September 17, 2009

First, an update on Rania’s situation. Her husband is still in prison, but we got good news a while ago that he would be released in February, a few months earlier than originally thought. It will still be another five months of separation, including the month of December, when Rania’s daughter is due. With the help of many generous people in Palestine and abroad, I’ve managed to gather enough resources to keep her afloat up until the end of October and also get her birth expenses taken care of. To the people who helped, I can’t say enough, and I can’t thank you enough. But thank you, so much.

Rania has been trying hard to find a job, but as I said before, the nonsense in the New York Times about the booming West Bank economy is a Potemkin village of the top few percent doing very well and most other people stagnating while prices rise. At best, the occasional lifting of a few checkpoints has slowed down the decline in some sectors, but not by much, and rewarding Israel for this kind of ‘concession’ (the partial lifting of an illegal collective punishment) is like rewarding someone for stealing ‘only’ a house, but not the car in the driveway. (Never mind the Gaza Strip, which is almost entirely under an Israeli siege, with catastrophic 75% unemployment.)

For pregnant women who are recent graduates and have small children and husbands in prison, finding a job only gets harder. If she does manage to find a job, the problem is solved. If not, I may make another appeal for funds in late October.

Sharif has found a way to call Rania cheaply, and he talks to her a few times a week. The other day, Karim said “Baba” into the phone for the first time. Both parents were overcome with emotion. I can’t imagine how the family’s reunion is going to be.

The story I wrote about Rania’s plight was published on a blog called Mondoweiss. You can find it here. No need to read it if you already read her story in the last email, but you can forward or post it if you like.

Book Update

As for the book, I’ve been making good progress and plan to have the final four chapters drafted by the end of this month. Two more months of editing should get them in good shape, then I’ll use December to work on the Epilogue. Insha’Allah the book will be finished by the end of the year, as planned.

I also recently received a very nice rejection letter from one of the last major publishers my agent sent my manuscript to:

“I apologize for taking so long with FAST TIMES (a great title!). Pamela Olson has a real voice and an appealing honesty and passion. In the end, though, her mixture of the personal and the reportorial doesn’t seem quite right for us. I wonder if this would make more sense as a trade paperback geared toward younger readers? In any case, I appreciate getting another look at this talented writer.”

It was painful to receive, of course, but then again, this particular mainstream publisher belongs to a large conglomerate that’s ultimately owned by Rupert Murdoch, which would make publication with them a kind of catch-22. If it doesn’t make money, I’m not getting the message out. If I get the message out, I’m making money for Rupert Murdoch.

If I thought it was the best way to get the message out, I would probably be willing to pay for Murdoch’s latest gold-plated bidet, but I’m not convinced it’s the best way anyway. Many mainstream publishers have a nasty habit of buying ten or so books and only promoting the one that looks like it will have the most mass market appeal, leaving the rest to languish.

It will almost be a relief if the last big New York publisher rejects us. (My agent knows about twenty mainstream publishers well, all in New York — the hardest place in the world to talk about Palestine — and we’re about to reach the end of them.) In that case, my agent and I will respectfully take leave from each other, and I’ll begin to speak directly to the people who know and care most about the Holy Land. I have a huge list of contacts I haven’t used because I wanted to give my agent a chance to sell it first.

It will be nice to speak with people who actually know and care about the subject rather than people whose only concern is whether, how much, and how quickly it will make money in an industry that is notoriously spineless of late. (No pun intended.) Last time I checked the bestseller lists, they were topped with soft-core vampire porn and Tori Spelling’s latest memoir. As for nonfiction, far too much is written with the intent to, as a friend of mine put it, “impress a select group of people who already share the same viewpoints as yourself.”

Mine is a bit more sneaky. It intends to reach a large audience, entertain and educate in a way that’s both visceral and intellectual (through sustained and engaging stories integrated with serious research and analysis), and potentially change things. Books like this are rare, and most publishers these days don’t like to take political or financial risks. Twenty mostly complimentary rejections from mainstream New York publishers is better than par for the course for a first book, especially a controversial one that doesn’t fit any pre-defined categories.

We’ll see what happens when people who actually care about the subject begin to get involved. I’m excited for this next phase.

