Friday, September 17 is Park[ing] Day, and we’ll be dancing and hanging out in our ‘park’ on the southeastern corner of Addison and Shattuck Avenue in Berkeley that day. Park[ing] Day is a world-wide public art event created by Rebar, an SF design group that helps people to rethink public space. As registered participants, we’ll be building a park in some parking spaces (with ‘rent’ paid in full, of course) on Friday, Sept. 17 while others do the same all over the planet. Come visit Nina Haft & Company with Berkeley High School Dancers at 10:15 and 11:15am. At 12:15pm, NH&Co. premieres excerpts from our upcoming home season. FREE and open to the public. Co-sponsored by the City of Berkeley Department of Public Works, City of Berkeley Civic Arts Commission, and Berkeley High School’s AHA Program.
from Rebecca (Johnson), May 11, 2010 – We met at Nina’s house on Sunday around 4pm. We shared pictures and videos from the tour. With 8 people, we had over 2,500 photos and at least 5 hours of videos from our flip cameras. But there were many moments that I chose, and we chose, not to have our cameras. Moments captured with just our eyes, ears, bodies and minds. No technology involved. In thinking about this incredible trip, there were moments that just begged not to have camera to capture, but just a person to capture what happened and to make meaning. The act of blogging has seemed overwhelming since my return, but I realized that maybe putting some of my own “mental camera” into words would be a place to begin – a list, not poetic, but simply moments in time:
- My first view of the wall in Ramallah from the bus seeing the Banksy balloon girl
- Up close with machine gun armed man at the Allenby crossing from Jordan into Israel
- Nachos in Ramallah with Eyhab at the Tropicana hotel
- View of the Adios bar from the stool with hours of conversation, understanding, connection
- Shawarma in Amman before the Citadel
- My feelings on the roof of the building at Aida refugee camp as Areej explained the stories of people there and the place: life-changing moment
- The Rocky Hotel on the morning of Sunday, April 25th
- Funeral procession through the streets of Ramallah on Sunday, April 25th
- The hotel gym/spa in Amman where Lisa and I met two women from Iraq in the jacuzzi
- Arriving at Bet Anisa in the cab in Ramallah on the night we performed at the festival – much later that evening – and finding my crew there for celebration
- Rocky Hotel lobby…cards and speaking French with Compagnie Vent de Sable
- Inventing Ruby Red Alert with Frances just after the fireworks in Amman
- Loving spending time with my roomie Lisa Bush throughout the entire trip in every moment – dream come true
- Looking for al kamandjati in Ramallah with Nina, Nancy, Frank & Lisa
- Talking with Lina at the Norwegian Ambassador’s residence in Amman
- Dancing on the program in Amman and again in Ramallah with our Norwegian superhero friends
- Turkish bath in Petra, talking with Becky about her next life adventures on the warm stone table at the Turkish Bath in Petra
- Being on this trip with Nina Haft: my mentor, the love of my life, my inspiration, my friend, the artist I admire with all my heart who, without, my life would not be as it is today
- 5th floor patio at the Rocky Hotel in Ramallah on Rabi’s birthday night and into the next morning; singing I will never forget, meeting Marion, talking with Nisreen
- Dancing everywhere we danced: an honor, a privilege, a coming of age for my 37-year-old self, a delight, a lesson, a heartbreak, a life-changing experience
- Coming home to those who I love, to Jacob, to Oakland, a wedding, my family, Jacob’s (and now my) family, my dance family and all that has made and makes life here amazing and a gift
There is no way to sum this up. My heart is in Ramallah and my mind is full of the people I met all over the Middle East – from this region – and from so many other places. Grateful is only a single word that can begin to sum up my feelings now and I hope to find many more words and expressions that can inform life here, so that I may share the grace, generosity and learning that came from this experience. xo, rebecca
Post by: Frances Sedayao – For the children of Aida and Ibdaa, and all children of the world, young and old
thoughts of desert lands
and salty seas linger
my heart belongs to you
to the mothers and fathers
women and men i belong to you
to the old and young
you, removed and imprisoned
beautiful dark angel of the land
in your hands i belong
to you who only know strife
to the olive trees relinquished from
the land, to you i belong
to the cause of people who long for home
in your homes i belong
for your songs in the wind
your hand prints on the lands
and your dances in the seas
run through my veins
and i am happily captured
