Image: Antoine Bruy, from “Scrublands”
By Joanna Chen
A parachute appears, floating in a cloudless sky. It lands with a bump in the sand. A small figure unhitches herself, climbs to her feet. She pauses, brushes sand off her blue jeans. That girl is me and I have come back to the same spot where I landed in the Negev desert as a teenager, to remember.
I have been putting off coming here for a long time. I book a room at the Field School, then cancel, then rebook. The man answers me tiredly the third time I call, reeling off what the room has to offer: bunk beds for six, sheets and towels, an air-conditioner I later discover does not work. That’s it. Do I want it or not. When I lived there as a student in high school, it was a small room littered with clothes, cigarette stubs, a faded curtain blown by the hot desert wind in an open window. The view is the same. I used to lie on my bed and look through the window at the white of the wadi overlooking my room. Now my son is here, in another building, probably still asleep, perhaps shifting slightly in the bed as he sleeps. It soothes me to think he is there; when I think of being here without him I’m filled with the old fears of being engulfed by a desert landscape that became a metaphor for despair. Continue reading
Photo credit Alex Crétey Systermans.
By Joanna Chen
“Can I give blood too?” my son asks as I stand in the doorway, car keys in one hand, my bag and a bottle of water in the other. “No,” I say. “You can’t. You’re too young.” He is fifteen years old and has a genetic disease. He will probably never be able to donate blood.
My partner, Raz, and I drive to East Jerusalem and up to the Mount of Olives. It’s a beautiful journey, beginning with the biblical landscape of David and Goliath. The Ella Valley, where we live, has barely changed for years, a gentle range of hills dotted with olive and almond trees that blossom wildly in season. The area also carries a delicate historical subtext: it was the site of a number of Arab villages that existed before the 1948 war. One of the villages we pass still contains a mosque, peeking out above the red roofed houses of Kurdish Jews who fled Northern Iraq in the early 1950s. Continue reading
Photo: Terri Weifenbach
By Joanna Chen
Yesterday there was a ceasefire. The night before, the booms did not stop. At 3 AM the house shuddered and the walls shook. At 8 AM, as the ceasefire began, silence fell upon the house. I stood at my front door with a second cup of coffee. The cat kept close, curling herself around my bare feet. At 8:05 there was a final crescendo, a deafening boom from the direction of Gaza. A bird lifted into the air, and before I saw the bird I heard its wings beating: one, two, three. I listened to the silence that followed as if I were listening to it for the first time. There are nuances to silence, there are degrees and shades to silence. This was a heavy, ominous one and it lay upon the air the whole day and did not move. Continue reading