Lovely Laila. A confession of mom thoughts. Life in Ramallah.

Mom-Life under occupation continues, as does our struggle to make a slow-paced, comfortable, laid-back family life here. And…
It seems our phones are tapped. I am not at all surprised but it
is a little weird. I knew my American expectations of sovereignty and privacy didn’t exist here. Apparently phone tapping is not very uncommon here as my extended family has experienced it and views it as a sad normal. And perhaps being an American family moving back to Palestine warrants some closer inspection…but I feel bad for the poor sap assigned to listen to us. Our groceries, our play dates, our little life dramas are probably hilariously ho-hum. It would be laughable if I tried to talk politics as I have spent a good deal of my life blissfully ignorant of politics, though I do talk occupied life– but that’s not news. The effect of the occupation is free for anyone to see who has eyes in their head. What a waste of time we are to the eavesdropper.
Which brings me to how I know we are being tapped:
I called Faris’s cell phone the other day from our land line house phone. There is only 1 phone in our house on this line. A few seconds into the call a very audible sound: someone picking up an extension, fumbling it, and hanging up or pushing a button that made a loud “CLICK”. It took me right back to the days when I would call a friend past bedtime (sneaky teenager) and my mother would try to pick up the extension in her room “quietly”. I recognized the sound instantly.
Also, the day before, my cell phone mysteriously stopped working. It registered the calls I missed but it gave the callers a busy signal and I never realized I was missing a call until I looked at my call log. Unrelated? Maybe.
Sooooooo, anyway. Ahem. moving right along…

Laila, at 16 months old, has undertaken to potty train herSELF. Yesterday she climbed up onto the big potty and announced “POOP!”, and then did just that. I make no secret of the fact that bribery was involved which explains why every time she climbs onto the potty to pee for pretend or for real, she grins and says, “Choc-lit.”
Her favorite outfit: Laila Zaluta! (naked! a very localized word…maybe just used by my family. Not proper Arabic)

Laila wore her first pig tails yesterday. (mosquito bites all over her face. I am told foreigners often have to build immunity to these mid-eastern “namoos”. Fine. But the spider bites on her and her brother’s face and legs? I’m not cool with those. We have instigated major vacuuming operations to evict the culprits. I love spiders, but right now it feels like its us or them. One bite on Laila’s face took 3 weeks to heal, and one on her leg is just strangely hardened, red, and weepy. Sorry for the TMI, but I feel under siege from not only the harsh reality of life here but from the shadows and dust of my own home comes this new threat of spiders invading. Sufyan has also had spider bites on his cheeks. Creepy.)

The pigtails were adorable, of course, but I had a secondary reaction that I am not sure how to admit: I felt overwhelmed. I thought, “I can barely manage getting them both dressed, fed, diaper bag packed, fresh water bottles, snacks, and teeth brushed. Plus I have to dress myself and eat and get ready to go out. Now I will be doing another person’s hair, too. We will NEVER LEAVE THE HOUSE AGAIN. It will be nap time before I get them to the car!”

Similarly, when Laila was born, I remember having a moment of holding her and Sufyan at the same time and thinking, “Wow. 2 people’s fingernails to keep trimmed now. 2 sets of fingers and 2 sets of toes. HOW?” Laila solved the pigtail problem for me, though. She won’t keep them in for more than 30 seconds anyway. She pulls them out saying, “Khalas. Khalas! (finished) No, Mama!”
As for mothering here, I want to share an email I got recently from a mother who reads this blog and who is a native Palestinian raising 2 boys (same ages as my 2). I reproduce part of her email here with her permission, and because it put a lot of things in perspective for me. For example, I’m not insane thinking this is a difficult place to be a conscientious mother. Read:
“I was born here and I’ve lived in palestine for most of my life.. and still i find it hard on so many levels.. we moved out of here 4 years ago and went to Montenegro (Europe, well kinda) , we lived there almost 3 years and i just could not stay away any longer.. something about Ramallah to me is just so addictive.. i don’t know if it’s the occupation, the humiliation, the segregation wall, the lack of almost anything to do with the kids outside, the weird mentality of the people, so many things.. but bare in mind, i am from here.. and that’s probably the main reason that made me miss all these things.. i am used to them.. i don’t know how long you’ve stayed here so far, but i have to tell you, it doesn’t get easier with time, but you get used to it.. and you adapt.. just like the kids group that you’ve created.. you find ways to keep your sanity..

