Friday, 9 May 2014

The Things We Pack

Hebron, Palestine
Days melt into weeks; weeks sink into months. With only three weeks remaining until my contract in Palestine is finished, my mind forces reflection into the quiet moments of my day. Words and feelings flash before me, taunting their own intangibility as they linger just out of reach: peace treaties, destruction, terrorist, student, goats, rocks, provocation, humiliation, complicity, abandonment. Finger-painting their marks on the walls of my mind, these words, I suspect, seek to vaccinate me from future nostalgia.

Around me are my clothes, rolled up and ready to be packed away, unopened until my feet are standing on Canadian ground. I’ve packed too early, finding myself digging through my bags each morning to find pieces of clothing I need for that day - the raincoat I haven’t needed in months, the scarf I thought I could do without for the last couple weeks.

Leaving is not an unfamiliar experience. Memories of packing quickly on the cold tiled floor of my room in Pakistan, the muezzin punctuating my fear and panic with beauty, hang heavy in my room now like a thick fog, distorting my thinking. Opening the over-sized windows in my room, the orange morning light floods in, as if to cleanse the room of it’s anxiety. I wonder what it is that has motivated my packing nearly three weeks early.

Packing, surely, is cathartic. Freeing my physical space of the clutter and disorganization allows me to decide what I will carry with me and what I will leave behind. Inanimate objects grant me a control I do not possess with the thoughts and memories that have seared a home in my mind.

Wadding through the confusing swamp of change that has overtaken my mind, I wonder what I will take with me when I go: the hours spent lesson planning, the smiles of my students, decorating Mother’s day cards or the choir of F-16s and bus rides through checkpoints, Israeli soldiers with guns cocked in hand. Is there room in my mind for the joy I felt watching the sun sink behind Mount Gerizim and the anger I felt witnessing the late night funeral processions for bodies returned to families years after death? Can I roll up the memories of medics shot at during non-violent protests, the pictures of blood flowing through the streets of Jenin and squeeze them beside my favorite sweater in my backpack? Or should I chose to leave them behind for the person who comes to replace me, like the maroon peacoat I’ve slid under my bed?

I sit in my windowsill and watch the city I have come to call home sink into the dark hues of evening, a cigarette burning quickly between my fingers, contemplating my return to Canada. I wonder how easy it will be to remove myself from the violent atmosphere that has crept into my heart, demanding, with all its might to be recognized and understood. Will I unpack it earnestly with each kufiya I gift to family members, each photograph I show to uninterested eyes? Will it remain stuffed away in my backpack, to be unpacked once I am away from home again, away from the eyes of those who do not also swim in its haunting undercurrent? Or will it nestle into my chest and create a silent home for itself, remaining a distant memory I keep shelved for my own comfort?

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

A Man Lit Himself on Fire Today

Laying in bed, cocooning myself from the cold, I overhear my roommates talking from behind my closed doors. 

Did you hear about the man in the dawwar [city center]?

What? No... What happened?

I am no stranger to the automatic dread in her voice. I sit up in bed. 

He lit himself on fire, right there in the middle of everything.


- Silence -

Why...? What? Why?

Nothing is for sure but, they say he was protesting the economic strangulation that the occupation brings.

- Silence -



Immediately, as if it is second nature, I open my laptop and then twitter. I scan my homepage for any mention of the man on fire. Finding nothing, I search for my city, Nablus, in hopes that someone has tweeted about what happened. Nothing. Normally, I can rely on Twitter as a source of information. I realized many months ago that if I want information on anything occurring here, looking at CNN, Al Jazeera, BBC or any other news source is futile. I have learned that not only is it a rarity that the West Bank is featured on these news sources but that when it occasionally is, the information is not only published so delayed that it is rendered worthless but that it is grossly inaccurate, and the people are almost always villain-ized.

Unsatisfied, I shut my computer, zip up my sleeping bag and try to sleep. Thoughts swim through my mind so freely it's like they belong there. A man lit himself on fire today. I think about the peaceful glow of the old city at night, of the smiling shop keepers, cheerful children and beautiful muezzin echoing off the yellow walls. A man lit himself on fire today.

My cheeks burn red. A man lit himself on fire today. I think of the children in my third grade class. I think of their faces, hearing their parents talk about this man. I think of their little chests filling with a feeling they do not yet have a name for as their parents begin to talk about why someone would do that. I think about the news stations I know won’t report on this. I think about devastation, starvation, restriction of movement and the humiliation the everyday silence of the world to these atrocities brings.

