The dawn prayer. This early?
Just as I was doubting the accuracy and sanity of the prayer scheduling, a rooster cock-a-doodle-doo-ed in the distance after respectfully waiting for the song to end, which was marked by a loud “beep” of a dial tone. I guess these things are done over a speakerphone. Sure enough, the black of the sky began to lose its bold purity, and gave way to the creeping light. Dawn comes early here.
(My Swiss friend tells me that once, in another Palestinian town, she heard the song of prayer interrupted by the sound of the performer’s cell phone going off.)
Ramallah is not as conservative as the larger West Bank city of Nablus to the north, but it is still a predominantly Muslim city, which means that one can expect to hear prayers sung five times a day from each major mosque in the city. The aforementioned dawn prayer is called fajr, or in written Arabic,
The Arabic spoken here is tied heavily into the Islamic faith, the phrase “inshallah” (“God willing”) being much more heavily used than a simple “aywa” (“yes”), much to the annoyance to internationals having difficulty pegging natives to a definite time and place to meet. The importance of time is not as pronounced here, which I would guess developed as a survival mechanism of the Palestinian psyche in response to being occupied by the Israelis for decades upon decades. How depressing it would be for a Palestinian to count off the days that he has been ruled by a foreign power, to count off the minutes and hours that he is waiting at an Israeli checkpoint. As seductively clever as that idea may be, however, I have a feeling that Palestinians have been this way long before modern Israel was even dreamed of.
While sharing an argeela (what Americans call a “hookah,” or what Britons seem to call the “hubbly bubbly”) on the balcony, my British roommate and I discuss the neurosis of time-obsession. He says there is no better example of the difference between the West’s and East’s emphasis on time than in the English and Thai languages. English features multiple different tenses to describe the past and future – had gone, have gone, will have gone, will go, should go, did go, etc. – while, according to him, Thai only features one tense (“I go to Boston twenty years ago; I go to Boston tomorrow”).
Time, in many respects a social necessity, still has enormous potential to be utterly enslaving. One only needs to look at the Blackberry-addled, "time is money" culture of America in which people are always looking at their watches, so worried about the future that they are incapable of enjoying the moment that is right in front of them. Because most of the American day is rigidly scheduled in advance, there is little room for the moments of spontaneity that are the most likely to create lasting memories that are looked upon with fondness and excitement.
So while sitting on the porch, watching the sunset over the valley, drinking a Taybeh (THE Palestinian beer), talking with my roommate, the urge to maximize my productivity, to do something, is understandably—and gratefully—weak. Of course, there is much work to be done...but not right now.