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?”