I live there. I live here. Where do we fit now?

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 mountain of flu remedies

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.

Sufyan and Laila blink in the bright lights of an American supermarket.

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.

mana'iah baking at Beit Mana'ish

this is the ride he misses the most

 

this is the part of those rides I do not miss

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.

Emergency numbers posted at Yusef Qadura park in Ramallah.

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.

my old neighborhood. I will never forget or stop loving this view. Palestine is a real place, America. It is densely populated and full of normal, everyday people living their lives.

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.

zaibak spice sacks and file cabinets of spices

on Radio Street, sugar cane waits to be juiced at this corner market.

coffee pots at a worksite.

sahlab at Rukab a couple of nights before our departure.

Tel Aviv from Ramallah at the end of Tireh, my old neighborhood.

Missing the call to prayer.  5 times a day to remember your connection to the divine, no matter your religion, is a beautiful thing.

sunrise on the mosque across the wadi.

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.

At Trees and Breezes

old stone wall

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.

A water canal running along the road in Jericho.

Grateful for central heating.

diesel tanks we used to heat our home and, in the winter in the absence of sun, one of 2 sources of hot water for a quick shower.

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.

Why leave?

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.

Lonely

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.

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24 thoughts on “I live there. I live here. Where do we fit now?

  1. Ravyn, I appreciate your blog so, so much.
    I miss you and am sorry that we couldn’t get together while we were both over here, stuck behind this wall. But I’m really happy to stay connected somehow, until the next time our paths cross.

    • Hi Jill! Thanks so much. We will stay in touch for sure. I want to hear how things are going in B-town, and how things are going for you with training. Drop me a line…

  2. I think it will be so valuable to continue your blog, for you and the rest of us. Processing the shock of reentry to the US is no small feat, and I, for one, would appreciate hearing of your journey post life abroad. My thoughts are with you…I can hardly imagine the day we move back, though as you have shown, you just never know when it might be.

    • Well, I think once you sort of let go of the “normal” life path, you open yourself up to a) adventure b) interesting challenges c) chaos of the world less “planned” than in the US. I hope you are doing well with your family in your corner of the expat world.

  3. Ramallah misses you Ravyn! Thank you for writing and for sharing this! please also know that your time here was very valuable to those around you, you have touched so many people with your beautiful practice and energy! I feel so very fortunate for this energy you brought and for me to have known you as a teacher and a friend… damn you vegan dental floss for taking her away;)
    Please please keep writing! I miss you and your sufyan and laila very much (please tell them this)! nura LOVES her new books!
    blessings and much love to you all.
    x

    • Awwww…I miss you! And S and L have been talking about Nura. I’m so glad she’s happy with her new books. She’s adorable. Send me a picture or 2 if you get a moment but make sure you are in at least one of them! big hug to you my friend.

  4. Sounds like you have a lot going on on all fronts– physically, mentally, emotionally. Thinking of you and wishing you the best. You have a different kind of adventure in front of you this year than you had last year… and you are an amazing woman and mom who will make it through this season with grace and strength!!

  5. I’m so sorry to hear of this… I understand how shocking it can be to move back to the States after living abroad… I can’t even imagine having to do it so abruptly. We moved back in August and I still struggle daily with homesickness for Germany. Hang in there though… You’re an amazing mom and I have no doubt that you and your family will get through this with flying colors. 🙂 Best of luck with your repatriation… And, I truly hope that you continue to blog… It can be great therapy and I know that I’d love to hear how your repatriation is going. 🙂 Sending lots of positive thoughts from Michigan! 🙂

    • Thanks so much! Yes, I am homesick but not sure for where exactly. I miss Ramallah, but it was yanked away so quickly I can barely even believe it’s gone. I keep expecting to look out my window and see that incredible view of the wadi. Life is really interesting. I have to keep blogging because it’s a great outlet for me, wherever I am.

  6. I live in Canada; I don’t know if I can be of any assistance, but if some day I can be of any, please don’t doubt to contact me. You are a very strong and brave woman; and I admire you for your choice: I’m sure it was not an easy one but, keeping in mind all you’ve mentioned, I think was the best one. Please keep blogging. God bless you and your little ones.

    • Thanks, J.
      It was not an easy choice except that it was the only good choice I could make. I don’t think I could have done anything else and felt like I was taking the best care of my son. The situation really put things into black and white for me. So of course, I can’t believe we are gone but at the same time I could not imagine dealing with this any other way.

  7. Your story reminds me some of my own parents. My dad came to the US from Thailand for school and met my mom. They fell in love, married and decided to try living in Bangkok. This was in 1972-1973. My mom became pregnant with my older sister and she just couldn’t take the idea of trying to birth a baby in the Thai medical system so they ended up coming back to the US and ended up making a new home in Houston for the simple reason that all there stuff was shipped into the Port of Houston and the job market was good at the time for an engineer. We wish you the best and selfishly we look forward to having more play dates with your family. (Ben/Kisha/Lily/Priya)

  8. Ramallah is the most beautiful city in Palestine. I can understand why you miss it. My ancestors made the same choice as you 60 years ago and although I was born in the US, I have a sense of nostalgia when I travel there.

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