Tel Aviv Diary April 2-6, 2016 - Karen Alkalay-Gut

Tel -Aviv Diary - April 2-6, 2016 - Karen Alkalay-Gut

April 2, 2016

what better place in the world than Akko? What better place to sleep than Arabesque in Akko? What a wonderful dinner we had cooked by Arabesque next-door neighbor, Hayyat, including kebab in yoghurt, stuffed vegetables, Makhloube. Even the french fries we ordered for the kids were wonderful. And then to go to sleep in an amazing environment - bedrooms with an oriental flavor and all the comforts of home - what a wonderful place to have an artists' residence. The neighborhood was quiet and friendly. And the possibilities for exotic experiences seem endless. At Ghattas Hammam we had massages unlike any other I'd ever had - not oil but soap suds preceded by wet sauna, and followed by jacuzzi and dry sauna. It was all hot water and bathing and massaging -and I loved every minute.

April3, 2016

If staying at Arabesque was only an aesthetic occasion, it would have been enough. But i saw it as 'educational.' The kind of fear that builds up when you have no knowledge of the daily life of other people increases geometrically. The guide the children had through the templar tunnels, Abdu, knew this well and played on it. Working with the concept antithetical to political correctness he 'outed' their hidden qualms, and wound up with two children on either side of him holding hands. Political correctness solves no problems - it avoids them.

April 4, 2016

April 5, 2016

Boy did i have stories to tell you last night! But by the time i got the date down i absolutely fell asleep. From early morning I was hearing stories that had to be written down - the first thing was my tunisian friend who never talks about her past in Tunisia or about her connection with Arabic culture. She grew up in an Arab neighborhood together with Muslims and it was idyllic, she suddenly said. And then there was the six day war and her friends and neighbors were marching through the streets screaming "Murder the Jews" and they had to barricade themselves in their home until they were rescued and whisked out of the country. She grew up in France then and wiped out her Tunisian history. When two of her children returned to France after living here for over twenty years they not only fit in but became successful singers. "We're cousins!" an Algerian colleague of theirs told her. "Well not cousins, but neighbors." she answered and was chided by her children.

April 5, 2016

See you in 2 days in NY. if i can get through the next day. This afternoon I was trying to close the program for the 11th and there was a knock on the door - 2 cops - someone had called from our home and hung up. i had no idea what they were talking about but as soon as i closed the door i opened the cupboard and spilled a kilo of tehina on the floor. Now as you may know tehina hardens with water, so i tried to get through this with dry mop and then... by the time i was finished the plumber called to say we wouldn't have hot water for another day and the program for the 11th went out of my head.

I still don't know who called the cops.

April 6, 2016

As I was about to print out copies of the poems we're doing for the 11th i jammed the printer and it seems i screwed up the cartridge. So my final words before i leave the country for two weeks are brief. But important.

The sudden discovery of the media that there are maternity wards in hospitals here that separate Jewish and Arab mothers absolutely floored most of the people I know. Two personal experiences: When my son was born, forty years ago, a Bedouin woman and me were left alone in the waiting room. Both of us were pretty advanced and she taught me how to handle the labor.


It was long ago – my son is now almost forty
and the long blue dress I wore to Maternity
was long ago ripped into rags and thrown away.

But that night it was
the most comfortable thing I owned,
and while I was waiting in the Reception hall
(deserted by the dining nurses)

and leaning against the wall
to counter my backache, I was grateful
for the freedom of that loose blue dress.

I wasn’t alone – the Bedouin woman in her black robe
was laboring as well and leaning too against the wall.

But we had no common language,
and could only show each other
what we felt, what to do.

There were no chairs,
and the gentle lined woman
was my only inspiration and succor,

And I got the idea of crouching in a corner,
pushing at both walls at once
and at the floor as well. Ah, she said,
and joined me in the opposite corner.

And I knew she was telling me that in her home
She had other ways, but here, corners
were a great invention, and I agreed.

Until the nurses eventually came along,
picking their teeth and scowling at our primitivity.

We never did
get to talk.
The next day
Both of us
Left with our sons.

The poem is in my book, Ignorant Armies. Second case: When my daughter was in very advanced labor, I showed up very late, and we couldn't seem to get the nurses to pay attention. Suddenly everyone showed up and were hysterical. The baby was in distress and had to come out immediately. There was no time to get the suction machine ready and the only solution was forceps. But the only person who know how to use them was an doctor or maybe a nurse named Ahmed. He came racing in and everyone stepped aside. I watched the forceps procedure from the beginning to the birth of the blue baby, who was slowly brought back to pink.

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