Wednesday, May 30, 2007

"al-Qaida" in fractions

May 24

Left: Musa and Suhail studying for Suhail's math test.

The first case that came into the ER was a deep slice out of someone's foot, he was in his late teens or early twenties and worked as a stone cutter. Some machine destroyed his right foot, broke a section out of the second and third metatarsals, which were exposed, and seemed to have damaged the extensor digitorum longus tendon (do I remember the anatomy correctly?) but didn't sever it. I'm sure he went straight to surgery. He was hysterical even after analgesics. I wish I had a picture of it, it was one of the craziest injuries I’ve seen yet.

Another interesting case was an old woman with pancreatic cancer of some kind. She'd had it untreated for two years, one of the doctors said the normal prognosis even with treatment is six months. She was very old, I’m sure she was over 90, but the family said they wanted her resuscitated no matter what, so they ran CPR on her for a while, but it was hopeless. It took ten minutes just to find a vein that would take a needle of any size. It was the first time I’ve watched someone die. It wasn’t as personally eventful as I thought it would be and as other people had made it out to be.

At home Suhail was studying with Musa for tomorrow’s math test. They were studying fractions and Musa kept saying “al-Qaida” over and over again. I couldn't figure out why, but then I remembered that al-Qaida means “base”, so I’m sure it also means “denominator” or something along those lines. A culture clash waiting to happen…

But why to destroy these beautiful towers?

May 23

Yesterday, May 22, was my first day at al-Ahli, it was pretty chill. Today, May 23, was busier. I spent most of the day with a doctor named Harb (“war” in English, reminds me of Head Nurse Gawfe in Zimbabwe; Gawfe means “death” in his language) who was very good. He left at three, so I left at the same time, got the service to duar al-manara (Manara circle, part of Hebron), walked around until I found a pack of Gauloises Blondes and a lighter (five shekels), then found the service (pronounce “ser-veese”) to Fawwar Camp. This time I didn't get lost walking home like I did yesterday.

In the hospital I saw quite a few different cases: kid with a fractured nasal bone; kids with all sorts of facial lacerations; COPD in an old heavy-smoking man; car accident victim with broken cervical spinal column; a baby with congenital hydrocephalus and a hugely enlarged left lateral ventricle (she had a shunt installed in Jordan when she was born, nobody in the ER was sure what was causing the hydrocephalus since the shunt was still in place); kid with a fractured skull and likely epidural hematoma; vertigo caused by otitis media; all sorts of other fractures in kids (greenstick, tibia, wrist, skull), and more.

Had an interesting conversation with Abu Nidal, the nurse I spend much of the day with, about the world situation. Best line, “I am against America, totally, but why to destroy these beautiful towers, made by the human mind? Yani, it’s crazy.” (“Yani” is an expression that means “uh”, “I mean”, “you know”, “fuck off” and anything else you want it to.)

Musa was planning on having people over for a barbecue but the brother-in-law of the people who were coming died suddenly from a heart attack (35-years-old), so they didn't come and we ate a normal dinner. Afaf has been very upset since she found out that this person died, she keeps apologizing every time she flies off the handle at Musa or someone else on the phone.

I played volleyball with those kids again, they love playing with that torn-up ball on their construction site-turned volleyball court between throwing rocks at their goats to stop them from getting too far away. (Picture coming soon...)

(Side note: I think Palestinian kids are prone to throwing rocks at the IDF because they do so all day to keep their goats where they want them, so it’s a natural thing for them to think of.)

Just figured out why Afaf is so upset: her oldest daughter's husband is his mother's oldest son, and so became jealous of Afaf’s daughter when they married (a common problem in Arab culture according to Musa). They have an adorable baby, Kareem, and the grandmother takes him away and tries to care for him instead of letting Afaf’s daughter be his mom. That angers Afaf’s daughter, so her mom gets upset, too.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

May 21

Left: Ayham (left) and Suhail

I got my computer out to transfer these diary entries over to it from my phone. Suhail and Ayham were back from school, so I let them play with it for a while, I thought they'd just use it for ten minutes. They've been on it for hours now even though they have their own computer, they're playing all of their pirated games and watched some stupid movie called Cellular, also pirated. I think they're just bored.

One funny thing: they started playing Hearts. They'd obviously seen it before, they're familiar with the idea of passing cards, etc. But they think the goal of the game is to get the highest score possible, so they keep playing exactly the wrong way and then cheering because they think they're troucing everyone else. Very cute.

