happy dystopia (and Laila turned 15 months today)

my drive home tonight

This is life inside my head, my heart, and my family.

There is no right or wrong about the decision to move here. I go back an forth almost daily about how great it is to be here and how much I want to go back “home”.
The decision to bring a 3 year old and a 1 year old to a country occupied by a hostile, obtuse, xenophobic power was not made lightly.
Some days I absolutely want to leave. Those are days that my kids have been sick and I am afraid to take them to the doctor’s office because I am afraid it will not be clean (based on the filthy clinic we took Laila to once) and that we will expose our kids to something worse there than what they came in with. I also want to leave when the kids and I want to go to a park, which in my memory is a green space with room to roam, but simply doesn’t exist here. Kids here play in the streets or get taken to the mall to ride obnoxious penny horses surrounded by smoking patrons. My experience with parks here so far is that they are often littered with trash and contain dangerous or broken equipment. Other times I look around me for another stay at home mom with kids in the same general age group as mine and see nothing but preschoolers and day care kids and moms with jobs which leaves me at home wanting adult conversation so badly I stream public radio from Austin just to hear the familiar DJ voices.
I want to leave when I get sick of the Kafka-esque, labyrinth-like infrastructure (I’m thinking of the sewage that ran down our street for weeks and the power outages caused by everything from too much rain to too cold and the non-existant postal service that delivers mail by dumping it in all in one pile on the common area floor of our building for all residents to sort through and the many various ministries of the municipality that keep people lugging paperwork from place to place for simple things like visa extensions or driver’s licenses.)
I want to leave when I feel afraid: the need for a TB vaccine, the cancerous stench of the cigarette in nearly every mouth, the non-organic produce and who knows what guidelines for what kind of reclaimed water the farmers used to water the plants or how much pesticide, the visible illegal settlements so obvious to the naked eye right outside my car windows and so invisible to the rest of the world, to say nothing of an actual “war” where children and families are being killed not an hour away.
*pause to breathe*
And then there are the reasons I want to stay. It’s breathtakingly beautiful here. The view is so amazing that everywhere I look I want to take a picture. My eyes have still not gotten used to seeing the hills, terraced olive farms, almond and fruit trees, wildflowers, and vines.
Just as beautiful to me are the women in traditional embroidered dresses and head scarves, the men standing over their stores selling fresh fruit and vegetables arranged in lovely heaps and baskets on the street, the vendors selling bread by bicycle, the bakers with their windows open so I can see the hearth and fire, the goats grazing between the buildings. Here there is a feeling of community united in a common struggle. There is room to do good work here, seva, like the volunteer yoga classes I will be teaching at the end of the month. There are new sights, smells, and sounds everywhere; things that I otherwise would only have read about or seen in a movie.
Most of all there is family for us here. There is no way to measure the good that having other people showering love and attention on them does for my children. They belong with family, with people who have a special and loving interest in their wellbeing and daily lives.
Sufyan and Laila have been forming a real attachment and relationship to their grandparents and great aunts and uncles-something sorely lacking in Austin where we were far from everyone we were related to. And then there is the culture that is my children’s birthright. I have always envied people who had cultural heritages more than a couple of centuries old and still intact. I have always envied those people who spoke more than one language and understood life from more than one perspective. This is something that I am getting by being here, as well as something my kids get. From now on in their lives they have actually lived here, in Palestine. They will know at a cellular level what life is like outside the Western world and so will I. At a time when the West is experiencing a renewed orientalism with a more sinister bent of Islamophobia, my family and I will have real information from experience what life is like in the middle east. We will be familiar with the words, the language, the culture, the food, the ideosyncrasies of life in the middle east and we will be a de facto part of the call for better understanding and reverence for this culture. We will be helping to open people’s minds about this place simply by carrying our love for it in our hearts and being good spokespeople for this part of the world. I only wish I had done this sooner.
So while there are lots of days I think, “Seriously? Seriously? We moved across the world and away from all my friends for this?”, there are just as many days when I take in the view from my new window on the world and think, “Thank you, Universe.. Thank you for giving me this chance to be here.”
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