Sunday, May 02, 2010

Harvest in At-Tuwani, 2010: The Same Old Beauty

(I know it's been a while, but I'm back in Palestine! More to come over the next few days.)

Harvesting barley is a lot harder than harvesting olives. To harvest barley you have to bend over at the waist, pull up handfuls of dry stalks, and then beat the dirt off of the roots. I’m not embarrassed by my olive picking ability, but I harvest barley only slightly better than your average four-year-old Palestinian kid. After my first couple of hours harvesting barley with the A. family, my hands and arms were red with scratches, but I was smiling.

A couple of years ago, a teammate of mine described how tiring the spring harvest can be. “But it’s a holy sort of exhaustion,” I remember him saying. That’s certainly how I’ve been feeling lately. It’s a simply a joy to harvest barley and wheat with my neighbors. While we work, we laugh and share the latest village gossip. Sometimes, I get to listen to my neighbors sing. Harvesting is good work. I can’t help but feel whole and happy.

“Bring the camera over here,” my neighbor N. said. He pointed to a burned patch in the middle of the field. The patch was about two feet across and three feet long. “Did you hear what happened?” N. asked me. When I shook my head, N. explained. “The day before yesterday, in the morning, settlers set a fire here.” N. told me that F., another neighbor, had seen them. “When he started yelling, the settlers left. Here, “continued N. “Take my picture.” N. stood in the burned patch and posed. I took some video. Then it was time to start working again. When in another hour, the field was harvested and the burned patch ground was barely noticeable. With the farm work for the day done, N., his four year old son, and I walked home. “Come on, let’s run!” said the little boy. N. and I laughed.

“What an evil waste,” said a friend of mine when she heard what about the burnt wheat. We’re not the best people to ask, but one of my teammates estimates that settlers have destroyed 30 to 40 percent of this year’s crop, mainly by grazing their sheep in Palestinian fields. “It’s just plain theft,” remarked another of my teammates. “It’s more than that,” I quipped. “This is ethnic cleansing.”

Still, I can’t help but think about the sound of our laughter as the A. family and I picked barley together. I’m drawn back to the same contradiction I seem to always write about. The occupation is indeed an evil waste. Nevertheless, Palestinians are stronger than this attempt to drive them off of their land. The power joy and beauty – of life itself - remains undaunted.

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