Tuesday, July 9, 2013

NGO's in East Jerusalem + Art in Assawiya

Me at  our MEND event
Arabic map
the city of Assawiya 
friends who came to the event! 
On Monday, July 8, after Hebrew classes had ended for the day, I took a few friends: Jazz, Rika, Alana and Melissa to an event that my NGO was hosting in a neighborhood in North Jerusalem called Assawiya. It was a startlingly bright sunny day, with clouds racing by, as if chasing the day to end. We waited for the bus, waiting to recognize the PA buses which are distinguished by the forrest green and white colors, decorated with flourishy Arabic script lining its sides. Dressing conservatively, and a bit warmly for the weather I might add, we hopped onto one of the Palestinian Authority buses to go Assawiya, a city that identifies as Palestinian but is located inside of Israel directly below the mountain upon which Hebrew University sits. While climbing the stairs of the mini-bus and asking for five tickets to Assawiya, the bus driver asked me three times if I really meant to go to Assawiya, which I quickly learned is not exactly a popular tourist destination. (It is the city written in red on the map to the left.) The bus ride took only ten minutes, but the stark contrast between the place we came from and the new streets we were surrounded by was shocking.

We hopped off of the bus onto a street corner, searching for Salon Style, the venue where MEND (Middle East Nonviolence and Democracy) was holding its gallery opening. After questioning several puzzled young men, none of whom knew what I was talking about, we found our way to the building, thirty minutes late. Alas, we were the first ones there. I had forgotten, Middle Eastern time. Everyone was late, and/or stuck at the border crossing. I love the way time here is a suggestion, life runs so much more calmly due to the relaxed attitude.

Hanging on the walls were pictures taken by people from Assawiya of Assawiya over the last several decades. The goal of the project was to raise awareness of the community, its history and create a video to spread this knowledge. All completed by youth volunteers, the project was a complete success! There were several dozen people there, deliciously fresh croissants and perfectly glorious conversation. We watched a video of the history of Assawiya, interviews with residents who lived their for decades, and a gallery full of stunning pictures dating back to the 1950s. A few hours later, once all the guests had trickled out, the five girls, our project director and a bunch of men were left hangout and chat. One of the older men there, one of whom is a well-known singer, Mahmoud Esawii. (I completely butchered the English spelling) He used to perform in Chicago!

We had uproarious conversations about the latest Arab Idol winner from Gaza, the politics of their city, their families who lived all over America, the best dishes of the region, and their prison time. There were about seven men with us, ranging from 16-60 years old. Every single man there had been in an Israeli prison at least once. They were arrested for demonstrating. It was so sad to hear how casual the conversation was, like everyone had been to some old restaurant in town. It wasn't a uncommon occurrence nor a shocking one in their community. Well, call me naive, but I was surprised.

There are two sides to every story, and I heard a lot of stories from the Palestinian side that day. Beautiful stories, sad stories and of course, political stories. It was so interesting to hear their perspective while sitting around chatting, no rallies or protests, just chatting with friends on a balcony on a windy summer day. Most of them spoke some English, but translating was easier, so I became the translator for the girls there, none of whom spoke Arabic. We bonded over places we had been and things we all loved. Our lovely day ended with an invitation to a Ramadan meal to break the fast, a couple of pictures that I get to take home with me to frame from the gallery, and a box of yummy treats! Perfectly successful day.

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