Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Chapter 72 The busiest night of the year

Is without the shadow of a doubt - the night before Eid, when the Duwar (roundabout), the centre of town, literally heaves with people and scampering children.

Consider Oxford Street the day before Christmas. Bring to your mind's eye the madness of packed streets and manic shoppers whose sense of individuality is all but gone in their neon lit race to procure a long list of required gifts and foodstuffs. 

Except without the stress. Oxford Street is practically the urban onset of a heart attack.

Add in every possible makeshift stall you can conceive of using only things that you already own, being manned by vendors age 14 and up hocking their wares. Also include carts laden with traditional sweets and foods ranging from imlabas (sugar covered almonds, please excuse any transliteration errors) and baklawa to meat sandwiches and fresh juices.

Nablus is, by the way, the shopping CENTRE of the West Bank. People come from all over to benefit from its competitive pricing and a relatively wide range of goods.

The night before Eid is no exception.

Huge queues lead up to the roastery where freshly roasted nuts give off tantalizing 'eat me' signals to your olfactory system. The streets are pedestrianized and slowly fill up with empty sweet wrappers, plastic cups and abandoned boxes as the night wears on. Those who are not shopping are socializing and those who are doing neither (pretty much only me) are walking around, taking pictures and taking it all in.

Before the moon was even sighted Nablus was readying itself up for Eid

The road leading up to the Duwar.

An unlikely Eid activity, but a popular one nonetheless it seems

The entrance to the Duwar

Imlabas and chocolates

Go big or go home

In complete contrast - this is the Duwar on the day of Eid... when I was hoping to find myself a sandwich.

The road leading down from the Duwar

The adjacent vegetable market

Happy Eid to all!!

Ramadan Kareem!

Monday, 29 August 2011

Chapter 71 Tourism - do it right

Because when new people come to town there's really only one place that's got to be visited immediately.

I'll give you a moment to think about it.

Joseph's tomb perhaps? The old Roman ruins maybe?

Nah, you gotta work them up to the sightseeing. Get them settled first and fill their bellies.

The souq? I hear you ask. Sure, that's a biggie - but you need to sweeten them up first.


Aah... yes I see the light come on in your eyes and you are indeed right.

To really appreciate Nablus you must first be introduced to its most famous export - knaffe, a traditional cheese filled sweet pastry that lays in your stomach like a anvil if overeaten yet maddeningly addictive.



Despite it being Ramadan, many stores, bakeries and food stalls are open as people complete their shopping during the day.

It is frowned upon for those who are not fasting to eat or drink in public but before we knew it a little table had been set up in a tucked away corner. A dish with samples of their knaffe, baklava and pastries suddenly appeared with a jug of water.

The owner's mother sat with us and immediately began chatting. We left the others to eat and she took me upstairs to meet the owner, chatting all the way.

'My son lives in America - in Houston. Come, come it's this way. How lovely you are here - you must come have iftar with us. Ah, these are the boys who make the knaffe. Say hello boys.'

The owner sat in a furniture filled office upstairs watching a monitor transmitting feeds from CCTV cameras in the kitchens.

'No two knaffes taste the same. You can visit five women's homes and eat the same dish, but each will taste different. Each  will invest a little of her personality into the dish. It is the same with our pastries, you will not taste anything similar.'

With traditional Palestinian hospitality they refused to take any payment and the troupe left with full bellies and sweet tooths satisfied.

Halwyat Arafat - 24 years and going strong

Traditional Ramadan biscuits

Baklava (or baklawa as we say it) the perfect gift when invited to dinner

Beautiful buttery ghraybiehs and other traditional sweets

Getting involved

Sunday, 28 August 2011

Chapter 70 A new beginning, an old story

7 hours at the border with a broken foot, mostly just hanging about waiting for yet another person to question me about what I'll be doing, my background and the reasons behind various decisions I've made in my life

Check points

New people and old friends

Internet cuts

Hummos and countless cups of tea

News of protests that will soon be forgotten

The genuine pleasure of seeing some of my old students

The reality of it though is that I'm already tired. It's draining crossing that border and it doesn't feel good to be treated that way.

It's an intensely difficult thing to have to negotiate your pride in who you are with a fear of how you could be judged.

During those 7 interminable hours my passion and excitement seeped out of me and I've not yet managed to shake off the sense of apathy that took its place.

I really am looking forward to starting work and seeing my kids at school again. I hope that once I've settled back in I'll feel that same joy that I remember from last year.

Right now though, I'm really missing that sense of hope.