Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Year in Review

The new year of 2009 will find us on the road again. Like in the last few new years we will be with one of our children and their families. The first dawn of 2008 found us with Rhoda and her family on a floating hotel on the Mekong River in Thailand. With the end of another dream vacation we returned to New York for another pleasant but cold week in NY and onward to Arrabeh in time to savor all the citrus fruits and the early spring flowers in our garden and to put in our regular several hours of daily gardening. Hatim continued his daily routine of rising before dawn to work on his memoirs. Except that now he had an excuse: he had signed up with a publisher, Pluto Press of London, and we had added half a dozen chickens to the natural fauna of our garden and the jealous and handsome roaster crowed his head off, the perfect sound to wake up to at the break of dawn every morning.

To break the beautiful calm of spring with its joyous chores for Didi of picking fruits and collecting wild greens from our garden for our meals, planting flower beds and weeding and augmenting her herb garden (Hatim’s chores involve the macho tasks of tending the fruit trees, mending the fence, trimming hedges and rearranging his rock garden) we took off for a weekend visit to Petra with our village friends, Toufiq and Zainab. The archeological marvels carved by the Nabatean Arabs into the rock is matched only by the amazing geological phenomenon of the colorful sandstone formation to yield a gem of a tourist attraction worth flying over from any spot on earth to see. For us it was worth this second visit and would do it at the slightest prompting from any of you, were you to come for a visit. (A convoluted way of extending an invitation, but a sincere one nevertheless!)

On another occasion we broke off from our spring schedule for a four-day visit to Ramallah, our first in over five years, to attend an academic conference held at Inaash-el-Usra and headed by our brother Dr. Sharif Kanaana. He and Pat were so busy with the conference that we put off our visit to their home till the last day. Alas, their home was not accessible that day; Dick Cheney was visiting and the neighborhood was closed off even to its own residents. (Do we really look like terrorists?) Later in the year, in early November, we returned to Ramallah for a book launch (Hatim’s book of memoirs) organized by our friend, Kathy Bergen, at the Friends Meeting House and with the participation of three friends as reviewers, Dr. Mustafa Barghuthi, Dr. Khalil Nakhleh and Dr. Tony Laurance of WHO.

By mid-July we were off again, this time to Hawaii with the feeble excuse of having received an invitation for a traditional Luau on the occasion of the high-school graduation of Corey, the youngest daughter of Kathy Lau, Didi’s close cousin and the flower girl at our wedding who, at the last minute, balked at carrying out her duty. By now she had turned into a most gracious Hawaiian hostess. Both of our children had joined us for the occasion with their families and we had a whale of a time on the beaches both on Oahu and later on Kauai where another pair of cousins, David and Laura Chang, extended their Hawaiian hospitality and Aloha to us.

A second celebratory occasion materialized rapidly with the arrival of Hatim’s book of memoirs, A Doctor in Galilee, with a lecture at the Church of the Crossroads and a reading at Revolution Books with the surprise attendance of so many kamaaina friends and family members. The biggest gain from the occasion was the bonus of making the acquaintance of the energetic local chapter of Friends of Sabeel, Their good efforts boomeranged all the way back to Nazareth where a workshop on ‘A Doctor in Galilee’ was held at the Seventh International Sabeel Conference in Mid November.

By mid-August we headed home to Arrabeh, our village in Galilee, again with a short stopover in NY. Rhoda and our two granddaughters, Malaika and Laiali, followed quickly on our heels for a furious two weeks of visiting, playing and quarrelling with countless cousins, and for pigging out on loads of summer fruits from the garden, the most appreciated among which were the passion fruits for Malaika and the apples for Laiali. Each had to fend for herself and pick her own supply in addition to the standard chores of dishing out wheat and water for the chickens and searching for their eggs. The two cats, Wardi and Kenda, took the backseat this year.

On the Kanaaneh clan front there were innumerable graduations and weddings to attend, compulsory among which were the weddings of two grandnieces. Shireen’s party was especially memorable: The groom is from Jerusalem and the Party was held at the Jericho Intercontinental, a midway locale. We rented a bus to attend and had to beg, explain and negotiate our way back to Israel through multiple checkpoints at the wee hours of the morning.

And there was a week spent snorkeling off of Sharm-el-Sheikh in the company of our nephew, another Dr. Hatim Kanaaneh, and his German wife. It was pure relaxing and savoring of red sea fish.

No less a jovial occasion was hosting our Chinese friends, Michael and Limei and their two children for a week. We felt rejuvenated in the company of the young family as we attempted to cover the widest possible range of sites in the Holy Land and still introduce them to our village culture. As the sports that they actually are, the couple and their two children succumbed to full participation in the traditional celebration of the Eid at the end of the fasting month of Ramadan with our extended family.

Not long after their departure, and having accomplished the autumn feat of preparing and storing our annual supply of carob molasses, pomegranate concentrate, olive oil and cured olives, we were ready to venture back to the USA for a Thanksgiving get-together with our two children and their families. Rhoda and Seth hosted this year. As we sat to dinners the toasts were well-deserved: Earlier in the year Ty had made partner in his accounting firm, PWC, while Rhoda had just received a copy of her newly published second book entitled ‘Surrounded, Palestinian Soldiers in the Israeli Military’.

While in NY Hatim got a long delayed minor medical procedure out of the way and now we all are ready to take off to Morocco for the holidays.

Have a joyous holiday season and a happy, peaceful and prosperous 2009.

Putting Shoeing in Perspective

Muntazer al-Zaidi is the second man in the history of Baghdad who is immortalized and at the same time ruined for life by his shoe.