Ramadan Blues

Oh yes, and it’s Ramadan. I’m not fasting this time, and since most of my friends are either ajanib (foreigners) or Palestinians who aren’t fasting and/or whose families live elsewhere, the usual Ramallah Ramadan problem arises — you have to sneak around to find lunch, and then you don’t get invited to many Iftars (the huge home-cooked meal just after the sunset call to prayer that breaks the day’s fast). Worst of both worlds. At the eerie sunset hour when the streets empty and luscious smells emanate from every home, you can’t help but feel a bit wistful if you’re having your usual cheap and lazy meal.

One particularly gloomy Sunday evening, I thought I’d cheer myself up by singing the Lonely Ajnabi Ramallah Ramadan Blues

    Walkin’ to the hisbah,
    Qataef on the streets,
    I step into a helweyat
    to buy some Ramadan sweets.

    The man, he charges plenty:
    Talatash,” he said.
    I hand the money over,
    wishin’ they was homemade sweets instead.

    Walk home with my sack of veggies,
    make hash browns and farmer’s salad.
    Sit down in my empty living room
    to compose this Ramadan ballad.

    I think of all the families
    sitting down to share Iftar.
    It’s happenin’ all around me,
    so near and yet so far.

    Allahu akbar,” the minaret calls,
    floating like a dream.
    “Maybe so,” I think to myself,
    “but man, sometimes Ramadan ain’t so karim…”

    Notes:
    Ajnabi = foreigner
    Hisbah = vegetable market
    Qataef = special Ramadan sweet often sold by street vendors
    Helweyat = sweet shop
    Talatash = 13 shekels ($3.25)
    Iftar = sunset breaking of the daily Ramadan fast
    Karim = generous (a common Ramadan greeting is “Ramadan Karim!”)

It’s not all bad by any means. (This was written mostly for a laugh.) And I have been invited to a few nice Iftars. There’s also the Bab al Hara phenomenon — a Syrian mini-series that comes on every Ramadan about a Syrian village living under French occupation between the World Wars. It has comedy, drama, obvious political overtones, great costumes, and phenomenal architecture — a glimpse into the life and culture of those times. Life doesn’t just stop for Iftar every day. It also stops from 9-10 for the latest installment of Bab al Hara.

Ramallah Football Club

The other way I cheered myself up during Ramadan was by founding FC Ramallah, an informal pick-up soccer club that meets every Monday on the concrete court next to the Lutheran Anglican church just uphill from my house. It’s an even mix of Palestinians and foreigner, and we welcome all skill levels and play a good, scrappy, competitive-but-not-too-competitive game, just the way I like it.

Despite all the scrappiness and various skill levels (and concrete), there have been relatively few injuries, especially compared to street hockey. (The bridge of my nose, which was smashed with the blade of a hockey stick a few weeks ago, is healing nicely. My sunglasses were not so lucky.) People tend to have a good attitude and not clobber each other too much. It’s a good group. Some of them are even fasting! Playing soccer for the last hour and a half of the fast under the hot sun — hardcore.

A guy I met playing soccer — a medical student studying neurosurgery in Cairo and just in Ramallah for the Ramadan holidays — introduced me to a club where people play basketball most evenings. It’s mostly Palestinian guys (a good mix of Christians and Muslims), but there’s one skilled young Palestinian woman in a long ponytail and athletic shorts who’s treated as an equal and a sister. I was treated well as I played, too, even though my skills haven’t developed much beyond middle school.

Several Palestinian-American kids were also there who had moved to Ramallah for high school. They were like a different species from the Palestinian-Palestinians, more surly and sullen, talking more trash (in their unmistakable American accents, and more often in a mean rather than joking way) yet whining more about fouls, injecting totally unnecessary tension into the game. (Perhaps it was in part because they were mostly teenagers and the Palestinians were mostly in their twenties.) An unappealing mix of bluster, self-consciousness, and entitlement that the Palestinians did their best to cheerfully ignore.

I asked my friend about this. He smiled and said, “They are not members of the club. We just let them play because we are friendly.”

It occurred to me as I was writing this that his statement could be understood in a more general sense. I’m not a member of the club, either. I am not and will never be a Palestinian. But I’m glad they’re friendly enough to let me play.

I’ve also noticed something lately. Usually in Ramallah, when I spoke to a waiter or shopkeeper in Arabic, they smiled in appreciation for my effort and then politely switched to English. My favorite are the taxi drivers who say to me, in English, “Ah, you speak Arabic better than me!”

