You are currently browsing the monthly archive for September 2016.

Dear friends,

Apologies for not being in touch for a while. I’ve been focusing on finishing a novel and dealing with a personal issue that’s taken up a lot of bandwidth. I’m also still working on my novel, Sinai Moon. The book has made me laugh and helped me through some tough times, and I hope it will do the same for others.

Last time I wrote was just before my book tour through Scotland, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, the UAE, and Turkey in the spring of 2015. It was exhausting but awesome. Highlights include a lively interview with the BBC in Scotland and a live interview on Turkish TV with a presenter who didn’t really speak English (luckily he prepped me ahead of time on what the questions would be).


And a lavish event at the La Fontaine Centre for Contemporary Art & Spa (& Restaurant) in Bahrain. The venue is a massive restored 19th century mansion with atmospheric interiors and romantic courtyards with elegant art installations and a gargantuan fountain (perfect for discussing dangerous politics, as no one could overhear you above the roar).

fontaineI don’t think this picture conveys how truly massive that Fontaine is

A band of traditional Bahraini musicians set the mood during the event, and I gave a book talk and Palestine presentation to a large audience under the stars. (I was surprised how many people in the Gulf in general were surprised by what I had to say. The news just can’t show how beautiful it is or how bad things really are.) Afterwards I found the band having dinner in one of the courtyards, and we talked into the late hours.

bandThe band

In May of this year Ahmed and I did a 6000-mile road trip to the Grand Canyon, LA, Big Sur, the Bay Area, the Lost Coast, Oregon, Montana, and Yellowstone. Ahmed liked the Grand Canyon best, and I loved watching sea lions play in the mighty current of the Klamath River as it flowed into the Pacific Ocean (and catching up with old friends along the way).

hollywoodhazeHad to see Hollywood… even though you can’t really see it

mcwayMcWay Falls in Big Sur


We’re back in Tulsa now, living a few steps from the Arkansas River. We love to walk along it and watch big sunsets over Turkey Mountain as geese and herons fly overhead. Ahmed is doing great with his web design business (referrals welcome!), and I’ve been doing Palestine-related freelance work and a book talk here and there (one is coming up at UMass Amherst). We still play lots of soccer and recently rescued / adopted a wild, sweet grey kitten named Mateo.


On the Palestine front, a teacher from a refugee camp in Bethlehem, Hanan Al Hroub, won the Global Teacher Prize and the million-dollar award that goes with it. She came from modest means, offers special care to children exposed to violence, focuses on providing a safe space of freedom and play in a difficult environment, and is a regular at conferences and teacher training seminars throughout the West Bank.

Remind you of anyone?

Yep — My friend Rania is still doing all that work and more in Tulkarem. She offers desperately-needed counseling for victims of trauma and abuse, activities for children in refugee camps, programs for the disabled (including at a special school for people living with Down syndrome), and training for other counselors and community leaders. The number of lives she touches is truly staggering and humbling.



And she’s still not getting paid a dime for it. We’ve both tried several times to find outside funding, but due to the urgency of Gazans under siege and Syrians fleeing war, aid funds are scarcer than ever, and the Palestinian Authority can barely cover teacher’s salaries and garbage disposal.

So, I’m still raising money each year to pay her a modest salary of $300 a month, which not only helps her family survive but also helps hundreds of vulnerable people in her community. You can view the fundraiser here, with rewards for various levels of contribution and pictures of her work and her beautiful kids:

Help Support Rania’s Social Work in Tulkarem!

Lusan and Karam continue to thrive. Both are at the tops of their classes, and they just get cuter, funnier, and smarter as they get older.

Gifts of $5 or $10 add up very quickly and are more appreciated than we can say. I sent $900 before the fundraiser started, so to support the family for another year, I’ll need to raise $4500.

If you’d rather send a check or use Paypal, let me know which reward(s) you would like and I’ll let you know the best way to pay. My Paypal email is

I pay for all rewards as well as Western Union fees, so 100% of what you give goes to Rania for her work. The generosity of so many people is the only reason Rania has been able to get through some very tough years and become a pillar of her community in a place where Israeli authorities do everything they can to stifle Palestinian life. To me she is the definition of sumoud (steadfastness).

Thank you for anything you can chip in (if you can), and please stay in touch!

