#3 Reflection: Palestine through the sense doors—smelling and tasting

Standing on the terrace of Yasser’s apartment I smell the aroma of food being prepared below—the spices and meats of traditional Palestinian cooking. Depending on the direction of the wind, the smells are more or less intense, and they become mixed with the smell of burning trash nearby.

Lama, Yasser’s niece, invites us to dinner—her four children greet us, at first with a reserved curiosity, but after we learn their names (and clumsily attempt to pronounce their Arabic names correctly: Dania, Carmel, Alama, Ahmad, Kenda) and ask them questions about school—their favorite subjects and activities—they relax and smile and talk with us in English far better spoken than we will likely ever be able to speak in Arabic. The table is set and a feast is served of chicken and potatoes roasted with olive oil and sumac and other spices; a chicken in a creamy sauce, and meatballs prepared with a mixture of spices traditionally used in Palestinian cooking; green salad; and rice with roasted almonds and vegetables. My taste buds receive the stimulation and my mind responds in the affirmative: “Yes—I like the taste of all of this! More, please!” The tastes experienced continue to please even while the body’s message—“Stop…enough already!” — is felt more and more. Arabic coffee, dark roasted and spiced with cardamom, is served along with a chocolate covered, chocolate mousse filled cake. While my body is full from an excess of food (and I’m not feeling so well), my heart is full in a different way– Lama’s love and her generosity are conditions that contribute to the arising of joy I am feeling in my mind, body, heart.

It’s early morning and I wait for Yasser to pick me up and take me to the bus station in West Jerusalem that will take me to Tel Aviv for a meeting with Buddhists in Israel (more about this later.) The sky is clear and the breeze is steady and cool—a pleasant sensation on my skin. I watch children walking, on their way to school, and many cars pass by with families and individuals heading somewhere. Dust clouds form and move into the air as tires make traction on the unpaved street. The trash pile (plastic bags, cardboard boxes, food waste, broken glass, aluminum cans) has become larger since we arrived in the neighborhood, and it has become more unpleasant—the sour smell of spoiled meat, feral cats eating from the trash, wind blowing the lighter trash around in the empty lot. Yasser said the town would be coming to take it away—but they haven’t arrived yet. Such a contrast to the neatness and cleanliness inside the apartments I’ve visited in this same area.

I see a well-dressed man leave his apartment across the street from where I am standing—he opens, then enters his garage, on the ground level of the apartment building, and when he backs his car out he is in a dusty, but otherwise very nice BMW. So close to the trash that all I need to do is turn my head slightly to see it. And, the continuing wafting of sour, spoiled meat. There is not adequate money available to the municipality here (and throughout Palestine) for necessary equipment or a proper facility for waste disposal and management. Sadly, this is another consequence of occupation and the restrictions Israel imposes on the people of Palestine.

As the week unfolds, I will experience pleasant and unpleasant sensations and joy alongside of deep sorrow as our journey takes us deeper into Palestine and the lives of the Palestinian people.


#2 Reflection: Palestine through the sense doors—hearing and seeing (part one)

We are living in the top floor (6th) apartment belonging to our friend, Yasser, in a section of East Jerusalem known as Aram, a suburb of Beit Hanina. The apartment is situated on the highest point in the area, so the view is unobstructed—Jerusalem to the left, Ramallah slightly to the right. From the airport in Tel Aviv it is about a 45 minute drive. Bleached blue sky; bright white buildings; dusty dark green of trees, shrubs and the sparse smattering of grasses; and the light tan to white of sand, rocks, concrete and dried out branches of palm trees and grass.  Here and there are flowers—what look like yellow mustard and Queen Anne’s lace growing wild, and the various shades of pinks and reds of cultivated flowering bushes and flowers I don’t know the names of. Neat, trimmed, well organized, lovely to my eyes.

It is very clear where the boundaries are between Israel and Palestine, whether official and legally defined or illegal (settlements and outposts). Israel has the privilege of watered landscapes and well-financed infrastructure and public services, while Palestine does not. So, in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, it is drier, dustier, trash-cluttered; many of the streets and roads are dirt, stones and rubble, narrow with potholes. Trash is burned in large rusty metal containers (dumpsters or barrels) placed along streets of neighborhoods–black smoke indicating the locations.

I stand on the terrace outside Yasser’s apartment and look over the neighborhood all the way to Jerusalem and Ramallah. Children are playing below—kicking a ball, chasing after one another, boys throwing rocks at a target they’ve constructed with rusted barrels and plastic bottles. I hear their voices, familiar child voices—yelling, laughing, high child voices, excited and playful. I also hear birds chirping, the distant sounds of cars nearby, and the wind. The Islāmic “call to prayer” –the voices of men (imams—Islamic worship leaders), song-like, reciting sections of the Koran– can be heard from minarets in various places around the area. There is a kind of sound-around effect—sometimes nearly synchronized, sometimes like a call and response—exotic to my ears that are unfamiliar with the Arabic language.   In the distance, I hear the sound of a siren.