But in the past couple of months, many have started answering me in Arabic, as if not even noticing it might not be my first language. It’s a good feeling, but it’s also an indication that I’m officially entering the most annoying phase of learning any language: The phase where people begin to assume you’re fluent even though you’re not. If people know you’re struggling with a language, they’ll slow down, use simpler vocabulary, switch to English sometimes, etc.

But if people assume you’re fluent, and if you’ve been chatting for a few minutes without problems (if they happen to follow a track of topics that you have a well-developed vocabulary for), and then they use a word or phrase (or paragraph) you don’t understand or start talking too fast or slangy, it’s awkward (and humbling) to backtrack and say, “Actually, I don’t speak Arabic that well.” It makes me feel like a fraud, and they tend to look at me like I’m playing a trick or avoiding whatever subject they just brought up. If I simply keep saying, “Na’am?” (Sorry?) hoping they’ll slow down or use simpler vocabulary, some look at me like they’re not sure whether I’m slightly deaf or learning impaired.

After so much work to get to this level, suddenly instead of applauding your efforts to try to learn their language, people start to get frustrated you don’t know it well enough. It’s a badge of honor in a way, but such an annoying one. The worst part is, it’s a very big plateau. I was still on it (but much further along) by the time I stopped studying Russian. I’ll be “the person who isn’t fluent yet” for a long time before I become fluent (if I ever do), at which point my language skills will simply be taken for granted.

It’s not much of an incentive structure.

A Week in Jordan

Probably the thing that stressed me out most about Ramadan, though, was the fact that my visa renewal trip fell right in the middle of it. In order to stay legally in the lands occupied by Israel, I would have to go to Jordan, re-enter Israel, and try to convince the Israeli border guard to give me another three-month tourist visa. The borders have become more difficult in recent years, with many people who had no trouble getting in and out for years suddenly finding themselves rejected, and many travelers, especially Arab-Americans or foreigners who admit they’re heading to the West Bank, denied entry.

To top it off, the Israelis have started giving “PA-only” visas at the airport and at the Allenby border crossing to some unlucky travelers, which means you can only enter the West Bank, not Israel. My flight leaves from Israel, so this would be a problem for me.

Also, there was the little issue of the fact that I didn’t have a visa. If you recall, they stamped a separate paper at the airport and then took the paper.

In a strange way, this actually turned out to be a blessing. When the girl at the Jordan River crossing asked what I had been doing in Israel, and I said I was a tourist, she didn’t see my stamp telling her I’d been there three months — and she didn’t ask. I was through in five minutes and on my way south to Amman.

Because the major cost of the trip was traveling to and from Jordan, and Jordan’s a nice and relatively cheap country (if you play your cards right), and I needed a break from sitting in my apartment writing all day, I decided to make a little vacation out of it.

On my first night in Amman, as I was walking toward a restaurant for dinner, someone yelled at me from an SUV. It turned out to be three Israelis looking for advice about what to do in Amman. The two guys were wearing jalabiyas (long white traditional Bedouin robes) that they’d picked up in the desert somewhere for a dollar, and the girl was wearing a tank top and holding hands with one of the guys. They were doing so many things wrong at once, I didn’t know where to begin.

But they were guests in town, and I would be ashamed not to treat other guests in the Arab world as kindly as I had always been treated there. I invited them to dinner and quietly told them they shouldn’t be engaging in public displays of affection during Ramadan. They also shouldn’t be walking in downtown Amman in ragged jalabiyas or tank tops, but that couldn’t be helped at the moment. It wasn’t that anything bad was likely to happen to them. It was just incredibly insensitive.

We found a little restaurant down an alleyway that served baked chicken and rice, fried eggplant in a spicy sauce, okra, and salad. The owner welcomed us warmly, and I chatted with the Israelis for a while. It was going well until one asked me where I was coming from.

“Ramallah,” I said.

There were a few moments of silence as they attempted to wrap their heads around this. Finally one said, “Well, I guess there’s money in Ramallah, so it’s easier for people not to be fanatics.”

I opened my mouth to say, “The settlers have all kinds of money. What’s their excuse?” But I was on vacation and not in any mood for anger or arguing.

The other guy asked if there were any bars in Amman.

I said, “Sure, there are plenty of bars in West Amman.”

“Whoah,” he said. “I would love to see that. A bar in a Muslim country!”