to you who long for home
to your RETURN
for your RETURN
When the accident happened and the daughter of one of one of the men who sponsors the festival died, plans for performances and workshops were suspended, and the possibility that the festival may end with the previous night’s performance was looming in the air. A funeral was to happen before any decisions were to be made about the continuation of the festival or a reshuffling of the order of show and technical rehearsals, with the lost day(s) in mind. Speculation abounded throughout the international community (Hungarians, Croatians, Algerians, Tunisians, Norwegians, Swiss, and us) who travelled to perform in the festival about whether or not any of us would still get to perform. The anticipation and honor to have the opportunity to perform on the same stage the very night after Sasha Waltz’s company were laid to rest, as our performance had already been temporarily cancelled if not permanently. What else would be trimmed from our trip itineraries in order to accommodate the shifting of schedules if our performances were rescheduled? Most of the companies who were to be featured in the program had come to Ramallah specifically to perform in this festival. Nina attributes it as the impetus for our entire 2010 tour. When she met the director of the festival in 2007, he told her that if she could raise the airfare to return with her company, they would host us while here. And true to this word, we were given accommodations, 3 meals a day, and transportation to and from the theater for rehearsals and performances. (I have never felt such support and validation as an artist before, especially not in my own country.) So, all of us had to live with the uncertainty of life in the middle east. We were told before leaving that that is how the people in the occupied territories live. Borders, homes and ephemeral peace change minute by minute, so locals develop a sense of fluidity instead of certainty about their lives, and to call them resilient is an understatement. So we waited. And we had an unexpected day off.
Before checking out our first Turkish bath of the trip, Mo and I wandered the streets of the old city Ramallah. We met a boy who wanted to be our friend. He introduced himself to us and asked what we were doing in town. Mo and I were hungry and tired and were having difficulty communicating with him, and honestly, we thought he kept telling us he was single and didn’t understand until later that he was trying to tell us that he was a singer. We weren’t really interested in being picked up on by a “single” 20 year old, so we said goodbye. Not 10 minutes later we ran into him again, this time he was with a boy that i recognized from the audience of the Sasha Waltz concert the previous night. We said hello again, and the boy who was at the show introduced himself as Khaled, and we began speaking and he told us that he danced for the local company Sareyyat. Instantly, there was so much more to speak about with him (and his English was much easier to understand): the genius of Ms. Waltz, the pains that the organizers of the festival had taken to bring us all together and support us while out in the middle east, what Mo’s and my experiences were like dancing with Nina Haft and Co.
Khaled and the Ramallah star came and sat down with us for lunch at a falafel shop. He helped us order, and discouraged us from buying bottled juice, because it was made in Israel (a scrutinization that i made many other times after that while in the occupied territories). Khaled will be leaving the middle east in August to attend a dance school in Brussels. For those of you who know, Brussels has been touted as one of the current hubs of contemporary dance centers in Europe, if not the world. Eventually, he wants to bring his skills back home and open a school in Ramallah. Until then, he lives the next few months in the village outside of Ramallah in which he’s always lived and travels hours each way in order to dance each day. He walks a couple of hours from his house to the bus stop, and then takes a bus to the big city. He does that both ways each day. He spoke about overcoming adversity with hard work. The other boy interjected about himself, adding happily that he will be competing on the West Bank version of American Idol. Mo also told me later that when they were alone, he told her that he was a star in Ramallah. We asked Khaled if he had heard him sing and he said in a very measured response, “Yes he’s a very talented singer, but he needs to work harder, be more serious about his work. He needs to dedicate his life to his art and live like a singer. He needs to focus more.” Soon we finished our lunch and said our goodbyes, hoping to see one another at the next performance, if the festival were to continue.
