Travel Portraits (Part 3)

Portraits don’t only show people and their personalities. Just as much they can show relationships, interactions, ways of being together. We might think it’s nothing – it’s just “having your photo taken with someone”. But this is decieving – how we feel about other people is likely revealed, whether we mean it or not, when we pose with them.

Sadiah and Benazir became fast friends in Palestine. But you can tell that from their eyes in this photo, taken in the old city of Nablus:

The next shot requires a bit more explaination. We ended up at this man’s house by accident, by running into a masters student from England in a community school who was on her way to doing some fieldwork north of al-Khalil. When we arrived at the property we were shown how much of his land was simply stolen by the Israelis, who built a settlement on it. And on the land that remains, the Israelis keep demolishing his house – this is the third one, the rubble of the first two we passed on our way walking up the driveway. There is no proper access to water – the IDF dismantled their illegal water supply, and all the water they have must be delivered which is very expensive. The problem is that in area C the PA has no authority, and the Israelis have no interest in giving civil service to non-Jews. But because he and his family insist on staying, he has become a strong symbol of sumud, recognized even by Israeli activists as well. An odd portrait this – a man holding up a portrait of himself ten years younger.

Stef and I met a dentist in al-Khalil. He stopped us on the street, insisted that we come up to his shop to have coffee. He was very friendly and forward, which was common there but also I must say somewhat overwhelming and worrying. Over here if someone was this interested in having you up for coffee and inviting you to their house for dinner, you would not be unwise to expect ulterior intentions. But this seems to be simply a hermeneutic problem, a problem of different social expectations, different attitudes towards guests. On balance, I have to say I prefer the Arab attitude towards hospitality to the North American one.

Aside from hospitality, the other most non-Western thing you find in Palestinian cities is the presence of donkeys. No one in Canada uses donkeys anymore – we use trucks and tractors and trains, and perhaps a wheelbarrow – but never a donkey. But over there, donkeys are a common sight. And we are a common sight to donkeys. Here you can see Noah sharing a moment with a donkey near Jericho.

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