Sunday, November 19, 2006

Softball Diplomacy

Yesterday, a group of us from the consulate met at one of the local sports fields on the east side for a little softball. We didn't have enough people there to really play, so we were mostly just taking turns batting.

After we had been playing for a few minutes, some Palestinian teenagers starting hanging around, first one, then two, and ultimately about six. With a bit of coaxing, we convinced them to join us. None of them had ever played softball, so we had to show them how to hold the bat, where to run, etc. And with me and my handful of words in Arabic being the only ability to communicate, it was challenging! But we were able to communicate none the less, and one turned out to be a great hitter while another did pretty well as a pitcher.

We all played together for about an hour, when several of the guys had to leave for work. I yelled "fursa saideh" to them, which is Arabic for "nice to meet you," and one turned around and asked how to say that in English. I told him, and he called out "nice to meet you" to everyone. It was a lot of fun playing with them, and I think we sent away five young men with good feelings towards Americans.

It made me feel particularly good since Thursday and Friday at work had demonstrated to me just how accustomed we get to awful things. I had to take two groups, one each day, on a tour of the Jerusalem part of the separation barrier. It is pretty depressing to see how it splits families, dividing Palestinian neighborhoods in half. The first day, two separate places near one checkpoint had been closed off since just 5 pm the day before. Both the UN-employee who was driving us and I knew to have our badges on in case we passed a checkpoint or has become ingrained in us. But the guy we were showing around had to fumble for his badge, because in his three months in country, all in Tel Aviv, he had never come across a checkpoint. And both days, we went to Augusta Victoria hospital, a Lutheran Hospital on the Mount of Olives that serves Palestinians. It has a great but depressing view of two checkpoints, one of which is only for foot traffic and one which is only for Israelis (of the 12 routes into Jerusalem, only four are open to Palestinians and one of those is the pedestrian one) as well as the barrier and the ever-expanding settlements.

While at the hospital on Thursday, a doctor came up while we were there to speak to our guide. She told him she was doing a UN film on Palestinian access to health-care (or more accurately, lack of access) and he said he had a kid she could talk about. The child, maybe seven-years old, has leukemia and was running around the hospital alone. I said, "Parents couldn't get permits, huh?" And he said yes, so they had sent the child through the checkpoint alone, where he went from taxi to taxi until he found one to take him to the hospital. He didn't know who to ask for at the hospital, only that this was where he should go.

When I got back to work, I told my co-workers about the little boy with leukemia who was wandering around the hospital alone, and my co-workers, without being told more, said "Parents couldn't get permits?"

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