Friday, 23 September 2011

Chapter 80 #UNGA

Things have been said for and against the UN bid. Hopes have been raised, anger evoked and cynicism let loose.

But there was no mistaking how people felt tonight when Mahmoud Abbas handed Ban Ki Moon the folder containing the PA's submission for Palestine to become a recognized state at the UN. It felt like every voice in Nablus came together in one massive cheer; like a barrier had broken.

The center of town was packed. Adults, children and medical staff with stretchers were limb on limb and shoulder to shoulder in a cheering, flag waving mass of bodies. Getting through the crowd required the ingenuity of a contortionist and there were times it felt like it would be impossible to get out.

Every face was turned towards the massive screen broadcasting Abbas's speech. The whooping was immense and the singing lasted for a good hour afterwards.

As much joy as there was however, when the fervor died down a little, a young man said to me:

"I don't know. I mean this is great - look at all the people but... I don't know."

A view from above

When Abbas handed Ban Ki Moon the folder, the town came together in a massive cheer

The duwar (roundabout) was packed

The massive screen erected at the centre of town

This guy asked me to take his picture. So I did. I don't generally post photos of people but he has such a happy face

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Chapter 79 A cheap occupation

There were a few hundred people milling about in the Duwar, pushing through stifling heat and crowds of people to get a better look at the stage.

Upon our arrival there were dabke dancers decked out in traditional dress under a massive Palestinian flag. Later that same stage would feature a speech by the governor of Nablus and a Palestinian singer.

Similar events (in some cases demonstrations) were held throughout the West Bank today. Sponsored by the Palestinian Authority, they are meant to be a show of support for the bid for Palestine to become a full member of the United Nations.

Let us ignore for now that the bid has yet to be submitted, and there are rumors that Mahmoud Abbas is holding out for a sweeter smelling invitation back to the negotiation table.

The stage - I didn't realize this until I looked back at the pictures but you can see a PA army dude on top of the building in the background

The flag gate leading off the Duwar and towards the vegetable market

Kids playing with the discarded bottles and plastic

Riding around

To be fair there weren't THAT many pro PA posters considering they organized the event

Nablus's fire engine doesn't make it out all that often

A peanut seller gets in on the action

A group of young men hung out a little ways in the shade of a juice vendor's red and yellow umbrella.

"Of course we're pleased about this! It's an important step."

"Why? How's it going to affect your life?"

"Once we have a state they won't be able to touch us. It's the first step to real independence."
Another said:

"It means a lot to me as a symbolic gesture. As a Palestinian I want to have a real country."

Cut to a few hours later in a taxi; an alternate opinion:

"You want me to be happy? What for? What's this going to do for us? What do I care if half the world acknowledges us? I need Israel to acknowledge us. I want to go to Hawwara (checkpoint) and not see settlers there; not have to deal with IDF soldiers."

He clicks his tongue and smacks his hand on the steering wheel.

"They want to occupy us? Pay our salaries at least! Do something for us. They occupy us and we still have to beg the world for money? I'll tell you something - this is the cheapest occupation I've ever heard of."

As the hubbub goes on and opinions continue to clash, the next few days will show how serious the PA is about the bid as a feasible alternative to the stalled negotiations, or if this is yet another go on the political funride this often feels like.

Monday, 19 September 2011

Chapter 78 Occupational therapy

Two months ago, in an ill-advised game of pick up basketball, I managed to simultaneously twist my ankle, break my foot and go flying into a nearby wall.

I like to see it as a feat of athletic excellence as opposed to clumsiness.

It has been frustrating clumping along in my boot cast, which eventually started to creak, giving my life and that of those around me an aura of Frankenstein-esque foreboding.

(creak-clump... creak-clump... creak-clump...) you get the picture. 

Also very few of the students have bought into the idea that I'm slowly turning into a robot.

This despite my many attempts at robot dancing.

One of my younger students confided that she hadn't realized my foot was broken. She had been too embarrassed to ask and just let it go thinking:

"Maybe all foreigners dress like that."

For a very common injury in a country used to a large number of fairly horrific ones - people stare a lot while I walk through the souq. Sometimes they point and whisper.

It's weird.

My foot's stubborn refusal to do any kind of healing finally got me looking for an X-ray machine.

Lo and behold, there is an X-ray clinic in our building. Amazingly, there is always somewhere really close by in Nablus that has exactly what you need.

