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Everyone was thirsty

Judith Fein

October 4, 2001

Dear Friend,

The purpose of the evening was for North Americans to listen to the wisdom of other cultures. Maybe it would give us other ways of dealing with the horror of what is going on.

Someone suggested that before listening, we go around and introduce ourselves.

Hello, I am from Afghanistan. I am from Wisconsin. I was born in Germany. I am from New Jersey. I was raised in Libya. I am a Jew from New York. I am a Palestinian. An Egyptian. I come from India, Los Angeles. Hello, I was born in Brazil, Brooklyn. I am in pain. I am desperate to do something to help. I am from New York, and I used to live right next to the World Trade Center. I woke up from my stupor yesterday and need to take action. I can’t stand the war mongering. I am afraid. I have lost my sense of security. Security is an illusion. What does security mean? I am from Jordan. Chile and I too, am an American although most people forget that and I need to discuss semantics and how words resonate. I am from suburbia, and I never thought people were very different from each other. I come from Nigeria: I am happy to be here. I am honored to be here with you. I am from the Netherlands. Happy. Honored. Pleased. Important. Honored. Happy. Pleased. Thank you. It took close to an hour to go around the room.

There was respect, and from the respect grew hope.

Then, the most difficult and easiest part: to sit back, without succumbing to the desire to discuss, dispute or dialogue. To sit back and listen. First, most people fidgeted. But soon, no one stirred. For hours.

The only sound, besides impassioned and pained voices, was water being poured from pitchers into plastic glasses. Everyone was thirsty, on every level.

We heard an Islamic man talk about the deep fear and ignorance people have about his religion, and how Muslims are seen as the shadow side.

A Sikh man from India spoke about how people were giving him the finger here, and when he called the police, they told him to get a gun. He spoke about Gandhi, and he spoke about the need to sometimes use a sword. He confessed his deep confusion.

The woman from Afghanistan wept and told us the Taliban were raised, as children, knowing nothing but warfare. That they were frozen in pain and anger and numbness. That her country needed a tribal council to run things; a tribal council presided over by Afghanistan women. That we had created Bin Laden by supporting him against the Soviets. That her country needed to apologize to its women, its war victims. Everyone spoke with love about Americans and America.

Everyone spoke with dismay about the lack of real news here, the limited vistas of TV news sources, and how they had to read newspapers and internet from other countries to find out what was going on. One Middle Eastern man spoke about rumors, how important it was not to repeat them. There is a rumor now that the Jews are going to try to start building the third temple on Temple Mount, at the site of El Aksa.

A Palestinian man spoke about how, when he does business with Israelis here, they don’t discuss politics. About how he went recently to visit his grandparents’ prior home in Israel that was taken away from them in 1948, and his pain at having lost the land, the connection, the house. Several Muslim people said they have, or once had, Jewish spouses.

How flat this is as I write it.

You cannot see the turbans, hear the pain, the stories, listen to the laughter, watch the faces of mesmerized Americans who said they knew nothing about Islam, the Jews who said they hadn’t been in a room with Arabs before, the women who cried, the men who got teary, the tremendous relief from sitting together in one small world, where we all belong.

Here they were, from so many religions, so many many sects, explaining who they were, how they were raised. They were compassionate and concerned and critical—about their own people, about our foreign policy, about the lack of access to multiple points of view.

There was no crosstalk, no argument, no debate, no finger-pointing. There was respect, and from the respect grew hope.

People started to talk about ways we could all act and get involved. Together. In spite of our considerable differences. In spite of our ignorance of each others’ ways.

There was consensus that we need to go on doing this. We set a time for a next meeting in 10 days. Everyone will bring food and people. More people. People whose admission ticket is a set of open ears.

Many of us said we somehow felt this is why we were living in Santa Fe... to have this chance to get together, to do something right, to learn from each other, to open our circles, to expand, to grow, to learn, to teach, to change, to look at all the chunks in this melting pot of the USA and of the world.

It is nothing. It is something. It is a start. It is the beginning of hearing other voices. Of listening, before it is our turn to speak.

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