There was a face I knew! It was the coffee seller that my friend ordered from, and introduced with respect: “This gentleman is an accountant, but when times got bad and he couldn’t find appropriate work, he began to sell coffee.” The man was humble and welcoming, smiling inside an enormous purple parka, and adding, out of excess generosity, enough cardamom pods to make the little glass of coffee nearly atomic.
Here in one of Jenin’s several internet cafes, the coffee man was smiling from the screen of a website, alongside a brief but potent article by one Nick Pretzlik. Nick Pretzlik. I did not recognize the name. I assumed he was one of the roughly university-aged volunteers who come to Palestine to give of their energies and ears and hearts. Excitedly, I printed the photo and sloshed through the puddles to find the coffee seller with his purple parka protecting him from the dismal rain. His face lit up as he took the photo, offering no explanation as to the photographer.
Several months and several borders later, I received a forwarded article about a family living under occupation. The writer was Nick Pretzlik, and he reached the heart of the matter and the heart of the reader with such clarity and compassion that I felt I must write to thank him. As suggested, I wrote to his wife, Ursula, who became an immediate friend and invited me to visit them during a stopover in London en route to Beirut. By this time, I had forgotten the photo of the Jenin man. Nick Pretzlik occurred to me as a new name.
If I loved Nick’s articles, I loved Nick even more in person. So positive, gracious, at once down to earth and upbeat, light-footed and light-hearted. He seemed to embrace everyone in an aura of mirth and honesty and present possibilities. You felt that he was giving each one of you a little boost to your hopes and a gentle widening of your horizons.
After dinner, we finally got to talking about our various works in Palestine. Something he said took misty form in my mind, and I asked, “Was it you who took a photo of the coffee seller in downtown Jenin? I printed that photo for him and he was so happy!” This was a Eureka moment. “That solves the mystery!” exclaimed Nick. He related that when he returned to Jenin another time, our mutual friend pulled a piece of paper from his pocket and unfolded it to reveal Nick’s portrait of him. As before, he offered no explanation as to how he came upon the photo. Nick became closely acquainted with this man who had a number of family difficulties, and he helped him.
Shortly after our first encounter, Nick and Ursula came to Beirut, where we met and included more new friends in our endeavors and Palestine-related family. We found more coincidences and shared awarenesses, and I quickly came to regard these wonderful, positive, practical people as the truest of friends.
They were wending their way to the West Bank. One never knows what will ensue on a trip to occupied Palestine, but Nick and Ursula happily agreed to visit a family home of mine and take some assistance, if they were able to get through. We went our various ways and one night while in `Ayn al-Hilwa Refugee Camp, I dreamt that I was in Jenin Refugee Camp, introducing two visitors to my Jenin family. The next morning, in real life, I received word that Nick and Ursula had met my friends and delivered the gift. My dream come true.
And Nick kept on writing persistently, attractively, humanely, using sound arguments–as if he were listening to an opponent and suggesting, respectfully, another view. He asked only a realistic apprehension of conditions and a search for normal justice.
In his participatory way, Nick encouraged me, too, in my writings about Palestine. I was honored by a few words he wrote in response to an essay: “That’s as good as it gets.”
Nick is as good as you can get. Nick’s energy and outlook and decisions to tell the untold stories are, to me, present and will endure.
Thank you, Nick, for your smile and wit and grace and all that goes with them.
Annie C. Higgins specializes in Arabic and Islamic studies, and is currently doing research in Jenin, Occupied Palestine.