The Bonds of Smoking (Checkpoint/1 [Life under Occupation/2])

by Mark Chmiel

“I had my peaceful priorities
Healthy habits
I tried cultivating nerves of steel
Or so I thought

My Buddhist practice
Gives me techniques for dealing with stress
Like repeating one of the classic mantras or gathas
I had envisioned these would keep me stable
In those tough jams
In occupied Palestine

Looking at my teammates lighting up their cigarettes
(People who never smoked back home)
It seemed like their way of blending in with the locals
Like saying insha’allah 20 times a day
Or joining in when the family is watching the news
And making mild curses at Bush

But I resisted
It was just another toxin, right?
I had to keep my mind, breath, and body together

One day at the Huwarra checkpoint
A cloudless sky
95 degrees
After four hours of silently repeating a gatha
And having moved ten feet
An older man who was in front of me
Must have read my mind
He turned around
Extended a cigarette toward me
I paused for three seconds
My eyes locked with his
Then I took it
At which point
This kind, merciful man said
‘Well, my young friend
We all have to die of something’”

–from the novel, Dear Layla Welcome to Palestine

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