Friday, October 28, 2011

How To Cut Your Hair With Kindergarten Craft Scissors: A Beginner's Guide

When I began getting ready to come to Palestine, I made the decision to start growing out my hair. Many women here keep their hair longer than most Americans (of course, I can't speak for the more conservative Muslim women who cover their hair, but I assume it's kept long as well). Before I came here, I figured that keeping my hair dark and leaving it long would mean that I'd have at least one thing physically in common with most of the other women here. I mean, obviously I am not Palestinian, and I will never be mistaken for a Palestinian, but I figured, hey, every little bit that I can blend in helps, right?

So fast-forward to real life in Palestine: hair down to my hips, while beautiful, is totally impractical. First, there's the whole "water shortage" problem, which means that I can only (in good conscience) wash my hair once every two or three days. Then there's the fact that I can't go out with wet hair, and it takes forever to dry. There's also the slight issue of not having my hair straightener, curling iron, or any hair products with me. As I was packing for Palestine, the lack of luggage space paired with my desire to "live simply" meant that the only hair things I brought were a brush, hair ties, and bobby pins (although since coming here and learning the "no wet hair" rule, I've also gotten a travel-size blowdryer). I figured that bringing hair stuff would be wasteful and pretentious. At the time, it made perfect sense. In retrospect, TERRIBLE DECISION. The frustration of having really long hair coupled with an inability to tame it was growing.

This brings us to last week, when I decided that I needed to cut my hair. Pronto. The only problem with this plan was that I don't know any hair stylists in Palestine, and I really wasn't in the mood to go exploring. I have enough trouble trying to explain what I want when there's no language barrier, so add me trying to communicate how I want my hair cut in mangled Arabic, and you have a recipe for disaster. That, plus the fact that this hair-cutting-impulse came at 9pm on a Thursday, which here means that everyone is home in bed, only left me with few options.

So what did I do?
A. Went to bed, gave it a little time, and waited for the impulse to pass.
B. Waited patiently until the morning to ask my host mother to recommend a good stylist.
C. Started rummaging through the desk drawers in my living room, found kindergarten craft scissors, and cut my hair myself.

If you guessed either A or B, then it is obvious that you don't know me very well. Of course, I decided to cut my hair right away. How hard could cutting hair be, anyways? I didn't want a pixie cut, I didn't want a posh bob, I just wanted some of the length off and a few layers added. Also, I'm not at all emotionally attached to my hair, so if I messed it up completely... no big deal! Easy peasy!

So I started hacking away. The only problem with my scissors, is that they are specially designed to not slice open toddler fingers during use. Awesome for toddlers, not awesome for hair cutting enthusiasts. After about 20 minutes, I pronounced my hair "complete," and so I waited for it to air dry and then examined the results.

I don't think it turned out too badly, BUT I will allow you to be the judge, because I feel like you deserve a good laugh. So in total, I cut about 5-8 inches off of the longest layers, and 10-12 inches off of the shortest layers.

The most recent "before" picture that I have:

Time to start hacking away:

Post-hair cut: 


So what do you think?! Is beauty school in my future? Okay, maybe not, but this was definitely a fantastic stress reliever and an experience that I'll remember for a long time. I'm doing nothing if not learning self-reliance here in Palestine. I've been spoiled by the States, and now I'm learning how to do things for myself. Maybe "cutting your own hair with craft scissors" isn't necessarily on the To Do List of the independent and self-reliant, but it was a good lesson for me in not stressing over the little things. And honestly, why waste time stressing over what your hair looks like? There are way more important things to worry about, like what color socks you're wearing, or what flavor cereal you're going to have for breakfast.

Perhaps after I'm done learning self-reliance, I can start learning impulse control.
But that is a topic for another blog post.
So until then:
Stay safe, and enjoy your Halloween!
I will be busy craving candy corn from the opposite side of the planet.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Cross Cultural Communication

Multiple times each day, I am asked to explain a word, phrase, picture, or an American cultural phenomenon to someone here. Now, in the States, this would probably be easy (and also unnecessary, since most people wouldn't need to have things explained), but because of the language and cultural barriers here, often times my explanations are less than stellar and absolutely NOT helpful.

