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Moving in Palestine: Katie’s return expedition
On June 10, 2011
I sit here waiting in Jordan for my flight that departs in five hours. Waiting, waiting-the perfect time for reflection if you don’t let too much expectation get in your way. It is a time to let other things soar despite feeling static. So, I just sit here and let my thoughts and words do the moving:
Maybe it is due to all the episodes of Human Planet I watched before falling asleep in Ramallah, but this journey back has felt like an expedition – a challenge to one’s adaptability when things do not go as planned. With every roadblock, set back, turn around I could not help but be reminded of the many movements I had just experienced during my stay in Palestine. Movement is not often a word associated with occupation, but the people here are able to find it everywhere, even when surrounded by obstacles.
I exited the door to Samar’s house thinking I would not return for at least another year. Samar, Hisham and I took a taxi to the bus station in Ramallah where we boarded a bus to make our way to Jerusalem. On the way we passed Al-Kasaba, the main performance venue of the Ramallah Contemporary Dance Festival. During my two-week stay, the stage was visited by performers from all over the world: Germany, Tunisia, France, Spain, Germany, Norway, Morocco, and Palestine. Each night I was amazed by the engagement of the audience that refreshingly, was not always positive. It was an honest engagement full of curiosity and articulated criticism. I was not personally struck by all of the performances and it was the first time in a long while that I felt at ease to say so. Some of the more important movement came after the performance when heated discussions took place about what we had just seen. We just sat there talking, filling time with necessary words that were bounced from one mind to the another.
When our bus reached the checkpoint we all had to exit. Hisham, Samar and I walked through the streets with my luggage, weaving in and out of the traffic, to the gates of the checkpoint. Every time a Palestinian wishes to leave the West Bank they must wait in line, go through a metal detector, wait, go through several more metal gates and show his/her ID to an armed guard sitting in a secured booth (only those with Blue IDs are permitted to exit, Green ID holders must get special permission). As I watched Hisham skillfully navigate my luggage through numerous metal turnstiles, I started to feel guilty for complaining about the nine forms of transportation I had taken to arrive in Ramallah two weeks earlier. This herding process of sorts is something that he and many others have to go through on a daily basis; a constant reminder of the constrictions humans place on one another to appease some sense of needing distance and differentiation from the “other.” And yet many- like Hisham- don’t allow such challenges to deter them from seeing a play at the Palestinian National Theater, or -like several young Palestinians I met- from visiting a loved ones studying in Jerusalem They continue making the journey knowing fully well that they may have to wait over an hour to pass through one gate. Such tenacity is a reminder of the alternative, of the freedoms that humans can also afford one another, despite every effort made to keep bodies bound in a space.
After exiting the building at the checkpoint we had to wait for our bus that had to be inspected as well. Long handled mirrors were swiped beneath the bus. Fifteen minutes passed. Waiting. Another ten. We re-boarded the bus and continued on our way to Jerusalem. —–The wall flashed by my window for many meters. It seemed to be waiting too not really knowing its desired purpose. But there are other, more productive, walls being built in Palestine, fighting a time of immobility, like the ones constructed by Maher at the Orient Dance & Theater that I had the pleasure of dancing within one night. Maher has built a center for dance and theater in the town of Al-bireh, a town just outside Ramallah. Everything in the center- including a beautiful studio and media center- was built by the hands of Maher and members of the community. Maher offers classes in debke, improvisation, and theater. The evening I spent at Orient Dance & Theater began with discussions around a fire with Ahmed Khemis, a dancer currently working with Akrham Khan in the production of Vertical Road and Abu Ata a long time director of Wishah, a debke company, a man whose passion and dedication for dance can be seen in every cell of his body. The evening ended in the manifestation of their impassioned words, an impromptu performance of debke. I was graciously welcomed to join in despite my inexperience with the form. It was now or never. I held on tight as we circled around the studio dancing the steps that many Palestinians are happy to call their own.
