Saturday, May 28, 2011

Thursday Night in Bethlehem

So, it's been a week since my last post, and a whole lot has happened. Alexsis, Kate and I have been travelling first in Amman, Jordan and then in various places in the West Bank learning about how the people living in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (actually only the West Bank since we can't go to Gaza) have been doing with regard to the Millennium Development Goals.  Along the way we've been greeted with incredible kindness and hospitaliy wherever we've gone, and so the next few posts will probably be a mix of serious (and sobering) discoveries from our research and attempts to offer a sense of the fabulous adventures we have had along the way. So, in the spirit of fun adventure, it seems appropriate to begin with the story of how we spent our first Thursday night in Palestine.

In a future post, I'll be writing specifically about Friends of the Earth Middle East, which has been the organization we've worked with most since arriving here.  But for now I'lll just say that by Thursday night we were being hosted in the beautiful home of our new friend (and Friends of Earth staffer), Samiramis (who everyone calls Shamo).  Americans are used to thinking of Saturday and Sunday as the weekend, but here it's Friday and Saturday so that Thursday night plays the role of Friday night in the states.  For us, that meant a social agenda arranged by Shamo in two parts: first an engagement party of the son of a close friend, and second, a very important viewing of the TV show that all Palestinian televisions were tuned to that night, New Star
About half our table at the engagement party was American -- all invited by Shamo.  Here she is, together with me, Kate, Alexsis and Chelsea, the FoEME intern who introduced us to Shamo.

The engagement party was a lot like a wedding, with LOTS of singing, dancing and food.  Here's the bride-to-be being hoisted up on a chair during a dance.
One of the hallmarks of Middle Eastern hospitality is a generosity with meals that is unbelievable. At the party we stuffed ourselves with mezze -- the plates of hummus, fuul, vegetables and salads that are served with pita bread here -- as well as cake and chocolates.  But just when we thought we couldn't eat another bite, they brought us all the actual diinner, which was chicken, rice and vegetables.  There was a live singer interspersed with Arabic dance music and lots and lots of dancing.  But around 11:30 we had to make our exit because we had another event to go to.

Apparently, the singing competitions typified by American Idol in the US are actually a global phenomenon.  The Palestinian version is New Star, and Thursday night was the grand finale where the winner would be selected from among three finalists. One of these finalists was George, the Bethlehem hometown favorite.  So, we went to the restaurant of George's family to watch the final episode and cross our fingers.
These posters are plastered all over Bethlehem.  But this one is special because it's hanging outside George's family's restaurant, where we watched the results of the competition.
Alas, although we faithfully stayed till the bitter end around 1 in the morning, George was destined to be a runner-up that night.  But happily, all three of the finalists will be on a tour in the US together, so do keep your eyes out for George, possibly coming to a town near you.

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