Friday, December 2, 2011
The Impossible Rain
By November, rain begins to fall in Palestine. The first drops give everyone something to talk about. The thirsty land, long given up hope, opens its eyes and fills the air with a sweet breath.
It’s been weeks since Gilad Shalit went home, exchanged for Palestinian prisoners. I had a class today about quantitative analysis, but I still can’t make sense of 1027 to 1.
During my time in the Middle East, there was nothing like running through the hills of Jerusalem on a cool November afternoon. The wind filled my body and the sun touched the back of its hands to the skin of my face. I could never run in Abu Dis, where I lived. People would have thought I was crazy. So I took the bus to Jerusalem where I wouldn't be noticed. Had the people in Abu Dis known I took the bus to Jerusalem to run in long loops through Jewish neighborhoods, they might have still thought I was crazy. I used to run through the hills of Rahavia, down Gaza Street, past banks in stone buildings and an Ice Cream shop with outdoor swings. Sometimes on the way back I passed the Prime Minister’s house, where on the sidewalk in front of large metal gates, the Shalits sat under a tent, insisting their son not be forgotten. When I was running, I always kept to the other side of the street, feeling some guilt that I was expressing my youth, my freedom, my health, while their son sat somewhere else, alone.
The night those first prisoners were sent home, I crouched over my computer with a sore back in my dorm room here in London. I stared at the glowing pictures of busses leaving the prison gates before dawn. I wondered if the rains had started, and if the air smelled sweet to the men on the busses.
Toward the end of my first year teaching in Abu Dis, I visited the house of one of my students. I met his mother and brothers and sisters and cousins. His uncles came and went from the house every few minutes. They talked about their football league and their team's odds in an upcoming game against a club from Hebron. His uncle who coached their team was sure they could win. The house was full of plaques and tributes to my student's father. He had been in prison for 11 years, and was there still. I didn't ask any of them why. Anas showed me candid camera videos of Japanese pranks, and explained that Arabs like comedy, and love to laugh. Later in the afternoon we drove on a narrow road newly paved over with smooth black asphalt to a monastery built into a dry brown hill. We looked across the valley where a thin stream of water ran gently along its bed, and saw four young men in a cavern hunting desert game. He told me, "They will get around, and kill it with their hands." We took pictures and he helped me get the bus home.
When I saw the first pictures of Shalit, being walked by so many big men back to Israel, I smiled for his family, no longer in Jerusalem.
As I traveled from one news site to another, Skype alerted me that Anas had gone offline. I still haven’t figured out how to turn off that function. His picture flashed in the upper right corner of my screen. In the image, he rests his head on his right thumb and first two fingers. His eyes are dark and tired, paused in an unfocused stare at something beneath the camera. As soon as it flashed, it faded away, and I sat staring at the blank screen. I thought of his family in their house full of plaques. We had spoken a few weeks before, but I never bring up his father. I don't know if he came home that night, but if his oldest son was on Skype, it seems impossible.
(Video: Sun Shower in Abu Dis)