Intern Journal: The Great Battle of the Cucumber Fields

We began our Video Class with the typical trust-falls and name games.  By the second session, we had transitioned from improvisational games to brainstorming for our first video.  By the third class, my kids had written an epic... In our story, Saladin and Richard the Lionheart meet at The Great Battle of the Cucumber Fields in Jericho.  The whole day is witnessed by the revelers atop the hill, who have come to the cucumber farm to have a picnic.  They narrate the story of Richard arriving in Jericho and conquering the city.  Saladin hears of the cruelty of Richard's rule, and so marches his army to liberate the city.  The battle is long and fierce, and the sides are evenly matched, but Saladin finally wins the day.  Due to his benevolence, he allows Richard to live and the two become friends.  Then, everyone dances Dabka (a popular Palestinian folk dance).

In real life, Saladin really did show mercy to Richard the Lionheart, including sending him ice and fresh fruit when Richard was sick.  The lesson of our story was that the two sides, however different, found a commonality (in our case, love of both dance and cucumbers) and became friends.

My children wrote the whole story as a poem, in three four-line stanzas.  We then divided the class into three groups, the revelers/narrators, Saladin and the Saracens, and Richard the Lionheart and the Crusaders.

But how could we film this great epic in a simple classroom?  That's right, we couldn't.  So, I appealed for the chance to take the children to Sebastia,  Sebastia was one of Herod the Great's palaces, given to him by the emperor Augustus.  300 years before that, Alexander the Great had even stopped by (to destroy the city).  And on top of all that, it is the supposed location of the beheading of John the Baptist and subsequent gift to Salome.  What better place than this to make even more history.

On a hot - not a warm - a hot Sunday morning, my class set out to Sebastia in TYO's bus, with Abu Majdi driving.  I had bought everybody swords, bows, and arrows, as well as staying up all night making togas and sashes.  Mujahed, playing Richard the Lionheart, was admiring his king's golden sabre.  Noor, the leading reveler - and thus narrator - was sorting his picnic basket and rehearsing his lines.  Amel, lucky enough to be cast as the hero, Saladin, was taking a quick beauty nap to rest up for the big day.  But he couldn't sleep for long because within two minutes of our bus ride, the kids began singing popular Arabic songs and clapping along with them.  Everybody loves a field trip!

The kids (and adults) arrived rarin' to go.  Waleed, a Nabulsi local, came along to act as my translator, with Hamid, my usual volunteer, joined by Lo'ai and Maggie to help with crowd control.

Ready to act, we got to work.  On top of an ancient Roman theatre, the revelers performed their whole scene, including reaction shots to the offscreen 'battle' that wasn't actually happening yet.  They had gotten wonderfully skilled at using their imagination to 'see' the whole battle.

As the revelers munched on their cucumbers and hummus, the two sides got dressed in their togas and sashes.  We filmed Richard's men conquering the city, as well as Saladin and the Saracens appearing over the hill to prepare an attack on the Crusaders.

And, moments before the battle was to begin, I realized that we were overtime.  After shooting the first half of the epic, we had to run back to TYO so the children could get back to their homes on time.  The kids were upset we had to leave so quickly (it had been an hour and a half), but were a little bit grateful because of the sun beating down.

Knowing that we would return to film the actual battle and ensuing Dabka performance, they gingerly piled on the bus.  Field trip number one had a been a great success.  The whole ride home the kids asked when we could return to Sebastia to finish the film.  Unsure of the permission slips that would be needed, I said it would be as soon as possible.

But, as of yesterday, they have been celebrating.  After throwing me a surprise birthday party, I returned the favor by telling them that I have gotten permission to take the whole class back to Sebastia.  And so, this coming Sunday, The Great Battle of the Cucumber Fields will finally reach its conclusion, to be recorded by historians for centuries to come, or at least put on DVD for my kids to watch at home with their families.

And after that, we'll all dance Dabka.

- Rick

Rick is an intern at TYO Nablus.