and let me warn you, after a while, you will find it weird not to have checkpoints and not to have soldiers and wires all over the place… one time i went to Qatar to visit my friend, and we went to a huge supermarket and there was a guard at the door, the moment i saw him, i handed out my bag and opened it for him to check .. the shock on his face was hilarious.. and that’s when i noticed, its NOT normal to give your bag for checking every-time you want to go to a public store… :)”

Thank you, Samah. So ok. I have to agree that it doesn’t look like it will be getting easier any time soon. I don’t believe I have just overlooked some little enclave of like-minded SAHMs or that I am unfairly judging this situation. I will need to adapt, that’s obvious. Its hard here. I pick glass and trash out of every playground. My friend who works in an NGO in Jerusalem with Palestinian children says the #1 cause of childhood death is INJURY.
I also received an email from an ex-pat SAHM living in Ramallah, but I cannot excerpt it. She, like me, is struggling. The language barrier, the constant sugar band-aid for whatever ails the kids, the television blaring at everyone’s home that doesn’t get turned off for anything, the trash, the aggressive kids, the corporal punishment in many schools (and her kids’ school in particular, which she has now taken her kids out of and is homeschooling them mainly to keep them safe). It’s depressing. It really is hard here.

Kids are aggressive here. The little boy who tried to beat us up while we visited now sits across the street on his porch with his pretend rifle pointed at us while we play in our yard. Kids play rough together, there is no personal space. People don’t understand introversion as a personality trait but rather a problem I could deal with by giving Sufyan a good shove into the deep end of preschool. Even people close to me who know we are not putting S in preschool for good reasons keep taking every opportunity to suggest it. That’s the other thing. Everyone has advice for me about parenting. The other day I was nursing Laila and our friend’s housekeeper stopped and told me, “Khalas! She’s too big! Why are you nursing her???” In my limited arabic, all I could tell her in response was, “I love her.” I could have told her about the WHOs recommendation on breast feeding for 2 years minimum. Or the AAPs recommendation of 1 year. Or that it is really personal. But I don’t speak Arabic that well and moreover I know it doesn’t matter what I say.

We had the kids group again yesterday, and it went well. I expect many more attendees next week so I will keep my mind open until then. Maybe this will be a little bit of connection to a community we are building. I serve cucumbers, cheese, cream cheese (labaneh) and pita sandwiches, water, apple juice, and fruit. The kids tumble around the yard and house just like I would have hoped and despite any language barrier they play together. So far, so good.

And I taught my 2nd public class here for Farashe last weekend. It went very well. 5 participants (good for a new class with a new time slot and a new teacher) and all of them were independent agents (as in, no one worked for Farashe). 2 were repeat attendees. Wish me luck as next weekend I begin my 6 week series for stress reduction aimed at NGO employees. I’m nervous. You know, Farashe often thanks me for “appearing out of nowhere” to help them expand. But I should thank them. There have been moments that my commitment to them and my desire to do something good in Palestine is why I have not lost my mind already.

Laila, glowing, at our favorite coffee shop.

Sufyan self-portrait.

Picture of Ramallah by Sufyan. There is a restaurant in that building.

Construction workers burning their trash. Trash is burned here rather than put in landfill. There are several reasons: insufficient space, insufficient municipal trash collection, habit…

Laila said she will catch Mama coming down the slide!

The old home next to the playground. I love the door and the stones.

Sufyan in his new shirt.

Laila surveys another playground. It is shamefully trashed, but it is currently our favorite as it is close and pretty age appropriate.

T-shirts I got them with their names. From my excursion to Jerusalem.


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