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Smartphones in “Dar Al Hawa”, al-Quds (East Jerusalem)

MayaDe Vries Kedem3 January 2020

Written by Laila Abed Rabho and Maya de Vries

Please note that the participant names used in this blog post, as well as the neighbourhood name ‘Dar al-Hawa’, have been pseudonymised for reasons of anonymity and confidentiality.

Smartphones are perhaps the most important technological devices used in the world today. In our field site of Dar al-Hawa, a neighbourhood of 10,000 people in al-Quds (East Jerusalem), smartphones are part of everyday life, including among older members of society. As part of our fieldwork, we interviewed 22 women between the ages of 42 and 75 in the area. We discovered that even though many carry mobile devices with them on a regular basis, this does not necessarily mean that they make use of the full functionality of these, including apps and other features.

All interviewees agree that having a smartphone makes communication with their family members (parents, children and grandchildren) easier, whether they are in the country or abroad. Most of them actively use WhatsApp, Facebook and Facebook Messenger to communicate, as well as to send each other prayers and quotes from the Qur’an. Some also browse the Internet and follow daily news. Overall, smartphones are seen as devices that make communication between family members much easier, especially in comparison to their older, pre-smartphone counterparts:

Eman (75), remembers a time when she had to top up her phone to make calls abroad:

“I used to have a card, and I would buy a 100 shekel card every time I topped up. When I called my brother in America or in Jordan, the conversation ended quickly – today I can call him for free. Smartphones have reduced the distance between us.”

Hala (58): “I used to use my phone to check on my daughter at university – she studied outside of Jerusalem.”

Smartphone use among older women in the Arab community is not limited to family communication and calls. Some women we interviewed use their smartphones to find recipes online:

Nisreen (56): “I love to read about cooking and find dessert recipes.”

Kholud (63): “I browse the internet to find recipes that suit my diet. I would also like to read about cooking and how to make dessert recipes.”

None of the women we interviewed use their smartphone to pay bills or do online shopping however. These findings are aligned with recent research reports on the digital divide within Israel, which have shown that there are significant differences between internet adoption and use among the Jewish population and that of the Arab population. Although internet use among the Arab community in Israel had increased to as much as 84% by 2015, there is still a large disparity in terms of the scope and nature of internet (and implicitly, smartphone) use between the two groups. While data shows that as many as 7 in 10 members of the Arab community had not shopped online or made payments on the internet in 2016, for the Jewish community, this figure was only around 30%. Among the Arab community, there are also more significant differences between different generations when it comes to browsing the internet, with over 45s being even more underrepresented and less confident that older internet users in the Jewish population.

Digital access and consequently, digital equality, tend to vary based on the socio-political background of a specific group or individual. In addition, the lack of motivation to use the internet can also occur due to a fear of technology, especially among minorities or more marginalised groups such as older people. Such groups are more likely to suffer from a lack of basic digital skills and knowledge and have limited exposure to the internet. As we have learnt from our informants, joining the digital world and learning how to navigate it are not self-evident processes, and can both take a long time. Even when adults learn how to use the phone and have practised using it multiple times, they may forget how to use it with time, some even forgetting the right way to properly use a touchscreen, for example. Such difficulties can have the effect of severely limiting the way these members of the population will use their phone, limiting their use to voice calls and WhatsApp.

Mayar (46) was very explicit about this: “I am afraid that a time will come when everything will be online. I do not know how to pay in this way. Sometimes when I am in a car park, I am asked to pay for the space online. I am also afraid that a day will come that I cannot find a machine [where I can still pay manually]. That’s why I wish to find a class to teach me how to use the smartphone. Girls in their twenties may know how to pay via the internet, but us women over 45 need education in this field.”

We also asked informants whether they use their smartphone to contact their doctor. Interviewees were keen to stress that they would never use their smartphone to communicate with their doctors in a direct way. There was one exception, Hamda (75), who said:

“Of course, I use it to communicate with my doctor. Today I want to call my doctor because I want to cancel an appointment I have. I want to tell him that I am not coming.”

It is interesting to note however that Hamda uses her smartphone to place a direct call to her doctor as opposed to using the clinic’s app or messaging him via WhatsApp. However, she is quite unique in this matter. Another research participant, Jumana (75) says: “As for communicating with doctors, I do not use it [smartphone]. I go to see the doctor face to face. If I had the clinic’s doctor’s number, I would contact them, but I don’t know how to use WhatsApp.”

The women we spoke to also highlighted the importance of phones among elderly people who were childless, or those whose children were far away and unable to provide them with immediate assistance.

Haya (62) says: “The phone is very good, I like having it with me in the knowledge that I can use it to communicate with my children at any given time. It is better than the house phone. It is very good to be able to use the camera no matter where you are. I sometimes also use YouTube.”

Rana (43) says: “Having a mobile phone is very important for the elderly who live alone today. There is even a service that allows older users to call the police or an ambulance at the touch of a button.”

The evidence from our interviews shows a widespread perception that phones have numerous advantages, assuming of course that informants know how to use their functions and features. The widespread use of smartphones also presents downsides – a fact that appeared as a more subtle implication in our  discussions with informants – something that is related to the specific cultural context of our field site.