Here are two recent examples:

Coworker: "What is a Viking?"
Me: "A Viking is a... well... they were warriors, like, in boats. They raided and adventured and stuff during the 8th-11th centuries. And they... were... Norwegian? Or Scandinavian? Or something. And they... they had the hats! You know, the hats with horns?" *acts out horn hat*
Coworker: *blank stare*
Me: "Yeah... you should probably just google it."

Me and a friend watching America's Funniest Home Videos
(don't even ask me why this was playing in the Middle East):
TV Host: "Look at that dog! He's the next Fred Astaire!"
Friend: "Whats a fred-stare?"
Me: "Fred Astaire was a guy. A dancer. Ginger Rogers? Fred and Ginger? They were like, the most iconic dancing couple in history! They were movie stars in the 1930s and 40s."
Friend: *blank stare*
Me: "They danced. Fred danced. The announcer is just joking that the dog is a good dancer."
Friend: "Oh. Haha. Dancing dog."

More often than not, the person who asked me explain something ends up more confused than before I explained. These examples are harmless, purely fact, but I am cautious about what I say when it comes to opinion questions, because my response is often taken as "the American point of view." Despite my insistence that I am in no way representative of the entire United States population, my opinion is often perceived as being "what Americans think."

Often times, this whole situation is incredibly frustrating for me. There are so many concepts that I have in my head, but seem to be unable to verbally express. Like, a Viking. Of course I know what a Viking is... unless you ask me. I get so many questions that I don't fully know how to explain: "What is an 'urban center'?" "What is 'Biblical authority'?" "Who is Lady Gaga?" "How does voting work?" "Do Americans eat Middle Eastern food?" There's nothing worse than being asked these questions and leaving people totally confused because of my poorly articulated answers.

Actually, I take that back. There is something much worse, and that is being asked questions that I am completely incapable of answering: "Why do Americans think we're all terrorists?" "How come Westerners dislike Arabs?" "Why don't soldiers get in trouble when they shoot us but we get arrested when we throw rocks back?" "How come people can just steal our land?" "Why doesn't Israel have to obey International Law?" "Why does America let Israel get away with imprisoning, abusing, and terrorizing us?" "Why doesn't anyone care?"

Half the time I just tear up and sob "I DON'T KNOW!!!!!!!!" Because really, how does one answer a question like any of these? Occasionally I will try to highlight the difference between the American government and the American people (which is a distinction that most are very familiar with here, as much of international aid they get is from American donors who are absolutely adored, yet the American government is rarely spoken of fondly). Sometimes I try to argue the point that there is not a single thing that all Americans do, and that the groups they are talking about are not representative of every American. But mostly I just get depressed. I mourn for these people who seem to have been forgotten by the West; abandoned by the powerful nations.

This video does a good job of recognizing how ignorant we tend to be of the situation in Palestine. This is a trailer for a documentary about Palestinian Christians that was filmed by a friend of Bethlehem Bible College, where I work. It is intended for Pentecostals and Evangelicals, but even if you are neither, I highly recommend that you watch it, or at least the first 3 1/2 minutes of it. The first few sentences totally mirror my own reaction when first arriving in Palestine almost two years ago: How could I have not known about this?! 


This is all heavy stuff, I know. But just think, you get to turn off your computer and leave this blog post behind, but the people living here don't have that luxury. This isn't a story on a blog for them... this is every day life. You can imagine how draining it is to live in this context all of the time. But the good news is that I am having a much better week than I was last week. I'm feeling so much better, I cut my hair (more on that later), I finally did a huge grocery shopping run, and I've finally started to get into a rhythm here. While living in Palestine was very draining at first, I find that I'm getting a little more used to the pace of life, which is definitely a relief. I have some great stories to share... but I need a little bit more time to get things in order in my head. So until then, be safe and stay healthy... AND WATCH THAT VIDEO!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Sickness & Homesickness

It is a well known fact that I have a terrible immune system. I have no idea why; I wish I could just blame it on bad genes, but everyone else in my family always seems to be healthy. Despite my meticulous hand-washing, sanitizing, and avoidance of anyone who looks even slightly unhealthy, I still seem to spend most of the winter months being sick. It's usually not too bad, just a cold or reoccurring strep throat; really more of an inconvenience than a full-out "stay in bed for a week" kind of illness. Of course, this illness-proneness has followed me to Palestine, and while I've built up some semblance of an immunity to the common illnesses at home, coming here has exposed me to a whole new array of germs, none of which my body has any idea how to fight.