I looked at him strangely. “There are bars in Ramallah.”

He shook his head slowly. “Israel is not a Muslim country.”

I blinked a few times. Did he really just say that? Was he really in downtown Amman holding hands with a girl in a tank top in public during Ramadan and telling me Ramallah was part of Israel?

When they invited me to go to West Amman with them, I respectfully declined.

I walked instead to my friend Fayez’s hotel. It was great to see him, and also to catch up with a British/Spanish friend from DC and a friend of a friend from Amman who’s an aspiring (and talented) writer. I hit up some couch surfers in town as well (including the couchsurf ambassador, Simon, a Christian Palestinian-Jordanian who invited me and some other ‘surfers to his home for a huge feast of mahshi = stuffed squash and peppers in spicy yogurt sauce). I bought a cheap Jordanian SIM card, and pretty soon I had a mini-social life going on, calling and texting and inviting and being invited and running all over Amman in the ubiquitous cheap taxis ($3 gets you absolutely anywhere). I had to turn down at least one party just so I could get some sleep.

People were incredibly kind and welcoming, and I felt the way I’d felt the first time I came to Amman in 2003, experiencing it as something new and exciting and wholly itself. Amman has mostly been a stopping-off point for me for the past several years, a place I had to go to renew my visas. But now I was reminded — it’s a pretty cool city in its own right.

On Saturday I joined three couch surfer girls for a trip to Wadi Mujib, a steep canyon gorge carved into red-hued stone with a blue-green river running down the bottom of it. We hiked and climbed and splashed and swam our way up to a ninety-foot waterfall that was impassable without abseiling gear. There were huge boulders and rapids in the river, and there was rarely a bank on either side, just water and cliffs, so we were completely soaked. Some of the climbs were challenging, involving tricky leaps across raging rapids or sliding down a rock face to land on a submerged rock you could use to steady yourself for another leap. Some of the rapids and waterfalls were too dangerous and were blocked off with ropes.

The big waterfall at the end of our trek had a smaller side fall that you could get under and let it pound and massage your shoulders. Under the waterfall, in the peaceful pocket behind its crashing waters, some species of little fish would latch onto your legs in a kind of slimy tickle that I tried to withstand but couldn’t for long. Serious heebie jeebies.

Heading back to the trailhead was much more relaxing, floating with the current instead of fighting it, jumping from waterfalls and sliding down rapids, but our elbows and knees and butts were banged up pretty good by submerged stones. Good times.

I hadn’t eaten anything that day other than a small bag of Doritos and a mini-Snickers (this is the kind of thing lazy ajanib eat for lunch during Ramadan), so I was looking forward to the Iftar in Amman. Amman is a fantastic place to have Iftar, because you can find an excellent meal for 2 JD (Jordanian dinars), about $3 (a laughable notion in Ramallah, where a decent Iftar costs between $15 and $30). There’s a place called the Hashem Restaurant that only sells top-notch hummus, falafel, and fuul, along with bread, salad, and tea, for about 1.5 JD.

They’re always crowded, and I didn’t arrive until the crowd had already overflowed from the alley well into the street. I was told there was no room at the inn. I went to the Jerusalem Restaurant instead, but the harassed-looking host said they’d filled up long ago. I tried to find another alley restaurant that usually had space, but I couldn’t find it anywhere. So when the call to prayer sounded, I was alone and hungry in the twilit streets.

I started walking, hoping to find some place with food to sell. As I walked, I noticed I wasn’t alone after all. Shopkeepers had gathered in alleyways to break their fast together. A few men who sold cigarettes or knickknacks from little stalls on the street were arranging their items forlornly or ducking into a doorway to pray and eat a small meal alone. I said, “Sahtein,” to one group of men (‘Good health,’ the Middle Eastern version of Bon appetit), and they invited me to join them with a friendly wave, but I politely declined. There was already too little food for too many people at their table.

Eventually I found a shop open that was selling small, spicy falafel sandwiches with tomatoes and tahini. I bought one for a quarter of a dinar and a small cup of tamar hindi (date punch with rose water) for a tenth of a dinar. Tamar hindi is divine when done well, and this was the best I had ever tasted, sweetly exotic and ice cold. Walking down the street with my cheap prizes and a sense of lonely solidarity with the millions of Muslims who don’t always get a big, traditional Iftar every Ramadan night, either, and a renewed sense of humble gratitude for what I did have was, I think, nicer than a crowded table at the Jerusalem restaurant.