Love and light,

You can view the fundraising page here.


DCF 1.0


Something glinted in the corals. My head lifted to see if anyone might be searching for something. The others were kicking along placidly, their snorkels angled from their heads like tiny smokestacks. I took a breath and dove to get a closer look.

My eyes widened as it came more clearly into view. It was caught on a branch of pale yellow coral, its ends swaying faintly in the current. I looked left and right, almost guiltily, before gently lifting it and tucking it into my bikini top.

Back at the surface I held my breath waiting for one of the women to cry out at the realization of her loss. But even after everyone had climbed back onto the tour boat and plastic cups of rum punch were handed out, no one said anything. Finally I cleared my throat.

“Did one of you lose something while you were snorkeling?”

A dozen sunburned faces looked at me, then at each other, and shrugged. A middle-aged man in a Hunter S. Thompson sun hat eyed me shrewdly. “Why, what did you find?”

I hesitated, then shrugged. “I thought I saw something. I guess it was nothing.” The boat operator resumed his patter about Caribbean sea life, and the subject dropped.

A part of me was relieved. The weight of the well-made piece was thrilling against my skin. But I couldn’t just claim it without a good-faith search for the owner, and if she wasn’t on this boat she could be anywhere. Dozens of hotels spewed tourists into the coral gardens off the Turks and Caicos Islands every day.

In my hotel’s cheerful white lobby I asked the concierge, a dapper Cuban, if anyone had lost a piece of jewelry. “No, Señorita Lauren,” he replied, his inflection skating the line between formal and suave. I tried a few more hotels, but the only hit I got was for an engagement ring thrown into the surf after a man got so blind drunk, he accidentally proposed to a passing cocktail waitress instead of to his girlfriend.

Back in my room I wrapped the object in a blue bandana and stuffed it into a pair of socks in my suitcase. Grabbing an oversized towel, I headed for the powder-white sand a few steps from my door to enjoy what was left of my last evening in this fool’s paradise. It was June, the sultry beginning of hurricane season. A friend had mentioned the off-season deal, and I’d jumped on it like a lifeboat. A lifeboat I couldn’t afford, which in any case would take me straight back to the doomed ship in less than thirty-six hours.

I ordered two piña coladas from the shack bar and walked along the nearly-deserted beach until I found a nice spot and laid out my towel. Great bulbous updraft clouds turn muted shades of pink and lavender as I downed the tropical drinks. I ran a hand down my leg to the anklet I’d been wearing for years, woven from threads I’d bought from Bedouin girls in the colors of the Sinai: midnight blue like the sea, turquoise like the sandy-bottomed lagoons, white like the wavelets crashing against the reefs, and gold-brown like the desert mountains. A talisman of how beautiful life could be. It was ragged and faded now, which seemed appropriate. Conal had been with me on that trip, my best friend from my years of travel. He’d be in New York soon for a journalism conference, but I wasn’t sure I wanted him to see me like this.

I stood too quickly and stumbled a few steps before striding into the warm, inviting water. The sky languidly faded to starry cobalt as I swam past the gentle breakers and into the swells, bobbing with the rhythm of the sea. I looked through the greying clouds to see if I could spot any planets—a comforting ritual that was nearly impossible in New York City. Mars and Jupiter were high and bright. I smiled at a sudden memory of Celeste’s dad showing me Jupiter through his backyard telescope. The wonder of seeing it for the first time not as a featureless white dot but as an entire world with its own tiny pinprick moons. A moment of pure, simple joy and discovery. How long had it been since I’d had one of those?

As the waters darkened, I reluctantly swam back to shore.

In my room I unwrapped the find from the reef and took a closer look. The bracelet was delicately designed, its silvery metal twisted into entwining vines with a diamond set in the space between each twist. The stones refracted even the dull lights of the hotel room into glittering brilliance. I draped it over my wrist to see how it looked against my tanned skin, and the ends came together as if joined by strong magnets. It fit perfectly. The edge of my mouth lifted. Jewelry was something I generally considered an expensive hassle. But this was a work of art.


New York’s subways are a forlorn place, I thought as I rode the interminable A train from JFK to my cramped apartment in Washington Heights, north of Harlem. It wasn’t just that they were such a rat-hole compared to the palatial Metro of Moscow, the charming trams of Istanbul, or the clean, efficient lines of Paris. The people also seemed depressed, with broken dreams and resignation written on their faces.

