Today we journeyed to Ramallah again for a shopping trip with Ana. I must say, I am truly grateful for Ana. If you have the privilege to meet her in this life, then count yourself as blessed. She has a wonderful story to tell, but it’s a privileged story that’s not for me to tell…not yet, anyway ;). She is a Latina living in Palestine, in the West Bank, and this is no easy task. She came to Palestine 13 years ago and made it her own, not knowing the language, culture, and not even as a Muslim. Over the years, she has assimilated and you wouldn’t know that we actually share a mutual Caribbean heritage. But that’s not what makes Ana so special. What makes Ana so special is how giving she is–she knows all too well how hard it is for a foreigner to assimilate and be welcomed and accepted here. We’ve already gotten so many stares from Israelis and Palestinians alike…as if we don’t belong…as if being Muslim and American is an oxymoron. The questions we’ve been asked by some Palestinian Muslims are as equally ludricrous as the ones we were asked by the Israeli visa officers at the airport, as if our Islam is not good enough or we are ignorant about our own faith. As if we just became Muslim today without any previous knowledge…
This is the only place where I’ve resorted to say it’s because of the color of my skin. I think people do enjoy different privileges here. Sometimes its Jewish privilege. Sometimes its Arab. In general, though, there seems to be a “white” privilege because we are stared at as if we are aliens by both sides–what can I do to fit in better? Buy a jilbab, I think! And thanks to Ana, I got what I dub “the bling bling abaya” that’ll make you want to shimmy, and a cute little embroidered thobe for my little girl for Eid.
Ana’s presence gives our presence strength, and I’d like to think our presence strengthens her. Through us, inshallah, the people of Ramallah can see that Muslims around the world aren’t so different after all…because too many people think it’s an anomaly for my husband to be from a Muslim (non-Arab) American family and for us both to be able to read Quran and pray in Arabic. Sighs. But this, I think, is another sign of occupation (I hope). Otherwise, it’s complete ignorance and a superiority complex. I think the Palestinians, especially in Ramallah, stare at us and question us because they don’t get visitors on their side of town. Seeing someone from the outside world is a treat as not everyone is daring enough or even allowed to go through the horrible checkpoints…
If it weren’t for Ana being in Ramallah, I don’t think I would go there at all and it’s not just because of annoying questions. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before. Downtown in the city center, there are TONS of people everywhere all the time. The way the city looks and smells reminds me of a prison. It is as if they’ve designed it precisely so that people don’t want to go in. And the Palestinians seem so downtrodden, that they don’t keep it up. There is trash and garbage everywhere. If I could just start a recycling and trash-task-squad…I wonder if there is a way to get to Ana’s farm town of Surda without going through Ramallah’s chaotic city center?!?
The Palestinians here are in some ways like the Blacks and Hispanics back home. Their neighborhoods remind me of ghettos and barrios…but worse especially since there are hardly any stoplights or lines in the streets!! I have no problems with ghettos and barrios, but I do have a problem with Ramallah. I have a problem with a one way street becoming multidirectional and people almost always about to be hit, and a two lane road becoming a four way lane at anyone’s whim. And it seems horrible to say, but already, I prefer my “Israeli” side of town (more on where we live later). It’s cleaner, wider, less noisy and feels closer to home. Sighs . I feel compelled to make an excuse for my brothers and sisters here…perhaps the hustle and bustle of last-minute Eid shopping is what leaves downtown Ramallah overcrowded and dirty, and perhaps because of this, the trash crews simply can’t keep up?! Ana, your strong iman, Islam, and ihsan aside, I see now why you prefer not to go out during the last ten days of Ramadan, and I thank you with all my heart for patiently persevering through the crowds on account of us. Jazaki Allahu khair.
You know what it is? This is the signature of occupation. A barbed wire and concrete wall segregates people and their families and it’s a depressing sight. It’s hard to overcome and I just find the mass complacency for chaos unacceptable. People deserve so much better than this, and if they don’t want better for themselves, then how can anything become better? A clean, positive, visually aesthetic environment can do wonders for the soul, and I want this for the soul of Ramallah: it’s people. At first glance, the homes in the cities here remind me of slums or shantytowns with a Mediterranean appeal, but looks are deceiving. Once inside the concrete or stone buildings, warm people with smiles and hugs await and they deserve better than the prison they’ve patiently persevered in.
After leaving our shopping date, I ventured into the Old City alone today and held my own in Arabic! I got a kilo of pancakes for 6 NIS, a kilo of baklava tray (55 NIS!!!), and honey. Okay, I cheated a couple of times, and found one of Omar’s cousins and helpful little boys to lead me to the sweets. But I did most of my transactions completely in Arabic and didn’t confuse the money either :D. Then I came home and made chicken parmesan without tomato sauce. Now how you like them apples?
I still don’t know what to make of this place…and especially Ramallah. For us though, it has mostly been a privilege to be American and Muslim here. And it’s been a privilege to see Ana every other day. Alhamdulillah . Meanwhile, we’re still trying to find our place in this culturally tense society.