For example, Haya (62) talks about the smartphone and the ridiculous things that can happen as a result of using the phone incorrectly:

If you know how to use it {the smartphone}, it is true that there is a lot of good in it. This phone is a blessing from God, but most people do not know how to use it in a good way, so they use it to do bad stuff. This is why some people prefer the old ‘stupid’ phone.”

The community in Dar al Hawa is considered a conservative one. It is not unheard of for some members of this community to use smartphones for abusive purposes that include discrediting or shaming other people.

While smartphones can make life easier, they can also complicate it, carrying the potential to influence the life of individuals (particularly women) and their families in a negative way.

Bearing all this in mind, it was particularly interesting to see in the WhatsApp group of the Elderly Club in “Dar Al Hawa” the following image praising the “stupid” old phone and its lack of capabilities:

It lived with dignity
It died with dignity
Never took a photo of a girl
And did not record any embarrassing situations (scandals)
And it did not carry music

 

الهاتف الذكي في حي دار الهوى، القدس

ليلى عبد ربه ومايا دة-فريس

 

تعتبر الهواتف الذكية من اهم الأجهزة التكنولوجية المستخدمة بكثرة لدى أغلب فئات المجتمع. خلال اللقاءات مع النساء الفلسطينيات في حي “دار الهوى[1] – القدس حول الهاتف الذكي واستخدامه، قالت أغلب النساء ان الهاتف الذكي سهل عليهن التواصل مع الأهل والأبناء سواء كانوا داخل البلد او خارجها.

حتى الآن تم اللقاء مع 22 امرأة بالفئة العمرية ما بين 42 و75 عاماً، جميعهن أكدن على استخدام الهاتف الذكي كوسيلة للاتصال والتواصل. أغلبهن يستعملن تطبيق الواتس اب والفيسبوك والمسنجر كوسائل للتواصل ولإرسال الادعية الدينية، كما يتصفح بعضهن الانترنت لمتابعة الأخبار. أكدت جميع النساء على سهولة استخدام الهاتف الذكي (على عكس الهاتف القديم) للتواصل مع افراد عائلاتهن خارج البلاد و داخلها:

إيمان (75) قالت: “كنت استخدم الكرت (كل مرة اشتري كرت بمئة شيكل) عندما اتصل بأخي في امريكا او في الاردن فينتهي بسرعة, اليوم انا باتصّل ببلاش. هو يقرب البعيد”.

هالة (58) قالت: كنت استخدمه للاطمئنان على بنتي في الجامعة“.

قسم من النساء يستخدمنه لتصفح ما يتعلق بالطبخ والحلويات. نسرين (56) قالت: أنا أحب ان أقرا عن الطبخ وأن استخرج وصفات للحلويات. خلود (63) قالت اتصفح النت لاستخراج وصفات للرجيم وأيضا أحب أن أقرأ عن الطبخ وكيفية عمل بعض الحلويات.

لم تقم أي من النساء اللواتي تم اللقاء معهن بدفع فواتير الهاتف او الكهرباء أو اي فواتير أخرى عن طريق الهاتف الذكي.

اثبتت الدراسات التي تمت حول الهاتف الذكي في إسرائيل الفرق بين المجتمع اليهودي والمجتمع العربي في استخدام الهاتف الذكي والانترنت. حيث وصلت نسبة مستخدمي الانترنت في المجتمع العربي حوالي 60% في عام 2011، مقارنة ب 77% لدى السكان اليهود. أما في عام 2015 فقد ارتفعت هذه النسبة في المجتمع العربي الى 84% (لجنة الاحصاءات المركزية في إسرائيل)، ولكن لا يزال هنالك تفاوت كبير في نطاق وطبيعة الاستخدام بين الشعبين.

اتضح أن أكثر من 70% من مستخدمي الشبكة من المجتمع العربي لا يتسوقون أو يجرون الدفعات بشكل يومي مقارنة مع 30% من المجتمع اليهودي. ظهر أيضاً تفاوت كبير بنسب التصفح بين الاجيال (فوق أو تحت عمر 45) بالمجتمع العربي ولكنهم يستخدمون الشبكات الاجتماعية.[2]

تتنوع التفسيرات بموضوع المساواة الرقمية حسب الخلفية الاثنية بموضوع التكنولوجيا وتبنيها:

أولا، قلة الأجور لذوي الياقات الزرقاء بسبب عدم المساواة الاقتصادية/الاجتماعية/الثقافية/التعليمية والتي من خلالها سيكون الانكشاف للعالم التكنولوجي متدني.

ثانيا، عدم وجود الدافع لاستخدام التكنولوجيا بسبب الخوف من التكنولوجيا من قبل الأقليات، نتيجة لعدم معرفة استخدام المهارات الحاسوبية والانكشاف المقتصر لشبكة الإنترنت.

مع ذلك، وكما يظهر من المقابلات فان الانضمام للعالم التكنولوجي وتعلمه ليس بديهي ويستغرق وقتا طويلا. حتى عندما يتعلم الكبار كيفية استخدام الهاتف عدة مرات، فانه قد ينسى كيفية استخدامه، أو يكون استخدامه محدود جدا (للمكالمات والواتس اب فقط).[3]

رغم هذه الدراسات إلا أن بحثنا يظهر استخدام النساء المسنات للهاتف الذكي في القدس بوضعها السياسي المركب. كما ويؤكد البحث على عدم استخدام النساء للإنترنت بشكل واسع في الهاتف الذكي، بالمقارنة مع استخدامهن للواتساب والفيسبوك.

