Handala and meanings of Home

Just back from Souk Jara (a pre-Ramadan open market just off 1st Circle, Rainbow Street, Amman for those who know), where I had a good chat with a really nice Palestinian couple selling some trendy pottery (too heavy) and some handpainted Handala cartoons and Mahmoud Darwish poetry (lighter – and so I bought a small one). They still describe themselves as refugees, although they have lived in Jordan all their lives. It led to an interesting conversation about ‘homeland’ and ‘home’.

Handala is a famous cartoon figure in the Middle East drawn by cartoonist Naji Al-Ali (go search for examples!). In every cartoon Handala’s back is turned to the world and he is watching the action in the cartoon, inviting the viewer to do the same. Sometimes he takes part in the action in the cartoon, but generally looks on. Handala means ‘medicinal bitter desert fruit’ in Arabic. Handala was born ten years old and remains ten years old, the age Naji Al-Ali was when he was expelled from his village in 1948. Two out of every three Palestinians were expelled from their homes when Israel was established in that year. They have not been allowed home and so remain refugees.

Darwish’s poetry complements this aching observation of life in the Middle East for those calling themselves refugees. He writes not just for Palestine, but for all refugees – as Naji Al-Ali drew for all marginalised people. Check out http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/i-come-from-there/ for one of Darwish’s poems to get the idea.

So, here I am travelling, listening, talking, praying and supporting where I can – which I love and feel God has called me to do. But I travel not as a refugee….and I go back to my homeland in the UK next week – and then to the places, family and friends I call ‘home’ in the north of England. In the words of Darwish ‘I come from there’, and although as a Christian I know known the scripture ‘we have no abiding city’, I also know the rootedness of earthly ‘home’.

A brief chat on a sunny, crowded market street with some lovely people still aching for ‘home’. Maybe something to reflect on…….

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