History/Hystery work by Mona Gazala

History / Hystery  by Mona Gazala 

Below the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, reached by a narrow stairway, there is a small cave that is reputed to be the birthplace of Christ.  My mother, who was raised a few miles away in Ramallah, is familiar with the place.  The cave has been turned into a chapel, with draperies, candles, icon and other decorations masking the bare rock.

In the basement below Jean Brandt’s gallery, I likewise endeavored to erect a shrine in the dank, broken-windowed cat-piss smelling cinder-blocked and sewer piped storage room.  It was a shrine to the female history of my Palestine family and to motherhood in general.  The walls were lined with pictures of draped middle-eastern women and images of my mother and grandmother.  There were votives burning and a recording of a story from my maternal family’s origin. . .the surname, dating to the 1700’s, originated from the name of the first woman in the family.

One wall of the room was papered with pages ripped from an Arabic-English dictionary, interspersed with pages from Dr. Lamaze’s amusing little book, Painless Childbirth.  The word “painless” appeared in other images around the room, like a running gag.  And a favorite page of mine on the wall, the title page of part two, features a singular statement that, despite Dr. Lamaze’s best efforts, becomes a rhetorical question: “WHAT IS CHILDBIRTH WITHOUT PAIN?”