هالة (58) قالت: “زوجي وابنائي يدفعون الفواتير

ميار (46) ابدت تخوف من هذا الامر: أنا خائفة ان يأتي وقت يصبح فيه كل شيء عن طريق النت وأنا لا أعرف كيف يتم الدفع بهذه الطريقة، احيانا يطلبون مني في موقف السيارات الدفع عن طريق النت. خائفة ايضا ان يأتي يوم لا أجد مصف فيه الدفع عن طريق ماكنة عشان هيك يا ريت حد يقوم بتعليمنا كيف يتم الدفع عن طريق النت. الفتيات في سن العشرين يعرفن كيف يدفعن عن طريق النت لكن نحن النساء فوق الخامسة والاربعين نحتاج لتوعية في هذا المجال.”

إضافة الى ذلك أكدت النساء أيضا على عدم استخدام الهاتف الذكي للتواصل مع الطبيب بشكل مباشر، سوى واحدة، حمدة (75) قالت: طبعا باستخدمه في التواصل مع طبيبي انا اليوم بدي اتصل في طبيبي لأني بدي الغي موعد بكرة بدي اقول له انا مش جاي بكرة.

لم تستخدم أي من النساء الهاتف الذكي للتواصل مع الخدمات الطبية ‘الديجيتال’. جمانة (75) قالت: “أما بالنسبة للتواصل مع الاطباء لا أستخدمه [الهاتف الذكي] فأنا اذهب لرؤية الطبيب وجها لوجه. بالنسبة للتواصل مع الطبيب قالت إذا كان رقم العيادة معي ورقم الدكتور باتواصل معهم بس انا لسا بتعلم على الواتس آب.

زاهرة (74) اذا بدي اشي من الطبيب بقول لنعمة بنتي بتتصلي اذا بدي اشي من المكتب بتصل عليهم كمان ما باستعمل الواتس آب.

كما أكدت اغلب النساء على اهمية الهاتف الذكي ومساعدته للمسنين خاصة المسن الذي ليس لديه أبناء او أن أبناءه بعيدين عنه ويعيش في البيت لوحده.

هيا (62) قالت: استخدم الواتس وباتفرج على الفيس ومرات أتصل على اختي من المسنجر. البيلفون منيح كثير بتطلعي مشوار بكون بلفونك معك بتتواصلي مع اولادك هو احسن من تلفون الدار كثير منيح بتكوني في اي محل وبتفتحي الكاميرا وأحياناً أستخدم اليوتيوب.

رانا (43) قالت: مهم جدا للمسنين الذين يعيشون وحدهم اليوم يوجد خدمة يستطيع المسن ان يضغط على الزر فتأتي الاسعاف او الشرطة.

أظهرت المقابلات أن الهاتف الذكي يتمتع بمزايا كبيرة، على افتراض أنهم يعرفون كيفية استخدام تقنياته. في الوقت ذاته، للهاتف الذكي ايضا يوجد جانب سلبي، والذي لم يظهر بشكل ضمني إلا في المقابلات مع النساء ويعتمد على السياق الثقافي لمجال دراستنا.

فعلى سبيل المثال، تتحدث السيدة هيا (62) عن الهاتف الغبي والأشياء السخيفة التي يمكن أن تحدث نتيجة لاستخدام الهاتف بشكل غير صحيح:

اذا بتعرفي تستخدميه صح بكون كثير منيح مش للهبل هذا البيلفون نعمة من الله, لكن اكثر الناس مش عارفين يستخدموه, بيستعملوه للهبل.”

يعتبر المجتمع ا في “دار الهوى” مجتمع محافظ، ولكن قد يقوم بعض افراد هذا المجتمع باستغلال الهواتف الذكية لأغراض مسيئة تشمل تشويه سمعة أشخاص اخرين. من الجدير بالذكر ان الهاتف الذكي من ناحية يجعل الحياة أسهل ومن ناحية أخرى يعقدها.

في ضوء ذلك، كان من المثير للاهتمام أن نرى في مجموعة الواتس اب التابعة لنادي المسنين في “دار الهوى” الصورة التالية والتي تشيد بالهاتف “الغبي” وافتقاره إلى القدرات:

[1] “دار الهوى” هي اسم مستعار وكذلك أسماء الذين تمت مقابلتهن.

[2] Lev-On, A., Brainin, E., Abu-Kishk, H., Zilberstein, T., Steinfeld, N., Naim, S. (2019) Narrowing the gap: Characterization of participants, short- and long-term effects of participation in LEHAVA program (To narrow the digital gap in Israeli society, in Hebrew).

[3] Gordon, C., Al Zidjaly, N., & Tovares, A. V. (2017). Mobile phones as cultural tools for identity construction among college students in Oman, Ukraine, and the US. Discourse, Context & Media, 17, 9-19.

50 colours of menopause – reframing the ‘age of despair’. By Maya de Vries and Laila Abe Rabho

LauraHaapio-Kirk30 September 2019

Authors: Maya de Vries and Laila Abe Rabho

Photo (CCBY) Maya de Vries. Activity at the senior’s club: colouring pine cones.

