Round Two from the Cameraless Stacey

Middle East
July 1st 2009
Published: July 1st 2009
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(Preface: Enjoy the rarity of this nonpolitical entry while it lasts- I've been taking a lot of notes from the workshop I've been doing, and am ready to bombard you with tales of tear gas, torture, and tearing down the Apartheid wall!)

This time I didn’t even try to take my camera out. See how I’m adjusting to Palestinian culture! And I held a full on (well, kind of) conversation with this Palestinian cab driver.

Well, my mind was in the game, because I spent all night basically in Arabic.

My friend Akram invited me to his sister’s graduation party. I’m picturing like a little gathering, or something… I really didn’t know. Turns out that it’s a full on party with allll the extended family, where the girl dresses up in like 7 different outfits (I don’t know, I didn’t see the full production).

From what I was forcing my mind to remember, he’s a run through:
The guys and the girls, again, are in separate areas. Turns out that since it was a girl’s graduation, it meant the full extended female side of the family, and the four or five guys left over chilled on the roof in the meanwhile.

So I was left to fend for myself language wise. One of his aunts was an English teacher, so she pointed me towards the main room, and forced me into a chair, with the vague guide of ‘this woman wants to sing without music, songs about Allah and religion.” Well, umm… ok.
This woman starts going to town, her face lighting up as she’s singing these songs. I was reminded of a Baptist congregation all singing gospel in an informal gathering. But as far as the room could stand, there were female relatives. There must have been at least 100 of them there. This woman is singing (more like chanting?) and then at various points in the song (the chorus, from what I can gather) she waves her hands around, encouraging everyone else to sing along. Well, like I know the words, haha. I was sitting across from these two girls about my age, and I almost got them bursting laughing as I pretended to sing along, but very blatantly didn’t know a single word.

The average age of the gathering must have been about 50. The fashion of that age group consists of very loose flowered dresses, or very loose heavy black cloak-like dresses, with long white headscarves. As I was looking at the woman singing, I was strangely reminded of a nun’s habit. I kept thinking of how religions aren’t truly that different- catholic nuns and religious muslim women wear very similar outfits! In any case, there weren’t too many people my age. (which is fine- I get along with seniors as well as I do kids. Akram's grandma shuffled into the kitchen, and 10 seconds later she had kissed me on both cheeks, declared she loved me, and shuffled right back out)

Also, and I was talking to my roommate about this, the woman seem to explode at the seams as soon as they get married. All the unmarried or recently married women are gorgeous, with tremendously thin figures. Then again, they tend to discriminate like mad against overweight girls- my roommate was talking about a mutual friend, and how her parents are trying to bribe her to lose weight. She basically will only get the dregs of male suitors if she is not thin; she’s drastically limiting her parents’ choices of marriage prospects by remaining overweight.

There were also a TON of children. I shouldn’t continue to be surprised- 50%!o(MISSING)f the population here is under the age of 18. Even though the number of children in a family is reduced, it isn’t odd to hear of families of 7 or 8. I think I heard somewhere that that’s the average family size. Akram and I counted over bowls of rice, lebneh, and foul (rice with beans in plain yogurt), and he has 40 and a half (one very pregnant aunt) cousins. One family has 11 children. He knows a family with 45 children (split over 4 wives, to be sure, but Yowza).

In any case, I won’t bore everyone with further accounts of how freaking adorable these kids are. Funny, the style for some children tend to be fake Harry Potter/coke bottle glasses, making them look like snorkelers or space adventurers. Hilarious. In any case, I was even more an oddity with this family than at the wedding, because this was a more intimate environment. Whenever I would wave and say Marhaba (hello) to any of these kids… well… let me give an example. One adorable little dude literally ran away, backing up so fast he fell flat on his face. Another kid, when I playfully poked him in the tummy, told me blatantly “Don’t touch me” in Arabic. Haha.

Well, anyway, I’m sitting there, pretending to sing along, trying not to burst out laughing, and trying to greet the little girl beside me without scaring the living hell out of her. Drums are busted out- I was then left to clap instead of sing. Thankfully, haha. HOWEVER, I still couldn’t escape the dancing. The graduating girl (Karmen) tried to get me to, but I must have given her a pitiful enough look that she let me be. However, her relatives wouldn’t have it, and they literally had to push me onto the dance floor. I think I did ok, but I managed to escape, finally. Dancing truly isn’t a part of our culture.

People here alternatively look way younger or way older than they actually are. Putting his 9 year old cousin next to his 11 year old sister, you would think that there was a 10 year gap. His sister looked like she was at least 16; all done up in full on quasi-drag queen makeup and an amazingly fancy bustier dress. They truly don’t find any excuse NOT to get all dolled up here! (sparkles in hair and all. They put figure skaters to shame)

I eventually fell into conversation with one of the girls sitting across from me, mercifully just having graduated with a degree in English. I had a hilarious conversation with her and a couple of her relatives, where I held my own. So I thought, until she had to leave. Then, it was ok, but still very awkward, considering all my sentences that I can say with any degree of confidence revolve around ‘I can speak ok in Arabic’ and ‘how do you say this….’ In any case, it was interesting, and still amusing. I should hopefully see them later on next week.

They insisted on me staying over. Well, considering the fact that I was already exhausted before getting there, and I only thought it would last a couple of hours, I wasn’t too keen on the fact. I completely would have, but I literally have two weeks worth of work piling up. That I’m neglecting as I’m writing this. No matter.

That’s all I can really say about the hafla/ party. I’m actually starting to think in other languages. I came back to my apartment and had to call this Spanish guy that recently started working at the center back- the Spanish came back actually really quickly. I think I’m heading to the Dead Sea with him and this other French guy that is working with the center/at the hospital this weekend. THAT should be interesting. We’re all joking that I’m going to create my own Stacey-esque version of Esperanto, which will be a mix of English, French, Spanish, and Arabic, with a dash of Japanese thrown in for good measure. They truly are all mixing into a kind of sludge in my head; I’ll keep you posted on how it emerges.

Dalia (friend from Cairo) is getting here in a week and a half. Bub is getting here in two weeks. Sally (friend from India) is meeting up with me at the end of July.

Typing that out, I’m reminded of a moment during the singing affair, where I felt (rather pompously) how I was getting a glimpse of how it was for olden day travelers in foreign cultures. I am so ridiculously lucky to be here. I am so ridiculously lucky to have friends now all over the world. I really, truly can’t believe I almost didn’t come!

(PS I've been taking a lot of pictures- of course- and as soon as my schedule and internet connection line up, they're going up on the blog, I swear!)


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