Terrorist or Pianist?

By: Jehan Alfarra

I remember “the story within a story” from my literature classes, but being in this place, I felt a world within a world. It did not feel by any means that I was in fact in Gaza! Instead of distressing explosions, I heard piano pieces. Instead of the agonizing power generator noise, I heard the zither.

I could not but think, “These children are incredibly fortunate.” Their fingers were dancing so beautifully on the instruments constructing the most striking and lurching tunes.

“How different are those children from the rest of mankind? Or from the talented American children that I met a few years ago?” I was wondering. “They are all learning the same language- music.”

Westerners and Israelis look at Palestinians as though violence was an inherent part of them. What they don’t realize is that the environment in which we live in is what construct and shape our personalities, our identities, and our dreams. Have they never watched Tarazan?!

Although I hate it that my mom is a doctor and although am not a big fan of the UN, I do love the fact that she works for them! You might ask me why? Well, she has privileges in terms of travel and movement!

Usually, if the Rafah border is open, you have to have a remarkably good reason as to why you need to travel; like medical treatment, university scholarships, you are not Palestinian,  or you have vitamin w (for wasta- that’s when you have “connections” ). And even then, you might not be allowed to leave the strip simply because other people have higher priority or better reasons, (or obviously a better dose of vitamin waw)!

My point is: my mom can get in and out of the strip more effortlessly, thanks to… the UN! She was able to bring in a keyboard for us using the VIP UN bus! She’s always loved music, and so have I. We used to have one that  my dad bought from Ramallah long time ago when Gazan Palestinians were allowed to go to the West Bank, but it got old and stopped working and we haven’t been able to get another ever since.

So, mama brings a keyboard, and YouTube kicks in! My siblings started downloading videos from YouTube on how to play certain pieces of music, but my sister still wanted to learn how to really read notes and such. My cousin told us that there was someone who teaches the piano in the Red Crescent!

One evening, the electricity was out and Nour, my sister, and I were intolerably bored. She suggested that we go to the Red Crescent and see if that was true. She wanted to apply so terribly.

The Red Crescent is right across the street from our house. We walked up there and found a couple of guards sat outside, next to the parked Ambulances. I was quite hesitant whether to ask them about the ‘music’ place or not. I mean, since when do they teach music in Gaza, let alone at the Red Crescent!? The only music they have would probably be moans of pain, or ambulance sirens. How embarrassing would it be if I was fooled!

We walked up to the guards, looking at each other, dragging our legs forward, and counting our steps. I muttered, tentatively, “They told me there was a … someone who teaches piano inside. Do you anything about this?” I was forcing my eyes open; almost going all like ><

“You mean the music school? Go that way and you’ll find a room on your right; it is there” he responded. “Whew,” I thought, “thank you!”

I grabbed Nour’s hand and hurried inside. As I opened the door, I saw Ban! A girl that I know. Apparently, she’s the admin assistant there. I did not realize it was a SCHOOL! That little tiny place which seems to be no more than a couple of rooms inside the building! Ban directed me to Mr. Ibrahim, the Academic Director and manager of the school. It turned out that the school is a project funded by Al-Qattan foundation for kids less than 12 years of age; in other words, Nour is ineligible. Disappointed, yet taken by amazement, I asked him if I could interview him and video-tape those kids whose performance stunned me! He welcomed it🙂

I remember “the story within a story” from my literature classes, but being in this place, I felt a world within a world. It did not feel by any means that I was in fact in Gaza! Instead of distressing explosions, I heard piano pieces. Instead of the agonizing power generator noise, I heard the zither.

I could not but think, “These children are incredibly fortunate.” Their fingers were dancing so beautifully on the instruments constructing the most striking and lurching tunes.

“How different are those children from the rest of mankind? Or from the talented American children that I met a few years ago?” I was wondering. “They are all learning the same language- music.”

Westerners and Israelis look at Palestinians as though violence was an inherent part of them. What they don’t realize is that the environment in which we live in is what construct and shape our personalities, our identities, and our dreams. Have they never watched Tarazan?!