Right from the beginning of the ASSA project, one of the main topics that we discussed was menopause. Although menopause is less of a taboo, and people talk about it much more in the al-Quds field site compared with some of the other ASSA sites, it took a us a while to be able to speak with informants about this sensitive topic. We discovered that for many women speaking about the physical and mental ramifications of menopause is still not easy to do and they tend to be shy and even embarrassed by it. It was only recently, after a year spent at the field site that gathering information about menopause became easier, mainly because women felt more comfortable to open up.

Research about menopause in al-Quds is rare. However there is some research about this issue focusing on the West Bank. In the article Age of despair or age of hope? Palestinian women’s perspectives on midlife health (Hammoudeh et al., 2017), authors depict the perception of menopause among Palestinian women in the West Bank who were born between 1960-1975. They clearly say that they had no access to Palestinian women in Jerusalem due to political and security problems entering Jerusalem from the West Bank.

The term used in Arabic in medical literature and discourse to describe menopause in the West Bank and in al-Quds is the ‘age of despair’ (sin al-yaas). However, in Hommoudeh’s article this term was unpopular with the women interviewed, and they preferred not using it. Similarly, in al-Quds, women that we spoke with in Dar al-Hawa, do not like to use this term. They are familiar with it, but do not wish to use it when talking about themselves, since it is not describing them correctly. The word despair is not relevant for them and perceived as negative, whether they are married with children, widowed, married with no children, or never married. They simply do not see themselves as in despair; for them it is very strong word, that does not describe their daily life.

The women we interviewed knew that they are in their midlife, but midlife for them means much more than just menopause, which carries negative associations. Many women articulated a positive view about midlife and ageing as a natural process that is part of life. Midlife, is considered to be an age of peacefulness and wisdom in the Holy Quran. The ‘age of despair’ is not mentioned; the term to describe older people is ‘old in years’ (Kbar fi al-Snin or Sheikhoukha, referring to old people, but they tend to see their age as an advantage because of increased life experience.

While talking with the women in al-Quds we found out that they talk about menopause in private and intimate situations such as meetings with girlfriends or with other women from their family. In such occasions, they talk more about the various physical symptoms characterising this age, such as – hot flashes, tension, incontinence, lack of sleep and more, and less on the mental issues that might appear. Some said that they were sure that these symptoms will pass with no need for medical treatment. They thought menopause is natural thing, and temporary. What was interesting to hear is how they refer to the term ‘menopause’, and what are the alternatives they are using instead.

In Yasmin’s (42) interview she referred to menopause as the ‘safety age’, when there is no chance to get pregnant.

yes, I have heard about it, there is another term that is used as an alternative to menopause and it’s the safety age. I know many women relatives and friends that reached this period of their life, but they never said that they were going through it (menopause). I think that this term is wrong, because there is no age that stops women.

Abeer (58) called menopause in a different name, considering it as ‘maturity age’, while referring not just to physical consequences of menopause, which are usually negative, but also to a better self.

I have been through the menopause period, I consider it maturity age, in this period women feel that they are able to take decisions by themselves, she feels that she is strong, she lives her life the way she wants, before the menopause her life was different.

Tagreed (60) sees menopause in contrast to what it represents. For her, the role of the women as grandmother is significant:

I don’t know, maybe when women reach this period her role in life ends, on the contrary, I believe that they are wrong because in this period her role becomes even more important than before, she takes care of her grandchildren, her children get married, she takes care of everything, and all the family depends on her. They think that if her period stops, that she is no longer able to become pregnant, her role in life ends. In contrast, in this period she takes care of her grandchildren, and her children depend more on her.

Tentatively, we can say that the term ‘age of despair’, is no longer relevant, and the concept of a novel, ‘golden’ prestige age is rising now. Our guess is that there are plenty of reasons for this shift, mainly because medicine is progressing and leisure activities are more commonly pursued. We will continue exploring how the digital environment impacts on this change; this still is an enigma for us, as many of our informants are not using digital devices, or health apps heavily. Some do not even carry a smartphone.

Interestingly, just as the term ‘menopause’ is being reframed, the same is happening also with the term ‘old’, as many in al Quds refrain from using it as it might be considered insulting. Many times, we see the word “seniors” instead of old, switching the word out of respect. A small example of the change in discourse can be seen in the new WhatsApp group opened two weeks ago by the coordinator of the seniors’ club under the name ‘The group of the golden age club’. The previous WhatsApp group, which is now being abandoned by its members, was called ‘The group of the older people of Dar al-Hawa’. The ‘golden’ age highlights the possibilities this age, despite menopause, can offer. Is this reframing simply concealing what is really happening in this age? Or due to various changes in the modern world, is ageing is coloured in gold? So far the al-Quds’s field site tells us that ageing is changing, and if you are financially secure, yes – you can experience the ‘golden age’.

