Greetings friends. Yesterday afternoon the students and I spent the afternoon painting in Beit Sahour, the town outside Bethlehem where the shepherds are believed to have seen the angels. There is an olive orchard there, below Bethlehem, where we enjoyed the warm weather and worked on paintings. When we were finished, one of the students, who is a fashion designer, invited us to her home where she made me a drink in the blender from a lemon she picked from her tree, with mint, absolutely exquisite after time in the sun. I saw the gorgeous dresses she has created using modern lines and Palestinian embroidery. Afterwards, a friend invited me to dine with her family in Beit Sahour.
Family relationships are very important in the lives of the Palestinian people. My friend and her husband and two children live in a building which they own together with extended family, and many other family members live on their street. Their small balcony looks east toward the Judean wilderness. Just below their home their yard slopes toward the settlement road between two Israeli settlements. Much land has been lost to the Palestinians because of these sorts of roads, which are walled or fenced off in both directions. Beit Sahour has lost much land because of this road. The family home has two small bedrooms and a living and dining room combination with a small, efficient kitchen. It is simple and lovely. My friend is a gourmet cook. We had ice cold beer (note to friends, yes, I drank a beer, Carlsberg from Denmark, my first beer since 1976, and I liked it, to my own shock.) Dinner was amazing and I took notes on the preparation of some of the foods. Most memorable was a layered dish of penne pasta with a sauce of yogurt, ground lamb, mint, and fried slivered almonds. The boys proudly showed me their memorable artwork which reflected their reactions to the seige of Gaza. (Dar Annadwa has had a show of the drawings of over 500 children related to this theme.) They also shared their photo albums detailing their lives from birth until now. One “reads” the photo albums from left to right, of course, as one would read Arabic or Hebrew. The boys taught me this. They have very good English, speaking and reading, and I enjoyed talking with them.
A few years ago, Beit Sahour resisted the occupation with a tax boycott of Israel, and they suffered 4 months of Israeli military engagement. My friend tells me that when the boys were young, sometimes bullets would fly through their window. The family has been afraid at times because of this sort of violence. They also told stories about the impossibility of obtaining proper health care in the Bethlehem region. Hospitals refuse to see patients because it is Sunday, for example, and doctors refuse to see patients without first requiring the patient to pay large fees which they do not owe. Even serious injuries go untreated. One needs a permit to go to Jerusalem to obtain services at a proper hospital; obtaining the permit may take anywhere from a day to a week or perhaps will not be granted at all.
After dinner, my friend showed me some of her own art and craft work and then we settled down to a bit of “al tilivision”. Incongruously, we sat and laughed together at the movie, “Meet the Parents II”. How strange to run into it here in the home of the shepherds of old times. All in all it was a wonderful evening, filled with welcome, great food, hospitality and humor.
I was happy to return to the flat as it had been a very full day. Late that night, though, I lost my electricity; there was a great “pop” and an arc of electricity rushed quickly through the living room. By some miracle, I did not have my computer or my travel phone plugged in at the time; I had been too tired to set them up to charge during the night. So today I threw out the dairy products in the fridge and the landlord came in and reset the circuit breaker. I think bad wiring in the ceiling light is the cause. The lightbulb has burned out, and I will mention it when I leave; I don’t want to use that circuit again while I am here. But the good news in the flat is that it was a hot day, so this evening I have plenteous hot water, which heats up in the tank on the roof in hot weather.
The day was spent in pilgrimage to St. Catherine’s for mass. The church was full and the worship of the congregation was full of devotion. I can follow the service even though it’s in Arabic because I grew up Catholic and the service is more or less the same throughout the world. There is a large crucifix set up about halfway through the nave. Before mass, people would reach up to touch the feet of Christ and then make the sign of the cross. This crucifix is much like the larger one which is on display in the shrine at Golgotha, inside the Holy Sepulcher church in Jerusalem. These Christians cannot go to Jerusalem even tho they live 5 miles away because they don’t have permits. But they can venerate this cross instead.
Afterwards, I had a nice afternoon. This began with a leisurely lunch at Casa Nova Pilgrim Palace Coffee Shop, complete with a cat fight going on inside the restaurant. The occasion of a wild cat begging at my table, eventually chased off by a larger wild cat in a turf battle, created an opportunity for conversation with people at a neighboring table and I eventually joined them: a priest from Jerusalem and his friend. After that I spent time in visiting some merchants; it’s somewhat unavoidable since one must walk through the bazaar to get from my house to anywhere. In one shop was a mosaic artist whose work I had seen at Dar Annadwa and he spoke with me about his craft.
Dinner tonight has consisted of fresh milk, flatbread, and fresh figs. I’ve heard it said that from the nourishment of 5 figs a grown man can walk all day. Or was it dates?
Thanks for reading. I miss u all. And cold cereal. And showers. Blessings,