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Sam and Ruth's Blog
from Mar Elias Schools
Chapter Ten

Christmas is upon us here in Ibillin.  Christmas lights, including an animated bell on the church, are in sight and some remarkable items like a big inflated Santa Claus at our favorite fruit stand.  We hear Christmas Carols, and watched a little Santa Claus - based play in one of the classrooms.  Here are a few pictures:
Franzyska at Tree  Elementary school decorations  Decorated Fruit Stand
Franziska at Tree                                    Angels by the tree                            Santa Claus sells at Fruit Stand

We started the week by welcoming two Italian hikers, Tomasso and Claudia, to the Guesthouse for an overnight stay.  They were both tour guides from Rome, and have recently taking up hiking together.  This trip was an off-season adventure for them, but also an investigation of hiking paths that are something of a secret.  A few years ago an Italian priest made a solitary trek from Akko to Jerusalem, taking about 15 days at 12 to 15 miles per day.  He documented it carefully, and wrote a guidebook (in Italian, of course) and those in the know can find a copy.  It is something of a secret, and, believe it or not, there is no hint of it on the internet.  The first part of the route is Akko to Ibillin to Nazareth, and our guesthouse has become the standard rest stop here.  Tomasso and Claudia see this trip as a professional opportunity, and they are updating the guidebook and perhaps will become guides on the trek as it becomes better known.

They were very pleasant guests and appreciated the lodging.  We set off with them for the first part of their hike to Nazareth.  They took us to a dirt road over a hill to the south of Ibillin, and within 3 km we had come to a village that made no sense.  That is because we have been assuming that there are only two kinds of small communities around here:
1.  Arab villages and towns, usually on the top of hills, with limited space and a lot of upward construction.  (Families own the land, and as the family grows, the building goes upward).  No matter how high the building, there usually is rebar extending out of the (flat) roof to tie into the next story.  These are older communities with businesses and houses intermixed.  There is usually a mosque or a church in sight.  

2. The Jewish "settlements" are also on high ground.  In this predominately Arab area these seemed to be gated communities, single family homes and a single community center.  Everything seems planned.  The streets will be very clean, and there is organized recycling.  The Jewish communities (excluding large cities) are organized under an administrative center.  The one near us is called Misgav, and we hope to go there some time.  It would be around four miles cross country, but about six on the road.

The village we were looking at had sidewalks that looked Jewish, and we could see a recycling station.  The buildings, however, were distinctly Arab.  Furthermose it was not gated.  There were no signs indicating the name of the village.  That is where we left Tomasso and Claudia.  On our way home we could see the large communities of Shfaram and Ibillin, and on the hills in the distance the small Jewish communities - all very separate.

The next day Badiya fixed a special Faloffel lunch for us and for Nawar.  Nawar is an important person.  We think that she is the superintendent of all the lower schools, including the kindergarten over in Ibillin.  Under her is Johayna (in charge of the elementary and middle schools) and under her Victor, the principal of the middle school.  Elias A. G., the principal of the high school, seems to be pretty autonomous.  Anyway,  it took me a while to describe this unknown village before she said, fairly dissmissively, "Oh, Mikman is its name, it is Bedouin,  So there is a new group of people to investigate.  The Bedouin are normally associated with the Negev desert and other arid parts of the Middle East where for all of recorded history they have moved with the seasons to make best use of a stingy environment.  The Bedouin in Galilee don't have such a long history.  They were moved here in 1948 when the Israeli Government nationalized large amounts of their homeland in the Negev - so they are newcomers here, along with the Jews from foreign countries who have settled here.  Their presence here just  "doesn't compute" and I will need to do lots more questioning and listening to understand.  It is interesting that just at this time there is a bill that has passed the Knesset, giving the government the authority to seize most of the remaining Bedouin land in the Negev.  It is called the Begin-Prawer bill.  It is controversial, and there have been substantial demonstrations against it, including one that included some police violence in Haifa last weekend.  Read this article to get a current view from Adam Keller.
on way to Mikman  Claudia and Tommaso  on way to Mikman
On the Way to Mikman                                 Claudia and Tommaso                       On the Way to Mikman
In the middle of the week Franziska came back for a day to say goodbye to the children and to Badiya and us.  (That was part of the reason for the Faloffel).  Thursday morning Franziska  took Sara down to the basement library. It was good to have Franziska here to be with Sara.  They both left for Jerusalem after lunch ,on the bus.  
Ibillin Bakery  Faloffell
The Newly Discovered Bakery               Faloffels with Bayida and Sara
Most of the rest of the week dealt with dancing.  We started teaching some simple folk dances to sixth graders during their free time on Friday (Friday is the Muslim holy day, so school is not officially open);  however, there are some enrichment programs which take place down below us in the elementary school.  Somehow we were linked with a few good sixth grade dancers with whom we have danced three times.  "Salty Dog Rag" is our big acheivement, and Djado Mitovata (from Macedonia) was a quick learn for them.  
Djado Mitivato with 6th Graders
Djado Mitovata with Sixth graders
In addition we met a P.E. teacher at the high school, Boran, who has plugged us into two classes - one for 10th graders and one for seniors.  Suddenly the latter class became more intense as they talked of an amorphous performance on Saturday.  We had a long class on Thursday, and someone said something about Saturday at 10.  We had three dances sort of prepared, with a ragged Korobushka as the centerpiece.