 

 

“Double-edged sword”:bureaucracy among non-digital natives of Dar al-Hawa — by Maya de Vries

MayaDe Vries Kedem4 April 2019

Three months ago, the world celebrated International Senior Citizen’s Day. On that day, the Central Bureau of Statistics of Israel published data showing that, for the first time, at the end of 2017, the population of senior citizens (65+ years old) in Israel passed one million people : 566,000 women and 452,000 men. 42% of the senior citizens are above 75 years old. In addition, 87.2% were Jewish senior citizens (65+) whereas 74.5% were Arab senior citizens.[1] Of these 12% of the Arab senior citizens and 31% of the Jewish senior citizens live on their own.

A key problem for this age can be poverty. In Israel, the basic monthly pension monthly of around 2,000 shekels[2] is very low, considering the high cost of living in Israel[3]. 25% of Israeli senior citizens are considered poor[4]. On November 28th the Israeli Parliament narrowly failed to pass a law to double this to equal the minimum monthly wage of 4000 shekels.

The population of my field site of Dar al-Hawa in Jerusalem, have specific problems. Although they rarely live alone, Israel is an expensive place to live as the monthly expenses of gas, electricity, housing and food, medications are high. But to apply for an increase in welfare stipends means encountering a complex bureaucracy, which then becomes a major part of one’s life, especially when digitization has made it even more inaccessible.

In the past few months, I found these issues has come to define my role as a participant observer ethnographer. My job has been to translate language and help with the issue of digitalization. People need help in reading, writing and sending letters to all kinds of official authorities – among them The National Insurance Institute of Israel (Bituach Leumi). The key problem is that although Arabic is the second ‘official’ language in Israel, many official websites and forms (both offline and online) do not exist in Arabic at all, or they exist in part. There may be some explanation in Arabic, but you still have to fill the form in Hebrew. In a survey among Arab senior citizens only 53% estimate that they speak “very good”, Hebrew 49% but   15% do not know how to read or write in Hebrew. Therefore, part of “participating observation” is teaching my Informants Hebrew.

Teaching Hebrew 

Knowledge of Hebrew is particularly poor among those who have lived on the Jordanian side of the pre-1967 border, and for women who are less likely to have worked within Israel.

Hadeel (71) lived on the Israeli side of Dar al-Hawa and holds Israeli citizenship, and Samah (73) lived on the Jordanian side of Dar al-Hawa until 1967 and holds permanent residency status, but both asked for my assistance with Israeli bureaucracy. Hadeel and Samah are good friends.

On my first visit at Hadeel’s home, she asked me to call to The National Insurance Institute of Israel, asking them to add money to her monthly stipend. We called them together and were informed that Hadeel needs to submit her request online. Since Hadeel has neither smartphone, computer or internet, we used my smartphone to apply online.

Hadeel’s phone (photo by Maya)

After we applied, Hadeel received, “for the first time” she told me, an official letter from the National Social Services, written in Hebrew, outlining her entitlement to home assistance, but this must be renewed after three months.

Samah’s is a widow for more than 10 years. All her life she paid her taxes, but recently she received a letter in Hebrew from the National Social Services saying they suspect that she is no longer living within Israeli territory. Samah brought me this letter and asked me to translate it. When reading it, I realized how severe this problem could be, since if she failed to convince the authorities that she resides in Israel, she will lose both her monthly stipend and access to health-care services. Samah has had to turn to a lawyer for advice and support. For these citizens there are three interconnected problems that dominate my fieldwork. Their lack of Hebrew, their lack of knowledge about digital communication, and above all their constant fear that they will lose their rights. All of these reveal the basic inequalities of living within this field site of Dar al-Hawa.

Hadeel and Samah sharing breakfast in a fieldtrip to the city of Aka (photo by Maya)

 

 

Reference:

[1] http://brookdale.jdc.org.il/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/MJB_Facts_and_Figures_on_the_Arab_Population_in_Israel_2018-Hebrew.pdf

[2]See here an update table of pension rates: https://www.btl.gov.il/English%20Homepage/Benefits/Old%20Age%20Insurance/Pages/Pensionrates.aspx

[3] https://www.numbeo.com/cost-of-living/country_result.jsp?country=Israel

[4] https://m.knesset.gov.il/News/PressReleases/Pages/press28.11.18va.aspx (in Hebrew)

The challenges of staying active

MayaDe Vries Kedem25 September 2018

Author: Maya de Vries

10 years ago, in a Russian store at the city center of Jerusalem, I bought an A3 size poster from the communist time, with a drawing of an old lady who looks like a farmer, holding a book. The short text beside her image read: If you stop reading books, you might forget the language.

Recently in my field site of Dar al Hawa I found myself remembering this poster when visiting the elderly club, a central place in my field site, as I observed a variety of practices that aim to keep them sharp and vital.

One of the most challenging problems in the elderly club is to find suitable activities for the members. They need to be activities that both men and women can do; not too physical, because many are suffering from pains in their legs and can’t walk a lot, some have hearing problems, or cannot breath well. Hence, many of the activities are ‘just’ talks – it is easier for them to sit and listen. However, there can still be difficulties in establishing the time and place with lecturers as sometimes they call in the morning of the lecture to cancel. When a lecturer stands them up like this or if there is no other organized activity in the club, their alternative is an independent Quran lesson, which is quite different from the religion lesson that they have every few weeks with the local Iman. They take out larger volumes of the Quran and start reading aloud, each one in his/her turn. Hala, a member in the club who is volunteering in the Israeli welfare department and coordinates some of the club’s activities, leads the reading session and corrects them as they read. It is not easy to read correctly from the Quran,  as ech part has its own chants. The exercise is productive not just of the sense of community but also isa practice which helps stimulate memory (Collier, 2017).