I trudged up four flights of grimy stairs, jammed the key in the door, and walked past my roommate Sara, who was washing a mountain of dishes in the closet-like kitchen.

“Hey,” I said shortly, the vibe of New York already washing away the modicum of relaxation I’d felt hours earlier.

“Hey, habibti!” Sara beamed over her shoulder, using an Arabic endearment. Her parents were from Lebanon. “How was the trip?”


She scoffed gently. “I don’t know which beach you ended up on, but remind me not to go there. Hey, what’s that?” She pointed at my wrist.

I told her about the beach, the boat, and the bracelet. “I think the diamonds are real. It feels heavy, like a serious piece of jewelry. I spent the whole morning calling every hotel on Grace Bay trying to find the owner. I even went to the police. Nothing.”

“Huh,” she said. “I wonder who could have lost it.”

“I have this image in my head of an heiress on a yacht, her arms dripping with diamonds, a casual gesture flinging one of her baubles overboard unheeded.” I pantomimed a beach-bound Holly Golightly throwing her hands in the air theatrically, and Sara laughed.

“Well, my weekend wasn’t nearly as exciting. Work yesterday, solo Netflix and chill today. Anyway, go, unpack. Tomorrow you’ll wake up to a clean kitchen for once.”

“Thanks.” She was terrible about doing dishes, and I appreciated the effort. I didn’t really need to unpack, though. For a year I’d been living out of my suitcase as if I might be called to bigger and better things at any moment. In my small room with its ancient wood floors and Craigslist bed, desk, and office chair, I opened my laptop to see if any agents had gotten back to me (nope) and to scan the news in the Middle East (more of the same). My glance shifted to the room’s only decoration, a collection of quotations taped to the wall.

One read: “Far and away the best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.” —Theodore Roosevelt.

“Easy for you to say,” I muttered. “You were president of the United States.”

My eyes moved to the bookshelf, where half a dozen copies of my first book, Balkan Bruise, were lined up on the bottom shelf. Not long ago it had been a point of intense pride. I’d scraped by for a few years after college with odd jobs and writing gigs—like George Orwell and Frank McCourt before me, I liked to think—following what I thought was my passion. When I sold the rights to Balkan Bruise for $40,000, it felt like a sign from the universe that I was on the right path. It was such a thrill to see it in a major bookstore for the first time lined up next to bestsellers and classics.

But sales never really took off, and soon the next season’s books rolled in, and that was that. I knew it could happen if you weren’t lucky enough to break out. It was, in fact, the normal life cycle of most books. But it was jarring to watch six years of life and work fade away like it had barely happened.

I shook it off and used the advance money to explore the Middle East for two years and pour every ounce of talent and heart I had into my second book, The Silver Olive Tree. I envisioned this more ambitious and elegant project catapulting me into middle age with a life of travel, royalties, and doing what I loved full-time.

My publisher returned it so fast I wasn’t even sure they read it. Citing the first book’s poor sales, they cut me loose. My agent, blessed with a smarmy bestseller soon to be made into a major motion picture starring Emma Stone, dumped me as well.

Somehow I convinced myself it was only a minor setback. I moved to New York to find a new agent and publisher, taking on yet more odd jobs and writing gigs in between going to conferences, workshops, and author events. A few leads had raised high hopes. More than one agent said my book was great but not right for them—the literary equivalent of ‘It’s not you, it’s me.’ But after a solid year of rejection, my hopes were starting to fade.

I leaned back and closed the laptop in frustration. It was a common New York story anyway, bordering on cliché. Sara wanted to be an actress. With her black ringlets, pale olive skin, and expressive blue eyes, it would be a waste if her face was never on a movie poster. But every time she got an audition, they’d tell her she didn’t look white enough to play a white girl and didn’t look Arab enough to play an Arab. For now she worked at a box office on Broadway.

My stomach rumbled. I was starving but not in the mood for beans and rice or an egg sandwich or any of the other cheap staples we lived on. Without thinking I mused out loud, “I wish we had a tiramisu in the fridge like the one I had at that little café in northwestern Italy. It was so humble, a mess of ingredients in a thick glass bowl. It looked terrible, actually. But then I bit into the first spoonful, and it was like… I can’t even describe it. Like eating love.”

