This trip, like any other I have taken, requires bursts of shopping, laundry, and packing, alternating with quiet moments of anticipation and the occasional restless night’s sleep. But unlike any other, this trip requires a lot of reading and a certain amount of rehearsal.
In addition to the orientation packet (150 pages) from our tour provider, I’ve been trying to finish Edward Said’s mandatory The Question of Palestine. I confess to having picked it up and put it aside several times in the past few years. I find it dense and, to my ear at least, somewhat awkwardly written. Once I’d signed on for this trip, however, I felt a different investment in Said’s work. For the first time, I was able to envision Palestinian lives at the heart of the Palestinian question; the rigor of Said’s scholarship is still there, but so too is the “actuality of Palestinians, with lives being led, small histories endured, aspirations felt.” As Said says, “if there is no country called Palestine, it is not because there are no Palestinians.”
Among the items I’ve been shopping for are gifts for my host family and tour guides. I’ve been rehearsing Arabic greetings and various ways of wearing a head scarf. I’ve been worrying about all the tea I will be served and its likely effects on my bladder.
But I am also looking forward to meal time with my host family, standing beside a woman in her kitchen, dipping bread in olive oil and za’taar, learning a recipe or two. Will she speak English? Will there be a child to translate for us? Will we communicate through the kitchen vocabulary of verbs — the mincing of a garlic clove and the browning of an onion? Will the scene at table be boisterous or quiet, and what tales will be told of the day’s adventure, the day’s endurance?