I feel like I've spent half my time here being sick. Whenever I encounter any new sickness... BAM... I get it. Luckily, none of them have been incapacitating. First, I had a week of sore throat/headache stuff. No big deal. Then, I had one long weekend of fever-vomiting awesomeness. Kind of miserable, but manageable. But now I've come down with THE WORLD'S WORST COLD, complete with loss-of-voice, why-can't-I-breathe issues (including the whole I-can't-sleep-for-more-than-an-hour-before-I-wake-up-because-I-can't-breathe thing), and sinus pain.

Now, a few minor illnesses would be fine for the strong, persistent, show-no-weakness kind of international volunteer who jumps out of bed in the morning and kicks injustice's butt all day. Unfortunately, this is not me. I am a TERRIBLE sick person. I whine. I complain. I throw myself a pity party. When I don't feel well, NO ONE feels well, because everyone has to listen to me be annoying.

The other down side is that between the lack of sleep and the feeling miserable, I'm a grouch. I'm short with people, and I can feel myself snapping over things that wouldn't usually bother me.

The phone rings in the office next door. My coworker answers it, and then walks out of her office and into mine. She sits down and continues to talk on the phone for ten minutes in Arabic.

Someone asks me to help finish a scholarship application he's been working on.

My sweet, kind office-mate tells me that I don't look so great and asks me if I'd like him to make me some tea.
*Each of my reactions have been slightly exaggerated for effect.  But only slightly.

Cognitively, I realize that I'm being irrational, and a total jerk. But I just don'ttttttttt feeeeeeeeeel welllllllllllllll.

It's times like these that are the hardest for me here. On days like today, I just want to be home, in my own bed, with my momma patiently listening to my whining and telling me that I'll feel better soon. It's funny that for me, sickness and homesickness seem to go hand-in-hand.

During our orientation, we spent a huge amount of time talking about homesickness; when to expect it and how to cope with it. Many of the SALTers that I have kept in touch with have shared that they feel very homesick. Honestly, I haven't been homesick at all over the last two months. Yes, there have been things that I miss about the States, but I have never not wanted to be here. There has never been a time when I've thought "wow, I really wish I could go home." I love Palestine. I adore the people, I enjoy my job, and the experiences that I'm having here are incredible. But today, none of that matters, because today, I am sick, and that overrules everything else.

I know that I'm exactly where I'm supposed to be, that this is where God has called me, but that knowledge does little to help make today any better. So what do I do? I could push through and ignore how I'm feeling. I could refuse to acknowledge that I'm having anything less than a perfect time. I could write about how wonderful things are and how happy I am. But I'm not going to do any of those things, because none of them would be genuine. And I am nothing if not way too brutally honest.

So instead, I'm going to publish this post about how miserable I am right now. I'm going to admit that while I love Palestine and I've been enjoying my time here, today I just wish I was home. I'm going to take a quick shower, put on sweatpants, make pancakes for dinner, and watch Harry Potter. I'm going to whine, and cry, and let myself be unhappy and lonely and homesick. I'm going to give myself one evening of total wallowing. But most importantly, I'm going to believe that tomorrow will be better. I'm going to be confident that while the last few days have been difficult, I am exactly where I am supposed to be, doing exactly what I'm supposed to be doing, and I wasn't brought here to be miserable. I will enjoy my pity party, take some Sudafed, and go to sleep. And the next time I post, it will be about some wonderful new adventure that I'm having here in Palestine.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Baptism Celebration: Palestine Style

One of the difficult things about living in a foreign country is knowing that I'm missing out on a lot of important things back home. Birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, school plays, weddings. I am not able to leave the Middle East until my term of service is complete - July 2012 - and so I'm not able to go home to be a part of these important events. The bright side is that I get to experience many of these events in Palestine, giving me a whole new appreciation for the differences between my home culture and the culture that I'm living in.

