A fever, a cough, a cancelled surgery, a tired little boy with overly-red cheeks, hot red ears, and red palms sweating through the flu.
A flight from Amman to Chicago full of coughing, sneezing people that was more like a flying petri dish than an airplane.
Conjunctivitis. A little boy sneezed directly into my face on that flight. Or it could be pink eye from any other thing I might have touched during our nearly 40 hours of travel.
A tiny bottle of eye drops with a $200 price tag. Who can afford that??? Thank goodness for a coupon.
This culture that I should be familiar with, but which feels foreign to me. I settle easily (almost unconsciously) back into it. Full parking lots, drive-thrus, public transportation, crowded grocery stores, radio in English. America. I feel empty, awkward around it all. What do people see when they look at me? Not my year in Palestine. Just a tired mom.
Organic dog food, several varieties. Handmade marshmallows, several colors. Organic soda, organic soap, vegan dental floss, and 100% recycled toilet paper. I am overwhelmed. I am shocked. I am trying to remember what I thought of these things before.
No mana’ish, no falafel, no Abu Habib. Sufyan is asking for his favorite shekel ride at the Plaza mall.
No Arabic, written or spoken. I feel strangely defensive of my daughter using her Arabic vocabulary. I want people to look at us and wonder, but I want to answer the questions they will never have the nerve to ask me. People don’t talk to each other as much here.
My first accidental dropping of the veil to an unsuspecting American. I mentioned the difficulty of traversing the Allenby Bridge, the jissar, and he said, “Oh, because they are trying to keep out terrorists or something, right?” If only he could see: old women, old men, married couples, parents, babies, kids, an 11 year old girl taking care of her aged mother and mentally challenged sister by guiding them through the jissar on her own. Not terrorists. Just a bridge full of people being treated like animals.
Missing Ramallah. Missing the sound of the wind, which has been replaced by the sound of traffic and airplanes. Missing the smell of the spice shops. Missing the sound of Arabic.
Missing the call to prayer. 5 times a day to remember your connection to the divine, no matter your religion, is a beautiful thing.
Missing “Trees and Breeze”, the little place that we imagined was ours at the top of our street. Trees and Breeze where we threw olives, smashed olives, and explored rock piles and ancient stone walls. Where we were often visited by a stray cat or two. Where we spent many happy mornings and went home for lunch, a bath, a nap.
Grateful for hot water on demand, but also afraid of what it means. It means that here in the world’s richest nation we don’t understand the luxury of free flowing water. I know I didn’t understand it before my life in Ramallah.
Grateful for central heating.
Grateful for excellent medical care. Grateful for organic veggies. Grateful for play dates, friends for my kids. Grateful for my own loving network of friends who have given us everything from homeopathy to spaghetti casseroles to tearful hugs and baskets of welcome home chocolate.
Grateful for our time in Palestine.
Now I am doing what I didn’t think I would be doing right now. I am saying things like, “Ramallah will always be in my heart.” But it’s true. In order to settle my heart, I have to believe I will always have a home in Ramallah.
It is far easier to choose something unknown. Choosing something that you know to be difficult, even very difficult, is another thing altogether. If what you are choosing involves your children’s well being, the decision becomes even more complicated.
We left ultimately because my son needed medical care. But that was just one of many reasons that had been building toward our departure. If you have read this blog at all you have seen through my eyes the beauty and strength of Palestine. You have also seen the ugliness and terrible pressure of life under occupation. It was an eye opening year for me.
There is no network of SAHMs in Ramallah. Being unwilling to put my children in day care, I drastically limited our options for friendship and play dates. I didn’t know it would be like this before I moved there. Our attempt to create a play group failed, and the kids and I spent the year keeping our own company most of the time. There is something beautiful about how close to each other we became and how we turned to each other to create our own little community, but it was still lonely for me. I don’t believe mothers are meant to be mothers in isolation. Families need families. Dinners need to be shared. Frustrations need to be laughed off in the company of other moms who know. The burden and beauty of child rearing needs to be shared. I needed to pick up the phone and be able to yell F*** THIS and not have to explain that I love my kids endlessly. Of course I do, but mothering is a hard job.
I also didn’t fully appreciate the depth of the nation-wide depression and hardship that Israel imposes on Palestine through the occupation. I couldn’t have imagined how the occupation would effect us logistically, or me emotionally. I couldn’t have guessed how it would feel to take my children through checkpoints just to get out and see another town, or how it would feel to know that the jissar was the only outlet our family could go through together to travel someplace and get a break from the occupation.
I got past the broken glass and worn out playgrounds, and eventually I got past the trash in the streets. The beautiful side of Palestine and of the Palestinians I met eclipsed all of that. But the straw that broke the camel’s back was the experience of seeking quality medical care for my son. I don’t know if any of you do this, but I make deals with myself when something pushes my boundaries. When I was a white water rafting guide, I promised myself I would quit if I ever was in and survived a life or death situation. I went into the move to Ramallah thinking, “As long as my kids are safe enough we can stay. As long as my kids are happy enough we can stay. The moment that either of those things is not true, we are leaving.” I was counting on the safety net of care in Jerusalem that everyone told me was excellent. Once that evaporated, I couldn’t choose to stay. Now that I know, I can’t not know.
Finally, the experience of traveling with my two kids and our luggage through the jissar was one that I don’t relish the idea of repeating. It’s ludicrous to treat an entire country of people like this. It’s painful that we are now part of the success of the occupation. Of course we are. We left and the occupation has succeeded in making life unlivable in Ramallah for us. Our families are separated. Not just the kids from Teta and Sido, but now my husband and I as well. At the end of the month he will return to Ramallah to finish work obligations and I will begin life as a single, uninsured mom here in the states.
I think I will keep this blog for some time to come.