Thursday, August 8, 2013
What I Learned In The Corner of an Arab Woman's Kitchen
One of the many things I love about being part of the “Hartman Institute Gang” every summer is the field trips. This year, as I usually do, I went into and was able to explore areas and meet people that represent the widest breadth (and breath for that matter) of what it means to live in Israel and be Israeli and maintain so many complicated identities at once. So allow me to introduce you by way of these words to an amazing Arab woman named Amna Kanana. Amna lives in Kafr Kara nad is originally from Kafr Ara. She is an accomplished Israeli Arab woman who directs Man Ajliki (For You: Awareness). This organization was begun in 2003 by a group of women with the stated goal of improving the lives of Arab women in the Wadi Ara area and empowering them to go forth and do wonderful things with their lives. So, Amna, modestly dressed in her hijab, graciously invited into her beautifully appointed home and brought us to the Arab woman’s “place” in the home, the farthest corner of the kitchen, where the men who are sitting in the salon (living room and dining room combination) would not see her and the required sense of modesty she must maintain in her community, culturally and religiously speaking, would not be compromised. Amna is a religious Druze woman and shared with us her stories of rebellion and acclamation of self (and trust me, this woman rocks!). We stood crowded in the corner of her kitchen in front of a very large floor to ceiling pantry. She explained how oppressive life can be for a religious Druze woman and continued to beckon us to crowd in the corner so we could better understand “her place.” Then she said something to the effect of the following: “So now I want to show you what I have turned my corner into.” At that point, she opened the pantry doors, and expecting to see shelves of food, there were curtains through which we walked into a large welcoming and colorful room. This is the place where “Amna School” occurs and you immediately see the joy and pride in her beautiful face. Amna meets with women here and she and others support their religious sisters and encourage them to follow their dreams. There are colorful posters, a white board with markers for lessons and tables of crafts that the women have made and are for sale. This corner has become a haven, a sort of intellectual and educational spa for women of Wadi Ara, if you will. She spoke lovingly of her work and the triumphs of the women she works with, while showing us their handiwork with pride and joy. She also told us the beautiful story of how she met her husband and married him (a very cool guy by all standards and the details of her story) – who totally supports what she does (obviously). There is definitely a revolution going on in this room and Amna is the capable general, teaching, encouraging, guiding – and all without compromising who she is as a religious observant woman who is also educated and has great dreams and hopes. Hers is an undertaking we can all understand. What she has so expertly done is turned her corner to which she was confined culturally and religiously relegated by convention into a wonderful and lighted room of learning, growing, laughing, hope, sharing and so much more. May we all take this lesson from Amna and turn those dark corners imposed upon us into something light and airy and wonderful! May you continue to be blessed in your wonderful work, Amna!