At eight, I was invited to the Jerusalem restaurant by a Christian Jordanian friend for mansaf (goat meat with rice and a special sour yogurt sauce), and I ended up feasting anyway.

Leaving Amman the next day was difficult. I’d just made all these new friends and gotten to know the city, and now, five days later, it was time to go.

I was heading four hours south to Aqaba, where the border was much more relaxed than the more direct route into the West Bank through the Allenby border crossing (which is where Arabs and activists tend to cross). I figured I’d spend a couple of days relaxing on the Gulf of Aqaba beaches and a night under the desert stars in Wadi Rum before heading back to the border.

I quickly realized, however, that I wouldn’t be able to enjoy the beaches or the desert properly because I was so anxious about the crossing into Israel. The usual sense of helplessness, the dread of all the things I could lose — my plans, my friends, my flatmates, my plane ticket, the olive harvest, Ramallah…

So after one day of swimming laps at the Royal Diving Club south of Aqaba, snorkeling a bit, having an over-priced fish dinner and watching Bab al Hara on a projector screen near the giant Arab Revolt flagpole, I made a run for the border.

Tips on Crossing Israeli Borders

Here are some tips on crossing Israeli borders, picked up from many difficult years of trial and error involving upwards of thirty border crossings.

  1. Be white. In America we at least attempt to be discreet when it comes to racial profiling. In Israel, it is overt and unapologetic. If at all possible, be or at least look Caucasian.
  2. Don’t have anything Araby-sounding in your name or your family. You may look white as a lily, but if your last name is Rashid, be prepared for a long wait (hopefully not more than an hour, especially if you have an American accent and don’t claim to be visiting the West Bank or Gaza). Even I often get asked, “What is your father’s name?” “Robert,” I answer. “What is your grandfather’s name?” “Melvin.” So far they haven’t asked me for my great-grandfather’s name, but if they ever do, I will reply, “Ibrahim Yusif Mohammad Abdul Aziz bin Laden… D’oh!”
  3. Have a clean passport. Any evidence in your passport of travel to Syria, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran… you get the idea. If you’ve been to a country that’s not friendly to Israel, they will not be friendly to you. They’ll probably let you through, but rarely in under an hour or four.
  4. Dress nicely. Even if you’re white, have nothing Arab-ish in your name, and haven’t visited any Axis of Evil countries, if you look like a raggedy activist, you may get pulled aside.
  5. Act confident. Don’t say “Shalom!” with a big friendly smile or look nervous. They respect people more if they are respectful but confident — if they treat the guards as equals (with guns). They’re less likely to pounce on you if you don’t look like a scared, grinning bunny rabbit. Remember, at the end of the day, they’re just kids, and you are an adult.
  6. Act clueless. You don’t know any Arabs, you don’t know any Arabic, you don’t know it’s Ramadan, you don’t know how to dress in Arabic countries (I came to the Aqaba border with a preppy tank top under my shirt and pulled the shirt off as soon as I was out of eyeshot of Aqaba), you’re not sure what the West Bank is (if they ask), and there’s certainly no such thing as ‘East’ Jerusalem! Needless to say, don’t have any keffiyas or Hezbollah flags, or even a Ramallah Bravo Supermarket card, in your luggage.
  7. Keep the internet clean. If you have a Facebook page with lots of Palestine links, change your privacy settings to maximum and change your picture to someone who’s clearly not you. If you have a website with Palestine stuff on it that can easily be changed, change it. Put someone else’s picture on it. Make the front page all about wildflowers. If you’ve written or published things in several places that can’t be easily changed — well, just hope they don’t Google you, as they have Googled several other people and rejected or questioned them based on what they found. (If you follow all the other steps, they probably won’t Google you.)
  8. Lie like a bad rug. Especially if they have no easy way to verify what you’re saying. Sometimes honesty is the best policy, but this is usually not the case at Israeli borders. If you believe it is your right to be in Palestine, don’t make a stand at the border and demand your rights. There are times and places for this; the Israeli border is not one of them. They have all the power, they don’t understand or care about your opinions at all, and there’s no media. Just quietly slip in and go about your life. Otherwise you’re giving eighteen-year-old Russian girls a lot more power than they deserve or know how to handle.

