls in the front started to stand. After that it is hard to tell when or how it happened, but all of a sudden two brave souls came right down front and started dancing. I give them credit because it was a good few minutes of them dancing alone while the rest considered the option. I’m not sure if they were waiting to see if they’d get into trouble or if they just contemplated a potentially embarrassing situation. Who knows!
But before the song finished the whole bunch stormed the stage and they were clapping, stomping and singing. In the moments when the power failed, it was as if the electricity surged among the girls because in those moments the show elevated to another level. We dropped our instruments and let them lead the charge with us. This was the last day and, after nearly nine days of two shows a day, my voice was not willing to rise up and fill that room without a microphone. I was Clint Eastwood at best. But it didn’t matter, they gave me their voices and together we raised up melodies that echoed off the back wall.
Check back soon for more Dispatches from the Holy Tour