We ate dinner, Musa's wife Afaf is an excellent cook. I keep forgetting not to eat with my left hand; I can’t tell if they think that’s weird. Afterwards we smoked Musa's argila (sheesha/hookah) outside. Musa got a call from B’tselem while we were smoking: someone was being held at a checkpoint near Jerusalem and had been there for three hours, apparently because he asked the soldiers why they were ripping the seats out of his car.

Lag time...

Left: me at Heathrow.

I've been keeping a regular diary here, but unfortunately I haven't been uploading it to the web. So, for the next eight days I'll update two days at a time, hopefully that way if anybody is actually reading this they won't be overwhelmed with ten pages of information about emergency medicine...

May 20

Landed at 5:30 am, still sitting in the security holding area at 8:15. Only guy I talked to was a British Arab here on business, said he was held here for six hours the first time he came to Israel. When I first got here there were two guys waiting, both Arabs in their mid 30s. After a while a very frightened looking white kid came in. He's gone now. A family of African immigrants came in with some very cute kids, I think they were Ethiopian immigrants. They stayed a little bit less than an hour. Then a black man with a huge suitcase came in, some police questioned him about it and then he left with them. A British lady also came in, said her husband was going to be in Israel for a long time for something and then told the security lady she didn’t want to have to wait for two hours each time she comes to visit him. I’m almost positive one of the ladies who interviewed (interrogated?) me at the airport is the same one who jumped at me as soon as I got off the plane in 2004. At least this time they didn’t stop the airplane on the tarmac and interrogate me on a dark airstrip with nobody around.

I first went to the customs people after talking to a nice Jewish lawyer, I think his name was Darin, who was visiting friends in Tel Aviv. The customs lady took longer to process me than it took the guy next to her to process three people. Then she told me to wait, then a security guard came and put me in some kind of holding area, where I am as I write this. A thin tall lady with glasses came and took me into a bare office, the only things on the wall were a picture of an Israeli airplane flying over the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount and an Israeli flag. She said she was going to ask me some security questions, which she did, then she told me to go back to the holding area. Just then another woman came, healthier looking, and asked me most of the same questions over. This is the lady whom I’m sure is the same one who questioned me when I first came to Israel in 2004. Then I came back out to the holding area, then the healthier looking lady came and asked me all the same questions again. Then she said she'd go finish the security procedure, then a guy came with an ear piece connected to something on his back and asked me the purpose of my trip. I told him I’m volunteering at a hospital in Hebron, then he left. Now it’s 8:30 am, been here three hours and counting..

Got out at 9:45 from the security holding area. Then walked about 90 feet to get my bags and was stopped again. Three people, one woman and two men walked me to find my bags. We took them to a basically unmarked room, so before going in I insisted they tell me where we were going. They pretended not to speak English (I’m sure they were BSing, every single person I spoke to at Ben-Gurion Airport spoke English perfectly well) so I followed them without an answer. The room was for x-raying and inspecting bags. The three people (one of the men left, and we were joined by another woman in the x-ray room) turned out to be very interested in my shaving cream for some reason. There was a coffee machine in the holding area of the x-ray room, never a good sign. Finally I left after about 15 minutes of bag-finding and 45 minutes of x-raying (two bags and a laptop, the famed Israeli efficiency somehow lacking).

Got a sherut (a shared taxi) to Jerusalem, sat next to a girl and her girlfriend. The girl told me she leads volunteer trips to the Galilee to revamp old Israeli bomb shelters. She grew up in Jerusalem but her mother is from the US or Canada (she kept saying she’s from “North America”, I’m not sure why) so she spoke English perfectly well. She asked what I’m doing in Israel and I told her, she expressed her support and told me I should visit “the great Jewish community in Hebron.” Then she asked me what I think of the conflict, I told her I think it's primarily the fault of the United States at this point. She first told me that she doesn't know a thing about history, agreed that the conflict is the US fault, but dismissed any idea that Israel could ever have peace because, at various points in the conversation, “Israelis have a fire in them”, Egypt's 1971 peace offer was “bullshit” (she straightforwardly stated she hadn’t a clue of anything that had happened in 1971 anywhere, but insisted that the offer she knows nothing about wasn’t serious), and some other nonsense. My favorite point in the conversation was when she said “I don't know about history but I know that's false, because after Israel uprooted Jews from their homes in Gaza, where they'd buried their children, Israel didn't get peace” and then “the Camp David offer was for 98% of Israel[sic!]”, etc. She explained away the occupation by pointing out that “Jewish communities [her euphemism for the Jewish-only colonies in the West Bank, the settlements] have a wall around them and patrols because people want to shoot them, but the Palestinians don't have any of that, they live in complete security.” (Note the sheer lunacy of that statement.) She also explained that “the IDF is an exclusively defensive force: it's called the Israel Defense Force”, and that “Israel would only invaded Lebanon to stop rocket attacks, if our government is honest.” I asked if she thinks that the current scandal-a-week government of Israel is honest, and she said “absolutely not.”

