Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Live, from the land of lemons and incest

Well, that's a little unfair, I suppose, regarding the incest. But the lemons are accurate.

I was thinking back last night to the spring of 2001, when we performed Motti Lerner's Autumn. Does anyone else remember that wonderful Israeli debacle? It spawned some deliciously multilayered quotes (such as "I said ghetto fabulous, not ghetto ridiculous!"), gave me the chance to smack a few people across the face (acting or not? - always an interesting debate), and gave us cast members a family tree the likes of which has never again been seen (which complemented the theme of incest quite nicely), complete with a violent, pitchfork-induced death scene.

Or the final dress rehearsal (an hour before showtime) where no one could remember how the second act should start? How many costume changes did we go through in a 3-foot square space? Should it always be that hard to push a wheelchair up a ramp?

It's telling, though, that despite all the "drama," this show actually turned into a legitimate piece of theater. No one flubbed a line. We all managed to be onstage for our cues. No one came on stage either barefoot or naked. It's hard to avoid rising to the occasion when the Israeli Ambassador and Izhak Rabin's son are both attending your inaugural (and only) performance. I think I may even have managed to have a nervous breakdown - precipitating the aforementioned pitchfork murder - onstage (which was, incidentally, supposed to happen).

It's a little early in my life for nostalgia, I'll grant you, but it's amazing to me to be living in a place that I once had to conjour up in my imagination. So, hats off to Ephraim and Regina, and to their dysfunctional little piece of Zion. There's a little piece of me, regardless of my politics, that is still trying my damnedest to grow lemons.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

The Emperor's New Clothes

We had an interesting impromptu coffee break this morning, when quite a bit of shooting went on outside, and we all moved into the hallway and away from the windows (essentially, our walls are all windows). Again, no shooting AT anyone, just up in the air. It seems to be one of those occaisions where everyone joins in because everyone else is doing it, and no one wants to tell the emperor he's naked.

Meanwhile, life continues here as normal - we must be in the quietest place in the Middle East.

I had quite a funny thought this morning, as I was riding in the car to work. What kind of desriptive information do you put on a driver's license in a country where everyone has the same coloring? In the US, hair and eye color is the primary descriptor - here, I suppose you'd have to rely on a picture, because saying "he was 5'9" with dark hair" would be about as useful as saying "I saw a guy."

I'm not much feeling like waxing poetical today, but stay tuned.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

"Um...these are old."

Spent yesterday wandering the Old City with Rebecca - very different to see it this time around, because it was actually full of tourists - last time we were there, it was eerily empty. I love wending my way through the suq - it's like being in a cross between Target and Aladdin, with enough medieval memorabilia to fascinate me all day long. I also managed not to buy anything, which is quite a feat in itself.

I realized that I am a bit of a tourist attraction - particularly with little kids (they're more blatant, at least) - people will just kind of walk by and stop and stare at my hair. I'm thinking of dyeing it dark brown, not that I'd really blend in anyway, but...

We went into the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which might be one of my new favorite places. It's a collage of different time periods, and different conquerors, each adding a separate piece and separate style so that the entire building is a patchwork of history. As you walk along, even the graffiti is historical - carved into the pillars and walls are hundreds of crosses - marked by the Crusaders! And as you walk through, high on one pillar someone has carved a name (blurred now), and the year 1449.

As you walk through the streets, there are things dating to the Romans, to King Herod, to days and people that I imagine rather than study. It rather puts things in perspective, to see that, despite its age, this city is still alive; it just takes each piece of history, and integrates it into the puzzle of the whole. It makes you wonder a bit what our age will leave behind.

Friday, March 25, 2005

My conservatism shocks us all

So, finally joined the gym here in Ramallah - I'd just like to mention that it's like 25 times the size of our little one in Bethesda, and has a pool! I just need to find a place in Ramallah to buy goggles.

The interesting part of why it's so big is that they have a co-ed gym, and a separate one for women (sorry, guys - no separate one for you), and the first thing I thought was, "hey, great idea!" I've discovered that I quite like Islamic custom when it's voluntary (as it is here). It's definitely got its advantages, and it's quite nice to be in a place where we girls get to keep a little mystery.

In other news, happy Easter - I discovered that there's a Protestant church two blocks from our office. No word yet on what denomination it is, so I might wind up at Catholic mass (lots of options in Jerusalem, if I get motivated) after all. We shall see. More likely, I'll dye some eggs, and have that be my religious experience for the day.

