OK, now for a couple of outtakes from this section:
Like in any office, we emailed jokes and videos back and forth. This one in particular made me smile:
An old Arab man lived near New York City for more than forty years. One day he decided to plant potatoes and herbs in his garden, but he knew he was too old and weak. His son was in college in Paris, so the old man sent him an e-mail explaining the problem:
“Beloved son, I am very sad, because I can’t plant potatoes in my garden. I am sure, if only you were here, that you would help me dig up the garden. I love you, your father.”
The following day, the old man received a response from his son:
“Beloved father, please don’t touch the garden. That is where I have hidden ‘the THING.’ I love you, too, Ahmed.”
Within hours the US Army, the Marines, the FBI, the CIA, the NSA, and the Office of Homeland Security came to the house of the old man and took the garden apart, searching every cubic inch. They didn’t find anything. Disappointed, they mumbled an apology and left.
The next day, the old man received another e-mail from his son:
“Beloved father, I hope the garden is dug up by now and you can plant your potatoes. That is all I could do for you from here. Your loving son, Ahmed.”
This outtake came at the end of this section:
For lunch we usually went to Osama’s Pizza for Italian food, Zeit ou Zaatar (Olive Oil and Thyme) for traditional Palestinian fare, or the Nazareth Restaurant, which had cheap and tasty falafel sandwiches. One day I accidentally walked out of the Nazareth Restaurant without paying and didn’t realize until I was back at my desk. Embarrassed, I walked back to the restaurant and said, “I’m so sorry, I forgot to pay.”
The man behind the counter was thin and distinguished-looking and wore silver wire-rim glasses. He put his hand over his heart and said, “That is OK, you are our customer. Next time.”
“No, no, please, it is OK. Maybe next time it will be a very big order.” He smiled mock-suggestively, and I laughed.
Ramallah International Film Festival
A woman in a business suit announced the winners, mostly female, of a scriptwriting contest among Palestinian high school students, then we were shown a videotaped message from Omar Sharif, the Egyptian actor who starred in Funny Girl and Lawrence of Arabia.
Cold War and Peace
This passage, the last in the chapter, was shortened to just the underlined sentences in the new version (plus an edited bit about slavery, Jim Crow, and Apartheid):
She was right, of course. This conflict was a symptom of a much more fundamental disorder. Was it a problem with human nature itself, I wondered, or just a massive failure of imagination? It was easy to talk about ‘cycles of violence,’ but what did that really mean? The basic units of any conflict were human beings, and human beings supposedly had some degree of rationality and free will. How was that will so utterly subsumed into roles that seemingly benefited no one? What kept them in motion, and how could they be stopped? Could it be transcended one day like slavery, Jim Crow, and Apartheid? It seemed tantalizingly plausible. Who could have guessed, when a fractured Europe was massacring itself in the depths of World War II, that two generations later there’d be a European Union? Why shouldn’t something similar be possible in the Middle East?
There were difficult legal disputes that needed to be settled in the Holy Land, but the amount of stonewalling and violence was out of all proportion to the amount of land that was truly under discussion at this point. If we could figure out why—find the bottleneck—in one of the most bitter, deadlocked conflicts on earth, perhaps a way could be found to generalize it and extract ourselves from other irrational patterns of human behavior. It was thrilling to think about. That spark I’d had as a kid, the passion for learning about the world through my own senses, was reigniting.
I smiled at the ridiculousness of a physics major from Oklahoma taking on a quest that had eluded Presidents and generals, scholars and religious leaders. The near-certainty of my failure didn’t bother me too much, though. The path itself was irresistibly rich and interesting. Power and violence, fear and intrigue, inspiration and beauty, real and right in front of me, all around and undeniable. There was no way to know where it might lead—whether to utter cynicism and despair, renewed faith and hope, or something else, something totally unexpected—except to follow it and find out.
My ‘quest’ didn’t look like much now: editing documents for no pay, living with a loud-mouthed Gaza Communist, and already getting tired of falafel. Even if it came to nothing, though, the consolation prizes were traveling, learning Arabic, harvesting olives, drinking Taybeh beer, and rounding it out with a nargila on the porch.
I supposed one could do worse in her twenty-fourth year.