the coin

In our most recent move, I came upon a bag of odds and ends I have had since I was in my teens.  I have added little things here and there to the bag over the years, but I haven’t opened it and seen what’s there for well over a decade.  Since before my husband and I met.

Today Laila and I opened the bag and dug through it together.  Among the marbles, iron pyrite clusters, rings, and bits of old necklaces was this:

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10 mils, circa 1935

I find the existence of this coin in my possession really amazing.  It is pre-occupation Palestinian currency, and it’s been just sitting in my little bag of cool things for all these years unnoticed.  My husband (born and raised in the West Bank) has “always wanted one”.  How did a Palestinian coin from 1935 go unnoticed?   What was it doing in a bag of marbles and minerals over 25 years old from various stages of my life?   Maybe this little coin was predicting my future and I didn’t even know it.  That or the rule of the universe truly is chaos and this is just another interesting facet of chaos.  Either way, this coin fascinates me.

Single Parenthood post #2. Not so bad…

New Appreciation

magnolia tree in full bloom. For my friend C, back in Austin with her new baby.

Tonight I am sitting in the dark of the playroom.  The new playroom.  Actually, the 6th new playroom my kids have known in 2 years.  Last week was abysmal.  This week has been pretty damn good, all things considered.

travel weary on the plane

Laila and Mama on the plane on the way to this new life. Also travel weary.

On a morning last week, after posting about failing as a single parent and crying myself into a tears-hangover that lasted the entire next day, I got an email from a friend who is a veteran of single motherhood.  In the email she gently reminded me to cut myself some slack in certain areas of life.  Then a flood of comments with a theme:  be more gentle to yourself.  And also:  This time is fleeting and you will have good memories of your season as a close-knit family of 3.   So true.

Since landing here, though things are difficult given that we miss Baba and Mama is taxed by trying to make things feel light and childhood-like while not dismissing anything this family has gone through, life has actually been easier than it was in Ramallah.  Easier here in someone else’s house, thousands of miles from my husband, living with an inordinate number of animals in various stages of old age and sanity, life is easier.

I might as well admit to enjoying American life a little more than I remember.  I have a totally new appreciation for the perks of life here:  hot water on demand.  Well tended roads.  Traffic laws.  Municipal systems to turn to when you need a system (who operate with a feeling of urgency in returning things to normal when something goes awry—like if the power goes out).  Public parks.  Recycling.  No Israeli Military check points, no occupation, I have not seen a dude with a gun standing on my street in nearly 2 months.  I have not seen sewage.

Deserving it?

I don’t deserve these perks more than people I left behind in Ramallah.  It’s not about deserving, it’s about access (among other things).  Access to money and political power.  Palestinians and their situation might as well be invisible here.  While cleaning in the first days here, I came across a photo from a few weeks ago that was in the NY Times, maybe even the front page.  It was of 2 Israeli soldiers firing automatic rifles.  The note under the photo simply said that Israeli soldiers had fired upon Palestinian stone throwers in the village of Al Ram.  Ho-hum.

Wait, wait, wait…they fired AUTOMATIC RIFLES on STONE THROWERS.  This is not apples to apples, or tit for tat.  This is not 2 parties at “war”.  This is automatic weapons on people wielding stones.  On a playground, if kids throw sand at other kids and the other kids retaliate with metal baseball bats, we’d say that was uncalled for, unfair and even PSYCHOTIC.  To say nothing of the fact that the people wielding stones have been living at the mercy of the power of the Israeli military and political machine for generations now.  And still, no one was talking about the incident around me.  You would think that people would be concerned about the use of such force against essentially unarmed captive civilians, particularly in America where a huge amount of our tax money pays for those weapons.  You’d think that people might be concerned enough to mention it to us, fresh from life in Palestine.  All this talk of Palestine around us ought to jog someone’s memory…but no one mentioned it.  I saved the picture for a while before it got too depressing and I tossed it.

Back off the soapbox

When I was living in Ramallah not so long ago (and a lifetime ago), I felt strongly the lack of play spaces for my kids.  Maybe that’s an understatement.  Let me rephrase:  I never shut up about the trash, dangerous playground equipment and unpredictably locked private playgrounds.  Particularly I felt the lack of outdoor play spaces that were safe enough to just let kids roam, get dirty, jump and fall without much fear (of broken glass or things that poke or things that are just too icky to mention).  We are making up for lost time it seems!

Playing outside in the mud and rain?  Check.

wet foot print art. we've had some awesome rainy days.

Beautiful nature preserves and outdoor exploring?  Check.

waterfall over a recess cave

exploring off road with grandpa.

she's so tiny.

us behind the waterfall in the cave.

of course, the outhouses left a little to be desired...here they are NOT braving the outhouse. We braved the leaves behind a tree instead.

Family neighborhood for walks and bike rides?  Check.

first real bike!

Playgrounds with a distinct lack of broken glass and/or inherently dangerous equipment?  Check.

running!

However, even with all that American life has to offer, I finally miss Ramallah.  There is always a wall of sound here, for example.  No quiet nights with echoes across the wadi.  I miss it.  There is a sense of personal freedom to do whatever you are interested in doing, but no common cause to unite people.  No occupation (good thing) but also no instant common ground (not so good).  People stay wrapped up in their own lives more, and are not as close to family.

In a way this feels like homesickness.  But as always, I am hard pressed to say where exactly home is.   I am still wondering where we belong as a family and where I belong as a person.  Luckily my kids keep me too busy to wonder for long.

Yoga Thought for Today:  on starting over

no asana photo...just this peaceful scene.

It was only 40 minutes.  My sacrum ached, my shoulders were grumbling.  I felt like I was made of lead pipes filled with cold water:  unbendable, off-balance, heavy.  But it was a yoga practice… and that’s where it starts.  It’s the fact that I have started again that matters.

Parent Thought for Today:  sleep routines that don’t match.  Soliciting advice.

sleeping Laila. It took 2 airplanes to do this.

I am currently trying to figure out what to do for my daughter.  She will not go to sleep.  After brushing and flossing my 2 kids teeth, I read books then kiss them goodnight.  I turn off the lights.  My son is asleep within 10 minutes.  My daughter stays up for another hour or more whispering to herself, talking to me, rolling side to side and up and down the bed, laughing, kicking the bed, telling jokes.  It’s super sweet…but it’s really hard to be amused instead of frustrated when the night is literally the first chance all day for me to have a moment to myself.  By which I mean clean, do laundry, put away toys…you know.  Real “me” time.  HA.

I am thinking of buying her a little tent and filling it with simple, soft toys and books and a little flashlight.  I am thinking that she might need a more time to stay up and read or play quietly while I wash my face or put away laundry nearby.  Or maybe while I wait/sleep in the bed until she is ready to sleep.  That’s my best idea.  Anyone have a better one?

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.