I’m so grateful to Wendy for sharing this post with us. Her experience and insight are inspiring, and I’m adding her book to my post-MFA reading list when I have the chance to read just for fun again! Enjoy!
What I remember about being in Israel is that normal daily life went on through the Palestinian uprising. In 1988, we traveled around by hitch-hiking and were picked up by all sorts of people, including soldiers in military jeeps. We joined business men, male and female soldiers, college students, even seniors at bus stops to other cities, hitch-hiking while waiting for the bus. But by 1989, people would walk up to me and place shekels in my hand, saying, “Please don’t tramp. Take the bus. It isn’t safe.”
I eventually rented an apartment in Haifa and got a job as a nanny. I never felt afraid because of the intifada but I was followed due to being blond, more than once.
In Jerusalem, the violence became more ominous as my character Lily explains, “But in the morning there is a radio report that sends the mind reeling, brings into sharp focus the tension, the hatred, the frustrations seething beneath every life here. A Jewish man opened fire on a group of Palestinian workers waiting to be picked up for work. Seven people were killed. Ahmed informs us that massive demonstrations have begun in the territories and six hundred people have been wounded.” Her parents have come to visit with a tour group and “they tell us that Benyamin recommends staying out of the Arab quarter of the Old City. Everything has been shut down.
“…We had planned to stay another night but instead I decide we should go back to Haifa. It feels too strange to be here; I want to go home. We gather our things and head for the central bus station. Everything is eerily quiet, every building shuttered and closed. The tension is suffocating. Police vans cruise by with steel meshing over the windows; otherwise, the streets are completely deserted. Teen-agers are rolling over a parked van to set it on fire. At the bus stop, police are asking youths for their identity papers. We stand apart until the local bus arrives to drop us at the central bus station, glad to get away.” –excerpted from Catch a Dream.
I recall one incident in which a group of us including my nine-year-old son and a babe in arms arrived at Hezekiah’s tunnel and encountered village boys wrapped in kafias armed with rocks. Just as we were backing away terrified, a young man came riding up the road on a donkey. He yelled at them: “They are Americans, not Israelis” and escorted us to the Arab village at the top. The women insisted we come into the courtyard for tea and cookies. “The Israelis have arrested all the older males of the village,” they explained. “That’s why they are angry.”
I also became aware that the reason the radio was always on in the local busses was that was the way soldiers heard the call to go on active duty. These soldiers included people you knew personally: your son, your brother, your school mate, your boyfriend, your boss, your co-worker, your colleagues. High school graduates do army serve after high school, the boys three years and the girls two, but the men give up a month each year until they turn 45 for army duty.
The violence was an undercurrent in daily life and yet daily life went on. Shopping at the shuk, hanging out in cafes and at the beach, going to the synagogue or the disco or the movies, riding public transportation to work or to visit the museums and ancient sites, and making friends with these amazing generous, gorgeous, vibrant Israelis—I would not give up my experience for anything. It changed my life. I fell in love; I wanted to stay.
You have to be alert and on guard and yet, remain with an open heart to the possibility of hospitality. Every person I spoke to wanted peace. It was heart-breaking to see no end to the conflict in sight.
About Wendy Brown-Baez
Wendy Brown-Báez is the author of a poetry CD Longing for Home, the full-length poetry collection Ceremonies of the Spirit (Plain View Press, ’09), and chapbooks: transparencies of light (Finishing Line Press, ’11) and Elegy for Newtown (Red Bird Chapbooks, ’14). She has published both poetry and prose in numerous literary journals and anthologies, both in print and on-line. She received McKnight, Mn State Arts Board and Saint Louis Park Arts & Culture grants to bring writing workshops into non-profits and community centers.
Wendy has facilitated writing workshops since 1994 including at Cornerstone’s support groups, the Women & Spirituality conference at MSU Mankato, Celebrate Yourself women’s retreats, All About the Journey healing center, The Aliveness Project, Unity Minneapolis, El Colegio High School and Jacob’s Well women’s retreat. Wendy received 2008 and 2009 McKnight grants through COMPAS Community Art Program to teach writing workshops for youth in crisis. The project at SafeZone and Face to Face Academy developed into an art installation showcasing their recorded writings. When it was noted that students’ reading scores improved, she was hired as Face to Face’s writing instructor.
In 2012 she was awarded a MN State Arts Board Artist Initiative grant to teach writing workshops in twelve non-profit arts and human service organizations. She continues to teach at Pathways: a healing center, in Mn prisons, and in community spaces such as public libraries, yoga studios, churches, and cafes.
Wendy has taught memoir at MCTC continuing ed and through Minneapolis community ed.
In addition, Wendy has managed shelters for the homeless and visited incarcerated teens. She is trained as a hospice volunteer and as a facilitator of Monologue Life Stories. Wendy studied alternative healing, ceremony, and spiritual traditions with Earthwalks for Health and lived in Mexico and Israel. She has collected wisdom teachings from these diverse cultures, as well as written memoirs of her adventures.
Read more about Wendy and her book, Catch a Dream, below.