The books were donated by one of the club’s members, and are large in order to make reading easier. From the perspective of our projects work on smartphones, in a site where religion plays a core role in daily life, the small screen of the smartphone poses a problem – even if they are able to change the size of the font. However, people here do find relevant uses for the technology. For example, most of them have downloaded an app that reminds them when to pray during the day.

Quran reading lessons seem to be physically passive, since they take place while sitting. However, praying in Islam is quite a physical experience, as the person praying needs to first take off his/her shoes, following this he/she may enter the mosque and begin praying. Praying also involves all kinds of physical positions such as sitting, leaning to the ground, standing up, turning the head to the side – these movements are frequently repeated. The entire group went inside the mosque to pray, some sat on the floor as is custom, while others who physically cannot get down to the floor took plastic chairs. For almost an hour, they all prayed, regardless of any physical limitations, and in a way, were challenging their bodies through the prayer. It is easy to forget that prayer is far more than just words. It is an immersion of the person physically and mentally within their religious practice, and for older people, it remains the structure to much of their life. So when thinking about the impact of the smartphone on people’s lives, one has to be continually aware of how much, and how, this is mediated by religion.

References:

https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/320377.php 

Double feature

MayaDe Vries Kedem19 July 2018

Author: Maya de Vries

My field site last month was a bit sleepy as it was Ramadan. This holiday continues over a whole month during which Muslims fast throughout the day, break the fast after sunset, and continue eating throughout the night. In Jerusalem, during these days, school and work places usually finish early and people who fast prefer to stay home, especially when Ramadan takes place in the summer and the heat forces people to stay indoors. During Ramadan, the elderly club at Dar al Hawa was closed and there were no activities at all. However, its WhatsApp group, “The group of the elderly club members,” was open 24/7.

As mentioned in my previous blog post, as part of my ethnography, I conduct a participatory observation at the elderly club at Dar al-Hawa Community Center. Recently, they agreed to add me to their WhatsApp group, which was established in October 2015. The admin of the group is also the coordinator of the elderly club. Besides the admin, there are 30 members in the WhatsApp group, although 50 members participate in the weekly meetings and activities at Dar al Hawa. That means that people do not receive information through the WhatsApp group. Instead, the coordinator phones them about the regular activities of the club, such as sport lessons, field trips, and so on. However, some information they miss since they are not part of the WhatsApp group; that is the informal messages, which are usually composed of images of flowers combined with a “good morning” or “good evening” blessing or other quotes from the Qur’an calling to pray to the Prophet Muhammad.

They also do not receive the various videos containing information about bad foods, such as snacks, that cause cancer, a disease that bothers everyone at the club.

When asking their club’s coordinator if she thinks it matters that some members of the group miss such information, she said it is not a big deal. I agree with her that it is not such a big problem, as long as they get the formal information and keep on coming to the club every Sunday and Thursday. However, I do think it can affect to some extent the sociability of the members who do not carry a smartphones and cannot use WhatsApp. Those images of daily greetings have a positive impact, based on my short experience in the WhatsApp group.  Just reading the blessings and seeing the joyful image attached—usually of red and pink flowers—have a positive impact, even if it is just a minor one.

Nevertheless, an image is just an image, and it is fair enough to say that looking at it will not solve major problems of elderly such as loneliness, difficulties in walking, or reaching high shelves at home.

Overcoming such problems is not easy, and one of guest lectures at the elderly club dealt exactly with such issues. The lecturer was a representative from the non-profit organization called Mini Active. This important organization run by women only has a project for elderly people in which an authorized instructor for the golden age meets with elderly people, including the elderly club in Dar al Hawa, and brings all sort of objects for keeping the home environment safe. There was complete silence during almost the entire lecture, indicating that it was an important topic. I sat quietly as well during the lecture and took photos of the various objects.

At the end of the lecture, they all approached the table where the objects were exhibited and asked the instructor many questions. There was a big fuss and noise around the table, and it seems many of them asked if they could buy some of the objects, but they were not for sale. The instructor explained where they could buy them, but not all of them heard her, meaning they missed this important information. Furthermore, it means that probably they will have to go with someone from their family because many of them do not drive or need assistance when leaving the village of Dar al Hawa. I felt an urge to do something for those who did not hear her or would not remember how things look like when they go to buy them. Therefore, I took photos of each object and sent them immediately to their WhatsApp group. While sending it, I knew that there were club members who would not receive these important photos. Furthermore, other important information was missing, such as the locations of the shops and their phone numbers. Therefore, I prepared a file with all the photos of the objects and the names and details of the nearby shops where they can buy them. I sent the file in the WhatsApp group, but more importantly I printed 30 copies and handed it personally to each one of the club’s members who were present in the last meeting.

خدمات.docx.pdf

Why is it important to blog about this? I find this experience significant to the ASSA project that aims to understand how digitation assists seniors. It is a great example of how elderly people experience life today. They are in between the fast pace of smartphones and the digitization of life, but not all the time, and certainly not all them are, as happened at the Dar al Hawa elderly club.