There was no response from the kitchen, but I heard the faucet turn off.

“The mascarpone was probably made in the hills behind the village. The waiter’s grandmother probably sifted the cocoa by hand.” I sighed deeply. “There’s just nothing like that around here.”

The sound of clinking glasses emanated from the kitchen. “How about a glass of Trader Joe’s finest instead?”

I set the laptop aside and picked myself up. “Sounds like a plan.” I was a few steps from the kitchen when I heard a gasp.



“You’re going to share, right?”

I looked in at her. “Share what?”

She raised an eyebrow. “The dessert in our fridge. The one you were just describing.”

“What?” I asked again, not sure what she was playing at.

She opened the refrigerator door wider. On the middle shelf sat an exact replica of the tiramisu I had enjoyed so thoroughly in the Cinque Terre, down to the heavy glass bowl.

The hairs on the back of my neck stood up. “Where did that come from?” I sputtered.

“You tell me,” she said and pulled the bowl out of the fridge. “Grab some spoons, this looks amazing!” I did as I was told, feeling like a computer that had divided by zero.

She took a bite directly from the bowl. “Oh my God.” Her eyes fluttered. “You were right. This may be the best thing I’ve ever had in my mouth. Seriously, where did you get it? And…” She narrowed her eyes. “Wait, when did you sneak it in here?”

“I didn’t. I had nothing to do with it.” I looked at her quizzically, wondering if she was punking me. Her look mirrored my own. I took an experimental bite and was immediately transported to the carefree time at the beginning of my travels when the world was so rich and open, with broad and welcoming horizons, and I could be anything I wanted, just like they told me in grade school.

Sara chuckled uneasily. “Well, I guess we have a tiramisu fairy godmother?”

“Or a generous neighbor.”

“Who broke into our house?”

“Maybe you forgot to lock the door. Or was it the super? Is he Italian? Is it your birthday or something?” I asked

“Not until December.”

“Weird…” We looked at it awkwardly for another few seconds. “I guess I’ll ask him about it next time I see him.”

“You do that. Meanwhile…” She scooped half of it onto a plate. “Wherever it came from, it’s amazing.” She kissed the air good-night and retired to her room.

I took the rest to my room and felt increasingly uneasy as I ate. It was truly perfect. And what an odd coincidence that it would show up on the same night I had that completely random thought. Drowsiness warred with confusion until I was too tired to keep trying to puzzle it out. I popped my earplugs in and fell asleep to the sound of my beating heart.

* * *

“Happy Birthday, Mom. Sorry I’m a little late…”

It was the next morning after a breakfast of three eggs on a bagel to make up for having dessert for dinner the night before. I didn’t plan on telling her about my flagrantly escapist trip to the islands. It was an open question how I’d pay off that credit card bill, and I didn’t need her to tell me how ridiculous it was.

“Don’t worry about it. I would have forgot it myself if Roxana hadn’t fixed me an apricot pie.”

Roxana never cooked, so it was quite a gesture. “How’d she do?”

Mom paused a moment too long. “Bless her heart…” she began. “It was really sweet.”

“Yeah, it’s the thought that counts.”

“No, I mean she put in four times as much sugar as she was supposed to.”

I laughed. “Well, it’s better than the time she overloaded the biscuits with baking soda.”

“Oh Lord, I almost forgot about that. I don’t think there’s anything sadder in the world than a whole pan of hot buttered biscuits in the trash.”

I sighed. I’d left Kansas with such big dreams. Right now, biscuits and apricot pie sounded better than anything I had going on.

“Anyway, what’s eating you? You sound kind of mopey.”

I raised an eyebrow at the phone. Mopey? You couldn’t say something dignified, like ‘depressed’ or ‘mired in existential despair’?

“I don’t know. I guess it’s been a year since I came to New York, and I’m not sure…”

“You don’t think you’ll ever sell that book?” She sounded like she’d been expecting it, which felt like a subtle knife in the ribs.

“I don’t know,” I said evenly. “I’m not sure what to do. Nothing seems to be working.”

“Well, that’s how it goes. I wanted to be an actress until I met your father.”