Yesterday, my youngest host-sister was baptized. Layal (which sounds like "lay" + "áh" + "l") is two years old, and definitely a handful. She's your typical wild, rambunctious little girl who loves to steal, put on, and hide mommy's makeup; go buy bread from the bakery next door with her sisters; throw shoes across the room; and grab the back of her older brother's shirt and slide along behind him as he runs around the house.

So anyway, yesterday was her baptism, and I was really excited to see exactly how baptisms work in the Palestinian Lutheran church. The thirty second version is: we went to church; Layal wore a puffy white dress; her Godparents held her through the whole service, and then brought her up at the end; the pastor did the whole "pour water on your head three times" thing; the end!

But of course, in typical Palestinian fashion, that was nowhere near the end of the celebration. After the service, we had about 20 minutes of picture-taking time. Layal and siblings. Layal and parents. Layal and extended family. Layal and strange visiting German. It was slightly tedious, especially for a squirming 2 year old who just wanted to go play in the dirt.

After the pictures, we went and had cake in the church's reception hall along with everyone who had been in the service. Now, considering that we had four groups visiting the church yesterday (two from the US, one from Germany, and one from Sweden), there were A TON OF PEOPLE! I felt a little bad for the visitors who hadn't learned the whole "keep food in your hands at all times or else you will be given more food" rule. Basically, they would eat their entire slice of cake, and within 30 seconds, someone would run up to them and offer them another piece, which would always be refused, but shoved into the guest's hand anyway. Then, the cycle of eating an entire slice and being force fed would repeat. I, being the experienced world traveler that I am, ate 3/4 of my slice of cake, and kept the remaining 1/4 in my hand. That way, when someone tried to give me cake, I could say that I already had some, and show them the piece in my hand.

People are always quick to learn about the poverty in other countries (so they think "we should eat everything given to us so that we aren't 'wasteful' "), but we rarely learn about the culture (which dictates that our guest should never leave hungry). Having an empty bowl, plate, cup, or hand is a signal that says "I ate or drank everything and so I must still have room in my stomach." You signal that you are full by leaving a bit of food or drink; this says "I am so full that I cannot even finish what I have!" While it may seem wasteful to a Westerner, it's actually quite the opposite. Leaving a little food on your plate means that you won't get an entire other serving, which you would either leave on your plate (wasteful), or eat and feel sick (also wasteful). So basically, this social cue actually helps avoid food waste. Smart, right?

After our cake time, the family went back to our house and had lunch. Now, in the States, when I say "the family went back to our house," I'm usually referring to my immediate family, because all of my other relatives live in different parts of the country. Here, when I say "the family went back to our house," I mean every single family member in the history of the universe. We had grandparents and siblings, aunts and uncles,  nieces and nephews, cousins, second cousins, and any other relation you can imagine. "The family" consisted of over 60 people, which considering the size of our house, was a bit of a challenge.

After about thirty seconds, I was exhausted, and it was difficult for me to stay downstairs and socialize for as long as I did. While my Arabic is improving (ever so slowly), it is still exhausting to try and follow conversations when I have very few clues as to what is going on. Luckily, my host mother's parents live in the US (Brooklyn, actually), and so my host-grandma and I chatted about the differences between life in Palestine and the US, namely about how everything, especially clothing, is so much cheaper in the States.
"Its the sales!" confides my host-grandma knowingly, "All that seasonal wear, it must to go, so they sell for next to nothing."
"Absolutely," I agree, "you may not be on the cutting edge of fashion when next October roles around, but who cares if you can save 60% on your heavy winter coat?!"
My host-gma explains, "In America, maybe problem to not have fashion coat. Here, no matter. Looking pulled together matters, not exactly what you wearing. We don't have ...what it means... name brands? Most of Western fashions is not appropriate for wear here anyway, so we don't follow closely. I go shopping at many sales, and when I visit Palestine, I bring years number of clothes to my daughters."
We laugh and joke and commiserate over how much we miss Target and Kraft Mac & Cheese. Unfortunately, the host-grandparents are only here for "a short visit." They arrived in July and they will head back to the US in early November.

