Playground Planes

Last month I subbed for a couple weeks at a Head Start site in Middletown, which is about ten miles southeast of Harrisburg. Middletown is where the “Harrisburg” airport is located, so plane-spotting was common on the playground. The children would shout “airplane! airplane!” and most of them would look mesmerized or run in the same direction as the plane.

As I watched this my mind tracked back to another playground–a concrete play area outside Tomorrow’s Youth Organization in Nablus. This playground didn’t have a jungle gym or swingset but the space to run around was in itself a blessing for the kids I worked with. (For more on that, see my post about Balata refugee camp.) At that playground we occasionally saw aircraft in the skies, but it wasn’t a sunny day treat. It was the sight of an Israeli jet, and the noise of it ripping through the sound barrier in a space where Palestinians are not allowed to fly anything but kites. The kids in my class did not jump or point; they just an observed another element of military occupation.

The connection between these two playground experiences is not a simple contrast of how bad things are in an Other place and how fortunate we are not to be born there. Like the children of Nablus, the kids I work with at Head Start face more struggles than any 4-year-old (or 40-year-old) should. The point  is that after living in Palestine, the signifiers of every daily life are different.

This always happens when returning from another culture: you connect half or more of the things you think about to the place you just were. It’s easy to become the annoying person who talks about Germany or India or Russia too much. But when the connections are not just to another culture but to a level of human experience (living in a conflict zone) that most people around you can’t relate to, it’s hard to say anything.

Take-off 2

Nabulsi boys launching a homemade kite into the sky. April 2010.

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4 Responses to “Playground Planes”


  1. 1 paindecampagne May 26, 2012 at 5:42 pm

    I imagine so much that you are right –about being especially unable to relate hardships to someone else’s comparatively easy existence. How do you start? What do you do? How do we cultivate awareness — and I’m even speaking of myself here. Where do we start?

    • 2 RogueAnthropologist October 29, 2012 at 10:15 pm

      Hmm I just re-read this post and see that I didn’t respond to your comment, because it raises those good questions that I have to think about before replying and then I don’t get back to it. I think we should have this conversation in person because it could go on for a while, plus I’d be interested to have your immediate responses/interaction.

    • 4 RogueAnthropologist October 29, 2012 at 10:22 pm

      But that said, my simplest answer is to encourage people to ask questions. I think that will take us much further than preaching/lecturing to people about the woes of the world. Additionally, instilling the ability to ask questions can lead people to taking on these challenges on many topics–for instance, if I’m speaking to a high school class about Palestine, I’m gonna have an effect on more students if I can get them thinking about the topic in a way that can be applied to something that concerns them than if I just tell them the facts about a singular situation.


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