a child’s lessons

I am back in Amman, Jordan visiting friends and eating as much good food as I can before going back to the land of no shwarma and no kibbe. If only I had the time to learn how to cook kibbe at least. But friends have been filling me up; I will return stuffed with food and with stories. The first night it was raining quite a bit and I got drenched with water, too. It rained as I left Palestine, though there was a bit of a reprieve in the Jordan Valley, and then back to pouring rain in Jebel Amman. Apparently it has been raining quite hard in Lubnan as well–so much so that it hailed and the hail knocked more cluster bombs out of trees and I think 7 people died as a result.

In Amman I spent the first night with my friend and her adorable sons who are adept at procrastinating with their homework. One of them couldn’t find his list of spelling words for his Arabic class the following day, though I suspect it was more a game of procrastination for him. Eventually he found it because I promised him that he could give me a pretend quiz if I could give him one, too. He is in the first grade and so I was actually able to help him with his penmanship as well as his words because I knew them all. This adorable little one, who wasn’t sure if he was confusing me with another of his mom’s friends, asked her before they picked me up if I was the one who loved Palestine (they are Palestinian/Jordanian). Later, over dinner, I was asked questions about what Palestine is like now. I tried to think about what felt the most different there. I think the thing that I feel the most is that it is palpably a Bantustan now. The Apartheid Wall seems to have successfully separated Palestinian people from one another. The difficulty of the hajiz (checkpoints) and the exhaustion of being worn down by the occupation makes people remain in their villages, cities, camps rather than traveling from area to area. The layers of disconnection from place to place, from community to community is striking. It’s not just inside the occupied West Bank, but also between Al Quds (Jerusalem) and the West Bank, between 1948 Palestinians and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, and between Gaza and everyone else. The anti-Gazan rhetoric I heard in the media and among the people was deeply disappointing. Divide and rule has been U.S.-Israel’s weapon of choice in Palestine (and in Iraq) and as with all empires it works quite well. If anything succeeds in Annapolis it will be the furthering of this policy so that the most vulnerable and voiceless Palestinians at the negotiating table–Palestinians in refugee camps and in 1948–will be sold down the river. This is my fear.

I was also telling my friend about all the Palestinians arrested in the middle of the night in Deheishe (as well as all across Palestine) and I did not realize that her son had been listening to this conversation. He asked us to explain what I had said. It so happened that his father had been out of town on business and so we explained it would be like his father being taken away and that he would not be allowed to see him. It made him really scared and over the course of the night he would keep asking us if the Israelis would come to his house and arrest his father or mother. We found ways to reassure him that they would not–that King Abdullah and the Israelis are good friends, that there is a treaty between Jordan and Israel, that the U.S. is also a good friend to Jordan, and finally to add to his comfort his mom explained that Jordan has nothing anyone would want; there is no water, no oil, no natural resources of any kind. This seemed to do the trick.

His final homework assignment was to practice memorizing a sura from the Qur’an, which he recited for us a few times. I asked him to tell me which sura it was. He explained that it was about God creating people. I asked him where the first people lived. He thought for a moment and replied, “Jordan.” I said, close, but it is east of here. His answer was somewhat shocking and horrifying at the same time; he replied, “America?” His mom and I were so taken aback that we were not sure whether to laugh or to cry. I suspect that this answer is instructive because Iraq is occuped by Amrika and so in his mind it’s no longer Iraq. It is frighteningly easy to see how U.S. foreign policy can so easily erase one of the oldest and most important cultures on the planet, though I suppose their Israeli allies have given them a terrific model.

It is fascinating to see how children take in what they are exposed to around them–not only in schools, but also in the media, from family, and on the playground. It is especially striking here in this country that is in between two occupied zones, that is filled with refugees from Palestine and Iraq. It’s disturbing to think of how easily a people, a culture, a history can be erased from one’s memory or wiped off the map. And I wonder if this very bright boy can think such things, what must other children who do not have access to knowledge outside of their Jordanian textbooks (which distorts and misrepresents regional history) and classrooms?

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