November 01, 2015

Balloons over Palestine

It's my birthday and I had planned to go out and have dinner with my friends, Yasser, Ali & Ahmad, in "our" restaurant in Hizma.

Planning meant that in the early afternoon Ahmad and I had checked with the restaurant that we'll have food and cake this same night. In the present political climate, the only Jewish friend I had dared telling my plan, made me promise to send her a message after returning home safely.

On my way to the restaurant, through the refugee camp Shuafat, with Yasser and Ali in the car, Ahmad called to tell that he found the place closed, which came as quite a surprise. But no worry, he said he'd handle the situation (whatever that could mean). When twenty minutes later we arrived, the restaurant was open again.

Yasser's bearded look resembles a member of ISIS, but he is actually a peace-loving person and my hairdresser. Yasser suggested that we go to the town Anata and fetch his brother. I didn't feel so secure going there at night, and asked Ali to join as well. This prompted Yasser to ask what happened that I fear being with him, when just a few days ago I had suggested that we'd go swimming together.

Waiting in the dark night, we see a couple of children playing soccer. One of them accidentally kicks the ball in the direction of a group of goats, inhabiting the ground floor of one of the buildings. The goats jump up. We hear the sound of a helicopter over us. It's the same sound as the one I hear lately from my home and clinic (in a direct line only 3 km/2 mi away). There, the alarming sound distracts both me and my clients. Here, it's Ali who says exactly what I thought: "they may throw a bomb on us". This is quite unlikely, but I do realize that my two body-builder-type friends will not be able to save me in case a bomb did drop.

Back at the restaurant the situation is most surrealistic: a bunch of Palestinian men blowing balloons, singing and dancing for their Israeli/Dutch friend. I turned 52, but it feels like 12. English birthday songs are played through the radio of one of the cars. A big cake comes in, with on top my name, candles and some kind of colorful instrument turning around and making music. They want to make pictures of me, standing there with a big knife, before cutting the cake.

The kebab and shashlik are delicious. More people join us, workers at closeby shops; by now we are about 15. Some I know better; others I never saw before. One suggests to offer food to the Israeli soldiers, who block the road to the entrance of the village, just a few meters away... I find it difficult to understand which remarks are meant as jokes and which are serious. Anyway, we are all tired and hungry.

Safely at home, I remember to send my Jewish friend a message. What a great party!

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