So, let’s imagine a scenario of a person going to buy one of the objects he was told about in the elderly club’s lecture. But, he cannot remember its name and he mistakenly forgot his phone at home so he does not have the image with him.  The information paper handed out at the meeting was left in his bag, folded inside his wallet acting as a safety net, un-digitized. Now he can quietly buy what he needs. Therefore, it seems to me that when thinking of life improvements for older people, it should always be on both tracks, with digital and non-digital features. In a way, it is like a double feature screening, of the same movie from two different copies: analog and digital.

Being Together Alone in East Jerusalem

MayaDe Vries Kedem23 May 2018

Author: Maya de Vries

As the days go by, I am starting to become more familiar with my field site of Dar al Hawa in East Jerusalem. Recently, I joined the Elderly’s Club in the village community center.

The club was opened in 1985, before the foundation of the community center. A group of 50-60 year olds meet here twice a week – on Sundays and Thursdays at 10am, for 2-3 hours of various activities – including lectures concerning culture, health, welfare, nutrition and religion. One of the most popular activities they have is a regular sports lesson for adults, usually while sitting on a chair.

Photo (CC BY) Maya de Vries

Photo (CC BY) Maya de Vries

Most of the elderly people who come to the club were born and raised in Dar al Hawa. It is their hometown, in which they feel most comfortable and safe. In many cases, the houses people live in are the same in which they grew up, or moved into when they got married. This is especially the case for women, many of whom live close to their children’s families. So why should they join this club, rather than remaining within the comfort and safety of their own home and families?

The act of leaving the security of an elder’s home is not simple, since it usually takes quite a lot of physical effort. Those who live nearby can easily walk, but others who live in more distant streets use a special transport system organized by the community center. Their presence is also depended on the weather; if it is too cold it is most likely that less people will show up. Some will call their friends to see if they are coming or not, but most of them will provide updates on their actions through the WhatsApp group of “the elderly club”, administrated by the club instructor.

One reason this club is succeeding in retaining its members is that it has tried not to impose rules on its participants. This is important in respecting the seniority of older people. As such, each person can come and go as she/he wishes; they just need to be friendly to each other and quiet during a lecture or class. Being quiet does not always come easily however, as they seem to enjoy their conversations.

The majority of the people who attend the club are women. In the exercise class, the women sit on sofas close to the wall, while the men sit at the front table. Over time, individual women will develop particular roles. One woman serves water, making sure no one will be thirsty. There is also the ‘joker’, who keeps everyone laughing during an activity, another walks in and out of the room as she takes various phones calls.

Mobile phones frequently go off during lectures, meetings and films, even during a religion lesson given by the local Imam. When asked who carries a mobile phone, everyone raised their hand. All but two were Smartphones. The most popular apps are WhatsApp Messenger and Imo – these two apps make it easier and cheaper for people here to speak with relatives and friends in Jordan, Kuwait and America. At first glance, it seems that despite their age, they handle their device quite well.

Photo (CC BY) Maya de Vries

On closer inspection, however, the problems become more apparent. It is often hard for individuals to hear the ringtones, or to make the swiping action needed to unlock and open their phones. Many of these people may not be aware of the presence of apps already on their phone, which could potentially help them with health issues such as exercising, Most of the people I speak with here do not know they can download an app for the local health clinics that can assist them in setting doctor appointments, renew subscriptions, and so on.

Notably, every person I talked with about his or her smartphones told me that they are getting help and instructions from their grandchildren – they teach them how write, how to upload a post, how to call and even how to post on Facebook. In this manner, smartphones, from isolating people, may help to bring family members closer together, and to bridge a kind of digital divide that exists between the generations. At the same time, the interruptions created by phone calls cuts through the flow of the group’s activity, undermining its unity; – it literally pulls out the elderly from the room.

In short, both the club and the smartphone work here at the intersection of individualism and sociality. The club is a social forum that helps counter isolation, but works by respecting the individual. The phone is strongly associated with the individual, who may not be aware of many of its possibilities, but it has become a major link to the wider collective. These two aspects appear to work in tandem. Hence, a person who lacks the support of their family or community is also unlikely to learn to use their phone.

Photo (CC BY) Maya de Vries

Wonder (Grand) Women

MayaDe Vries Kedem29 March 2018

Author: Maya de Vries

Recently the world celebrated International Women’s Day. In the Arab world, another important date taking place in the same month is Mother’s Day. Not in all cultures is this day still celebrated; for example, in my country, Israel, Mother’s Day turned into Family Day. Instead, it has become more and more popular to celebrate Women’s Day in workplaces, universities, and private organisations. During Women’s Day, special events for women, including lectures given by women, take place and there are lots and lots of discounts on all sorts of “women”-oriented products, an act one can criticize, of course.

In the Palestinian village of Dar al Hawa (دار الهواء), the field site I am conducting research in with the ASSA project, Women’s  Day was also celebrated in a unique form of a special day tour—just for women of Dar al Hawa of all ages—outside of the village as I was told by the women group I joined.

Photo by Maya de Vries, February 2018.

Dar al Hawa is located in the city of Jerusalem. It is not contiguous with the other Palestinian neighborhoods of East Jerusalem since part of it is considered West Jerusalem.

