'Ramallah Diaries,' Chuckling Amid Turmoil
LIANE HANSON, host:
Suad Amiry is an architect and the founder and director of the Center for Architectural Conservation in Ramallah on the West Bank. She's lived in Ramallah since 1981 and has just published "Sharon and My Mother-in-Law: Ramallah Diaries." Her stories tell of the imposition of sharing her home, of the difficulties of living under an Israeli-imposed curfew in the spring of 2002 and of the need for levity to help make everyday life go on. We recently spoke with Suad Amiry, who explained why she called her book "Sharon and My Mother-in-Law."
Ms. SUAD AMIRY ("Sharon and My Mother-in-Law"): The title is really a combination about the stressful situation that we live in, and here Sharon is a symbol of the military power of Israel and my mother-in-law is a symbol of the civilian, you know, people in Palestine, civilians living a difficult life and insisting to go on living with good standards. And as I describe my mother-in-law, she's stubborn as the Palestinian people. She likes to keep on going and to have her routine and insists that the occupation will not interrupt her standards of living, such as having her paintings or eating on time or dressing nicely and keeping her routine, which, of course, drove me crazy because when you live under curfew, you're not allowed to come out of the house. And you lose your mind, you lose your sanity and--let alone having your mother-in-law with you. That's how the title came up.
HANSEN: Describe what would happen when the curfew would be lifted.
Ms. AMIRY: You know, every five days the Israelis would lift the curfew for two hours. And I live in Ramallah--happen to have 70,000 people living there. And to have 70,000 people trying to shop all at the same time was impossible. It was really a madhouse. And basically, you know, in Ramallah, we don't have huge supermarkets. We have shops. And can you imagine 70,000 people going out in the city? Everybody goes out because it's an outing from those terrible days.
HANSEN: Tell us about how your dog got a Jerusalem passport.
Ms. AMIRY: Yes. You know, the American copy--this book has been translated in 15 languages, and it's very interesting because each language find their own cover. And I am totally in love with the American cover which has my dog Nura in it. When I acquired this Nora, this very cute, little dog, which is a Manchester toy terrier, I wanted to have a vaccine. And friend of mine told me, `OK, Saud, there is an Israeli there that--you can take it to her.' I say, `No, no, no, I'm not taking my dog to an Israeli'--that I can hardly go to an Israeli doctor myself.' Eventually I say, `Oh, I love Nora so much, so I'm just going to take her there.'
Ultimately, we reached the Israeli vet. When I was sitting there, the Israeli vet comes to me and she says, `Where do you live, and your dog?' I say, `In Ramallah.' `Oh, you live in Ramallah. These vaccines are only for East Jerusalem dogs.' And I just could not believe it. I say, `You know, this is unfair, you treat Palestinians this way; also our dogs.' She said, `No, no, no. If you pay the money, you can get the vaccine.' Ultimately, I get the vaccine, and she comes in carrying a Jerusalem ID. You have to realize, I mean, Palestinians have a dream to get a Jerusalem ID. And here is--my little dog, Nura, has a Jerusalem ID.
So one day I decide to make fun of this thing, so I carry my dog and her document, get in the car and go to the Israeli checkpoint. And the Israeli soldier at the checkpoint says, `OK, where is your permit?' I say, `Me, I don't have a permit.' He said, `What do you mean you don't have a permit? What about the car?' I said, `The car doesn't have a permit.' And he says, `And how do you expect to go into Jerusalem?' I look at him and I carry my dog's ID, Jerusalem ID card, and I sort of laughingly say, `Listen, I am the driver of this Jerusalem dog.' And he happened to have a good sense of humor, so he allowed me. And here I went to Jerusalem not on my ID but on my dog's ID.
HANSEN: Do you think your humor has helped you survive?
Ms. AMIRY: I'm sure, yes. I think most people--I mean, it's--this is my personal humor. But I think many people who live under occupation or under difficult situation--I think blacks in America or blacks in South Africa or even poverty in Egypt--have created--most oppressed people tend at the end of the day not to believe that this is their reality, so they make fun of it. And they sort of--they don't want to be humiliated, and they don't want to be the losers. And so the only way--if you don't cry, you laugh. And I have decided to laugh rather than cry.
HANSEN: Saud Amiry's new book, "Sharon and My Mother-in-Law: Ramallah Diaries," is published by Pantheon Books. Many of her stories are adapted from e-mails she originally sent to friends and relatives.