Around 3pm, after about two hours of lunch, I went upstairs to my apartment to take a nap. The party was still raging downstairs, but I was nodding off. I figured I would be back down in an hour, and no one would even notice that I was gone. I woke up at 8pm, 5 hours later, and by that time everyone had gone home. I guess I was more tired than I thought.

I am always surprised at what huge celebrations we have over every event, and how many people always seem to be in attendance. The size of the families, and how close they are, always amazes me. I don't know my mom's brother's wife's siblings... in fact, I don't even know if she has any. I would never invite them to a party that I threw, and even if I did, they definitely wouldn't come!  I love the familial support system here, and even though I'm only a host-child and not a blood relative, I love that everyone treats me as part of the family. I can't wait for more celebrations with this wonderful group of people, and I'll be sure to tell you all about our awesome parties!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

How to Love Your Neighbor

Graffiti on the Israeli separation wall dividing Bethlehem.
Sometimes as I walk down the streets of Bethlehem, it hits me that I'm living in a war zone. Not an officially sanctioned war, with two armies and clear cut boundaries and distinctions between civilian and soldier, but a war nonetheless. In Palestine, there seems to be a war raging between hope and despair, and it's not hard to see why.

The over 60% unemployment rate in Bethlehem means that two out of three people cannot find work. It means that there are families who are suffering, children who are hungry, men and women who are struggling to keep their electricity on or to pay their medical bills.

When I first moved into my new home, I discovered that my town had been without water for ten days. Families were using the last of their stores, and the situation was becoming desperate. People were unable to wash their clothes, bathe, or clean their homes. You can buy bottles of water but that gets expensive very quickly, and those bottles can only go so far.

In our little town of Bethlehem, there is a constant military presence, which only heightens people's fear and paranoia; there always seems to be this sense of impending doom. I walk by clusters of 18 year olds with uniforms and machine guns, and my heart breaks for these children who are learning the most efficient ways to kill their neighbors instead of learning about math and music and art. How far have we fallen if we're teaching bombing instead of blessing?

After reading the above paragraphs, it would be easy to understand if people here had completely given up, if everyone just wallowed in misery and wasted away, but that is not at all what I've found. In fact, the overall attitude I've seen here has completely shocked me, because the overwhelming attitude here is one of hope.

The resilience and faith and hope of these people is humbling. The Christian community that I am connected with is inspiring. People seem to wake up every morning full of peace, confident that God will provide for them. He provided yesterday, and He will provide today. Every morning before the work day begins, we worship together, we pray for those who are struggling, and we ask God to use us to bless each other. And He gives us plenty of opportunities.

We watch children so that their parents can go to the doctor. We give each other rides when cars break down or when people simply don't have enough money for the taxi fare that day. We do laundry for those who have run out of water. We make sure that everyone is fed, without injuring their pride, by inviting those who are struggling over for a big dinner (where we insist that they take the leftovers home because we simply have no room in our kitchen). We go without the extras so that we can chip in to help friends with seemingly insurmountable bills. We rejoice over births and first days of school. We hug and kiss our children, and our friends' children, and strangers' children, because each child is a gift directly from God. We visit those who are sick, and when someone dies, we surround their family with love and support. We celebrate together, and we mourn together.

And I use the term "we" very loosely. I mostly watch in awe of the way that my neighbors take care of each other, and of how they freely give of their time and resources to help those in need. These people are essentially being Christ to one another. It seems to me that instead of breaking them, the injustice and tragedy that they have each experienced has strengthened their faith and their love for each other. No one has much to spare, but what little they do have is used to help everyone else stay afloat. I have to believe that just as Jesus praised the widow who gave all she had in Luke 21, he is praising these people who sometimes give all they have to help their neighbor. I have no doubt that God takes these seemingly tiny offerings and transforms them into something amazing.

As a Westerner, I feel so incredibly honored to be living and working alongside Palestinian Christians who are truly living out what it means to follow Jesus. I have so much to learn about community, loving my neighbor as myself, faith, endurance, and life in general, and I can't imagine better teachers than the ones that I have here in the West Bank. 

