Do Unto Others focuses on the Middle East, (nonviolent) social movements, and how I make sense of my place in the world. I'm currently based in Cairo, Egypt doing peacebuilding and community development.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

An Upside-Down Pedagogy

The sheep know when it's time to go home. As the sun begins to stretch towards the horizon, without prodding from the shepherd, the sheep fall into a series of defined lines, all pointing towards home. The shepherd follows the sheep, trusting that they know the way.

As we follow the shepherd into a small remote village in the South Hebron Hills, the atmospohere is calm, yet the pace is quick. The father prepares the feeding troughs so that the sheep may supplement the grass they just ate. One of the children prepares bread, one fetches water from the cistern, and six sit near the entrance the house, smiling. The six children seem to be waiting for me to establish eye contact, and when I do their smiles broaden and their restiveness becomes apparent.

“How are you all?”

“Good, thanks be to God,” they say in chorus.

As their mother emerges from the cave, moving quickly as she works to prepare the house and the meal for unexpected guests, she speaks firmly with her children. As I repeat her words in my head, trying to translate them, two children emerge with a thin mattress and pillows for us to sit on . I then understand the firm tone came from the mother's annoyance with the children for not looking after the guests. We sit for a short time, as the evening work happens all around us. Tea arrives. The father has the children finish tending the sheep as he comes to drink a cup of tea with us.

I become aware that dinner is close to being ready. I stand up to grab the water jug, used for washing and rinsing. One of the younger girls, maybe 7 years old, grabs the jug from my hands and leads me to a water basin used to recycle grey water. She holds the jug in a position which suggests that I am to put my hands under the spout. Water is then poured over my hands in spurts, allowing me to wash my face and hands. Opening my eyes after the water has cleared from my face, I see another child holding a towel in front of me. Cleaned up for dinner, we are invited into the house.

As we enter the family's dwelling , which is a cave, the children are to my left eating in the small kitchen area. The rest of the cave has been vacated for us, the guests. We sit and are immediately served freshly baked bread, tomatoes, green beans, onions, and lamb. This lamb was not store bought, but this sheep was born and raised in these hills by the family. Now this goat will be used to feed guests who have spent no time caring for the sheep. During the meal, every time we momentarily stop eating, we are immediately commanded to keep eating.

After dinner we are served tea again. The evening conversation includes: the events of the day, recent encounters with settlers, Obama, the United States meddling in the Middle East, how well I can cook, and the current village gossip. As the evening turns to night, and the gas lamp begins to dim, we are shown to our beds. The warm summer air is a welcoming environment for a good night's sleep.

The wind is usually strong in this village because it stands higher than the adjacent rolling hills. The consistent wind keeps away the mosquitoes, a welcome absence. As I get under the covers, I look to the east, and can see lights of what I believe to be the western-most hillsides of Jordan. The stars shine brightly in the sky to the south, but are faint to the north. Bright white flood lights pollute the night sky to the north. The flood lights to the north surround the nearby settlement of Ma'on. The lights aren't turned inward to provide illumination for the Israeli settlers living inside, but are instead turned to the adjacent hills to illuminate dangerous Palestinians who may approach the settlement. I am struck by the juxtaposition of the village and Ma'on. I lay in a village without running water, standing structures, or electricity but am covered in light eminating from flood lights built out of fear. I lay under the stars, protected by nothing but the blankets which keep me warm but see to the north the security fence which surrounds the settlement. The fence and the lights are in place to protect the settlers from the very people who showed me such gracious and unconditional hospitality this evening.

These people don't need to learn anything. They don't need to learn about modern economics, simple living, democracy, the West, or the peace process. The opposite is true, we all need to learn from these people. The graciousness, kindness, and love of their hospitality is something that could change the world, if we only listened.