Monday morning, Beer Sheva – 02.21.12
Nini Camps: Today we played at Eshkol Ha Pais in Beer Sheva for about 250 Bedouin and Jewish students from local high schools.
Throughout our careers we’ve played tons of shows for high school and college students. Sometimes even in remote towns in the nooks and crannies of the U.S., but it’s safe to say that we have never played for kids that have never heard American music — at all.
I look around the town and it is developed as much as many American cities. But here, unlike in the U.S., there is such a diverse mix of cultures that a girl in jeans and uggs is walking next to a girl in full cover. I can’t think of anywhere in the U.S. that has such polar cultural diversity within such a tiny radius. We’ve been told the entire country of Israel is the size on New Jersey.
And then here we come blazing in. Ha, culture shock indeed!
We played for about an hour and it was hard to read some of the faces. Some were visibly interested and clapping, swaying, but some looked away or looked down and you couldn’t help but wonder if they were bored, shy or just not comfortable with what was happening onstage. Or all of the above, for that matter.
After the show we sat along the edge of the stage. It took a few brave souls to break the ice but once they did it was like a torrent rushing the stage. They all came up to say hello, teach us how to say hello, tell us their names, take pictures and some just came up to stare at us.
One boy couldn’t wait to tell me he loved Eric Clapton! One girl, pretty well covered up and with great English skills came up quickly to say how lucky she felt to have been at the show. Before I realized it she was gone and I was left wanting to tell her it was the other way around — that we were the lucky ones.
Kristen Henderson: We just played our first show in Beer Sheva for a mixed group of high school students, both Israeli Jews and Arabs. All of the Arab female students were covered from head to toe, a few only had their eyes showing.
One of our hosts from the U.S. Embassy told us that this would be a very culturally diverse group of students. That in most cases, these kids would never be in the same room with one another, but part of the U.S. State Department’s initiative was to bring them together from time to time in an effort to create peace and understanding between the cultures.
As the room filled, it was very clear who belonged to which group. The Israeli Jewish kids filtered down to the front rows. The boys stuck with the boys and girls with girls, but they were “Westernized” in the sense that some wore Adidas sweat jackets and carried iPhones. You didn’t get the sense they were intentionally divided by gender, but it was obvious they were divided by culture.
The Bedouins (or Israeli Arabs), on the other hand, sat further back – boys in the middle of the room and the girls fully covered from head to toe in the back of the room. At one point Nini came over to show me that two of the girls were cautiously clapping along during our set, unsure if they should be visibly enjoying the show.
After we performed, an Arab girl approached us accompanied by her teacher. She thanked us for sharing our culture with her and told us that our show, seeing four women on stage playing music, “empowered her” (her words; she spoke impeccable English).
A U.S. Embassy worker later told us the girl comes from a village with no running water or electricity. Her mother recently passed away and she is the oldest of six siblings. She is one of the brightest students in her school and hoped to go on to study science and technology, but due to her family’s situation she is now responsible for bringing up her siblings. The Embassy worker went on to say that seeing us perform today gave her hope that she can still have more for her life.
Monday night – Jerusalem 02.21.12
Kristen Henderson: We are playing a very cool and artsy theater tonight in Jerusalem called Beit Mazyea. With a cafe upstairs that serves espresso and cappuccino (and beer and whiskey. Who, me and Dena?), we’ve got two U.S. Embassy hosts leading us around and everyone speaks English. I met a couple from Chicago who’ve lived here for nine years whose oldest daughter just started her military service in the Israeli army, a man from Portland, Maine, and then a few more people from West Virginia. It was easy to forget momentarily that we were steps away from some of the holiest places on the planet.
Between soundcheck and show time, one of our U.S. Embassy hosts, Sri, a handsome young man from Houston, TX, took us on a guided tour of the old city. We spent a few moments at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (considered Christianity’s holiest place, it’s the site of Jesus’ crucifixion) and then onto The Western Wall, the place where the ancient temple of Jerusalem once stood.
Our manager, Julie, had an intense moment remembering family members she’d lost. It was hard not to be moved by Julie being moved, but then I looked over to my left to see Nini wandering aimlessly into the male-only prayer section of the wall. I was too far away to scream to her, thankfully before I had to she magically turned on a dime and headed out of the area before going too far in. We raced over to each other giggling like a couple of clueless tourists debating how to tactfully tweet out what she’d just done.
Late Monday night
We played a great show, based on the crowd’s reaction, and got to meet and make friends with a very cool Israeli all female band called Tarantina. Look them up if you get a chance.
Dumbest thing I’ve said so far came after playing to the students in Beer Sheva. We spent time talking to them and I asked several kids what their names were. Two boys said simultaneously that their names were Mohammed. I said — are you ready for this — “Do you both spell it the same way?” What type of question is that, Kristen? I’ll be mortified the rest of my life replaying that moment. I could vomit just thinking of the awkwardness.
Nini Camps: As I write, I’m relaxing in my luxurious King David Hotel room and it is safe to say that our hosts spared no expense on these accommodations. I feel like a pampered woman — well, that’s not quite true. I feel like I was hit by a bus and then the bus driver threw it in reverse and dragged me around a little for fun. Aside from that though, def pampered.
Between the jet lag and our schedule it’s hard to know what’s coming next. I do however know where I just was! And that, my good friends, was a lovely theatre in the heart of Jerusalem filled with shiny happy people (and even some American transplants).
We were fortunate to have a local all-girl band called Tarantina open the show for us. They were kind and gracious and we were happy to have them share the stage with us.
As for the show, there is something surreal about having just played in Jerusalem. I mean, one hour prior we were walking the halls of the old city and laying eyes on some of the most sacred places in the world. Religious or not religious, there is just such a sense of history here that it can be overwhelming. I wonder if the people that live here have a sense of that or if they’ve just become accustomed to it? Sort of like the Statue of Liberty or the Empire State Building in New York. I barely even notice them anymore let alone think of their origin.
Note to self: ask a few locals what it feels like to live in such an historically rich place.
I will say, as an American woman, that it is strange to be in a place where old traditions are still very much a fabric of society. What I mean is things like the separation of men and women. At the Western Wall for example, I almost walked into an area where it was men only. I was really just lost in thought, looking at all the buildings, taking it all in and walking down the primary pathway. I’m not sure why, but all of a sudden I felt a nerve twitch and realized I was way too many steps into an area where I was not meant to be. Once I scurried to a neutral zone, I looked at the big picture to find that the women were in a space perhaps 1/3 the size of that allotted to the men. Not only that, but the women were jammed into their little area whereas the men had yards of wall to pray along. I realize I know way too little about the cultural significance of the division but at the very least can we not broaden the space for the ladies? Must it be so vastly insignificant compared to that dedicated for the male prayers?
I’m rambling and it’s late but I do love that we are here and as you well know by now, it is high time I snuggled in.
Check back soon for more Dispatches from the Holy Tour