Being part of a Yoga community in Palestine is strange. Having a middle-aged Egyptian woman doing different asanas on the mat right next to me is stranger still. But this is Ramallah, with all its absurdities, an occupied/liberated city filled with European, North American and occasionally Asian foreigners. But almost no Arab visitors. It never occurred to me that we are so isolated from the rest of the Arab world until Nooran – I thought her name was a bit Egyptian – started talking about meditation in one of our Yoga sessions. She spoke in Egyptian Arabic with a mesmerising accent. I wasn’t sure, maybe she was from Gaza, where the accent is said to be similar, but if so, how would she have got to the West Bank? And how would she be allowed to have a short, boyish haircut – I’ve heard about the new laws Hamas issued lately (am I stereotyping?) – and a toned, perfectly shaped body?
Maha, the Hatha Flow instructor, broke my train of thought. Nooran is Egyptian, she explained. She is married to a Palestinian. That made sense, but even so... The women in the yoga practice, including me, were eager to hear her speak, about anything at all. It was the accent. Maybe she could give a class one day (on anything at all). I don’t think she understands how exciting it is for us to hear her speak. It’s not just about her, more about feeling that we’re not alone in Ramallah. There are different people out there who can break the barriers and reach us at some point. Feeling admiration and affection for a stranger simply because she speaks a different kind of Arabic is curious, I agree. But if you never get the chance to leave Palestine, other Arabs only exist on TV or in virtual space, expressing solidarity on the internet. Such is the absurdity of our situation. We know that governments have signed peace treaties with Israel, so why is it frowned on as an act of ‘normalisation’ for other Arabs to come to Palestine? Does the fact that they’ll have an Israeli stamp in their passports really make a difference?