Postcards From Palestine |THREE: Cold City Warm People

Morning fog in Ramallah

Morning fog in Ramallah

The weather here is still in between. Not sunny. Not rainy. It is very nice and very refreshing, but the problem is: what to wear? Still, we have our coffee every morning at Elite Cafe on a nice terrace. Most of our discussions around the play happen here and are witnessed by a young guy named Mahmoud – who never makes it to the theatre.

I am participating in the Palestinian Flemish Festival with two works of mine. One of them was my graduation project for my Master's degree at Rits (a school in Brussels). It’s called Two Ladybugs. We are showing it in three cities: Ramallah, Nablus and Jerusalem.

Ashtar Theatre - rehearsla with subtitle.jpg

The first two shows happen in Ramallah at Ashtar Theater. I am nervous to present the work in Palestine, since it was written in English and I worked on it outside of Palestine with a group of Belgian actors. I feel a need for my people to approve of it.

The audience in Ramallah is not big because the festival is happening in conjunction with dozens of other events in a city where everyone is trying to accomplish all possible events before the start of the month of Ramadan. In Ramadan nothing happens – except for sleeping.

I lived for two years in Ramallah while working with the Sesame Street TV program – between 2010 and 2012. I don’t want to be negative, but my relationship with the city was not very good. There is a kind of unreal pretense that you feel in many places in the city.

In Ramallah, also, the artistic and cultural institutions, the state institutions, the social and media institutions, and basically everything else, is centralized here. It seems that geographical distribution was not in the mind of the Palestinian Authority – like many things that were absent from their awareness.

The city has changed since I left. I moved to Ramallah 8 years ago. Before that I was in Nablus working at an American NGO and living with my relatively large family. Ramallah for me was the closest place where I could achieve independence. I did not stay there for long. I started my first theatre experience there, and then immediately moved to live in Belgium. When I say the city has changed, I mean it has become more capitalist, and people’s attitudes have changed. You feel this when you deal with Taxi drivers or restaurants and other services. 

Elite cafe near ashtar theatre - actors of Two lady bugs.jpg

During this visit, I spend all my time with my friends from Belgium who are also participating in the festival. My few Palestinian friends who haven’t emmigrated yet, are busy in the Book exhibition, which is happening at the same time as the theatre festival.

Most of our evenings are spent at the “Station”, a nice bar with a terrace where we choose what to eat from a short menu of pasta, and burgers and what to drink from a big menu of drinks. We generally ask for a good beer – Taybeh – locally produced in the city of Taybeh near Ramallah. The other popular place is called “Garage”. It’s not possible to find space for us there at night as it is always crowded. Most of the clients there know each other. The city is small and all who visit these nice places know each other.

Some of the participants in the festival visit Arafat’s tomb, which I have not yet visited, despite my frequent trips to the city. I do not know why I don’t have any curiosity to go. Even when Arafat visited Nablus in 1995 when the Oslo Accord happened, I had no curiosity to leave the house, like so many others, to welcome him. There is a cold relationship between Arafat and me, even though his image is included in Two Ladybugs. Mohamed the technician at Ashtar theatre objected to our putting the photo of Arafat close to the ground. He said: He’s my hero, you should put it higher. We did. He is indeed a hero, and a symbol of dignity for many Palestinian young people, some who weren’t even born before he died. This is what Palestinian young people need: a role model, a living symbol whom they can trust and have faith in.

This is how I spend my time in this city: moving between my cold relationship with the city itself and my warm relationship with my friends – friends from theatre school and from theatre work, whom I have not seen in a while because I moved to Toronto. They are real friends. They have added warmth and happiness to my life. This is the case with people who work in the theater. They create solid relationships that cannot fade. And it hurts when it’s time to separate.

For me, the time I spend here is meaningful in two ways: I get to see my friends again, and I get to introduce my own work to my own people in Palestine, and perhaps gain their approval...

Next time, I will write about our special performance in Nablus: Our performance in Nablus is a surprise. Art Hub – a new centre for art and culture – is our host. It was established by young artists in the city of Nablus who couldn’t wait any longer to get attention from the institutions. I won’t say “from the government” because the government was already dead. This is our best performance, our best audience, and a very emotional encounter since all of my stories for theatre come from this city: my home town, Nablus. I need to tell you more details about this encounter next time. But today, Sunday the 14th, I’m having a discussion with the young artists who come to see the show. We will talk about the future, and if it’s even possible to think of the future given everything that is happening now around moving the American embassy to Jerusalem. Once again, the political situation will decide the theme we’ll discuss.