Note: A slightly more politically correct version of my post is crossposted here on the MCC Palestine blog. If you'd like more info about what MCC Palestine does and who they work with, their blog is a great place to start!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

"A Call From Gaza to the People of Conscience Worldwide"

Disclaimer: This is a letter from a variety of organizations written to inform and alert people about the situation in Gaza. It is much more strongly worded in its political sentiments than I would ever be. While all of the information is true, I feel that by using such strong language, you often end up isolating and offending people instead of encouraging them to learn about the situation and form an educated opinion of their own. I wanted to share it with you because I feel that it is important to stay apprised of the Gaza situation whenever possible (since it is so difficult to get information in or out), but know that these strong sentiments do not necessarily mirror my own.

September 30, 2011
Besieged Gaza, Occupied Palestine

We the Palestinians of the Besieged Gaza Strip, are calling on the world: enough inaction, enough discussion, enough waiting – the illegal closure on the Gaza Strip must end.  While attention is focused on the Palestinian bid for statehood in the UN do not forget that the blockade and the suffering continue in Gaza.
Shortly after 2006 democratic election which was supervised by people and bodies from the international community, nations formerly supporting aid and cultural organizations in Gaza withdrew their support.  In mid-2007, our borders, controlled by Israel and Egypt, fully closed, locking Palestinians within and preventing imports and exports from crossing our borders.
From December 27 2008 to January 18 2009, Israel waged an all-out slaughter on Gaza, killing over 1,400 Palestinians, the vast majority innocent civilians and among them nearly 400 children, and destroying thousands of homes, businesses, factories and buildings including universities, schools, hospitals and medical care facilities, and damaging vast tracts of our water and sanitation system.
Almost three years following after Israel's attacks, almost no homes and few buildings have been rebuilt, our sanitation and sewage system is more dire than ever, raw waste continues to be pumped into our sea – for want of proper treatment facilities – polluting our water and the fish along the coast which fishermen are forced to harvest because the Israeli navy shoots at them if they try to fish more than three miles from the Gaza coast—contaminating our drinking water and food supply. 
Our farmers continue to be shot at, maimed and killed by Israeli soldiers along our border, prevented from working, growing and harvesting their land, denying us a rich supply of produce and vitamins.  Nutrient deficiencies and malnutrition continue to rise, affecting our children's growth and their ability to study.  Our economy is shut down by lack of functioning factories and electricity.  Our students hold little to no prospects of exiting for study abroad, even when placements and scholarships have been secured, due to the Israeli control of the Erez crossing and the Egyptian-controlled Rafah crossing being closed more often than opened. Our sick suffer for want of necessary medications and medical supplies and equipment.
Since 2005, over 170 Palestinian organizations have called for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions to pressure Israel to comply with international law. Since 2003, Palestinians have weekly met in villages in the occupied West Bank and occupied East Jerusalem, to protest Israel’s occupation policies. 
Creative civilian efforts such as the Free Gaza boats that broke through the blockade five times, the Gaza Freedom March, the Gaza Freedom Flotilla, and the many land convoys must never stop their siege-breaking efforts, highlighting the inhumanity of keeping 1.5 million Gazans in an open-air prison.
On the 2nd of December, 2010, 22 international organizations including Amnesty International, Oxfam, Save the Children, Christian Aid, and Medical Aid for Palestinians produced the report ‘Dashed Hopes, Continuation of the Gaza Blockade’ calling for international action to force Israel to unconditionally lift the blockade, saying that despite the reported June 2010 “easing” of the closure, the Palestinians of Gaza continue to live in the same devastating conditions.  Human Rights Watch published a comprehensive report "Separate and Unequal" that denounced Israeli policies as Apartheid, echoing similar sentiments by South African anti-apartheid activists.
We call on the citizens of the world oppose this deadly, medieval blockade. The failure of governments and world bodies to condemn such crimes is tantamount to complicity. Only civil society is able to mobilize to demand the application of international law and put an end to Israel’s impunity. The intervention of civil society was effective in the late 1980s against the apartheid regime of South Africa. Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu have not only described Israel’s oppressive and violent control of Palestinians as Apartheid, they have also joined this call for the world’s civil society to intervene again.
We call on the nations and citizens of the world to continue and/or reinitiate their plans to sail to Gaza to challenge and break the Israeli blockade. The civil society initiatives of the Freedom Flotillas are about taking a stance of justice and solidarity with besieged Palestinians when your governments will not. We call on the Flotilla movement to continue to sail until the blockade of Gaza is entirely lifted and Palestinians of Gaza are granted the basic human rights and freedom of movement citizens around the world enjoy.