I slowly closed my eyes. Mom’s acting dreams had withered after she got pregnant at age nineteen—with me. I had killed her dreams and now mine were dying, too.

I opened my carved wooden jewelry box, a gift from a host family in Sarajevo that held a few nostalgic treasures: a dog tag given to me by a Russian soldier I had kissed on a train; an amulet of carved bone from a Buddhist monastery in Siberia; a seashell from a valley in the Sahara, evidence it had been under the sea millions of years ago; and now the bracelet. I pulled out the latest addition and tilted it back and forth to catch the light. I had always been careful with money, almost to a fault. Being frugal meant having the freedom to do what I wanted. Maybe maxing out my credit card was a subconscious attempt to force my hand—to give me that final push to find a steady paycheck and leave all this hope and uncertainty behind.

“Anyway, there’s a party tonight. Some ritzy college reunion thing. Maybe I’ll meet someone there who can help me find a real job.”

I could almost hear Mom brighten at the thought.

* * *

I let my hair dry in large curlers, put on a little black dress I’d bought at a thrift store when I was in college, brushed on eyeliner, and finished with lip gloss and turquoise drop earrings. The dress was a size too big, and its shade of black didn’t quite match the lightly scuffed ballet flats I borrowed from Sara. The bracelet was a bit much, but people would probably assume it was fake. I doubted I’d have a better excuse to wear it for a while.

The party was at a private residence on Central Park West. The doorman pointed me to a gilded elevator, which opened into a spacious apartment on the fourteenth floor with a wall of windows overlooking the green trees of Central Park. The couches were cream-colored, the rugs lush with patterns of cream and beige. Abstract wire sculptures adorned large niches in the walls.

Bracing myself, I walked toward a group of alums. They all had that polished New York look with three-figure haircuts and dry-clean-only clothes. As they chatted with aspartame smiles, brightly asking each other, “And what do you do?”, my mind drifted to another kind of gathering, a house party on a rooftop somewhere in the Mediterranean where the guests couldn’t possibly care less about anyone’s status or job title.

“Lauren!” I heard from the direction of the elevator. I turned and saw Anna, my freshman year roommate, saunter into the room. Effervescent, blonde, and originally from Manhattan, she was totally at ease at these types of gatherings. Last I heard she was working seventy-hour weeks at a consulting firm. Whatever that was.

“Hi Anna,” I said, relieved to see a familiar face.

“How’s it going, world traveler?” she asked playfully.

My left eye twitched involuntarily. “Where’s the wine?”

She hesitated, then smiled knowingly. “I think people are heading in that direction.” We followed them to the dining room, where bottles of chardonnay were lined up like soldiers next to bottles of zinfandel. Behind them lay an impressive spread of appetizers.

“Great,” I said, grabbing a bottle of zin. “The only two kinds of wine I don’t like. I wish they had just one bottle of cabernet.”

Anna blinked, her expression wavering between confusion and concern. “That’s a cab, isn’t it?” I looked at the bottle I was holding. “Lucky you,” she said. “I wish they had a sauv blanc, but oh well.” She poured herself a cup of the chardonnay.

I was still peering at the bottle in my hand. “But… this was a zinfandel when I picked it up, wasn’t it? The bottles were all the same.”

Anna stared for a moment, then dropped her voice. “Honey, you seem tense. And I think you’ve lost weight. Are you OK?”

I sighed and gave her a run-down of what was going on in my life as I opened the lone bottle of cabernet and filled a clear plastic cup. Anna pursed her lips in a sympathetic frown, then perked up again. “Well, you can always write,” she said cheerfully. “As a hobby, I mean.”

I nodded at the sage advice, downed the wine quickly, and poured another cup, then another.

I wasn’t exactly sure how I ended up sitting on the floor next to my bed back in my apartment. A few hours, I realized with some alarm, were missing. That hadn’t happened since college. I stood up shakily, sat on the edge of the bed, and rested my forehead in my hand.

“God I wish I had a cup of coffee,” I muttered.

The scent of coffee filled the room and I slowly raised my eyes. A steaming mug was sitting on the desk next to my laptop. The mug was made of thick white ceramic, the kind found in diners. I hadn’t noticed it when I came in. Had Sara left it for me?

