About this Blog

"Ordinary People" is something of an intentional misnomer. I live and work with Palestinians practicing nonviolent resistance to the Israeli occupation. They are doing things that are hardly "ordinary": committing themselves to active nonviolence and to loving their enemies -- following the commands of One who was anything but ordinary. And yet, the Palestinians with whom I work are also very ordinary -- they are not some kind of spiritual superheroes/superheroines who do things most folks can't do. They are simply ordinary people daily committing themselves to living a higher calling -- a calling of love and active nonviolence.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Tower of Babel, Revisited

Greetings from Hebron, the West Bank! The last month has been a whirlwind of activity. Between my last post and today, I have driven clear across the United States (from New York to Washington) and back, moved from one state to another, and moved again from the United States to Israel/Palestine. The road trip was amazing (I'll try to remember to post some pictures when I return to the US), I feel at home in two separate states (which is not anything new), and I am thrilled to be with Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) working in Hebron. I joined the team in Hebron this week, and I feel as though my learning curve is through the roof. There is so much to learn: language, culture, friends of CPT, the history of Hebron, the general layout of the city, CPT Hebron team life and work (CPT training prepared me for life on team, in general, but every team is different, given the unique cultural context of each), and so on. I am deeply enjoying my time here; right now I would not want to be anywhere else. I only wish I could somehow take all my beautiful friends and family, living far away, and move them *here*.

Dear friends and family: don't you feel called to work with CPT, particularly the Hebron team? :o)

I miss the wonderful people at home, but I love the people I am meeting and working with here in Hebron. My experience with some wonderful young women last night might give you an idea of the beautiful people here. I met them at a break fast party. Hebron is a predominently Muslim city, and almost all the Muslims here fast during the month of Ramadan. They neither eat nor drink during daylight hours, so after the sun sets, families and friends gather to break the day's fast together. A good friend of CPT decided to organize a huge break fast party -- perhaps roughly the equivalent of a neighborhod block party? Only this was bigger -- for folks in the Hebron community. She invited CPT join in the meal. We went, and I was very excited for an opportunity to talk to some of the women and children from the community.

Well, in my excitement, I had forgotten to calculate my minimal (actually, "non-existent" is a more accurate description) Arabic conversation skills. Yet a fellow teammate, who also does not speak Arabic, and I found ourselves in conversation with three wonderful young women.

I never cease to be amazed at how much conversation one can have with another person, when neither speaks more than a rudimentary level of the other's language. As far as I could tell, we each asked each other for names, and they asked us where we were from. This I was able to manage to answer, very haltingly and with a lot of thought, in Arabic. The next thing I know, the young women were asking me what I was doing in Hebron, what I thought of Israel, who were Christian Peacemaker Teams, and something about the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) -- to which my fellow teammate responded, "Um . . . Jesus?"

It was the Tower of Babel all over again.

One of the three young women was very intent in the conversation, and she was leaning far into our little circle gathering. I, too, was really excited, and I was leaning deeply into the circle. She was speaking Arabic, with a little English, and I was speaking English, with a little . . . well, English.

I still smile to think of our conversation. From our nonverbal communication, we both made it clear that we wanted desperately to communicate with each other. I think, buried in my subconscious, was this desperate belief that if we both wanted badly enough and tried hard enough to speak in our own languages, we would somehow be able to understand each other fully.

Then again, when I think about how much we did communicate to each other, I would say our efforts were not too shabby. I had a friend who would always say, "Care and compassion transcends every racial and cultural boundary."

Perhaps it applies, on a limited level, to language, as well. In any case, it seems the language of peace and love translates easily to any tongue.


Alicia said...

Way to make me laugh out loud and have too much fun while I'm supposed to be writing a paper for Jay McD. This is such a beautiful post! I like the image--trying to break down a different kind of tower of Babel. I love you!

Mrs. Micah said...

What Alicia said.

It was a beautiful picture, J, you and this young woman trying to communicate earnestly and with happy, good intentions. Thank you for sharing. :-)