Thursday, April 12, 2012

Debunking the Myth

Happy Easter, everyone! I know, I know, I'm a few days late. Unfortunately, I was pretty sick over Holy Week (the week leading up to Easter), so I didn't get to participate in the local events as much as I had wanted to. Easter is a huge deal here, for obvious reasons. Jerusalem is the setting of the crucifixion and resurrection story, and the entire city was bustling with excitement. Thousands of tourists and locals alike participated in all sorts of different activities to commemorate different Holy Week events. Many of my other ex-pat friends said that the Easter story felt so much more real to them after being here, and I agree. It is much easier to visualize things when you're here and seeing the sites first hand.

Orthodox Good Friday procession down Via Dolorosa.

It was fascinating for me to see all the tourists with their bright smiles and their incredible enthusiasm. They smiled and danced from one place to the next, and I was constantly overhearing people talk about how Jerusalem is "the holiest city in the world." And I also constantly heard people say how they "hope those Arabs just leave us alone over Easter" or how they hope that "Palestinians don't bomb Jerusalem and kill us all." Not realizing, of course, that East Jerusalem is an Arab city, or that there were Palestinians standing right next to them, or that there are plenty of Arab Christians who are celebrating the rising of the Savior, who died not just for you, but for them as well.

Yesterday marked the eight month mark for me, and I find that the longer I'm here, the heavier my heart grows. This occupation is weighing on me, and I am not even constrained the way that most residents are. I find myself feeling drastically different about Jerusalem than so many of the tourists that I saw. For them, it is this holy city with a bright light shining from it. For me, well, sometimes I can literally feel the dark cloud that is hovering over Jerusalem. The air is heavy, the pain is tangible, the oppression is smothering.

I feel like living here has opened my eyes to so many things, and I wonder if I've gone through life with the same naivety, with the same blinders on me as so many of the tourists I've seen over this past week. Do I think critically about things, or do I just follow the leader and buy into what I'm told? Do I wrestle with what I encounter, or do I take everything at face value?

I ran into this quote by Henry Rollins a few days ago, and it so accurately summarized how I'm feeling:
"I beg young people to travel. If you don’t have a passport, get one. Take a summer, get a backpack and go to Delhi, go to Saigon, go to Bangkok, go to Kenya. Have your mind blown. Eat interesting food. Dig some interesting people. Have an adventure. Be careful. Come back and you’re going to see your country differently, you’re going to see your president differently, no matter who it is. Music, culture, food, water. Your showers will become shorter. You’re going to get a sense of what globalization looks like... And that for some people, their day consists of walking 12 miles for four buckets of water. And so there are lessons that you can’t get out of a book that are waiting for you at the other end of that flight. A lot of people—Americans and Europeans—come back and go, ohhhhh. And the light bulb goes on."
I feel that for me, the light bulb has gone on. I read a bit more about Henry Rollins, and found this article written about him. While I don't agree with everything that was said, I did love this little excerpt:
The fact that [Henry Rollins has] generally had a good time and been treated well by the people in the Middle East has made Rollins question the way those countries are framed in Western media. That's convinced him that there's not as much to fear in the world as some would have us believe, and that the US could instead serve the far greater purpose of making things better for people around the world. 
It is for this kind of hard-won education that Rollins travels in the first place. 
"To take the myth away from something," he muses of his motivation for visiting places many view as difficult.
"There's not as much to fear in the world as some would have us believe." Those words hit home for me. I can't even remember how many times someone recoiled in fear when I told them my post-college plans, or how often people told me "don't get blown up" when they found out I was going to live in the Middle East. Living in Palestine has shed so much light on our shared humanity. People here are the same as people everywhere else in the world. People want food, water, and shelter. They want safety and stability for themselves and their families. There is no great mystery here. There are just people, who are pretty much the same as you and me.

As I look forward to the three months that I have left in Palestine, I hope to continue to de-bunk all the myths that I have about this part of the world. I hope to explore and adventure, and I hope to truly see Palestine through the eyes of those who call this place their home.

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