Posts Tagged 'Lancaster'

Friday 5: Occupy PA

In August I wrote a list of five places I’d never been to in PA. I’m going to two of them today! I’m heading for State College in the morning and I’ll be in Erie by nighttime. Those places are both stops on the Occupy Pennsylvania Tour that I’m going on for Pennsylvania from Below. PA from Below is a grassroots media organization that I’ve been part of since around the time I moved to Palestine. We report on issues affecting poor and working people across the state. We’re going to the occupations as a way to hear people’s stories of economic plight and fight. Here are the areas we’ll be covering:

  1. State College (Students are occupying a building on Penn State’s campus
  2. Major cities (Pittsburgh and Philadelphia)
  3. Central PA (Harrisburg, York, Lancaster)
  4. Lehigh Valley (Easton, Bethlehem, Allentown)
  5. Northeast PA (Scranton) and Northwest PA (Erie)
PA from Below is an all volunteer effort. We receive no grants or payment for what we do. Our biggest expense is the gas to reach a statewide coverage area. If you think that poor and working people are underrepresented or misrepresented by commercial media, please consider supporting the telling of Pennsylvania’s untold stories by contributing $5 (or more!) to our work. Our goal is to raise $500 for this trip.

Occupy Allentown, 10/29/11

Occupy Easton, 10/29/11


Blowing bubbles
Blowing bubbles, Lancaster, PA; July 2011

I had a few visitors from out of town at the beginning of the month. Both occasions allowed me to relax, get offline, and appreciate the calm and reflection that stillness brings. I’ve found that blowing bubbles adds to the simple joy of such moments. But I’ve also been contemplating bubbles in a different way.

Over the last four months I’ve mostly been living in Lancaster, PA. This small, historical city of 55,000 people is only a few miles away from the college town and surrounding farms I grew up among, yet the atmosphere is pretty different. The center of the city is speckled with cafes and art galleries. Residents frequent the farmers market carrying re-usable shopping bags; bumper stickers advocating peace and justice can be seen on cars; and though it’s no San Francisco, it’s not unheard of to find openly gay people downtown. Those are some of the reasons many of my more liberal friends from high school now live downtown. If you aren’t familiar with the rest of Lancaster County, I’ll fill you in: all of those features make the city a bubble in a conservative Christian fortress.

Another beloved aspect of Lancaster city-life is First Friday, a night when the galleries stay open late, premiering new artwork. In warmer months, musicians play to the crowds passing along Gallery Row on Queen Street. Lines form out the door and down the block from Carmen & David’s Creamery. Last First Friday I met with some friends to talk, drink tea, and be outside. We also got to do plenty of people-watching. Surveying the numbers, I thought how remarkable it is to see that many people out on the town in Lancaster, enjoying each other’s company and running into friends without having put them on their Google calendar.

Despite its remarkableness, the crowds and the community atmosphere felt hollow to me. “How much greater would it be to see so many people out in Lancaster, united to face our problems and challenge the society we live in?” I thought to myself.

I’m not rejecting the premise of First Friday or bashing the things that people love about downtown Lancaster. I love art and creativity. I enjoy a good soy chai from time to time. I also think having spaces to meet, share ideas, and be comfortable being yourself is incredibly important. But how much impact does it have for those possibilities to be created in bubbles? And often with a touch or more of snobbery toward those who don’t join the bubble? It upholds the premise that, yes, individuals should do “whatever they can” (avoid excess plastic, shop locally, etc.), without taking the extra step toward widespread change.

Final Week for “Eyes on Resistance”

My photo exhibit at Gallery 141 highlighting the Palestinian nonviolent resistance movement will end its month-long run in Lancaster this week. I’m looking for other places to take it in the summer. I’ve also taken the role of photographer-in-residence at Gallery 141, meaning I’ll have another exhibit each month for five more months. April will consist of portraits from various places around the globe.


Ahmed; Al-Walaja, June 2010

Also, for anyone who has an iPad, check out this new photo magazine called View. One of my photos is included in the section on Palestine.

On to India

I’ve left Palestine to begin my fellowship with The Modern Story. I arrived two days ago.

One of my first observations when I took a look over Hyderabad from my small, enclosed balcony was “where are the hills?” One of my New Year’s resolutions this year was to evaluate things on their own merits, but when moving to a new city in a new culture every scent and smell is begging for comparison to previous places and experiences. After spending six months admiring the West Bank’s gently rolling hills, the landscape in my new city feels markedly different. I miss the two mountains between which Nablus is situated and the way the buildings twinkle on them at night, but when I look beyond the flatness of Hyderabad there’s a landscape and a people-scape that’s vibrant and pulsing. I’m sure I’ll come to love some of those details and miss them when another six months pass and I leave here, too.

An aspect of Hyderabad that is comfortingly familiar to me (amusingly, when you consider I grew up in suffocatingly Christian Lancaster) is the presence of Islam. Around 40 percent of Hyderabadis are Muslim, so I still hear the call to prayer from my bedroom window, though now it’s in Urdu rather than Arabic. The two young women who will assist Ilana and I in our classes at Railway Girls School are Muslim. Being able to say “Ramadan Mubarak!” when I met them yesterday made me feel much more culturally competent than most of my English conversations here so far. Hyderabad’s native languages are Telugu and Urdu, but most people know some English. The difference in accents, however, means that both I and the person I’m speaking to usually have to ask “what did you say?” several times before we understand each other. I miss Arabic!

Common Questions

My mother always says that one of the first questions people in my hometown ask you is where you go to church, an indication of Lancaster’s pervasive religiosity. Here in Nablus, I’ve noticed two common questions.

As a foreigner, people frequently ask me what I think of Nabulsis specifically or Palestinians broadly. This is not a question that would occur to me to ask visitors to my country. I guess this reflects the more community-focused mentality in contrast to the individualism I grew up with, just like the way people will sit to talk with you for hours without ever glancing at the clock. It could also reflect a more cohesive concept of Nabulsis and Palestinians, whereas I (and I think many U.S. Americans) would struggle to describe our citizenry as a whole. I’m always slightly thrown off by the “how do you find the people” question. Perhaps I should start following up with asking how the questioner find the people here!

The other important question ’round here is this: Barcelona or Real Madrid? These are two famous soccer teams that everyone follows. From my kitchen window I can see “Real Madrid” spray painted on a nearby wall. Sitting outside an ice cream and food shop drinking tea today, the owner’s 14-year-old son asked me and Mary our preference. We said Barcelona because our friends from the Kalimatna project favor that team. The shop owner and his son were disappointed with us. The two teams are playing in a match of  the Spanish Premiera Division and everywhere we walked in Qalqilya this afternoon, men were talking about the game. Tonight we’ll go to watch the first half of the game in a sports cafe. Like foreign Cinderellas though, we have to leave the ball (game) at midnight, in order to protect our–and more importantly our organization’s–reputation…


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