Friday, 30 December 2011

Chapter 95 The 40

They're called 'The 40'.

The 40 coldest days in Nablus.

Stretching from end of December til beginning of February when temperatures drop to about 3 °C and it feels like it's always raining. 

It is wet, bitterly cold and generally miserable.  Especially as most people walk
or take taxis around town.

Now I know many of you live in places where the temperature plummets 
down to insane levels and you are forced to tunnel your way through snow 
mountains to leave your house but... 

Imagine yourself without central heating, in homes constructed to escape
oppressive, August heat and let in cool summer breezes. Stone floors, drafty 
windows and squared off, flat roofed houses.

Most Nabulsis carpet their homes wall to wall and use 'sobas' or mini heaters to provide relief from the  iciness that finds its way through countless layers of clothes to seep into your bones.

And when the rains falls, it comes down in hard torrents and covers the roads like tarpaulin. Streaming down streets and into your shoes, turning your socks into stinging, soaking pieces of cloth that later have to be  peeled off your frozen feet.

As my third graders say: 'It is not beautiful Miss Sara.'

It is not.

Luckily however (more for me and less for agriculture), winter seems to be caught up in a traffic jam in some other unfortunate place. It's still sunny and, although cold, quite manageable assuming you've got yourself  hooked up with 'the good stuff'.

Once the 40 hits for real though, not even the good stuff will buttress you against and never ceasing, unpenetrable layer of glacial that will surround you until early March.

The good stuff

Monday, 26 December 2011

Chapter 94 Christmas Eve in Bethehem

A journey in pictures of our Christmas Eve in Bethlehem. We started off with lunch at a famous restaurant in Beit Jala (a suburb of Bethlehem) then walked down to Manger Square and on to Shepherd's Field in Beit Sahour (another suburb).

Outside at Beit Jala - suburb of Bethlehem
Famous bbqed  chicken at Qaabar Restaurant in Beit Jala
Bbqing outside
We saw this on the walk from Beit Jala, through Bethlehem down to Beit Sahour
Where do you want to go?
Walking down to Manger Square through the Old City towards the Church of the Nativity
At the old city shops
Christmas lingerie
The square was full. Up ahead is the Church of the Nativity
Having a sheesha on the job - waiting for the ceremonies to start
At Manger Square
Around the square
Santa fever
Nativity at the wall at souvenir shop (all items priced in dollars)
At the square - Bethlehem Peace Centre
Christmas Bells - self service restaurant
Leaving the square and heading to Shepherd's Field

Just a fantastic name
Mini Santa fever
Walking down to Shepherd's Field in Beit Sahour, a suburb of Bethlehem
A Nativity scene at a church on the way
A church on the way
Orient Restaurant - an old sign
The centre of Shepherd's Field
A small church in Shepherd's Field where we attended a mass later on
Inside a small chapel built into a cave in Shepherd's Field
Inside the cave
Looking out from the central square in Shepherd's Field. Little seating areas for the sermons among stunning views
Old caves where the shepherd's used to live
Stairs leading down to a cave
Walking around Shepherd's Field
Next to the fountain
Views from Shepherd's Field
Beautiful outside area
Before the sermon
More views
The priest giving his sermon inside a little church
Entrance to Shepherd's Field
An illustration of the story  of the 3 shepherds in Shepherd's Field
Walking back to Manger Square late on Christmas Eve in the rain
The centre of Manger Square at night, mostly emptied out

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Save Samar

*Update: thanks to everyone who shared and donated we have been able to raise the money needed for Samar's surgery. Thank you all for your generosity and kindness - you are all... absolutely awesome.

The doctor’s report says a huge mass lesion in the left temporo-occipital region involving the left splenium of the corpus callusum.

What it really means is that 10 year old Samar will die if she does not receive surgery within the month.

Last year both online and offline communities came together to save six year old Ola’s life when she was given the same diagnosis.

I come to you again, hat in hand, begging you to come together as you did last year.

The tumor in little Samar’s brain is growing rapidly. The Palestine Children’s Relief Fund is raising money to send her to Italy for the necessary surgery.

Due to the occupation, the type of equipment and expertise required to treat her is not available in the West Bank and the only way to save her life is to send her to Italy where pediatric neurosurgeons at the Meyer Children's Hospital in Florence have the means necessary to operate on her.

She describes herself as clever and smiley. She hopes one day to be a painter.

Her dreams come with a price tag of $21,000.

Without it, she may not see much of the new year.

The PCRF has set up a dedicated, emergency giving page where they are receiving donations. Please donate. Please spread the word; tell your friends, families and networks.

You can contact me on if you need more information or have any queries or would like our support in creating an event.

The time is now. She cannot wait. If you are reading this, you are only one click away from helping to save her life.

Samar at her screening earlier this month

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Chapter 93 1 AM

One o'clock in the morning.

