13 Slices
Medium 9781576753927

Three: Jerusalem

Marisa Handler Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

33


I have been living in Jerusalem for over nine months before I venture into its other half. I’ve thought about visiting East Jerusalem, but no one in my program has done so thus far. We have been warned against it. My year in Israel is approaching its close when a new friend, Gillian, suggests it. Gillian is from Montreal. She is tiny, with long ropes of hair and a brand of defiance that is at once familiar and a little daunting. Most of the time I can’t decide whether I want to follow her or argue with her.

“Let’s go into East Jerusalem,” she says to me one day. We are sitting on a bench just outside Hebrew University’s Rothberg International School, where most of our classes are held. It is a glorious day, the sky an azure-glazed bowl. Students flow around our bench and out to lunch in an ebbing tide, enveloping us in a menagerie of clanging American accents. I resent that I spend most of my time in Israel surrounded by other North Americans. Without fail, on weekends I flee the campus.

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Five: India

Marisa Handler Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

71


A boy of about eight is riding an adult-sized women’s bicycle. The seat is far too high for him, so he hovers as he rides, bottom angled out over the left side of the bike. His left foot works the left pedal while his right leg extends between the bars to push the right pedal. I watch from the garden where I sit, on an agricultural ashram I am visiting several miles outside of Bangalore. The dirt road he travels becomes a bridge of sorts, a mud dike elevated between two shallow bodies of water. The sun is behind him, and I squint watching his silhouette framed and reframed against the unforgiving midday light. I am holding my breath, convinced he will topple at any second. But this lopsided contraption, boy and bike in baffling harmony, perseveres. It shouldn’t work. He is heavily weighted on the left side, and his arms barely reach the handles. But somehow it does. As he approaches, strains of a hugely popular Bollywood hit waft toward me over the heat’s assault. He is whistling.


India. Nothing in this subcontinent of over a billion seems to work. Buses break down with near-clockwork regularity, trains leave dependably late or occasionally early. Post offices lack stamps. Gas stations run out of gas. You pay for one thing and get something else entirely—and invariably delivered with great pride. Tradition tussles with modernity, democracy wrestles with caste, Indian-produced Thumbs-Up dukes it out with global goliath Coca-Cola. The Hindus despise or endure the Muslims. The Muslims—a largely moderate minority of 130 million—struggle at coexistence. Meanwhile Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Christians, and even a few Jews busily carve out their own customized niches.

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Seven: San Francisco

Marisa Handler Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

115


“Listen, I have to say that I have pretty strong feelings on this one. There’s no question in my mind: we really need the ‘the’ in there.”

“I know you have strong feelings about this, Jumble, and I also feel strongly. The ‘the’ makes it way too specific. We aren’t only about this war. We’re about all war, right?”

“Jill. Just think for a minute, please. We are talking about war in Iraq here. We aren’t talking about Vietnam or Afghanistan. People aren’t going to get out in the streets over some war. They’re going to mobilize around Iraq.”

“Are you trying to build a movement destined to self-destruct? Is that what you’re doing? Because then you’re on the right path, my friend. I’m just thinking about the future. Holding the long-term vision here. ‘Direct Action to Stop War.’ It has a nice ring to it, don’t you think? I mean, come on people, that says it all. We’re against war, period. Right? Or am I at the wrong meeting?” Jill looks about for support. The other six people who are neither Jill nor Jumble gaze steadily at the table or the walls. We’ve been sitting here for two hours and the “the” debate is now hitting the twenty-minute mark. Initially there were a number of robust contenders, but now only Jumble and Jill remain in the ring.

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Nine: Sarayacu, Ecuador

Marisa Handler Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

153


“Once, there were many sabios here. They were very pure. They were able to transform into snakes and tigers. They knew everything—sickness, healing, they understood it all.” Atanacio Sabino Gualinga Cuji, a shaman himself, is giving me a crash course on three and a half centuries of Sarayacu history. His gaze is piercing, unbending from eyes blued by cataracts, eyebrows riotous as the jungle floor. “Then the Christians came to convert us. Then the companies came to drill for oil.” He shakes his head. “In ’35 Shell came and put a pipeline in. Before, there were lots of fish, turtles, alligators. After, nothing was left. Everything died from oil.”

Atanacio is tiny, earnest, serene. His hair is oiled and neatly combed, his goatee white-filamented, his checkered shirt clean and pressed. We are sitting in his yard on two well-worn stump-stools, beneath the cool relief of palm-thatch. He looks beyond me to where Mario, my host here, sits with his wife, chatting in tempered tones, sipping homemade chicha. “I saw it. Everything died.” He considers the sweat-polished wood of his walking stick, propped scepterlike beside him. “There is money. But here there are marvels. Here we have pure air. Here women can walk freely.” He giggles, now a mischievous six-year-old dropping a punch line. “We only have to watch out for the snakes.” Then he’s abruptly somber again, with all the burden of his seventy-odd years. “The oil corporations—they want to kill everything here. They don’t understand. They live apart from real knowledge. We wouldn’t want that kind of knowledge.” Atanacio pauses as a tame toucan—the family pet—dashes boldly at us, formidable beak parted in an ear-splitting screech. He tosses it a nut. “We want to maintain our culture and identity. My role is to maintain the consciousness.” He looks past me, past the palm fronds, into the legendary mar verde of Amazonia. Quietly, now: “The earth is our mother and father. We can’t sell our mother and father.”

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Eleven: New York

Marisa Handler Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub


It is Thursday, September 2, 2004, the final day of the Republican National Convention. George W. Bush is about to accept his renomination. He will thank the delegates for their support and speak of the American soldiers who have charged through sandstorms and liberated millions.

Hundreds of demonstrators have gathered in Union Square tonight, huddled over candles flickering in jars and paper cups, keeping vigil, silent or praying or sharing stories. A single saxophone moans in sluggish sobs. Meanwhile we in Code Orange are staging some guerrilla theater of our own.

We move slowly through the crowd in a single-file line, timing our steps with the person in front. Left, pause. Right, pause. Our hands behind our heads or joined behind our backs. Gags over our mouths reading RNC and CORPORATE MEDIA. Signs on our chests spelling out PEACE and DEMOCRACY, HEALTH CARE and EDUCATION. People stare at us and whisper. We snake through the plaza for a while before pausing at the front, where we spread out in a line at the top of the stairs and stand immobile. We are silent, our eyes fixed ahead. Passersby point and snap photos.

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