Wednesday, October 31, 2012

kindred spirits


Sunday, October 21st was our last day of olive picking, at a farm in Ja'ba. Our labor force was reduced this day--a few had gone to their respective places of worship, a few had had to leave in the preceding days--but we still had a wonderful core group. Our smaller probably accomplished more, even, than we did on our first day of olive picking (when the group was at its full size) due to having gotten into a sort of 'rhythm' throughout the week. By Sunday, everyone knew what they were good at/enjoyed doing, and we all fell into our roles easily, feeling rather second-nature at this whole olive picking thing.

It was a beautiful morning. This particular farmer's trees were the type that offer plenty of shade, and as we worked our way from tree to tree, not even the settlement school at the top of the hill could bring us down (although it did play some very strange/creepy music during the breaks between classes). 

Marietta, from the US, and Marcel, from Belgium 
One of my favorite things about the olive picking experience (second to the act of helping the Palestinian farmers and their families and learning about their lives) was the opportunity to get to know my fellow olive pickers. The work of olive harvesting is more tedious than anything, but this gives ample time for conversation while stripping the branches of their fruit. I can't begin to tell you the variety of things we talked about throughout the week. Put together 40+ people from different countries, language backgrounds, religious backgrounds (or lack thereof), political persuasions, etc, and you can probably imagine that our conversations scoped just about anything and everything. In addition to this diversity of background and belief we shared a love for justice, and that was an amazing thing to have in common. It's hopeful, really. It is to find kindred spirits; to think there are people all over the world who care about these things, too...and I know some of them! 

It's an interesting experience, being one of the few Americans amongst a group of internationals. If you've had the experience you know that when people start talking about something related to the US government or foreign policy, you feel a weird sort of responsibility, even though you know that no one actually thinks that any of these matters are your fault individually. Many people, throughout the week, voiced their opinion (not directed at me or any of the rest of us from the US, just in broader conversation) that the biggest obstacle to peace in Israel/Palestine is the United States, due to our unequivocal support (financially and otherwise) of Israel, which allows the Occupation to persist. Of course, Marietta, our group (from the US), and I basically agreed, and admitted our own frustrations about this. If anything, however, this is a reminder to all of us, wherever we are from, that much of the work to be done for justice begins at home--this is probably true of many issues. 

Lorna, from England, and Heleen, from Holland
So that's how we passed our days under the olive trees--harvesting and talking. Not always about serious subjects; sometimes singing, sometimes just listening to each other, oftentimes laughing. Humanity in all of its breadth has a lot in common, you know.

For me, our last day of olive picking best exemplifies the shared fellowship among those who come together around a common cause. When our work was done and we were enjoying our lunch under the trees, I couldn't help but feel gratitude for these people with whom I got to share this experience, and gratitude for the experience as a whole. Marietta and I joked about not needing to go back to school--that we would be content just staying in Palestine and picking olives each day. How easily we forget how enjoyable hard, dirty work can be. I think we both (and probably many who came for the olive harvest) rediscovered that in the fields of Beit Jala, Ja'ba, and the other locations where we harvested.

We arrived back to our hotel in Beit Sahour in the early afternoon. Perhaps the cumulative exhaustion from the week was finally taking a toll; perhaps it was just a good afternoon for a celebratory nap that our work was done. In either case, that's what most of us did, and I realized with delight upon awakening that, for the first time in our whole trip, it was raining.


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