coming/going home

How can you not love a a people who grieve so deeply for a poet. A poet who is such a beloved hero that he must be buried in Ramallah where more people–though nowhere near all–can visit his grave. I thought about this a lot today at Darwish’s funeral. Certainly there were many people at the Ramallah Cultural Palace (the one at the muqata’a was not open to the public), but nowhere near as many people as who would have liked to go. First of all, Palestinians in Gaza could not come. Second, I am not sure how easy it would have been for Palestinians living in 1948 to come and/or how many tried. Third, there are many people, including some friends, who were afraid of the situation at checkpoints today and who stayed at home as a result. But this doesn’t even begin to consider the Palestinians living in refugee camps in Jordan, Syria, Lebanon; Palestinians who don’t live in camps but who live in the region; people from the Arab world: for all of these people–and then some–Darwish’s words are words that feed the soul. All this is to say that although the funeral was crowded today, it clearly did not represent what people were feeling and who would have attended had they been able to.

As soon as I heard the helicopter land at the muqata’a I jumped into the car and headed towards the Cultural Palace. I had been there once before for a DAM concert, but I couldn’t remember exactly where it was. As I was driving along the hills of Ramallah I could see the palace in the distance on the next hill over (see picture above). I had a radio station on in the car that was playing a live feed of what was happening in the muqata’a and I began to hear an echo from my rental car and the next hill over where the live feed was being broadcast on loud speakers that bounced off the hillside. It reminded me of the athan in certain parts of Ramallah where you can hear it echoing, bouncing off the hills, creating a beautiful harmony with the land. And, actually, as I arrived it was time for the athan. The Palestinian Authority (PA) was making everyone park at the bottom of the hill (a very, very steep hill) so I parked and walked up to meet a friend from Deheishe refugee camp who was meeting me there. She had come all the way from Ramallah even though one of her young cousins was shot by the Israeli Aggressive Forces (IAF) this morning.

As I approached the Cultural Palace I saw groups of people gathering and waiting for the procession. There were kids holding an enormous Palestinian flag, scouts, bands, different youth groups. There were also various posters and photographs of Darwish everywhere. Some of this people were handing out–a special issue of Al Ayam newspaper devoted to Darwish, posters. Some people were selling–like new hatas with Darwish’s image and words on it or necklaces with his image and words on it.

Given that the athan had just finished as I arrived people stopped to pray in a small public area on the palace grounds and then we heard alternating Darwish’s poetry–“الجدارية” again as well as others–with Marcel Khalife’s “Mother.” It was such a tremendous speaker system that it was overpowering–in a good way–to hear Darwish’s words and Khalife’s music–bouncing off the mountains and filling us with his rhythmic cadence.

As we walked around waiting for the body to arrive and the procession to begin I noticed that even PA cars seem to be filled with a love of Darwish’s poetry (see photograph above).

The procession finally began and there was a tremendous crowd that was sweaty from the heat and from the close proximity of bodies to one another. Darwish’s family was there, though they arrived in cars, and there was a procession of various groups of musicians–bagpipes, drummers. We then gathered on the hill where the burial site is. This is when it got intensely packed, but people took turns going to the grave and paying their respects. Darwish’s sisters were in such deep pain, which was really hard to witness. But at the same time there was deep grieving from many people around me. Even when there was some chanting and a prayer at the grave site–which was broadcast on loudspeakers–it was difficult to hear because there was so much sniffling and sobbing around me. It was so moving to witness this event. To grieve for the loss of another one of my favorite writers whose words have taught me so much over the years. He is finally home–not really, not precisely–but he is buried in his land.

After the funeral my friends drove with me to move into my new apartment in Nablus. The drive is about an hour, and it wasn’t bad today considering lots of people were on the roads to come to the funeral. But when we reached Huwara checkpoint–which, I swear, is always the worst checkpoint in Palestine–we were greeted by what seemed to be a rookie IAF soldier. He told us to go back, did not explain why, and was angry when I asked. There was no line of cars going into Nablus at the time, just coming out. But his only response is that I had to get back because there are “rules.” But really he was confusing and wasn’t at all clear with us what he wanted us to do. So he called over his IAF buddy who obviously is training him and told us that they found a bomb today and so they are being extra difficult (okay, of course, he wouldn’t admit that last bit, but you get the gist). He started barking at us to get back, after looking at our ID cards, and then just shouted commands at us (ironically, as if we were the dogs). They made us move away from the checkpoint and park on the side of the road for 30 minutes, which we later found out was punishment for not speaking to them as if they were human beings. I kidd you not: they really said this. I replied that I think one has to behave like a human being in order to be treated like one. He asked us where we were going and why; I told him I live in Nablus and I want to go home. He proceeded to question me about this–why would I want to live in Nablus, why would I even want to go there. I didn’t answer, but just asked the question: “how would you like it if you wanted to go home and someone prevented you from doing so?” To wit my friend from Deheishe added: “And I’ve been waiting 60 years to go home.” Of course he had no response to any of this and after 30 minutes he let us go. Interestingly if they were so concerned about a bomb threat I wonder why it is that they did not check inside my car; they did not so much as even look inside my trunk. But, yes, these IAF colonial guards are just here for “security.”

I drove into Nablus so much later than I had intended and was greeted by a new colleague at An Najah University. He invited us in for tea and then took us to my new apartment in downtown Nablus (view from my window–this one is for you Basma). After I put my stuff down he took us out for knafe before heading back down to Deheishe refugee camp to drive my friends home. Huwara was even worse going out. We waited at least an hour there for no reason, in a long line of cars. More checkpoints along the way. More lines. And then back home again. Bokra.

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