You can go home again, the General Temporal Theory asserts, so long as you understand that home is a place where you have never been.
Sunset in Nablus, Palestine
I’m reading The Dispossessed
, by Ursula K. LeGuin, as part of a Lancaster reading group. Though it’s science fiction, LeGuin’s writes like an ethnographer (and go figure, her parents were Theodora and Alfred Kroeber!). Her descriptions of the main character’s cultural adjustment to life on a different planet resonate with my own experiences. Thus I thought the above quotation an apt beginning to a post derived from my own cultural re-adjustment to life in the U.S.
In March, a month after returning from India, I visited some college friends for a weekend. We went to see a show at a small club called D.C. 9. I was struck by the number of flannel shirts in the room, as well as the fact that it was the largest group of young people I’d been around in a while. Today I came across a note I had jotted while there:
Being young and social…
This is what so many young people in Nablus talked about—being able to hang out somewhere, socialize and meet people. Some of the guys had it or created it—Abu Aiman’s and Lega Café, but young women definitely did not.
Some background is necessary. During my internship at Tomorrow’s Youth Organization I worked with two other interns from the U.S. and three Palestinian college students on a project about youth life in Nablus. The project was called the Kalimatna Initiative
. We interviewed young Nabulsis about a range of topics, and one point came up repeatedly: their desire for places to hang out with their friends. Some young women told us about the parties they arrange at each other’s houses, with a kind of potluck style, while our young guy friends proudly took us to their café hang-outs. One was a formal business and the other a converted room above someone’s dad’s shop—both are places to watch soccer matches and play pool.
The strength of friendship in those two places was palpable, but such small opportunities for socialization are carved out of youths blighted by the harsh Israeli incursions of the Second Intifada. From 2000 until the 2008 dismantling of Huwarra checkpoint, Nablus was one of the hardest cities to get in and out of in the West Bank. For example, between June and September 2002, the Israeli army imposed more than 70 days of full 24-hour curfews on Nablus residents. Such restrictions prevent people from working, going to school, obtaining food, and yes, socializing—which is after all, a basic element of being human.
When I asked my friend Hassan why he wanted to participate in our Kalimatna project at TYO, he replied, “I want Americans to know that—look, guys maybe 17, 18, 19, 20, in America, it can be the best years of their life. For me, these were the worst years of my life. I lost friends [killed by the Israeli army], my brothers in prison. All of this.”
To Hassan: I’m an American, and I know. I may be home again, but with such understandings at my core, I’m in a place I’ve never been before.