Although we visited a few Bedouin communities we almost have not seen women! They are not visible to us – shy and often don’t agree to be photographed. The extreme modesty in outfit and behavior is the best way to avoid haram (can be translated as ‘shame’), a word which shapes social interactions since early childhood. However, there are a few exceptions: Fatma and here mother who we met at the beginning of our trip – the two strong spirits, very open and eager to get to know newcomers;
or two women in another community uncovering hijab (traditional hair cover) for a second just to show Paulina the golden earrings which normally can be seen by only closest family members. It happened a few times that Paulina was recalled by women or girls, and while Maciek was somewhere else they were chatting with her, offering food, exchanging bracelets and expressing appreciation for her blond hair. Paulina never missed an opportunity to approach Palestinian females because it was always very positive and pleasant experience. Sometimes it would be so great to speak and especially understand more Arabic! Maybe next time will be able to get know more Palestinian women, they have so magnetic personalities!
Palestinian women lead different lives dependently where they live in. Those living in cities are more independent and their lifestyle is closer to European one. In Ramallah we saw women working, driving cars, walking alone in the streets, etc. However in the countryside we lived in, and especially among Bedouin communities, gender roles are much more polarized and conservative.
Women are working in the field, taking care of animals (which is one of the most time consuming and tough activity here), producing cheese and raising many children (family consisting of 6 persons is considered as rather small; having 5, 6 or even 7 children is very common here). Being pregnant, giving birth and raising so many kids together with hard physical work in the field or with livestock plus living in severe conditions, without electricity and constant access to water – it is a real challenge! Not mentioning the lack of proper healthcare (the doctor visits Bedouin communities once per three weeks for three hours).
Finally, it cannot be forgotten that Palestinian women still experience different forms of discrimination, starting from ban to enter the sheesha cafes, through control and abuse by men, finishing with even honor killings. If they marry a conservative man they also cannot work earning money. When we were hitch-hiking once we met three businessmen from Hebron (very nice and polite by the way) and one of them was very curious about Paulina’s occupation. When she said that she goes to work every day he was nodding his head with polite understanding and finally he stated: “our wives do not work”. I guess he meant “do not work to earn money” and did not mean house or field work.
There were unfortunately no Palestinian female volunteers among us. Since they are such strong and vigorous spirits local women could bring a lot of energy and good ideas into our group. We were told that in this particular case it is not that the women do not want to volunteer. The problem are our neighbors who would not accept Palestinian women working on, for example, fixing the roof of our house. Sad but true…