Friday, 8 October 2010

Chapter 12 A night out in the West Bank

I wish I had taken some pictures yesterday because we ended up in some quite cool places.

It was Thursday and the last day of the working week. We’re still having logistical issues with the Ministry of Education and this time it was the location of the boys’ school that was being problematic. We had to pack it all in early so decided to walk home through the Old City.

The old city is a maze of small, dirty looking convenience shops, falafel stands, political posters, spice shops, bike shops, vegetable stands, butchers shops, fish, flashy lingerie stores, antique stores and pretty much anything else you can think of all packed together in winding pedestrian streets with any number of little side streets. You really could wander around for hours. You would get hopelessly lost of course but in the meantime you could fill your little shopping bag with good, fresh produce for cheap as well as ludicrously inappropriate clothing that you would never be able to wear outside your front door.

We were accompanied most of the way home by a large and somewhat rag tag crowd of students. The girls tend to go straight home, wandering about in the evenings is not an option for them. So it was a large group of boisterous and very chatty young teenage boys that chaperoned us on our way through the Old City. The further we went the more kids would break away to take a side street home yelling goodbyes and waving.

The incredibly cheeky (as most of them are) but very sweet Abdullah was one of the last few with us as we cut across the market. When we stopped to buy a juice he warned us that shopkeepers were probably making us pay double what the product was worth and that, as he knew all the prices, we should take him with us to safeguard against us being ripped off by shopkeepers.

About 45 minutes later we make it home . Now, Nablus is dry. As dry as they come. There is no bootleg whisky hanging about, no beer that can be purchased from the friend of a friend of a friend for ridiculous prices and certainly it is not advisable to go around asking. Some people go to the nearby Samaritan community for a fix but it’s a bit of a hassle to be honest, and apparently quite expensive.

There’s also not very much to do in Nablus after it gets dark. The life here is very family oriented and most socializing is done in people’s homes.

The sheesha place next to our house, Upstairs, tends to be the focal point of our evenings. However if we do not arrive by 7 pm they assume we are not coming and close up. So, seeing as it was the weekend we decided to make our way down to Ramallah. About an hour away by car but several light years away in terms of night time entertainment.

We get ready, walk down to the bus station and hop on to share cabs that will take us to Ramallah. About half way there I realized with a start that I'd forgotten to bring my passport. Not the cleverest thing to do while traveling around in the West Bank. Actually, fairly close to being the stupidest.

'Damn' I think to myself. Looking surreptitiously around at my colleagues (and bosses) I decide against saying anything that might provoke the response 'well you should go home and get it' and cross my fingers that the check points along the route would be unmanned.

They were. Safely in Ramallah now I only had to worry about the way back. But that wasn't until later.

Our first stop in Ramallah is Ziryab. A chilled out bar/restaurant that I’ve mentioned in a previous post. Several bottles of local wine later we head out to Sangria’s, a restaurant with an outdoor garden that serves no Sangria but cooks up a fantastic sheesha. The atmosphere was relaxed and the conversation flowed over amaretto sour lattes, lemonades and the decidedly addictive termos and salty popcorn we were being served everywhere we went.

It was Beit Aniseh that served as the highlight of the evening though. A proper bar with a funky interior and good music. Its clientele were young & trendy types and you could definitely get a whiff of liberal snobbery every now and again. Made up of young Arabs and foreigners in the form of teachers, aid workers, journalists and erstwhile documentary makers, it was a good place to meet people and share experiences.

There was an outdoor garden and although it was becoming quite chilly at night, it was full of people drinking and chatting.

With the exception of one Arab guy who kept drunkenly participating in our conversations, people remained very much in control of their drinking and behavior. Despite Ramallah's general tolerance towards drinking, it is not acceptable to be staggering around in the streets singing songs of love and liberation.

Finally at 3am we found ourselves some cabs, negotiated prices back to Nablus and made our way home. The Israeli check point at the entrance to Nablus was, thankfully, unmanned and after hanging out on the roof of a friend’s house we went home and fell straight to bed.

A good night out in the West Bank.

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