Driving through the hills of Ramallah yesterday I got a sharp pang of vertigo and adrenalin when it hit me:
“I am driving through the hills of Ramallah.” Woosh. Suddenly reality takes my breath away and the vertigo rushes into my brain for a split second. I am so far away. I am really here. The Palestine.
Sometimes, too, I wake up in the morning and open our blinds (which, by the way, are motorized metal blinds that roll up into the ceiling and I find them oddly foreign) and the sun over the hills fills my room I get that same momentary vertigo. Really? I’m in Palestine? Yowza.
I know I am so lucky to be here. It’s amazing. The breeze, the view, the lovely hills, the sense of community, the sense of history being coincident with present. What is ancient is blended with what is new.
But life has been exhausting this last week. Laila is in the midst of both a bout of stomach sickness and a sleep regression. A double whammy that means another round of me against sleep deprivation. Guess who is winning?
More than sleep dep, Laila’s illness aggravates another ongoing dilemma: stay or go.
Stay or go?
Last night when Laila woke up for the 3rd time between 11pm and midnight she started dry heaving and her temp dropped to 97.1. Moreover she has had “digestive” issues for 4 days and I was worried about dehydration. So when she woke up dry heaving and pale and cold, I was totally panicked. Immediately I thought, “Hospital? IV fluids?” and we called her doctor. Long story short, she’s fine today if a little pale and tired and of course we are pushing fluids. No hospital trip, just lots of nursing and electrolyte replacement drink.
BUT, to get to my dilemma, I was terrified of taking her to the ER. I have been to 2 medical clinics in Ramallah and, well, what do you think the inside of a medical clinic might look like in a developing country being choked by occupation and its attendant poverty? Yes, that’s what it looks like. Even in the states its a known fact that hospitals are the best place to get sick (apparently along with the playground). But we have 2 young children. Situations like this arise and mama needs to know there is good, quality, clean care should we need it at 1:am. That part of my mothering is not up for adaptation! I have adapted our diet, our expectations of safety at play places, our standards for cleanliness, our language, our routine…I am not going to waver here. I want my kids to have the safety net of good medical care.
And it pushed me to this place I keep coming to over and over: Is it safe enough for my little ones?
You might answer this by saying that there are plenty of kids growing up happy and healthy here. And I would say absolutely. Right. It is a beautiful and culturally rich place that has met and exceeded all my expectations of life in Palestine. And there are very good doctors here. My experience so far has confirmed that. But we are new here, and our immunity is not as if we were from here. I am still figuring out how to appropriately wash our veggies and cook our food. I am still getting stomach troubles all the time myself. GOD HOW I MISS ORGANIC FOOD. See? No arrogant ex-pat here. Still just a privileged American. I even have real affection for our Britax car seats. They are a true rarity here. Kids sit in the lap of the driver, in the passenger seat and floor, hang out the windows, stand and look out the sun roof….did I mention that accident is the #1 cause of childhood mortality here?
So for the millionth time I mentally packed my bags and ran for the airport. I won’t lie, I am a total wimp when it comes to faith in the protection of the universe. It’s a character flaw of mine, but its also part of being a mom. It takes more than faith to keep children healthy and safe. They need you to take risks, of course. You must let them play in the dirt and germs that stoke lifelong immunity. But if you are reading this while you sit in America I can assure you I am not referring to the same idea of what is safe and clean that you have. My new standards are much more “realistic” than they were when I had the luxury of access to a clean bathroom at a playground (the last one we went to had sewage on the floor and this was the bathroom I was instructed to use because the other one was “dirty”) and sanitizing wipes for the grocery cart. Luxuries I willingly gave up! Yes! And I have no regrets about that as we have become stronger and more broad in our view of the world. No regrets save one: when the shit hits the fan as it inevitably does with little ones I regret that I cannot trust our safety net. Is this a deal breaker? Or am I simply too paranoid to live here?
Last night it was a deal breaker. But by this morning Laila was fine and my love of Palestine and the people I know here flooded my heart again with the first morning light. And then Laila and I had alone time while Sufyan spent the morning with his beloved Teta (grandma) and life is good again. The pendulum of my mothering instincts swung back to stay. For now.
Some pics of our morning walk together: