NAOMI SHIHAB NYE
(East Jerusalem, 1992)
The Palestinian journalists have gathered in a small, modestly elegant theater that could have dropped out of any neighborhood in Paris or New York. We are shivering, having just whirled through a gust of bone-chilling wind on the street outside. Our friend tells us it is always cold and windy on this one street.
Mulling together with their notebooks, the journalists—mostly men in dark jackets, a few using kaffiyehs for scarves—speak quietly. Some sit at tables, smoking over small cups of coffee and plates of sweets.
I feel overcome by a speaker's worst horror—nothing to say. Too much, and nothing. What could I possibly say that these people might want to hear? Why would a group of beleaguered journalists wish to listen to a Palestinian-American poet who lives in Texas?
We shake hands, greet, get introduced. The niceties of human encounter weigh heavily upon the room. Moments later, as if detecting my sudden reluctance, they speak of cancelling today's meeting, of gathering tomorrow instead, once they have better spread the word. Apparently not enough people have arrived to make them feel the crowd is a respectable size. I tell them the smaller, the better. I would be happiest to speak to a mouse just now.
Because it is not hard to have some idea of their situation, and because their faces house such strong dignity nonetheless, I keep asking questions. How do you stand this life here? How do you sustain hope?
And the answers come slowly, cloaked in the mystery which says, "We keep on going. See? We wake up and we keep on going."
Amidst daily curfews, closures, and beatings, my friend the bookseller arranges her lovely series of British Ladybird books for children. "I never know, on any given day, if I will be able to come to work, since I live in the next town."