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Sunday, 20 July 2008

Sharon and my Mother-in-Law (Ramallah Diaries by Suad Amiry)


by Suzan Abrams

It seemed the appropriate journey in my mind's eye that I could be entertained to a treat ever so divinely and fall vulnerable to the odd irrepressible giggle along the way; what with the elegant variety of fictitious women friendships that would suddenly afford themselves to me from unlikely places.

If I had earlier trekked the tempestuous and highly rebellious schoolgirl friendships in Rajaa Alsanea's Girls of Riyadh, I would then find myself an awed guest at Asya's kitchen table in Elif Shafak's The Bastard of Istanbul where a noisy family of Turkish women ruled a household complete with a high clamour of quarrels, mishaps and feasts that masqueraded as mealtime rituals.

Still, to just now turn to Suad Amiry's (pictured above) darkly comic and colourful if not somewhat fearful life on the West Bank scribbled hastily in her Ramallah Diaries and aptly called Sharon and my Mother-in-Law, one is faced with the two thorns in her flesh, Israel's stoic ruler at the time and her husband's 92 year old sulky mother, both of whom are subtly paraded as gatecrashing circus clowns with which to tickle the senses.

Amiry, a university student at Edinburgh in the 60s, an architect by occupation and a frequent traveller abroad, sketches from haphazard true life accounts in her diaries, pieces and letters posted to a group of close women friends during the darker moments of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict a few years ago and some other sections that stretch back a decade. She also recalls the early romance with her husband Salim, who is constantly abroad. She details the grief she still carries from the death of an affectionate father, and especially too, her lifelong regret at having failed to seek out the historic family home of the past. Amiry also mourns the destruction of Palestine's beautiful architectural heritages by Israeli bombs.

Yet, she is able to wear humour in her most worrying thoughts, conjuring them up for consumption like a refreshing tonic as she battles the tiresome little horrors of managing a household in a beseiged township and one of many, constantly under curfew.

It is Amiry's very disgruntlement that lends itself to her caustic wit and terribly funny, sarcasic quips. And wouldn't any of us have participated in the same. Thanks to Israeli intervention in the Occupied Territories, here is a lady who may need to climb over walls to whisper to the neighbours when Israeli troops blow down doors from idleness instead of opening them. During the measured curfew hours was when troops plundered homes while crushing parked cars and grabbing valuables and possessions along the way. Did you know that ladies hid jewels in their bras? One hears them coming...in ways that are sometimes polite and at other times rude, from a mile away and the classic joke is that the soldiers would finish with someone's home before bedtime so that the family would get a decent night's sleep.

The other classic joke preyed on the fondness of Israeli soldiers in ordering Palestinians to line up for trivial matters, constantly blaring their instructions to form long straight lines. One boy, on being told to collect his gas mask had walked a mile to reach an army truck only to get behind a long line, where he would then find himself facing his house once more as if he had never left.

Indeed, it was a common occurrence to order a village to line up for gas masks, command its people to get into a bus, have the driver circle two blocks and then send the villagers right back home again... but without the gas masks. Shopping may be inspected and the shopper questioned over a bunch of carrots or sorry-looking tomatoes. A resident could journey by foot to another village to attend his university classes or hurry to work only praying that he may not be shot at. Different residents depending on which middle-eastern region showed up on their birth certificates, would sometimes require 10 to 13 permits and visas to visit nearby towns or to cross specific roads. Some may choose to take hidden short cuts only to be forced with the aid of grumblings and heightened agitation, to experiment with 20 different routes before settling for a safe one. Even a Palestinian-owned domestic pet would be required to present a Jerusalem passport if in the event it had to be chauffered to the Jewish city for a vaccine. An Israeli vet was not allowed to treat an animal from the Palestinian Occupied Territories.

In the midst of it all, neighbours protected each other with fierce affection and relied on their many jokes and anecdotes to keep the act of survival afloat. Amiry blames Ariel Sharon for all the inconveniences and so too, her 92 year old mother in law who is forced to take refuge in her home. The mother-in-law lived next door to Arafat which didn't help matters when the defacto Palestinian leader was put under seige by Israel. As a sole trespasser and forced asylum seeker, Amiry's mother-in-law would almost drive her to a wretched despair with the nagging and yarns that befit the ancient.

Amiry comes across as endearing and wonderfully humorous. Her daily lifeline lies in the internet, the Aljazeera news in English, Malboro packs and big mugs of tea.

Here than is an example of a comic scene:

"Captain Yossi went out and a few minutes later, came back with a Marlboro cigarette and a cup of muddy Israeli army coffee. I never understood how Israelis could drink that terrible coffee. I've been told the army has no time to boil the coffee and the water together, so they just pour warm water over the coffee grains and drink mud. Of course, they have no time as they are harassing us, twenty-four hours a day. If they stopped harassing us, they might end up with a better life and a good cup of coffee rather than mud. Look at the Italians, the Turks and the French: they all have good coffee now that they have realized it's possible to have a good life without occupying others. " - Ramallah Diaries - Suad Amiry -

Sharon and my Mother-in-Law turned out to be nothing short of a pleasurable read.

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