Leaving Boston Massachusetts
George Amer, baker and painter, with his painting, Jerusalem
Excerpts from my journal as I examine and portray the troubles in the Levant
March 23, 2012, Friday, Bethlehem
Over Newark New Jersey
I sit in my kitchen, in my apartment, in my home, morning sun streaming in, writing. One large space punctuated by a wardrobe about 6 ft. high and 10 ft. long which divides the space into bedroom (3 small beds, one will contain me for the night, the other two are my staging areas, one for photo and computer equipment, the other for everything else) and living area. The kitchen merges into the living space and contains not only the expected fridge but a gas-powered single burner stove, small washing machine, cabinetry, and ample counter space for the minimal cooking I plan to do. J, the landlady’s elder son, brought me to the market last night for staples, produce, eggs, chicken, and the necessary beer—thank god Beit Sahour is a Christian town.
I live next to Shepherds’ Fields Orthodox, not far from the Greek Orthodox church I visited in 2007 when I stayed here for a few days before Christmas after I’d walked the 3 or so miles from Jerusalem. This time I rode the bus, 7 shekels ($2), 1 hour, leaving from Damascus Gate and cruising thru different regions of Bethlehem, including Beit Jala. By the end of my one-month tour of duty with Holy Land Trust and the Palestine News Network (PNN), I hope to have explored all this area more fully. In 2007 I was here on a delegation organized by the Cambridge Bethlehem People to People project and I stayed a few months more.
Light rail in Jerusalem
My landlady S dropped in last night to meet me. Earlier her daughter in law, M, had greeted and introduced me to my new home. Followed by M’s husband B, the plumber, and his brother J, the carpenter, who tried to help me connect with wi-fi (eventually my computer succeeded, and now I do not turn it off from fear that I will lose this invaluable connection to the outer world, including family, friends, and most especially M). Out to market with J last night who told me that unlike the Egyptians who are always looking for financial gain, Palestinians act from the heart. Plus he wants me to recommend this facility to other volunteers.
A most providential conversation with my landlady. Her husband died about 4 months ago, heart attack, age about 62. He’d been living in New Jersey for 9 years, she for 4, until she returned home to be with her kids. Shortly after his arrival home his heart attack. He needed angioplasty which wasn’t available in Bethlehem so they brought him by ambulance to Hebron. During the operation—which would have included a stent, much the same operation Y had a few months ago—he died. She appeared deeply troubled by this. I told her my father had also died relatively young from a heart attack and stroke, followed by my mother from cancer within 9 months.
S took this in deeply, seemed especially troubled and then revealed, I have breast cancer. I have it checked regularly, I’ve undergone operations and chemo. I told her that after my father died my mother had wished to die, to join her husband. S looked especially troubled by this, perhaps thinking I might feel the same way and suffer the same fate.
Amal Sabawi, director of Quaker Palestine Youth Program in Gaza, undergoing financial training in Jerusalem
She said one of her main reasons to return home to Bethlehem was family unity. In New Jersey all I did was sit at home, no friends, no family. You in America live so detached from your families. I couldn’t stand it. I told her that I’d neglected to tell my elder daughter Joey goodbye and she’d called me on it. Something like that would rarely occur in Palestine, I suspect. She told me that life is hard here. First the occupation and with it all the restrictions, then the loss of her husband.
Not sure how far to proceed with this conversation I then told her about my mother announcing to Elaine and me that my death will be a gift to you but you’ll need many years to understand why. I told S that indeed a central gift is diminishment of my fear of death. One reason, I told her, I can do what I do, endanger myself while photographing, is that I’ve detached from survival. I value life, all life, but feel less attached to my own. (I didn’t tell her that this might be changing now that I have such an intense love in my life as M.)
How fortuitous that S and I met last night, that I am residing in her home compound, with her sons and extended family. Already I feel a slight part of this family. Confirming this minimally, last night J offered to be my friend on Facebook. We friended each other and then discovered we have 4 mutual friends including H. H and another Interfaith Peacebuilder’s delegate stayed with J and family a few years ago. I shall write H with this good news.
I’ve proposed the story of S, my landlady and the matriarch of my host extended family to the Palestine News Network, so I might make photographs.
Walk Jerusalem to Bethlehem, December 25, 2007
“And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby,” December 27, 2007