Monday, 4 July 2011

Chapter 67 The feeling of diaspora

The look in some of their eyes is difficult to describe:

"Did you really go to Haifa? We're from there... what's it like?"

"How do you feel when you're there? Is it emotional?"

"My mom went last year for the first time. She said she'd never go back. It's too difficult."

"I haven't been back in 20 years. I don't know even know if I still have family there."

"I've never been."

"We really want to visit."

"Tell us about Palestine..."

So I tell them.

I tell them how beautiful it is - how much there is to love.

I tell them about the landscape - how it differs from Lebanon or Jordan. The wide open spaces, the rolling hills, the miles of nature and undeveloped land between the cities.

Just a random road - but so beautiful.

I tell them the tabbouleh is not good but the maqloubeh* is great. I tell them the best musakhan I've ever had was with one of our poorest students in her crumbling home amidst the dirt and rubble of a refugee camp.

Tabbouleh is one of my favourite dishes. Widely accepted as being 'Lebanese' this salad has a tangy lemon dressing and is made from parsley, tomatoes, onion and burghul.

We talk about what it's like to live there. That on a normal day I feel safer walking down the street there than anywhere else in the world.

We talk about the difficulties. The immense challenges that the Palestinians face both internally and externally. The checkpoints and the hardships of not being able to travel and the lack of exposure of the outside world.

People are more interested than I realized to know about the little things. What the shopping's like, what the food's like ... what people do there on the weekend.

What do they think? How do they feel?

There is a feeling that comes with dispora - a vacuum... a gap.

The absence of a 'home'; of a place to belong to. Many people have a genuine desire to connect to Palestine and to the countrymen they have never seen nor spoken to. Despite their wildly different experiences of life there's still a bond - a feeling of solidarity.

More and more expatriated young Palestinians are coming back to visit, some even to live. Many of them are well educated and widely traveled. They come to experience their heritage and ancestry but also because of a fairly fundamental tenet:

If a country's own people don't give back to it, care about it or stand up for it - who will?

The Mount of Olives in Jerusalem

* Maqloubeh is a traditional Palestinian dish made of spiced rice, fried cauliflower and aubergine with either chicken or meat. It is often cooked with chick peas as well. It is cooked 'upside down' (hence the name) then capsized onto a large serving plate. Delicious.

Musakkhan is melt-off-the-bone chicken served on special Palestinian bread with onions and summac. Also wonderful.