University Teachers' Association
Palestinian Nongovernmental Organizations Network
Al-Aqsa University
Palestine Red Crescent Society in Gaza
General Union of Youth Entities
Arab Cultural Forum
General Union for Health Services Workers
General Union for Public Services Workers
General Union for Petrochemical and Gas Workers
General Union for Agricultural Workers
Union of Women’s Work Committees
Union of Synergies—Women Unit
Union of Palestinian Women Committees
Women’s Studies Society
Working Woman’s Society
Palestinian Students’ Campaign for the Academic Boycott of Israel
One Democratic State Group
Palestinian Youth against Apartheid
Association of Al-Quds Bank for Culture and Info
Palestine Sailing Federation
Palestinian Association for Fishing and Maritime
Palestinian Women Committees
Progressive Students Union
Medical Relief Society
The General Society for Rehabilitation
Afaq Jadeeda Cultural Centre for Women and Children
Deir Al-Balah Cultural Centre for Women and Children
Maghazi Cultural Centre for Children
Al-Sahel Centre for Women and Youth
Ghassan Kanfani Kindergartens
Rachel Corrie Centre, Rafah
Rafah Olympia City Sisters
Al Awda Centre,
Rafah Al Awda Hospital,
Jabaliya Camp Ajyal Association,
GazaGeneral Union of Palestinian Syndicates
Al Karmel Centre
Nuseirat Local Initiative
Beit Hanoun Union of Health Work Committees
Red Crescent Society Gaza Strip
Beit Lahiya Cultural Centre
Al Awda Centre, Rafah
Al-Quds Bank for Culture and Information Society
Women Section - Union of Palestinian Workers Syndicate
Middle East Childrens’  Alliance -Gaza
Local Initiative -Beit Hanoun

Sunday, October 9, 2011

How Does This UN Thing Even Work?

(Warning: this post is mostly filled with information that you will probably think is boring. Absolutely no fun stories or embarrassing escapades are present. Read at your own risk.)

So I'm sure that you have all been keeping up with the Palestinian bid to the UN... right? Right.

When talking about it with people who are unfamiliar with the process, the most common question I get is: "why does the US have the power to veto the whole bid?" Good question, and relatively simple answer. So if you are interested in the answer to this question, or even if you would just like a little unofficial United Nations history from someone who is nowhere near an expert, keep reading!

The United Nations was initially founded after WWII in an attempt to give nations a place to talk about their problems and work them out collectively, and therefore hopefully avoid war. It has five primary "organs" (creepy, right?): General Assembly, the Security Council, the Economic and Social Council, the Secretariat, and the International Court of Justice.

So Abbas (the "President" of Palestine) gave his speech a few weeks ago in front of the General Assembly (a group made up of one representative from each recognized country) that meets periodically in NYC.

NOW. There are currently 193 recognized countries (the newest, South Sudan, was officially recognized in July). In order for a country to be formally recognized, they need to go through an application process. Part of that process is being approved by the Security Council, which consists of a representative from 15 countries. Ten of these countries are elected, and each have 2 year terms. The other five of these countries are "permanent members" of the security council (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States).

Side Note: these five are the only countries technically allowed to have nuclear weapons according to the Non-Proliferation Treaty from 1970 (although we know that a few other countries have them too, including Israel).

Anyways, in order for anything to be approved by the Security Council, it needs to be approved by 9 of the 15 countries, BUT, each of these five permanent members have the power to singlehandedly Veto any resolution, including a request for recognized statehood. Another way to say it is that in order to pass a resolution, you need to have a "yes" vote from each of the permanent members, and from 4 of the 10 non-permanent members.

Another side note: since 1982, the U.S. has vetoed 32 Security Council resolutions that were critical of Israel. The US has vetoed 43 resolutions total, meaning that 75% of our vetos were to protect Israel. Comparatively, in the same time period, China has used their veto power a total of 6 times.