Meanwhile, settling into life here quite nicely - I think I might actually be starting to have a social life! Stay tuned...

Thursday, March 24, 2005

And on a day we meet to walk the line/And set the wall between us once again.

Odd to be that person reporting from behind a wall. One of my earliest memories, maybe the first time I was really aware of the world outside third grade, is the fall of the Berlin Wall. And now, fifteen years later, I'm here behind another wall, wondering whether anyone will ever learn from the past.

The Mongol hordes breached the Great Wall of China.
The Scots ignored Hadrian's wall.
The Berlin Wall was torn down after 28 years.
There's a "peace wall" in Belfast, which has so far accomplished very little.

"Good fences make good neighbors," they say. And yet, and yet.

A line of concrete snakes across the hills here, casting dark, cement shadows over the dust. I see the shadows from one side of the wall, but when the light is right, they fall on both sides. That's the sharp edge of building walls. No matter how high you build them, you don't just keep things out, you keep them in, and you keep yourself in cloistered shadow.

And when they've given you their all
Some stagger and fall, after all it's not easy
Banging your heart against some mad bugger's wall.

Monday, March 21, 2005


Oh, dear. It starts... two weeks of being here (unmarried), and they want to find me a husband. Apparently, they've even got one in mind. He's got a Green Card! (I think that might have been the selling point?)
How did I get myself into this??
Who knows? At least finding a tall guy w/an angular face here is pretty much as easy as getting 10 points at Skee-Ball.
Do we think my mother would kill me if I brought home a 37 year old Palestinian? Not really thinking it's going to be much of an issue...stay tuned!

Shake what yo' mama gave you

As I'm in a new place, I figure that I should be open to new experiences (still not going to buy lamb lung from the grocery store, but one has to set limits somewhere). Bearing this in mind, I agreed to go to a dance class at the YWCA last night. Now, those of you who know me well will know that voluntary dancing and I coincide only on certain very rare occaisions, such as New Year's Eve, or 3am at Ben and Eric's house (maybe not so rare, then, but specific).

Well, I decided that I'd been sitting in my apartment doing much of nothing for the past week, so why not give it a shot? I did musical theater! I can learn choreography! Yes! The stage is calling! So, full of the possibility of Fosse-ing my way through life, I came along.

What I didn't realize until I arrived was that there would be no Fosse. Oh, no. This was a belly dancing class!! Taught in Hebrew and Arabic! Luckily, no one else had ever done this either, and most of it is pretty simple - something I can't pronounce is just a ball change (see, I did learn something from Karen while doing Fame!), and quite few of the steps mimic the way you'd move while walking in high heels (ok, so I haven't really mastered that, but...).

You never know - I think I just may be convinced to go back...

Sunday, March 20, 2005

"The chocolate coating makes it go down easier."

When you see the way the sun moves through the clouds here, it's not so hard to imagine why three major religions have their roots in the Holy Land. The writing on the wall? It's written everywhere, in the play of light and shadows.

I managed (of course) to get into a theological debate in the office the other day - what, really, constitutes a miracle? Can there be man-made miracles, or must they be directly at the hands of God? Of course, the validity of the entire debate requires acceptance of the existence of God, which was something I didn't really want to get into, as I don't have an answer.

I suppose it comes down to the way one views the world - is there any fundamental difference between a burning bush and a shining skyscraper? Or between fire and brimstone and nuclear warheads? Perhaps the difference lies not in the physical manifestation of "miracles," but in the wisdom of when to use them.

Speaking of fire and brimstone, did you know that Sodom and Gomorrah are supposed to have been where the Dead Sea is now? In a vaguely related miracle, the Israelis have pulled out of Jericho - I'd like to go back there once a little time has passed, and see whether Lazarus' miracle can be replayed with a town as old as Abraham.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

"We get shit from Jericho"

Just back now from three days at a conference in Jericho (which might officially “open” tomorrow, pending Israeli withdrawal) – it’s sad to see that the place claiming to be the oldest city in the world, where 2,000 year old trees have plaques explaining that “Jesus was here” and a monastery is carved high into the rock on the side of a mountain is now basically a ghost town.
We stayed at a hotel built for tourists back in the early 1990s, which has been maintained, but just, for the past few years (as the proprietor explained, you don’t let a $200 million investment lapse over a little conflict). We were able to come down and see their (closed) casino – it once catered to an average of 6,000 people per day, 7 days a week, 24 hours a day. It was eerie to wander in – they had turned on all of the lights and the games, but the only sound other than tinkly slot machine music was the sound of our muffled footsteps on the rug. Luckily, we got a gift upon leaving – a folding beach chair . . . for a cell phone!

