Rant/1 (Welcome to Palestine/2)

by Mark Chmiel

From an internet cafe
Somewhere on the outskirts of Ramallah
80 degrees and sunny outside

Dear Layla

So in your last email
(Which I’ve read four times as of this morning)
You wanted to know how it’s going
Okay

It’s been seven weeks since I left
(Feels like seven months)
It’s welcome to Palestine
Welcome to a rude awakening
Compliments of an U.S. Apache helicopter gunship

We belong here
(Wish you were here)
We ought to see this
We pay for it after all
But my composure every day gives way to desperation
Being here allows us to see
From another point of view
From the standpoint of the victims of Zionism
(And after all our conversations
On Gandhi and the Gita
I’m tempted like Edward Said
To fling a few stones…)

Welcome to Palestine
It’s good we’re visiting here
Because it’s shrinking every month
We wait too long
We won’t be able to see it or
Detect it
Step on it
Hunger in it
Eat olives in it
Break down in it
Marvel in it
Resist in it
Exult in it
Cry in it
—it will be too late

Henry assured me a warm welcome
(Most of the time)
From the natives
But he said
“Keep this in mind
They’ve only been receiving
Well-meaning, good-willed visitors
Like you (and me)
For the last fifty-something years”

So I try to understand that they’re a little tired
(Layla, my penchant for understatement
Has gotten out of control here)
Jaded
Cynical
About our declarations
Intentions
Aspirations
Dedication
Once we go back home

People have used different words for what is happening here
The Palestinians have named and will continue to name
The cataclysm they’ve been experiencing
We have to learn some of their words
We have to try to fathom their sighs
Feel what they mean when our eyes
Happen to gaze into their eyes
For more than 1 and a ½ seconds…
See if we can hold their eyes
For 10 seconds, 2 minutes, half hour

It’s impossible, you say
And you’re correct
But we must be students of the impossible
The impossible informs our curriculum
The curriculum of the impossible to believe
(“Can it really be that bad?” … “Yes”)
The curriculum of the impossible to envision
(“Can they really be that welcoming … to us?” …. “Yes”)

And in this crash course so far
I stumble, and sputter, and screw up
At least 8 ½ times a day
Our local coordinator
(My teacher) Murad
(Half my age)
Greets me each morning
With a half-smile
“Habibi, we have another day
Let’s not waste it”

No need to respond to this eruption
I know you’re in Gross Anatomy

Doc

mark rafah 020

 

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