Arab-American University in Jenin is not really in the city of Jenin. It’s actually about 20km outside the city, next to the small town of Zababda, which is not really as much of a town as a street and handful of buildings. The University is surrounded by open, fallow fields and a few rocky hills. In Palestine, a mere 20km might as well be 200 — between the maze of crisscrossed unmarked dirt roads and the inevitable Israeli checkpoints, the trip to Jenin takes about 2 hours or more. On some days, you’ll never get there.
So the name doesn’t really do justice to its location. At night, looking out the window from the teachers’ dorm, the blackness surrounding the campus is only broken by a few yellowish lights from Zababda. Frequently, when even those lights aren’t on, the countryside loses all dimensions and flattens out like a Goth Monet.
So, what else would four English teachers do, but play Scrabble.
Obviously, from this post’s title, it’s no ordinary Scrabble game. The subtlety of our competitiveness (we never outright say we want to win, but you can see it in our eyes) is given a sharper edge with the copious amounts of tequila we drink. As the weekend night lingers on, the game becomes slower, a bit rowdier, and eventually interrupted by long, loud bouts of laughter.
The four of us are a good mix. We blend well together, bringing quite different backgrounds, opinions, barbs, and comfort. C&B are married and have this way of talking to each other like half the words are missing, but none of the meaning. Mich is the “sane” one of the group, which only means those lapses into the nonsensical are even funnier. And then there’s me. I bring the tequila.
We enjoy months of this: the four of us feeling happy and free and included. It’s our way of forming a protective bubble. As isolated as we are in the countryside of this country, we still need a little more insulation. We still need each other as examples of why we’re here. The uncontrolled laughter helps.
In the end, what makes these nights so memorable is that I really don’t remember much at all. Oh, of course, I have bits and pieces of images … pouring double shots into our collection of mugs and glasses, C being so tired (or drunk?) that she simply leans sideways to collapse onto B, B’s tendency for sudden impromptu guitar playing, Mich insisting that we allow “British” spelling or to just fuck off. But all these memories are so fleeting and unreal. I mean, they exist. I know they happened. But I cannot tell you when or how or in what order. Oh, except for one repeated event that remains crystal clear. At the end of every session, usually around 1a.m., I stagger back to my flat from C&B’s; this trek includes climbing the stone wall to enter the campus because I don’t want to wake the guard at the gate. Then, comes the slow lead-footed trudge uphill to my building, all the while looking at the blackness engulfing me and the stars above.