A wave of nausea rolled over me. I lunged for the wastebasket at the foot of the bed and heaved into it. The trash can had mesh sides, and my wine-stained offering began oozing out of it and onto the cracked hardwood floor.

Grimacing, I slurred, “Ugh, I wish I didn’t have to clean that tomorrow.”

The vomit vanished. I barely had time to register this before I hurled again. I wiped my mouth. “I wish that puke would go away, too.” It did, and I raised my eyebrows wanly. I’d never hallucinated while drinking. It was vaguely worrying, but I wasn’t in the right state of mind to worry very much.

Flopping onto the bed, I pulled off my clothes and lay my head on my cheap, squashed-flat pillow. “I wish it was thicker,” I murmured and felt it rise beneath my head like baking bread as I drifted off.


Thus begins an adventure that will take Lauren to Croatia, Switzerland, Beirut, and the Sinai, and [spoiler redacted] as she explores the mysterious object around her wrist and the mysterious forces that shape who we are.

Two more chapters are available to anyone who might like to read them. Just email me at pamolson at gmail dot com. Thoughts, questions, and feedback are always appreciated!

Here’s a synopsis in the style of mainstream literary fiction. Feedback on this is welcome as well.

Sinai Moon

Lauren Clay is a writer and world traveler who, after a decade of “following her dreams,” has reached the end of her spiritual and financial rope. She’s on the cusp of dropping it all and getting a “real job” when she finds a strange object that offers the terrifying gift of unconditional freedom.

In the weeks that follow she explores the meaning of success in Switzerland, romance in Beirut, and the heights of the human spirit in the Sinai. Just as life is starting to make sense, a series of small acts of carelessness snowball into dire consequences for herself, her family, and those she loves, threatening to undermine everything she’s learned about how to live well in a world full of uncertainty.

Packed with romance and adventure, humor and wisdom, Sinai Moon is at once a thrilling travelogue and a compelling work of literary fiction that explores the gulf between the way life is and the way we expect it to be.

Shortly before graduating from college, my dear friend Rania from Jayyous (a major character in my book) married Sharif, a poor but kind man who lost his parents when he was young and never finished high school. He was incredibly supportive of Rania’s education, and they had a beautiful baby boy named Karam in 2007.

Two years later she was pregnant with a little girl, and Sharif secured a permit to work in Israel so he could finish building their house and support his growing family.

Then… disaster struck. Before her husband had a chance to use his permit, he was brutally arrested in the middle of the night by armed Israeli soldiers who beat him in front of his pregnant wife and child and put him behind bars for a year on bogus charges.

Little Lusan, born while her father was in prison

When her husband was finally released, he was a changed man, in bad health and bad spirits with no hope of ever getting a permit to work in Israel again. The only jobs he could get were tough physical labor that paid little (and prices is Palestine are hideously inflated due to the occupation).

In 2010, Rania took the initiative and found meaningful work with the Syndicate of Psychological Social Workers, an organization that sponsors activities, classes, and counseling sessions to improve the psychological health of the community. It’s a desperately needed service in a town suffering so badly from the occupation (violence, vicious arrests, land expropriation and unemployment) and other stresses (the usual societal problems like spousal abuse, disabilities, and mental illness).

Unfortunately, it’s not a paid position. The Syndicate has been trying to get funding for years, and Salam Fayyad visited more than once and personally promised funding. But for various reasons — such as Israel’s withholding of Palestinian tax funds to try to prevent the formation of a Palestinian unity government — it has never materialized. Their office doesn’t even have working phones. We have tried many times to find outside funding, but most covers only projects and materials, not salaries. And due to exigencies in Gaza, Syria, and elsewhere, aid funds are scarcer than ever.

So, for the past several years, I’ve been raising funds to send Rania $300 per month as a nominal salary so that she can continue the work and keep raising her beautiful kids, Karam and Lusan.



When I visited Palestine in 2011, Rania invited me to see the work she does on a daily basis. It was a whirlwind tour. First we went to the Syndicate office and talked with other volunteers. One was taking a group of women through lessons that would count toward their university training in counseling. One of the male volunteers was a music teacher. Another was a policeman, most of whose family is in Israeli prison. One of his sons was unable to finish high school because the Israelis took him when he was 16.

