When Pastor Mitri Raheb talked about the importance of culture and the humanities, I enthusiastically nodded my head. As an English major in an era of business and engineering degrees, I often find myself defending the importance of the arts. I was happy to hear that Pastor Raheb agreed that culture can play an important part in shifting the narrative of a people and place. As so many have pointed out, our stories and art often allow us to tell a truer story than the one we see in a barrage of statistics.
Later that afternoon we met with two young Palestinians named Elias and Salam. They told us their stories about getting permits, waiting for hours at checkpoints, and other moments from life in the West Bank. We craned our necks and tried not to shift in our chairs, listening to every word.
At dinner we joked about what divides true hummus from imposters. We talked about Elias’ university plans. But the conversation that stands out was our talk about favorite novels and short stories. Because it seems everyone in the world read The Hunger Games, we found common ground there and agreed that we loved them all–movies and books. Elias took it a step further and said, smirk hanging on his lips, “When I see District 12, I see home.” We laughed, embarrassed, and Elias laughed at the absurdity of life. He placed his own stories and the truth he pulled from fiction out on the table, and we listened, in awe at the bravery of both.