    I always lie, and I advise other people to lie, but most people haven’t been through as many Israeli borders as I have and aren’t used to lying to authority figures. People tend to believe the Israelis have more knowledge and power than they actually do, which de facto allows them to have more knowledge and power than they actually do. Don’t fall for it.

    If the tourist lie won’t work for whatever reason, lie anyway. If you’re a journalist, a writer, a photographer, an activist, an artist teaching art classes at a refugee camp, a student studying the occupation or the Bedouin’s plight in Israel, or just coming in to help with the olive harvest, don’t let on. Find something more politically neutral. Volunteer medical worker or English teacher has usually worked for me as a back-up lie.

  9. Keep it simple. Don’t have a big, elaborate story about what you’re doing or phone numbers of friends in Israel (they will call, and this puts your Israeli friends on the spot, and they may forget parts of your story or end up contradicting you, which does not help), and don’t sit there chattering about every hostel you’ll stay in from Eilat to Tiberias. Every new piece of information just gives them more to question you about, more threads to pick at, more chances for you to contradict yourself. You’re a tourist. You’ll stay in hostels in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv and take day trips from there, whatever the other travelers say is the best. You’ll go home after ten days. (They’ll give you a three-month visa anyway if they think you’re a tourist — this is standard.) Whatever. Just keep it simple.
  10. Keep your passport clean. If at all possible, avoid getting Israeli stamps in your passport. Always ask for the stamp on a separate sheet of paper. This may result in a few extra questions, but it’s better than the questions you’ll get at the next border when they see that you’ve already been staying in Israel for six months. The “tourist” lie won’t work then. (By the way, don’t ask me why they don’t have this in the computer, or do have it in the computer but only sometimes check. All I can say is, the tourist lie keeps working for me.) Have a politically neutral reason for not getting a stamp, such as an environmental conference in Beirut next year, a friend who’s doing business in Dubai, or an oil contract in the Sudan.

The Israeli border — so many chances to use your imagination!

(Don’t let any of this dissuade you from coming, though. In the end, they let almost everyone through, especially if you follow these steps, and even usually if you don’t. They just have a bizarre policy of trying to ‘persuade’ people not to come back by hassling and hanging the threat of deportation over everyone. But it’s manifestly worth it to see the Holy Land for yourself and you will, at least, be warmly welcomed on the Palestinian side. There are buses from the Old City of Jerusalem to Ramallah, Bethlehem, or Hebron for about two dollars, and from there you can get anywhere in the West Bank. Ahlan wa sahlan!)

Even armed with all this, I was a wreck by the time I got to the border. There’s always a chance they can throw you a curveball, catch you contradicting yourself, Google you or run your name in the computer, and end up ruining your day and/or your next three months anyway. So far these techniques have more or less worked for me, but my luck could run out any time.

I wore too much make-up, my preppy tank top, my hair down, my confidence (seemingly) high, and my skin white as a Cairene cloud. I had my story down, everything from my (nonexistent) job in DC to my (nonexistent) fabulous Turkish vacation as soon as I left Israel after ten days.

The only awkward question they asked was, “Why did you decide to travel alone?”

“That’s none of your business, darling,” I wanted to say.

“So I can more easily infiltrate your nuclear secrets,” was about the only answer I could think of that might have anything to do with Israeli national security, and even an idiotic terrorist in a tank top wouldn’t say that.

“Well, my husband recently died after a nasty divorce, so my children are estranged from me, and most of my friends abandoned me after they found out I had an inoperable brain tumor, so really this is the last trip of my life, and as you can see, I’m all alone. Do you know anyone in Israel who might be my friend?” I didn’t say that, either.

“It’s just easier to coordinate with one person,” I said.

Three month visa, on a separate paper. Booyah.

Pamela

P.S. While I was writing this, Rania called and said the family’s lawyer said Sharif would most likely be in prison until July instead of February, after all.

She’s devastated. The funds I’m providing her with (with help from many people) are enough for basics for her and Karim (and so far only enough to cover the next month), but not enough to send money to help Sharif, who’s practically starving in prison in miserable conditions, crowded in with criminals when he’s not stuck in an isolation cell six feet square. Right now Rania’s having a hard time seeing any light at the end of this tunnel.

At least Karim’s teeth are finally coming in. There art thou happy.

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