Saturday, April 16, 2016

Day 3

Diyar graduates + Pal Craftaid representatives
This post was written on April 15.

Today was the best day we have had yet. It feels impossible to come up with a good place to start, but I’ll just stick with telling you about Alia (AHL-ya), an artisan with whom we hope to work in the future. 

Alia is a Palestinian Muslim whose livelihood is embroidering stoles (and she is GOOD at it. Hers is some of the best needlework we've seen yet.) We met her and five other female artisans today at The Diyar Consortium, formerly known as the International Center of Bethlehem, whose institutional vision is “that we might have life and have it abundantly.” This vision is coming to life for Alia ever since she participated in Diyar's free, three-year art training program for women. We loved talking with her so much that we were delighted when she invited us to come to her home after the meeting. She served us tea and tabbouleh and was proud to show off some of the art she produced while in the Diyar program. 

With Alia, modeling one of her stoles :) 
Alia gets asked a lot about being a Muslim and yet making stoles for Christian clergy. “So what?” she says. “I am a Muslim because of a Christian.”

Alia was raised as a nominal Muslim. For most of her upbringing, prayer, reading the Koran, and other practices of faith were not a part of her life. Around the age of 14, she started to learn embroidery from a Belgian nun. In the course of many years of working with this nun, Alia would see her and the other nuns doing good things, helping and teaching other women like her. "I wondered, ‘why are they so good?’” 

Around the age of 25, Alia finally asked the nun her question. In response, the nun shared about her Christian faith, and even made connections about what the Koran says. “It is one God, Alia,” the nun told her. And so Alia decided she wanted to learn about her own faith. She, too, wanted to live a life of purpose – a life of prayer, service, and devotion. “Only then,” she says, “did I really become a Muslim.”

Before Alia was born, her family lived for generations south of Hebron. Her father was the head of the village, and their family was one of the wealthiest in the area. In 1948, they, like countless other families, were driven from their home and fled to a safe place – what would become Aida Refugee Camp in Bethlehem. They had nothing, just a tent.

The road to Aida Refugee Camp, where Alia was born and lives
Almost 70 years later, this is where Alia lives. The youngest of nine siblings, Alia was born in the camp. Her father died when she was just two years old, and her older sister dropped out of school at the age of 9 to help her mother take care of the family.

At the age of 17, Alia’s mother told her that it was time to get married. Alia refused. “I decided I didn’t want a husband or a family. I wanted myself.” She wanted an education, and while she initially attempted to pursue a degree in English, it got too expensive and she dropped out. 

Alia with her nephew (center) and a neighbor kid
One of Alia's brothers is divorced and works in Jerusalem. At the end of every week, he comes home to Bethlehem to spend the weekend with his two sons, who live with their Aunt Alia. 

“I didn’t want to be a mother,” Alia says with a smile, “but now I am.”

But at 40 years old, she is happy. She loves the boys and the life she has built for herself. Her work is fulfilling, and she takes an incredible amount of pride and joy in constantly innovating and imagining new designs for her stoles.

“I don’t want to be rich,” she said. “I just want to live.”  

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