“On one occasion, during a lull in the shelling, a TV news reporter approached the cellist seated in the square and asked, ‘Aren’t you crazy for playing music while they are shelling Sarajevo?’ Smailovic responded, ‘Playing music is not crazy. Why don’t you go ask those people if they are not crazy, shelling Sarajevo while I sit here playing my cello?'” The Moral Imagination
[Yes, to my IPCR colleagues, I just quoted JPL]
On Friday, we went to Masada, a UNESCO World Heritage site, a cliff side fortress in the Judaean Desert, overlooking the Dead Sea. Built by Herod a bazillion years ago (he reigned from 37-4 BC), Masada is the site of the last stand of Jewish patriots against the Roman army, in 73 AD.
But, beyond some interesting excavated columns/stones, etc – well, it’s hard for me to get excited every time I see some ruins, everything in this country has ruins – there were three interesting things. One, these beautifully intricate mosaics, very well maintained, from Herod’s time, had stunning colors and delicate designs. It’s crazy to think that something can survive for that many thousands of years, whereas buildings built now crumble at the threat of an earthquake. Two, the view was really extraordinary. My camera battery died, of course, as soon as we arrived, so I don’t have many pictures, but I should be getting some soon from my friend.
But lastly, the story is wonderfully haunting. There was a Great Revolt of the Jews against the Romans, in 66 CE, and a rebel group conquered Masada and lived on the mountain. Masada was the last rebel stronghold; in 73 or 74 CE the Romans laid siege to the mountain. After a few months, the rebels lost hope, and their leader Eleazar Ben Yair convinced the leaders of the 960 members of the community that it would be better to take their own lives and the lives of their families than to live in shame as Roman slaves. So ten men were picked to kill the others, then one of those ten men was chosen to kill the other 9 and finally to kill himself. Supposedly two women and five children who had been hiding in the cisterns survived the mass suicide and told the Romans what happened that night, which was also the first day of Passover.
So a depressingly beautiful place, and you really feel alone while you’re there (there are a decent number of European tourists, but looking out into the desert – there is nothing). It was really really hot, and our decision to walk down the snake path at 12:30 in the middle of day was not the smartest. But we survived and after a hugely disastrous attempt to return to Ramallah, we finally made it Friday night.
On Saturday, yesterday, I was reading the newspaper and eating some cereal, when I felt something crack off my tooth. I have a mild (… ok, really an intense) freak out, when I realize I really need to do something about this. The university has a clinic for students, so I decide to head up there, even though it’s already 1:00 pm on a Saturday afternoon. While the university is open on Saturday, it’s Ramadan and so things are really only open until 2:30. Well, I figured, I might as well try. So I get there right around 2, and walk into the clinic and ask for the dentist. “She’s just finishing up now. You can sign up for an appointment on Monday,” I was told. “Monday?!?! I really need to see a dentist now, something cracked off my tooth!” “Well, there are appointments available for Monday morning,” the receptionist insisted. So I ask for a referral of a dentist in Ramallah. She replies, “Yes, there are many dentists in Ramallah, you can go now and find one.” Somewhat frustrated at this point, I try asking again for the name of a dentist. Confused, she reiterates that there are many. I attempt to explain to her that I don’t know where they are, or which dentist is perhaps better than the others, or might know English, and then ask her if there is some way I can look up, or search for, a dentist. Stubbornly, she insists, “There are many dentists, you can find one.”
Really, I wanted to break down and cry. So I sign up for an appointment for Monday after class, and head over to my program’s office to see if I could get a referral there. But, of course, the office is closed down already. So I head back to Ramallah, as actually I was supposed to be moving to my new apartment yesterday. I get home and pack my stuff up and get into a cab. Once I’m at the new place (after some confusion with the taxi driver over where I wanted to go), I get a text back from my friend, who is in my university program and had a filling put in by a dentist last week, who gave me the name and number of her dentist. At this time, it’s 4:30pm, and I’m skeptical that anyone would be open for business, but I give it try. And actually, the dentist answers! She tells me to come in whenever, she’s in the town of Birzeit, I tell her I’ll be there in an hour, and I bolted out the door.
So, all in all, I got it fixed and paid only 80NIS, which is something like $20, for the filling and for the anesthesia. Unbelievable. Then, because I finished right at the time of iftar, there were no services to Ramallah, so I grabbed a taxi, which charged me almost the exact same amount of money (70NIS!!!!) to get back to Ramallah!! I was so mad, and argued with him (as best I could in colloquial!), but alas I ended up paying him. Then again, I was planning on paying so much more for the dentist that I felt not so bad paying that much for a cab.
So my first encounter with the medical system here in Palestine, and it seems, like everything else in this country, you just never know what will happen. Your dentist might be open at 5:30 on a Saturday night, while a wedding procession is going down the street in front (yes, that did happen).