1 AM when we reached the backlog of cars at the check point back into Nablus.

It was 1 AM when we, and those behind and in front of us, were sat for over half an hour waiting for the painfully slow examination of ID's by teenage IDF soldiers.

Half an hour as each car was searched and people made to justify every bag and explain it's contents to an occupying military force that neither respects them nor is respected by them.

1 AM on a Thursday night, in the freezing cold as a car was pulled to one side and a group of young men were made to stand around in the cold, stamping their feet and smoking cigarettes; waiting.

One o'clock in the morning as our passports were taken and examined. One o'clock in the morning as the soldiers got our passports mixed up with those of the car behind us and then proceeded to completely lose track of one of the passports of the car behind us.

One o'clock in the morning.


Thursday, 1 December 2011

Chapter 92 Getting around

Tube shmube and urban planning patooie.

There is nowhere easier to get around than the West Bank.

I know - hugely unexpected and yet, bizarrely, totally true. 

A stream of share taxis (servees) and buses shuttle constantly - seriously, all the time - between the major West Bank cities, neighboring villages and checkpoints bordering with Israel.

It couldn't be easier to navigate either.

And set schedule? Set smedule my friend. 

Rock up to the servees station at any time of day armed with nothing but the name of your destination. Hysterically shout it out to any one of the men lounging around, smoking and chatting.

Make your way over to the second man to whom the first man has hollered about you to. Get into the servees second man directs you to.

Stew in your own uncertainty as you wait for six other people to show up.

As other people scramble on, frantically try to listen in on their conversations to try to ascertain if you are going to end up in some backwater chicken farm instead of Ramallah.

Say nothing, buckle your seat belt and start trying to calculate how much time out of your day will be wasted if you do, in fact, end up on said chicken farm and have to negotiate a way back.

After about 30 minutes, your  fellow passengers will begin passing money forward to the driver. Follow suit.

Servees drivers are able to make change, calculate how many passengers have yet to pay, pass change back to passengers all while driving way too fast and overtaking sheep carrying trucks on an unmarked, one lane, two way road.

Arrive in Ramallah.

Go get a drink. Now you're a pro.

Quick, painless and really quite affordable. The one hour journey from Nablus to Ramallah by servees costs 17 shekels (just under $5).

So, if you're planning a visit - don't waste any money on cabs. There is nothing easier than getting around in the West Bank.

A corner of the Nablus servees station

The yellow servees cars fit 7 people and come and go as soon as they're full

The buses at the other end of the station

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Chapter 91 Cognitive Dissonance

(Somewhat) quietly working in groups. Little heads bent over sociology worksheets, arguing about what scenario would best present co-existing yet conflicting ideas.

Group work called to an end and examples asked for.

Hands waving, students standing up in an effort to be more visible, last minute negotiating on story details.

The first group:

"It's like when someone thinks stealing is wrong but will take money if they see it on the street and make up all these excuses why it's ok."

"uuuh kids, that's the example I gave you in the worksheet. It doesn't count"


"Told you! Miss Sara I told him!"

A few more lacklustre examples from the other groups.

The last group:

"It's like the people who say they hate Israel, but then go there anyway."

"Errmmm...." not a topic of conversation I generally encourage in class but this is, by far, the most coherent, relatable example anyone has come up with so far, and I wasn't relishing the prospect of having to re-explain the entire concept.

"Errrmmmm... ok. Let's go with that then. How can someone in this situation decrease the dissonance they feel?"

A moment of silence then a flurry of hands in the air:

"They can say things are cheaper in Israel."

"And things are better quality."

"Maybe they go there for work."

"Or their mothers make them go!" (These are 11 and 12 years olds after all...)

"They want to go to the sea! They have to go to Israel if they want to go to the sea!"

"What if they need medicine. They can go there for medicine."

Hours put into making a worksheet about a complex concept using simple, easy to follow examples and images.

All it took however was a few bright kids who live in a complex world making a simple connection.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Chapter 90 Sleeping Inn

Nazareth is a great place to spend some time if you're going to be exploring Northern Israel, The Galilee or the Northern areas of the West Bank.

It's always a bit touch and go finding a reasonably priced hostel or hotel and not ending up somewhere where the sewage is coming out of the bathroom floor or you're surrounded by sketchy looking teenagers on a questionable holiday. 

We found a great place in Nazareth and, for anyone going, definitely consider it. The Fauzi Aar Inn.

Really lovely with very welcoming staff. It's also in a restored, 200 year old mansion.

Just saying.

All the info's on the website but here's some pictures to give you an idea of it anyhow.


The dorm room

An outside seating area.

A running fountain to add to the air of serenity

The breakfast room's walls are all hand painted

One of the private rooms

The entrance to the reception from the courtyard

A handpainted ceiling that has remained untouched for 200 years

The reception area

It's full of little touches like this that give it a really quaint but quirky feel

In the common area