Photo by Maya de Vries, February 2018.

Nowadays, Dar al Hawa has a mixed population of Muslims and Christians and around 13,000 people reside in it. The majority of the village are young, mainly between the ages 21–40. The elder population in the village (61–74) is only 5.38%. The older women in the village do not go out to work, as when they were younger it was not so acceptable that they work; they also do not speak well Hebrew—the dominant language in work places.  Usually, when visiting Dar al Hawa in the morning, you can see women walking around to make run errands, or visit family or friends as happens in the intimate women’s group I have been lucky enough to join. This group of six older adult women meet every Tuesday at 11 am since 2006. Each time, they meet at a different house. They shared with me that they started to meet just to pass the time and that they enjoyed talking together. Usually a few grandchildren, from babies to toddlers, accompanied them,[1] so they could play together.

During their last meeting, I learned (among many other things), how they celebrated Women’s Day.  The entire group went on a day-long field trip to the Sea of Galilee. The trip was organized by the village’s Community Centre and was open to all women of Dar al Hawa, so others joined as well.  I was surprised to learn that the women in the group did not enjoy the trip at all. When I asked why, they explained that the trip was not suitable for their age; it was too long; and they did not have any breaks for coffee and shopping—everything was too fast. They even said that they would not register again for any trips organized by the community center. I thought to myself that they look so strong and vivid to me, so how could it be not suitable for them? Was it only the physical aspect or is was it also other, emotional aspects, such as loneliness or depression that may affect their feeling discontent?

I realized that they act like “wonder grand women as they take care of the entire family, clean the house, take care of their children, their husband (if he  is still alive), and their grandchildren in addition going out on fieldtrips. They also cook for the entire family. It is important  for them, according to their  testimony, to help their daughters and brides with their children, but throughout our conversations I heard other voices saying it is hard for them be with the little ones throughout the day—and that is one of the reasons  they established this group—to be together, with the grandchildren. I also heard that it is not easy to cook for so many people— sometimes twice a day. The tension between their love for the family and the burden they feel comes up quite a lot in their conversations.

Furthermore, the fast and easy communication channels we have today is also an integral part of their lives. All of them carry a smartphone, and they communicate with their families through it, mainly using the WhatsApp app.  They exchange recipes and photos of the grandchildren and give the grandchildren the smartphones so they can watch YouTube.  Nevertheless, although they also enjoy their phones most of the time, they are afraid and anxious for the young generation, as the phone has “stolen their childhood.”

Sitting with these impressive women, I keep wondering if and how their daughters will act when they will be grandmothers. Will they be “wonder grand women” as their mothers are?  I prefer not to take the position of a prophet, but I have a feeling that we are facing a change (as has happened in other places) in the perception of aging. Smartphones and other technologies have a lot to do with it. How exactly is the perception of aging changing? Is it different between men and women? What is happiness for older people today? These issues are what I hope to learn through the older adult population in Dar al Hawa.

[1] There is a shortage in day care institutes of young children, hence grandmother are babysitting quite a lot.

Start-up Nation for Whom?

MayaDe Vries Kedem23 January 2018

Israel is perceived as a start-up nation; in 2016, alone 1,200 hi-tech companies were founded. Israelis have established several global start-up companies such as “mobileye”, “waze”, “gettaxi” and “wework”. There is also an Israeli presence in the field of mobile health and medicine. One of the criticisms within Israeli society is that the wealth created by these companies fails to trickle down, which is evident in that 2.4 million Israelis are considered poor. Nevertheless, in Israel there is a relatively good and largely public health system, which serves both citizens and non-citizens.

The term “non-citizens” refers to Palestinians living in East Jerusalem holding the legal status of “permanent residency”. They are eligible for some rights, including medical services, but are not considered citizens of the Israeli state.  East Jerusalem, an area of 70sqkm with 66,000 Arab inhabitants, was annexed/occupied by Israel from Jordan immediately after the 67’ war.

Today, in East Jerusalem there are 300,000 Palestinians, of which 78% are considered poor, and state welfare services are relatively inactive, Their ‘gray’ status has led to a different situation which includes the creation of private medical services clinics that are financially supported by the state. Last November, I met Mr. Fuad Abu-Hamed, an owner of two semi-private clinics in Beit Safafa and Sur Baher, two Palestinians neighborhoods/villages located in East Jerusalem. These clinics are linked to a major state public clinic, and have managed to provide better services, for example access to doctors without queues. They also have improved their online services including a website and an app in Arabic.

When I asked Mr Fuad if his 9,000 clients use the Clalit app, he replied “so-so, people here are not use to being online when it comes to health matters.” He then asked an intern, a young nutritionist, who graduated from Bir Zeit University in the West Bank, if she knew any popular health apps. She mentioned several apps in the field of fitness, wellbeing and diabetes. Mr. Fuad confirmed that diabetes is a serious condition within the Arab population. I am therefore expecting to include diabetes and associated digital applications in my research, but first, I need to know a good deal more about the general condition of health amongst the Palestinians of East Jerusalem; the way they access health services, and how this relates to their ambiguous status. I wonder, if perhaps eventually the ASSA project might encourage a startup that focuses upon this and other disadvantaged populations?

– Maya de Vries