Enjoy

Photos by Shareef Sarhan

18 responses

  1. I mean, since when do they teach music in Gaza, let alone at the Red Crescent!? The only music they have would probably be moans of pain, or ambulance sirens.

    The power of these two sentences is indescribable to me.

    January 15, 2011 at 10:37 am

  2. beautiful amazing post and videos. thank you

    January 15, 2011 at 11:37 am

  3. ^_^ Stunning, JeeJ! I enjoyed readin it..

    PS. Jeej, I guess the end of the post is messed up..

    January 15, 2011 at 11:49 am

  4. This is good news Jehan. Music schools are one of my many dreams for Gaza, for the dozens of my family members and Gazans who want to break the chains of the Occupation of the mind in Gaza.

    My other dream is a library, I’ve even contemplated whether I could bring in my 1,000 plus volume of books into Gaza (by the way tell everyone you know about Libro Vox, the acoustical Liberation of books on the public domain, they are all volunteer read audio books link to librivox.org

    And another dream playgrounds and pools and CSA/ community supported agriculture (I know the Israeli yogurt is delicious but we can make our own to feed our own) and counseling/ psychology/ mental health help and of course freedom, peace, security.

    I remember back in the 90′s Vitamin Waw/ actually I think someone worked for the municipality helped my family go to a funeral in Lydda. Pretty sad Israel controls how and where you can mourn your deceased family, most people don’t get how much of your life is controlled by Israel when your freedom of movement is extremely limited.

    Btw, LOVED the Vitamin Wasta/ waw, tooHfa!

    January 15, 2011 at 12:56 pm

    • Freedom of movement and trade is the only thing I’d be asking for. It’s everything.

      January 16, 2011 at 5:40 am

  5. I found some information about the Al-Qattan foundation, this site says there is also a a center with 120,000 books, wonderful! Let’s hope these centers of culture, music and learning in Gaza stay safe from Israeli missiles.

    link to qattanfoundation.org

    January 15, 2011 at 1:23 pm

    • Yes, there is a pretty good amount of books at Al-Qattan center here in Gaza. It’s a great place for children. I worked there for a while and taught the little kids English; it was a nice experience.

      But, if even hospitals are not safe, how would anything else be?
      Even the Red Crescent was targeted during the war

      link to youtube.com

      January 16, 2011 at 5:32 am

  6. Nice to see the 3 kids playing so beautifully and a sad reminder of what the other kids of Gaza are missing.

    January 15, 2011 at 4:30 pm

  7. Truly amazing, heartbreaking and bitter-sweet.

    January 15, 2011 at 7:17 pm

  8. Ibrahim Al-Najjar is my hero-I have known him since 1997 when he had a fledging school in another part of Gaza City; demand grew and so did the school. It moved to a building in Tel Al-Hawa that was completely incinerated during the assault on Gaza by Israeli missiles-not once, but twice. He had to move, but the Qattan Foundation stepped in to fund the new school! My son took piano lessons with him too-and do not fear Jehan, he teaches young and old (I took Oud classes with him back when I was 20, but so did a 65 year old woman…!)

    Wrote about him here this past summer:

    link to gazamom.com

    January 16, 2011 at 12:04 am

    • Thank you, gazamom–truly poignant and yet inspiring. What a piece of work is man, as the Bard said so well, how like an angel (sometimes)…

      January 16, 2011 at 8:54 am

    • I just refreshed my memory: link to enotes.com

      January 16, 2011 at 8:57 am

  9. Jehan,

    One day, you’re gonna be such a great journalist. You are doing a wonderful job already.

    That was very touche and inspiring.
    Thanks for the post, the videos, and the pics

    January 16, 2011 at 1:45 am

  10. All I can think of is that old pop song metaphor of a delicate rose growing up through the harsh concrete, and all I can hear is kalithea’s “truly amazing, heartbreaking and bitter-sweet” responsive melody.

    January 16, 2011 at 8:48 am

    • Suzan

      Indeed. “Truly amazing, heartbreaking and bitter-sweet”.

      March 30, 2011 at 12:14 am

  11. Pingback: Blackout | Bethlehem Blogger

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