Then some fat American Christian turned to us and started quoting the Bible. I have no patience with these people, who happily march Jews and Arabs into hell in the Middle East so they can meet their Mesiah, they're despicable. I told him I wasn't interested in what the Bible says, but he wouldn’t shut up (the Israeli girl I can at least talk to, but I’m not going to debate Biblical nonsense with some idiot who thinks everything he says is profound because it comes from God Himself). He told me that “Newton didn't invent gravity, he just discovered it, and we just don't understand the spiritual principles that guide the universe” and which will do something in the future, what he never specified. He went on to explain that “there are four branches of the American government”, the State Department being the fourth, and since it's so anti-Israel that has something to do with the American-Israeli decision to co-opt the PLO in the Oslo accords, with Arafat stealing money, etc. I tried to explain that the cooption of the PLO was part of an American-Israeli plan to break the Palestinian national movement and the Intifada, it wasn’t some anti-Israel conspiracy conjured up by Arabists at the State Department, but he just blinked a few times and that information was dispatched to the memory hole. Thankfully at this point that guy got off the sherut. I changed the subject with the girl and we spent the rest of the ride talking about where to drink in Jerusalem.

I got to Hebron without much of a problem. Went to the Palestine Agricultural Relief Committee office where Musa's wife Afaf works. Talked to the director for a while, he helped me remember a lot of the Arabic alphabet, then went to the dentist for Afaf and then to Musa's house.

Musa seems well off; he used to live in the nearby refugee camp (Fawwar) but now has a floor of a house for his family. It’s a little bit bigger than my two-bedroom apartment at the Vintage in San Antonio (but, of course, Musa has five kids). Two of his kids still live here, they're 11 (Suhail) and 13 (Ayham), both adorable boys.

Friday, May 18, 2007

First Post

My name is Feroze Sidhwa; I'm a medical student at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio. Tomorrow I'll fly to London and then on to Tel Aviv, Israel, and from there I'll travel to Hebron (Khalil in Arabic) in the occupied West Bank. There I'll volunteer at al-Ahli Hospital for about six weeks, then fly back to start my second year of medical school.

Internet access permitting, I'll keep this blog updated with my observations of what happens in Hebron, in al-Ahli and in any other parts of the West Bank I can visit while I'm there. I've never blogged before, so I'm not exactly sure how it works, but if pictures can be posted then I'll post my own photographs whenever possible.

About me: I'm a 25-year-old American born in Houston, TX and raised in Flint, MI. I graduated from Johns Hopkins University in 2004 with a B.A. in public health and a strong focus on political science. After Hopkins I traveled to Israel and worked with a Palestinian NGO based in Haifa for eight months. When I returned to the United States I worked as an eighth-grade science teacher for the Baltimore City Public School System at Thurgood Marshall Middle School in Baltimore, MD. While teaching I applied to medical school, got into UTHSCSA in San Antonio, and in May 2007 I finished my first year there.

I’ve been educating myself about the Arab-Israeli conflict since my freshman year of college, when the second Palestinian revolt against the Israeli occupation broke out. Depending on how things go I might interject a bit of Arab-Israeli history into my blog; obviously I won’t have any history books with me in Hebron so, if I make minor mistakes vis-à-vis names, dates, etc., please forgive me.

Although it’s irrelevant, I’ll say that I endorse the international consensus on a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: full peace in exchange for full withdrawal from the territories Israel occupied in the June War in accordance with international law, especially UN Security Council resolution 242.

Hopefully this blog can bring some everyday events under Israeli occupation to American readers, the only people who could end this conflict tomorrow, were we willing to do so.