Beltane is a sentimental day for me. I tend to feel a saudade for cuckoos I haven’t heard and bluebells I haven’t seen; it’s when I feel least city-like and most Cassandra Mortmain. It’s a consciously naïve sort of holiday. It wasn’t there at boarding school, so it was a treat to discover bank holidays after – especially a whole national day off linked to flowers and fire and ritual. Only later, moving outside my social circle, it was revealed to me that the May bank holiday is “Labour Day”. A day for the workers was a thought absent from my youth, except in concept of quaint Soviet posters. Most services still run here, but employees of larger structures have the day off. I am always aware of where I am on May Day every year.
This first of May I was once again in a bus between Ramallah and Nablus, exchanging the fragrant pied-a-terre of my friend’s house for the sight of roadside Israeli flags which freshly jar after a cosy evening of barbecue, mixed company and local wine. The last time I made the journey, a dead body surrounded by heavily-armed military police hardly made an impression on the traffic as it lay at the side of the road. I made a mental note that the body must be a Palestinian; the death of a settler would mean road blocks at the least. I realised that desensitisation has taken root in me. A sight which would have left me out of sorts for weeks half a year ago was now, as the Palestinians describe almost all things all day long, “a’adiy” – fine; normal; ok.
A’adiy was a measure in the reaction of one of my friends to the murder of Fuad, a beautiful young man who had helped my Aunt and me around the souq on her visit in October, and who took the picture of all of us foreign students under the Bethlehem Christmas tree, and with whom this friend of mine was close. Fuad was popular, happy, and lived life to the full. At his memorial in the town centre of Nablus where he was stabbed by a jealous “rival” tour guide his mum sat silently and held a picture of him whilst an oppressive throng took videos on their phone. Posters for local election parties grew on palm trees, his newly “martyred” face the fruit of those perennial tree-trunk fairy lights. At this death I felt sick and overwhelmed, wildly alternating between stubborn incredulity and the enraging explosive shock of acknowledgement. “I’m so sorry for your loss”, I said to my friend who I saw near me at the vigil. “This is life”, he said, and gave a shrug, to symbolise a meaning Arabs and Desis and Mediterraneans often convey but which the English often find sullen, or adolescent: “It’s fine. What else could be said?”. A murder is as grievous here as it is worldwide, but there is a constancy of death.
After uploading some photo posts at some point I’m not sure if I will blog again, even cats of months. So a long-overdue resumé of what I have been up to since January follows.
I have a new flat two minutes from campus. It is well-appointed both in furnishings and flatmates. I can encourage future students at an-Najah to live here too, above al-Jorof supermarket. I have visited Qalqilia with one flatmate and a wedding in Yatta with another. I’m living with a friend and I’m happy here.
A January highlight was my first visit to Jericho. A few of us hired bicycles and went excavating for the largest classical mosaic in the world at Hisham’s Palace.
Gorgeous friends from the UK came to visit in February. We visited Garage bar again, and Al-Aqsa, and had drinks in the shuk, and enjoined solo hostel travellers’ presences.
In March, my beloved grandfather honoured me with a visit and we took in Haifa and Masada as well as Jericho and Nablus. We went on three aerial tramways, saw where Jesus was tempted, and ate knafeh. I went to a Pilates class with a Toastie in Jerusalem and went partying in Kabareet in Haifa. It was purim, a sight to behold. That costumes can be culturally appropriative is not a widely-spread concept here. I am putting up two older pictures of Granddad and myself.
I also took a trip to the lovely Ba’atir, had a sunset visit to a theme park, and took in the Banksy hotel. Hot take on the Walled Off? Banksy satirising colonialism through the serving of high tea to foreigners is… actually good. 31st March was Bethlehem marathon. I made it through the half, at an average pace only a little over a brisk walk. I fasted for 40 days from caffeine.
April has been spring and study and student elections, a haircut and the Palestine music expo (where I got a hug from Rasha!). I went to the Latin Patriarchate church on Rafidia for Easter.
I plan to return to the UK in mid-July, after 11 months out here. My feelings are mixed!
My most respectful regards and affections to followers of the blog.