Sunday, 27 February 2011
Chapter 39 The Nablus Soap Factory
'Nabulsi soap is as old as the olive tree for the two are inextricably tied' he said as we began our tour.
'We are one of the last remaining factories. This building is over 800 years old and my family has been making soap for 200 years.'
I cast an eye over my class of teenage girls. They had not been impressed when I first told them the destination of our field trip.
'I don't like Nabulsi soap. It's just a big white block.'
'It smells weird. I prefer soap that smells like flowers.'
'I think the only person I know who uses it is my grandmother - she says it cleans better than anything else.'
'Yeah mine too!'
The entrance to the soap factory is nondescript. So much so we had to ask around in order to find it. A man in his early 40's sits in a room out front surrounded by towers of soap.
At its height, Nabulsi soap was exported all over the world and even Queen Elizabeth is reported to have had it sent in especially.
There used to be over 40 functioning factories in Nablus. An earthquake in 1927 damaged many of them and those left over took such a beating during the second intifada there are only three left.
The factory itself is a large dusty room with a massive stone vat in the middle. As the soap making process was explained to us it became clear just what an endeavor it was.
The vat extends about 2 metres downwards and huge sticks were used to stir the olive oil based soap.
Making the soap is a week long process and requires up to 10 people. Drying time takes a further three months.
Nablus soap is not doing as well as it used to. The factory was empty. The vat unused. The room deserted.
'The demand isn't there anymore. The younger generations aren't interested in Nabulsi soap. Even if they were it's difficult to find people who want to work in this industry these days. Those who can study to be doctors or engineers - nobody wants to sit around and make soap.'
I take another look at the girls. They hadn't realized there was a bigger picture. That one of their traditions was dying.