Fascinating to hear about the amount of security involved in running a casino – not, I mean, of the “don’t bring your Uzi in here” kind, but of the watching the tables sort. The hotel proprietor started telling us all about how they used to run the resort, and all of a sudden, while talking about the water purification system, his assistant blurts out, “We get shit from Jericho!” Um, what? Turns out the system uses manure for fuel. They used to buy it by the truckload from various farms in and around Jericho.

Meanwhile, my vocabulary of Arabic words is slowly expanding – can’t yet have a conversation (besides “Good morning. My name is Ri. How are you?” And such.), but I can pick out words and phrases from conversation, and can write and count numbers from 1-10. I’ve also become quite good at a game called tarnib, which is something a lot like spades, with a few little variations. Firas, my tarnib partner, is also going to take me to the gym, so I can do something other than sit on my couch after work. Fabulous.

Friday, March 11, 2005

Babies, babies everywhere

The weekend here is Friday-Saturday, so today was a nice de-stressing day. I went to my friend Yusra's house for a barbecue - it's kind of interesting to see a totally different version of what I think of as "barbecue." But some things were definitely the same - there's still meat, and chicken, and sauce, there's definitely a grill, and a lot of food. Unfortunately, our plans to eat outside were foiled by yet more cold, gray weather, so we had a picnic in the kitchen. Kind of fun, actually.

I've finally begun to understand what all the hapless fiances and significant others feel when they come to our house for the first time - her family is just as big and loud and crazy as mine, and just as full of children. In fact, everywhere I go lately, I wind up holding someone's baby - it's kind of nice, since I don't get too much time with my (gigantic) extended family. Except then they all ask me if I'm married, to which I've developed a lovely, simple stock answer of "Oh, not yet," and then play the "I'm foreign" card. Boy, am I not ready for that...

It's always interesting to walk through Qalandia at'd think that, if they're going to funnel us all through a checkpoint, they'd at least put up a light or two. No such luck, if you're coming back INTO Ramallah...but you should see the line of cars coming out. Even longer tonight than usual...I'd wager at least a few of them won't get out again before the border closes at 10. At least there are dozens of overzealous taxi drivers to take you wherever you want to go - and going all the way across town runs about $2. Pretty nice.

Off to Jericho for the next few days - I'll let you all know what the lowest elevation on Earth is like, when I come back with a desert-induced tan. Lovely.

Thursday, March 10, 2005


I wasn't planning on writing more today, but...
We stopped at the grocery store on the way home from work. I was waiting in the car, as I didn't really need to buy anything, eating my new favorite thing (green almonds. they taste like a combination of granny smith apples and raw green beans. it sounds gross, but...), when another car pulls up. No big deal, yeah?
Out jumps a very small man with a very large automatic weapon.
As I'm trying to decide whether to hide behind the dashboard, he runs into the store. I'm riveted, watching to see what will happen - I have a pretty good view of the counter, and can see right into the store.
About 30 seconds later, I see him at the counter.
Then, he buys a coke, jogs out of the store, and drives away.

"They missed that physics lesson"

Here I am in Ramallah - it seems like it will be far easier to start posting, rather than writing several versions of the same email back home. So, here we go.

It's still raining and cold here - I'm playing a game to see how many times I can wear the same two sweaters over and over again. I'll let you know how that pans out. Meanwhile, the rain did much to disperse whoever it was that was shooting down the street. As Tareq said, "They do that when they're angry, they do that when they have something to say...they shoot up in the air. What goes up, must come down? They missed that physics lesson." There are so many things that someone here might be angry about that we could only guess, standing well away from the windows (in case something came down at an angle), what it might be today.

It's been much easier to move in here a second time - no need to adjust, as it's already been done before. Things are looking up - I found real milk (as opposed to the Buttermilk Saga of earlier this week), a shop I can walk to, and just might have something to do this weekend (apart from writing the Great American Novel, which is the default right now). I've also been introduced to a new fruit. It's like a grapefruit, but about 1.5 times the size. No one knows whether it has a name in English, but we're wagering that it's not a big seller in the US.

I'll be back with more when something happens - as you might have noted, life's not all that spectacularly interesting. But stay tuned - you never know...