We went to the auditorium at ten, and saw that about 600 seats were set out, and a musical group of 25 or so was practicing.  They sounded pretty professional, even though they had had few practices as well.  The group included about 12 singers, 4 uds, two violins, a couple of guitars, and lots of percussion including two really good drummers on Darbukkahs.  Our dancers were nowhere in sight.  Soon they started to appear, and we learned that we had one empty spot and one girl who had not done the dance.  By the time the dancers were in costume (white blouse and skirt for those who had them) the musicians were done and the auditorium was filling.  The only place for rehearsal was a narrow hallway back in the infrastructure.  The newcomer, fortunately, picked it up quickly and we were as prepared as possible.  
Singing Performance  Waiting to Perform
The Musicians                                                Waiting to Perform
We returned to the auditorium to find all the seats filled, and the musicians beginning their first number.  Their performance was followed by some solos, a video, and then a sort of finale with the chorus singing Jingle Bells and a costumed Santa running up and down the aisles throwing out candy.  Then it was our turn for the real finale.  The sound guy sort of threw me a microphone plug for the computer, and I could see Ruth and the dancers in the wings, waiting for the cords and plugs for all the microphones and guitars to be cleared.  They came out on stage, and no one wanted to be in front, so it took a while to get the formation in order.  Ruth handed a microphone to the dancer designated to announce the dance, and I started the music before she had a chance - but remarkably everything went pretty well, except that I inadvertently turned off the sound too soon.   The dancers were enthusiastic and the audience reflected their enthusiasm.  
Korobushka performance
By then it was about 12:15, and we were informed that there would be another performance at 1:00.  We didn't really believe it, and went back to the guest house for lunch.  When we did return, around 1:30, we found an entirely new crowd of 600 filling the seats, as the performance was already advancing towards Jingle Bells.  By now, however, the dancers were bordering on being professionals.  When the time came they confidently walked out to well-spaced positions, the announcer was clear and precise, and the Korobushka went through with no mistakes and lots of smiles and laughter.  This time the audience was enthusiastic on its own.

We also were sort of discovered by the Elementary School, and have found ourselves in the basement teaching Seven Jumps, Zemer Atik and a junior version of Doudlebska Polka to the whole school, one class at a time.  Here are pictures of some of the dancers who made our hearts warm with their high spirits:
Senior Dancers  Tenth Grade Dancers  Elementary School dancers
 Fourth-Year Dancers                                    Second -Year Dancers                             Mariam Bawardi

The last item to report is that on Sunday we entertained for lunch Irv and Etha Frenkel, friends of Alan and Ina Secher, mutual friends of all of us from Whitefish.    Irv and Etha live very close to the Mount of the Beatitudes, on the Sea of Galilee.  They operate a B and B there that we hope to visit before we leave.   Because of heavy rains they had to approach Ibillin from the west rather than the east, for which I had given them perfect instructions,  They called and  I asked if they saw a Muslim Cemetery,  They said yes, and I gave them another set of perfect instructions.  Then they said that there were crosses in the cemetery (by then they had taken a complete tour of the eastern edge of Ibillin).  Then they asked someone else, and soon we saw them approaching.  We had a very pleasant visit, and a tour of the empty campus and the Church of the Beatitudes.  We rode with them to the edge of Ibillin - with only one wrong turn.  They are now Sam's friends for life since they delivered the following:
Paolo Soprani
Paolo Soprani
  Three reeds, 120 bass