Currently, about 140 of the 193 countries support Palestine's bid to the UN (accounting for about 80% of the world population). It's generally the super developed nations (the Global North) versus the not as developed nations (the Global South).

Overall, its quite fascinating to see just how the UN works and what kinds of safeguards have been put in place to protect the powerful countries (some I agree with, and some I don't). Regardless of which side of the Palestine bid you are on, I would encourage each of you to do a little bit of research about the United Nations and find out a bit more about how this whole world governance process works. Who knows... you might be surprised with what you learn.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Things to Get Used to

So I know I said that my next post would include a tour of my beautiful home, but, well, I lied. Giving you a tour would mean that I would need to be fully unpacked, organized, and that things would need to look presentable, and I grossly underestimated how long that would take. Whoops! Instead, I will placate you with five of the things that are incredibly difficult for me to get used to:

1. No Wet Hair!
In the States, if you go out in public with wet hair, people will think you're lazy. Here, people will think you're a slut. Seriously. I'm not supposed to go out with wet hair because apparently, it is "sexy" and makes you seem "easy." SERIOUSLY! In college, at least during the warm months, I went out with wet hair EVERY DAY simply because I was just too lazy to blow dry it. This now means I need to get up early enough every morning to have time to dry my hair, and it means that my poor hair is taking a beating from all of the extra heat.

2. No Sweatpants in Public!
I have not seen a single man, woman, or child wearing sweatpants in public. Now, I don't know if there is some cultural norm that dictates this... or if it's just too hot to wear them right now. BUT I have decided to err on the side of caution and not wear them at all unless I'm sleeping. The way you present yourself (your dress, having your hair done, the shoes you wear, etc.) seems to be very important here, and so I am trying (wayyyyyyy) harder than usual to look presentable. I went the entire month of January last year basically only wearing sweat pants (ok, or yoga pants, but they're basically the same thing, right?). I would say that I just like to be comfortable, but I guess it also goes back to the whole lazy thing.

3. No American Top 40/Pop Culture!
I am absolutely oblivious to all the cool new music/movies/fashion trends! While it is definitely a little strange to be missing all of the new cultural jokes and quotes, it is also a bit freeing. Actually, a lot freeing. Maybe this isn't a difficult thing at all. Although I am a little worried that I'll go home and be completely stunted because I won't be able to pick up on any cultural references whatsoever! But I may be slightly over exaggerating.

4. No Target!
Here, everything seems to be sold in specialty stores. There doesnt seem to be any big "one stop shop," like Target, where I can buy anything my heart desires. So if I needed a cooking pot, a fan, olive oil, and Motrin, I would need to go to the housewares store, the electronics store, the grocery store, and the pharmacy. This wouldnt be a big deal if I had a car, but when you have to take a bus or a taxi everywhere, carrying around multiple bags in and out of multiple stores is a painnnnn. Speaking of that...

5. Relying on Public Transportation!
I have NEVER realized the level of my transportation related spoiledness until now. I have had a car for as long as I've had a driver's license, so I've never had to rely on public transportation or had to bum rides off people. And let me tell you, it is a HUGE transition. When I want to go somewhere, it needs to be planned well in advance. I need to be sure that the bus is still running, or that I am near somewhere that I can find a taxi, or that I can carpool with someone. It has definitely been a switch in my thinking, and sometimes a really frustrating one. It also means that I need to be more conscious of my purchases. If I want to go grocery shopping, I need to make sure not to buy more than I can carry. If I want to make a big purchase, I need to have a plan for how to get it home. No more impulse buys for this girl!

Despite all of these changes (some more major than others), I am finding that I have been adapting to Palestinian culture rather well (if I do say so myself). Some of it has been counterintuitive, but I find that the changes in thinking are easier each day. I haven't had a big bout of homesickness yet, but I know that it is coming, and I'm trying to prepare for it as best I can (by stocking up on Cinnamon Toast Crunch and Harry Potter movies). Anyways, I promise that in the near future, you'll get that tour of my home. Better late than never, right?

I hope that each of you are safe and well. As always, don't hesitate to leave a comment or send me an email if you have any questions or if you just want to chat. Thank you so much to each person who has emailed me over the last week. Your words of encouragement are always the highlight of my day!

All my love to each of you!