Monday, 27 September 2010

Chapter 5 Ramallah

Ramallah is one of the wealthier cities in the West Bank and people from all over flock there for work. Some commute in and out while others move their lives and families there.

The centre of Ramallah – Manara Square – is a pulsating, crowded and heaving labyrinth of
roads. The square is actually a roundabout sporting stone lions like a mini Trafalgar Square. There are roads leading off from the roundabout in every which direction and each street is crammed with stores, falafel shops and shopping centres.

It is full of people. Groups of young men hang about on the street corners, women walk along on their way to somewhere and shop owners stand outside their doors having a chat with their neighbours while encouraging people to come in.

It’s also very dirty. There’s garbage everywhere and the flow of traffic never ebbs. There’s a vegetable market that lines two blocks with men and women presiding over the stalls of fresh produce yelling out prices. You can smell the vegetables, and the shawarmas and, wonderfully, the aromatic spices that line the pavements outside spice shops. The zaatar is so fresh and fragrant that you can practically taste it as you walk by.

The people are friendly and happy to chat. I spent about half an hour at a computer store, my transaction stalled by a friend of the owner’s who told a detailed story about the time his leg was run over by a car. The driver was texting and did not notice him praying in the middle of an abandoned parking lot.

You do absolutely get the customary inappropriate comments from the young men who hang around the stores and there are a lot of people look you up and down as you walk by. This is easily combated by an MP3 player or simply blocking them out.

There are a few places that have taken their names from Western chains with artful changes to the name and logo. Stars & Bucks and La Costa Coffee to name a couple.

I was fortunate enough to go to a restaurant/pub nearby to the square called Ziryab. It is fairly large with dark wooden tables inside. Near the entrance is a stone oven for baking bread and it has a cosy feel to it. The owner is an artist and there are interesting pieces of art that line the walls and each table has a candle holder with sayings on it translated into both English and Arabic.

The atmosphere was welcoming and friendly and it was a great place to relax and have tea or a drink. Ramallah is known for these kinds of places and I look forward to discovering more of them.

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