Ramallah: so much to tell you….
So much has happened in the 3 days since we left Amman for Ramallah, that we’ve barely had time to sleep, so apologies for the delay in posts!
We pile on a large bus with the dancers from Tunisia, Algeria and Croatia on Saturday morning. Nisreen Naffa’ is our fearless leader (a volunteer with the Ramallah Contemporary Dance Festival and Program Officer for the Qattan Foundation). Nisreen escorts us across the border between Jordan and Palestine. There are many stages to this journey, including our bus driver getting lost in Amman; Jordanian passport control; crossing the River Jordan; Israeli passport control (Israel governs this border between the Occupied Palestinian Territories and Jordan) and more. Although we have just met our traveling companions, we are already dismayed when they are treated entirely differently than the Croatians and ourselves at the border. You see, our friends from Arab countries (Tunisia and Algeria) are requesting not to have their passports stamped with an Israeli visa – if this happens, they will not be allowed to return home! The Americans and Croatians also make this request – we too ask to have our stamp on the separate piece of paper so that we have the option to travel to other Arab countries, such as Lebanon, Syria, Tunisia, Algeria, and others.
The Tunisian and Algerian dancers are delayed by 2.5 hours, and we hear much yelling on that side of the room…. Nisreen handles it all with aplomb, knowing that as a Palestinian she is in a precarious situation, and must hold firm to what has been arranged with Israeli officials while cooperating with the extremely young border control employees she now encounters.
We make it! After more than 8 hours in transit, for a journey that might only take 3 hours as the crow flies…we arrive at our hotel in Ramallah. We quickly drop our bags, I go change some dollars into NIS (new israeli shekels) and we all go over to the Al-Kasabah Theatre for tonight’s performance of Zweiland by Sasha Waltz’ Company. The show is amazing, the theatre is beautiful, the audience is packed and they leap to their feet for a standing ovation. Later on we eat a late dinner with the Sasha Walz dancers and learn that the evening reception has been cancelled due to a car accident involving a family member of our host organization.
By morning we learn that this accident has resulted in the death of Maitha Khoury, the daughter of the Chairman of the Board of our host organization, Sareyyet Ramallah. Tragically, this lovely 14 year old girl was heading home from a basketball game when her car flipped over. We also learn that our hotelier, Munther Qare, was driving behind Maitha’s car. When Munther jumped out to help the crash victims, he discovers that his daughter Nadine was also in this car, riding with Maitha, as they are best friends. Ambulances are few and far between in Ramallah, and there are no Jaws of Life, so Munther and other bystanders lift the car with their bare hands and transport the young girls to the hospital.
So this morning is the dawn of a miracle for Munther, and a tragic loss for the Sareyyet community. Sareyyet is an 80 year old community organization dedicated especially to youth development; not only do they sponsor the Ramallah Contemporary Dance Festival, but also many sports, recreation and community programs for people of all ages. This loss is felt by the community at large, and so the day is set aside for funeral preparations. Our show tonight is cancelled.
We take this unplanned day off to walk our new city, and to attend Maitha’s funeral at the Greek Orthodox Church near the Old City. We walk in the funeral procession, quietly joining the hundreds of young people, women and men who gather to honor Maitha and her family. Intense is not a strong enough word to describe what it is like to attend a funeral in Ramallah. Somehow knowing that so many young lives are cut short here, that so many youth shed tears and march solemnly for their peers, resonates in this moment. It makes me realize how powerful media images are – do we even imagine that people in Ramallah deal with everyday tragedies alongside those that come with living under occupation?
We find out later that night that Maitha’s father, Sareyyet’s Chairman, has decided not to cancel the dance festival, even though tradition would dictate 3 days with no official events at Sareyyet. We learn that the presence of all the dancers and international guests at the funeral have brought him comfort; that he knows that this day – like every other – is not in their hands; that they are accustomed to working under such unexpected difficulty; the shows must go on.
We are rescheduled to perform 4 days later. Of course, we rearrange our plans for the week, and head off to Bethlehem for the day….