A man lit himself on fire today. I try to shift my mind to the world outside of here I remember exists. I shift to my nephew, nearly two years old, completely enthralled by trains. I think of his little chest, of his cheeks, his heart and his life. I struggle to remember the normalcy that is home. I can not close my eyes. I will not close my eyes because behind my tired eyelids is the image of a man on fire, attempting to reclaim his life through his own death. Attempting, in vain, to make the world listen, to open the eyes of someone, anyone, who can do something to change his reality. I close my eyes and see my nephew adorned in a kufiya, smiling to me with the bold innocence granted to him simply by his birthplace. His smile mixes with the roar of the F-16s overhead and the pop of automatic weapons outside, creating the familiar song that lulls me to sleep.

Monday, 6 January 2014

On the Intricacies of Identity, Collective Narratives, and Removing the Veil

“They have given an inadequate, distorted, and occasionally, a grotesque picture of Moslems and Islam.” - Edward Mead, Foreign Affairs, 1929

The complexities of my identity consistently keep me up at night. Straddling international borders with Skype and email as my crutch, I juggle being an educator in the midst of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and a daughter, sister and friend in Canada. At times, I am an expert juggler throwing my identities up in the air with ease, maintaining the hypnotizing cycle. And at times, I am the novice juggler who’s pins lay scattered on the floor.

Whether my pins are in the air or on the floor, one of my most consistent identities is that I am Canadian, which, I know, incites much teasing due to the obscurities of its definition. I will not claim to know what intricate puzzle pieces are needed to create a national identity or how to delicately piece them together. But, I will claim that my growing up in Canada sent me out into the world with a brain pre-programed with rights, constitutional freedoms, and a lifetime of influences attempting to politicize my interactions with those from different cultures.

I have been inundated with media filled with negativity towards Muslims and Arabs. I have seen the news reports about Arab terrorists inciting fear and violence in all corners of the world. I have read about the intricacies of Islam that we, with our Western conception of the world, can not comprehend - like the Hijab or polygamy. I watch the hollywood-ized versions of the gruesome deaths of terrorist leaders like Bin Laden and hear the constant cynicism regarding peace in the Middle East. And I hear the racial slurs of my fellow Canadians disguised as light-hearted jokes.

I hold an honours degree in War and Human Rights from the Nation’s Capital’s university. I have written papers on the strength of the media in shaping social conceptions of conflicts around the world and I have studied the industrial military complex within my own nation and that of our neighbours to the South. And while I wrote papers on the politicized relationship between propaganda the media and the military, I never understood the power this combination possessed until living under occupation, amongst Palestinians, in the West Bank - where the depraved indifference of the world to Israeli-Arab violence is stark.

The coupling of military and propaganda allows us to comfortably remove humanity from an entire population of people - the constant disregard of the Palestinian point of view in peace-processes, discussions and overall media coverage of this conflict is a direct outcome of this coupledom. As a result, Palestinians have been rendered voiceless ghosts in their own existence and struggle.

As a teacher here, I possess access to the most vulnerable population of this country: it’s children. While discussions on the conflict are limited, I am sometimes offered the most innocent glimpses of occupation through these children. I am told stories of streets turned black from bombs, long nights without sleep but full of fear, denied entry to sacred religious sights, bullets, home invasions and bulldozers. I am asked questions like, “Why do they send us food when what we need is freedom?” or more hauntingly, “Why should we talk about what is happening here? No one cares about us. No one is coming to help us.” As young as eight years old, abandonment has burned an aching home within the rib-cages of Palestinians.

I urge everyone reading this to begin working towards viewing this war from a human perspective. Eliminate Western media from your sources for information as their mechanisms of denial are forceful and full-sweeping. Read, rather, personal narratives from this area. Read, rather, the twitter feeds of Palestinians living in constant fear of night raids, missiles, and unlawful detention. Read instead personal accounts from foreigners living here for the personal and collective narrative of this country - these people - is much more in tune with reality than anything you will see on your televisions or in your newspapers.

Know that while you are lost in the pull and sway of labels like ‘terrorist’, ‘aggression’ and ‘retaliation’ there is an entire narrative of children, women, and men that is being erased from history. Know that, above anything else, “silence is complicity”.

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