Monday, 4 October 2010
Chapter 9 Oktoberfest
If you had asked me a month ago how I thought I would be spending my time in Palestine I would never have imagined something like this.
We’ve cast off our long sleeve cardigans and the evening air is warm against our skin. There is clapping and whooping as the young woman on stage smiles out into the crowd.
‘Are you happy?’ she asks in Arabic.
The roar is deafening.
Her straight, jet black hair swings over her shoulder as she turns to grin at her drummer. Her black vest and baggy black trousers almost blending her into the night but for her luminous skin.
She opens her palm and faces it towards the crowd her silver rings glinting and the crowd is momentarily silenced. The electric guitar begins a dark melancholy melody and the crowd of thousands starts to jump and cheer as the pace of the song builds and she begins to sing:
‘No man’s land’ she chants in her rich voice as an impromptu mosh pit starts up in front of the stage.
This is Cultureshoc, Palestine’s first rock-rap band. And this… is Oktoberfest.
You may never have heard of it, neither myself nor my colleagues had ever heard of it, in fact, not even our taxi driver had ever heard of it.
And yet here it is, in the little West Bank village of Taybeh, for the third year running. Palestinians, Israelis and tourists from around the globe come together for two days of music, food and, of course, the much loved local beer.
And it’s not just beer that is being showcased. As thousands of people stream through the narrow street leading to the performance area they are exposed to a wealth of Palestinian food and produce. Fragrant, fresh oregano, shawarmas, sandwiches… doughnuts for heaven’s sake! And honey. Honey jars, honey soap, honey candles and even a glass encased bee hive.
The performance area itself is crammed with people. Various acts take to the stage: a Palestinian rap group called G-Town, Sri Lankan dancers, a comedy skit by the locals, Brazilian dancers, a gypsy band and, my own personal favourite, Cultureshoc.
I had one amazingly reaffirming moment when Rose, the lovely American, turned to me during the traditional Dabke performance and said in awe:
‘I am blown away by this. This sense of history and identity. This sense of “I am Palestinian” ‘
The look on her face and the tone of her voice brought a familiar tingling to my eyes and I quickly blinked away tears.
It wasn’t because I agreed with her, although I did, that I became so emotional. It was seeing the recognition, the acknowledgment, of Palestine on such a deep level – one which says that we are all members of the same humanity and, as individuals, there is more that binds us than sets us apart.
It made me see another side to the tragedy that is Palestine. We’ve forgotten, we’ve all forgotten, what lies beneath the conflict. What came before the pictures in the paper and the images on TV. That there is a rich, deep and historic culture that is still being celebrated here each and every day.
And that blew me away.