With fortuity on our part and dedication and good will on the part of the board and the father who had suffered a tragic loss, the festival schedule was negotiated, and the performances resumed in a different order. We performed on Thursday night, and sadly, many of the new friends we made had already left by then. Yet still, the audience was full, and there was a host of new artists arriving for their dates in the festival. And from within the threat of not being able to perform in Ramallah, the urge to complete this part of our mission grew much stronger in all of us. So we performed our piece at the end of our tour (instead of at the half way mark) informed by our trip to the Bethlehem refugee camps and our lessons learned about local culture and our newly formed friendships. We danced with a profound sense of gratitude for the opportunity and also with a new found personal understanding of the scaffolding with which Nina first imagined this piece: determination, oppression, hope, and reliance.
It is Monday morning, and despite yesterday’s tragedy, we are on schedule to visit Bethlehem and Ibdaa Cultural Center. Ziad Abbas of Middle East Children’s Alliance in Berkeley has kindly arranged for us to meet his friend Areej, who will give us a tour. Later Areej will take us over to Ibdaa Cultural Center in Dheisheh Refugee Camp, where I visited one afternoon in 2007. Also helping guide us is Shadi, a warm, fun and informative man who makes sure that all our questions are answered.
Areej is young, political, articulate and incredibly passionate about community organizing; getting the word out about life in this small part of the world. She has been persistent in getting a hold of me, no small feat as my cell phone has not been working reliably since I arrived on this trip! Areej grew up in Dheisheh Refugee Camp just outside of Bethlehem, living with her family of 9 people in two rooms that are approximately 100 square meters apiece. She and Ziad have arranged everything for us; taxis to get to the Nativity Church where Jesus Christ was born; lunch in a local shawerma joint; another ride to Ibdaa Cultural Center; and a warm send off back to Ramallah.
Nasr, our church tour guide takes us through the 3 chapels contained within the Church of the Nativity (Greek Orthodox, Armenian and Catholic). We see the place where Jesus was born, and the manger. How amazing that millions of people around the globe have had their lives changed by the events that took place here…
Areej accurately predicts that Nasr will avoid telling the story of the April 2002 Israeli siege of this very same church. Burns and bullet holes still riddle the inner walls of the cloisters. It is hard to imagine the many weeks of fear and gunfire that this now serene sanctuary once saw.
Next we tour Aida Refugee Camp, a crowded ‘slumlike’ area with about 5,000 residents. The words ‘refugee camp’ conjure up images of tents and mud for me, but this camp is full of grey concrete, and has existed for over 60 years. The residents print calendars that number every single day since leaving their homes. Palestinian camps are among the longest standing refugee camps in the world. Aida, Dheisheh and other Palestinian refugee camps are administered by the United Nations, and while the U.N. employes some of the local residents, it appears to me that they are regarded somewhat more as tenement landlords.
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….
Frances Sedayao’s blog:
It’s 3 a.m. I’m sitting in bed wondering why I am not able to sleep on this last night we are here in Amman. It could very well be the coffee I had after dinner. But wait. I chased that down with 2 glasses of wine, which, for those who know me, will knock me right out.
So I wonder. Could this be that I had fallen in love? Yes, I had fallen in love with…the lamb shawarma i had for lunch today, courtesy of Nina; the darling Jordanian kids who waved and smiled at Becky Chun as we ventured the Citadel of Amman today; the Theatre staff at the Cultural Center who tendered us with laughter, stories, and a brief comraderie which has already bridged future connections; the sound and art of the Arabic language of which about 5 words I know at present; the openness, beauty, and hospitality of ‘men’ in Jordan; the wealth of history and legacy that live in the rocks, the air, the land and its people, the women of Amman, mysterious and lovely behind their pashminas; the boy in the wheelchair, eyes-shut, mouth open, seemingly near death, the pure angel of Amman; the traffic patrol woman who stood in the midst of Amman’s superhighway at the height of rush hour traffic; that same woman who governed at least 3 lanes of traffic in 4 different directions in a city where men dominate the streets.
So I wonder. How soon, if ever, will I get over the heartbreak of unrequited love? Will the pure angel of Amman still be sitting in his wheelchair tomorrow? Does the woman on the highway wear her pashmina at home? Does she have a husband and kids to go home to and cook for? What are her dreams and does she love lamb shawarmas as much as I do? Will I return here?
When I fall in love, I dance. So I wonder, Amman shall we dance again?