They all had the disarming, earnest friendliness I’m used to in Palestine, the same direct and matter-of-fact way of talking about their hardships, the same undying hope that telling their story just one more time will somehow make a difference. And they all spoke of Rania as if she’s indispensable.

Next we visited a home for the mentally disabled. Most of the people there had Down syndrome. Many of them recognized Rania, and their faces lit up when they saw her. A teacher showed us the different classrooms, from the one was for people who could barely function at all, who basically just played or danced all day, to the most advanced, where students could learn to read and write and perform other basic skills.

Finally we went to a UN school for refugee children, where Rania and several other women organized an after school program for girls through the local YMCA. About a hundred high-spirited first-graders showed up, all of them girls, and we set up games of tug-of-war, sack races, hop-scotch, hula hoops, and best of all, the game where everyone grabs the edge of a parachute cloth and jumbles it around with balls on top so that the balls jump around. Everyone was laughing the whole time we did it.

Rania whispered to me, “When the girls are doing this, they forget all their stress!”


Afterwards we handed out juice boxes and cakes and did face-painting and drawing on a giant piece of butcher paper. The girls were engaged the whole time, their eyes shining, supporting each other through every challenge. Without these women, and the smattering of funding from the YMCA for the supplies, these girls would simply be trudging home to crowded cinderblock alleys and small rooms that may or may not have electricity.

It was incredibly humbling to see so many volunteers, who had difficult and busy lives of their own, spending their time helping others instead of throwing up their hands or ignoring their even-less-fortunate neighbors.

Since then Rania has continued and intensified her social work in Tulkarem. A recent project involved organizing a summer camp for children, especially kids from refugee camps. Activities included counseling, art, drama, playing, swimming, and education about human rights and international law.

One ten-year-old boy came up to her after a workshop on human rights and said angrily, “You give us exercises and let us play, and you say nice words about international law, but we still don’t have human rights. You should be honest about this.”

Kids aren’t stupid. They know what they see.



She was taken aback, but she said, “I understand, I feel with your anger. God willing, one day we will have human rights.”

It’s a terrible thing to have to say to a ten-year-old. But it’s good to give them forums in which they can learn what they’re missing and vent about their pent-up feelings, so that hopefully one day they will be more effective in the struggle to implement their rights.

The summer activities also had a twist: The mothers of the children were invited to some of the activities, including picnics and a day in an amusement park. Rania said they were amazed, because it was the first time they had been included in something like that. They were also given free counseling sessions, and many said it was the first time anyone had allowed them to express their feelings and cry.

Mothers in Palestine have to keep the family together more than anyone. The society would quickly collapse without their strength. But there’s little space for them to break down or show emotion. Day to day they feel they have to remain composed, even when their heart is breaking.

Rania said she would do what she could to continue providing these services to the people who need them. And I’m glad to do what I can as well.

100% of the money you give goes to Rania. I pay for all rewards offered during fundraisers and all Western Union fees. So what you give is what she gets, and she in turn gives to the hundreds of people she helps with her work. It’s an investment guaranteed to grow many times over. You can’t say that about many investments these days.

My Paypal email is, or you can email me for details about how to send a check. If you’d prefer to send money directly to her via Western Union, I can send instructions on how to do it — it’s very easy.

Fundraising and donating aren’t nearly as hard as raising amazing children while trying to be a rock for a society under brutal, strangling occupation. But the one makes the other possible, and it’s an honor to be a small part of it.

Even $5 or $10 makes a huge difference, believe me.

Thank you.

Ramadan Kareem!

Love and light,



My book

Fast Times in Palestine is in bookstores worldwide! Order on Amazon, or check out the book's website.

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Books I Love

A Doctor in Galilee,
by Dr. Hatim Kanaaneh

The Hour of Sunlight, by Sami al Jundi and Jen Marlowe

The Goldstone Report, edited by Adam Horowitz, Lizzy Ratner, and Philip Weiss

Mornings in Jenin, by Susan Abulhawa

The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, by Ilan Pappe

Zabelle, by Nancy Kricorian

Cosmos, by Carl Sagan

Impro, by Keith Johnstone

Improv Wisdom,
by Patricia Ryan Madson

Walden and Civil Disobedience, by Henry David Thoreau

To Kill a Mockingbird,
50th Anniversary Edition,
by Harper Lee