Before Muntazer there was abu-el-Kasim al-Tanbouri. Very few Arabs have not heard of this merchant who lived in Baghdad during its golden days as the capital of the Abbasid caliph Haroun el-Rasheed who was reputed to address passing clouds “Regardless of how far you travel I will reap the benefit from your moisture!” or something to that effect, another way of saying the sun never sat on his empire. Abu-el-Kasim was a successful trader who dabbled among other things in perfumes and its fancy glass containers. However he had one weakness, his pair of boots. He simply didn’t have the heart to part with them and kept repairing them, adding another piece of hard leather every time he detected a weakness till the boots became humongous, so much so that they became the standard of reference for size and weight, people often saying “This is bigger or heavier than abu-el-Kasim el-Tanbouri’s boots.” No one would miss them when they saw them.

Then the day came when abu-el-Kasim decided to part with his boots and that is when his problems began. When he simply left it on the street the first one to pass by recognized it and threw it through the window and it crashed into abu-el-Kasim’s stash of perfume and fancy glassware. He tried every possible way but every time he would wind up in court with a heavy fine and a jail sentence. When he tried to float it in the sewage system it caused a major blockage. When he put it up on his roof a dog dragged it to the edge and it fell on a passing pregnant women causing her to abort. Even when he tried to dig and bury it in the ground he was taken to court and fined for suspicious activity. Finally he had to submit a court request for a formal divorce from his boots. But he never regained his wealth or position in society.

It is of course unlikely that Muntazer al-Zaidi will ever find a decent job again as a reporter, though he has gained instantaneous world fame as a result of his throwing his shoe at George W. Bush. I must admit that, like millions the world over, I find his act well deserved and highly appropriate. But also, in Middle Eastern culture it has flare and finesse as a way of expressing one’s mind. The world over, it is hardly a complement to have a shoe thrown at you. But especially in the orient, and more particularly in the Middle East, a shoe is a lowly and filthy thing, the reason why one has to take his shoes off when entering a mosque or a Hindu or Buddhist temple. Throwing a shoe at your enemy is a way of expressing extreme disagreement together with a sense of loathing of the person attacked who has sunk to such low level as to act or think the way he or she does. Such act is an expression of your contempt and disgust towards him or her rather than an intent to harm physically.Has Muntazer al-Zaidi intended to harm George W Bush he would have opted for abu-el-Kasim al-Tanbouri's bulky heavy boots. It probably still sits in one of Baghdad's vandalized museums; no one would have stolen it when the American troops were too busy guarding the Iraqi oilfields to bother with protecting Iraq's heritage and museums.

It has been suggested that, given the extent of Iraqi revulsion against America’s ravaging of their country and the expected permanent presence of Americans in the country, Iraqis should arm themselves with an extra pair of shoes at all times. There is a certain precedence for that: Palestinian readers will likely recognize a town of theirs where men are rumored to go around with a a spare fez in hand. But that is another story.

Especially in the city in the Middle East, her shoe is a lady’s best weapon. A lady in a public place, say in a park or on a crowded bus, who feels that someone has infringed upon her honor in act or speech may suddenly take her shoe and strike the guilty male with it on the head, simultaneously letting out a barrage of derogatory terms. A man caught in such an attack has recourse only to flight. No one dares but defend a lady who is in such distress that she reverts to the ultimate feminine weapon. After all, no self-respecting woman uses her shoe in this manner unless in extreme distress. The circuitous logic is not unlike that applied by the Israeli armed forces in the Palestinian Occupied Territories identifying a terrorist as anyone killed by Israelis, the same logic adopted by American forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, and with the advent of globalization, by the whole enlightened world. Except that in this well-established custom a young lady wielding a shoe stands to loose considerably in as much as she will be always marked as one who is likely to use her shoe. And who would ever want to put himself at the receiving end of such an attack every time there was a marital argument.

I do remember once being at the receiving end of such a negative expression of opinion though it was far from being in a dishonorable context. It actually was regarding a good decision I made as you will surely surmise at the end of this piece. I had finished high school and started working temporarily as a teacher in a neighboring village, an enviable position for a young villager to be in. It brought a steady cash income and was considered to be a cushy job by our standards then, teaching being about the only job available for an ‘educated’ Arab. Of course, there was the needed approval by the Shin Bet, The Israeli secret police, before the final confirmation of a permanent job. But I was anything but a rubble rouser and if need be my relative, the mukhtar, could vouch for my docile if not collaborative nature. But a letter arrived from Yankton College in South Dakota informing me that I had been accepted to study for my premed degree with a small scholarship.

That is when I had to inform my father and when, for the first time in his life, he threw his shoe at me. His rationale for his contemptuous dismissal of my plan was very well based. He had to sell land to pay for my plane ticket, a deed worse than suicide to a subsistence Palestinian farmer. I argued that though he was still the rightful owner of all our lands, what I was asking him to do is to sell my future share of that land. That is when he threw his shoe at me. I was at the verge of doing what a proud young adult is expected to do in such circumstances: throw a big fit or clear the scene and seek an independent life somewhere else. But a thought suddenly came to me: For one thing I had ducked the projectile and it did me no harm. For another, no one witnessed the insult except my three sisters who all had spoken to me about how difficult it would be for my father to contemplate the sale of the last piece of land he owned in the fertile Battouf Valley, having already had to sell the rest piecemeal to put three of us boys through high school. Also the thought of me leaving him in such feeble health was tantamount to bidding him my last goodbye and may have made it so much harder for him to agree to my plan. I suddenly chose a different strategy, to accept the insult. I picked up the shoe and placed it back at a respectful distance from him. He threw it again at me and I did the same again and again till finally a smile broke across his face and he said: “You win, you imbecile. Go ahead, do whatever you want. May Allah guide your steps!”