Once we arrived in Jerusalem my plan was to collect spices from the old city before getting on a mini-bus that would take me to the border of Jordan, the fourth to last leg of my trip. Just to be safe, Hisham and I headed to the service (servees) to check on the times of departure. Nothing is really scheduled so you basically have to sit and wait until the bus fills up. Depending on when you arrive this could take anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour.
It seemed odd as we approached the office for the service that there was very little action… I walked in with Hisham and after a long exchange of Arabic with one of the drivers I was debriefed – the border was closed and the service was no longer running. (Note my flight that evening departed from Amman, Jordan and I was in Jerusalem.) Hearing from a friend the previous day that it was an Israeli holiday and that the borders might be closed, we were sure to check the website that morning. The website clearly stated that the bridge would be open until 8pm and there was no reason to suspect otherwise. Bad assumption. We now had to call the bridge at the border between Israel and Jordan for more information and to find out if it was in fact, closed. Being the American, I was advised to make the call. I waited. The woman on the phone confirmed that the border was closed and they would not let anyone through for the rest of the day. I would have to wait until tomorrow, but if I had learned anything it was that waiting is not necessarily the best time for thumb twiddling. Noora Baker, a dancer in Ramallah’s debke troupe El-Funoun whom I had the pleasure of meeting during a conference held during the festival on Dance and Society, did anything but. Noora’s first opportunity to dance on stage at the age of seven was slighted by the imprisonment of her entire family during the first intifada. The year was 1989. It would not be until two years later that Noora would perform for the first time on stage. The second intifada hit when she was 19 years old and just finding her way with dance. Her town was on lockdown and under strict curfew laws. During that time she and the other dancers in the troupe were unable to go to the dance hall; however they did not wait for the curfews to end to start moving again. Determined to continue, they held meetings in each others’ homes to practice their steps.
I was stuck for the time being (but happily so). I immediately called Delta and explained my situation; they graciously switched my flight to the following day free of charge. At the end of the conversation the agent said, “Be safe.” I think the media’s misrepresentation of this area actually helped me out in this situation. Hisham and Samar returned to Ramallah and I stayed to retrieve some spices from the old city. I tried not to fill this waiting time with too much expectation, so I took a leisurely walk around Jerusalem and reflected instead. Along my walk I encountered many of the sites I had visited with the company the previous year on tour and longed for them to be waiting with me.
Another bus ride back through the checkpoint into the West Bank followed by a taxi ride, I re-entered Samar’s house again sooner than I had ever expected. A year sooner. We were happy to share yet another meal and conversation together. We looked back at how quickly the two weeks had passed and talked about how the experience of waiting changes from one place to another and holds different meaning. We reminisced about the fruitful discussions we shared with people throughout the Ramallah Contemporary Dance Festival, like Taoufiq Izzediou, a performance artist from Morrocco who came to participate in the festival. For Taoufiq waiting seemed to be a time of others weighing his options. In his solo performance, Aleef, presented at the festival Taoufiq faced his identity as Moroccan, as African, as French, as Berber. As we entered the theater he sat on stage waiting for the performance to begin and as I sat in my seat anxiously awaiting his first move I filled my mind with ideas about what I was about to see. None of my assumptions were right however none of them were wrong either. Taoufiq’s movement ranging from the traditional to the conceptual exemplified the importance of letting one’s identity wait in the space before actual identification.
The next morning I got up to do the whole routine again. This time alone. I took a taxi to the bus station, a bus to the checkpoint, went through another passport screening, stared out my window at the passing wall, exited the bus, walked to the service (servees), waited, waited, boarded the mini-bus, showed by passport to a border guard who asked if I was carrying a weapon (in sincerity, not just to make sure I wasn’t), exited the mini-bus, went through a metal detector, paid an exit fee, gave up my passport again, waited, waited, waited, got on a bus, waited for it to fill, handed a Jordanian guard my passport, exited the bus, waited for my passport, got into a taxi, stopped at a gas station to refill, entered the departures entrance, waited, waited, waited, waited.
However a thought took flight:
Why isn’t there a Human Planet episode titled, Borders. I am sure there are many more stories of human tenacity and adaptability to tell.
For more encounters please visit www.foundmovements.com.
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