Except bottle openers... but we've talked about that before.

The clinic was pretty dingy and depressing. And empty. I hung around the waiting room somewhat awkwardly for a few minutes before anyone showed up.

A young man finally arrived, walking in from the 'sick people only' side.

"Hi, I want to take an X-ray please."

"Of what?" he says in an end-of-day-leave-me-alone voice.

I look pointedly downwards towards my polyester and steel encased foot.

"Your foot?"


The X-ray machine was old. Very old. Like light years old in terms of technology. They had to do it three times because the clarity was so bad.

Costs aside, it is very difficult for Palestinians to import medical equipment and most of the hospitals are tragically under equipped.

The X-ray
The opposite side of the small-ish room

The X-ray machine controller switchboard thing

This shortage is especially severe when it comes to specialist surgery and pediatrics - both of which are much needed here.

The real tragedy is that thousands of people suffer from ailments, injuries and medical problems that would be totally treatable were the equipment available.

Even if the issue of equipment was put to one side side, there is also a problem of expertise. Medical staff who are unable to go abroad to attend conferences and trainings find it near impossible to be kept abreast of the latest developments in their field.

For all intents and purposes, the field of medicine in Palestine is being held hostage.

I'll let you know how it goes at the doctor's.

My precious

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Chapter 77 Voices

The PA's upcoming bid for statehood at the UN has received a lot of attention in the media.

Across the net voices have rung out in the form of blogs, op-eds, tweets, articles and Facebook statuses - a good chunk of it negative.
  • They're removing the 'right of return' from the table
  • By claiming a state, they've given up on the real Palestine
  • Where was the referendum that should have preceded a move of this gravity? Where's our vote?
 There are also voices within Palestine that are talking. In Nablus, the prevaling attitude is one of non committal antipathy.

  • Nothing will happen, you'll see. It will get vetoed outright
  • Who cares anyway? You think life will change for us?
  • This is a PR exercise, it doesn't solve any problems
Palestinian voices have risen before, and while these days they are careful to speak only in neutral, resigned tones - somewhere beneath that there is still life. A bit of spirit that, should the opportunity arise, may find itself in hope and optimism.

In the lead up to the bid there has been a marked increase in settler attacks in and around Nablus. There are reports the settlers have organized campaigns protesting the bid. Others think the settlers are trying to provoke the Palestinians into 'making a mistake'; undermining  their position at the UN.

This week may be an eventful one. On the other hand it may be like any other week here in Nablus.

After all that's happened, it's hard to know what will spark average the Palestinian's emotions and what will be disregarded as yet another futile political gambit in a game they are merely spectators at.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Chapter 76 Introducing... the cocktail

After our little chat about knaffeh I realized there was another Nabulsi delicacy that deserved its moment in the spotlight.

It is ubiquitous in the world of fruit based beverages and, like any celebrity worth their salt, needs only one name.

It is... the Cocktail.

It may be somewhat misleading to call it Nabulsi as I'm pretty sure it's West Bank wide. We've got our own version in Lebanon but I gotta say - this one's better.

A tiered cup of blended fruit (heavy on the bananas) coated with a layer of grated nuts, topped off with two different flavors of ice cream which vary from day to day and tinned fruits.

Stage 1: pick a size

Stage 2: blended fruit topped with nuts

Add on the ice cream

Stuff some more fruit on top

Top it off with a couple of cherries and you're good to go

We've had half hearted debates on the possible calorie content of this veritable meal in a glass and have come to a widely supported conclusion:

'I mean, it's essentially just fruit isn't it? And nuts are good for everyone plus you can't really discount the benefits of the calcium content right? So really it's like a health drink when you get down to it.'

That's the official party line and we're sticking to it.

Monday, 5 September 2011

Chapter 75 Metalhead mannequins

So randomly. In the middle of a main street. 

Ah Nablus - you never cease to surprise me.

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Saturday, 3 September 2011

Chapter 74 Feasible alternatives

The question 'why do Palestinians/Muslims/Arabs always resort to violence' has always irked me.

First off because they don't. There have been a multitude of books written, speeches given and protests marched in the name of a million different causes.

Sadly, most of these books go unread, the speeches unheard and the protests ignored.

In fact, the only thing that doesn't go ignored is violence. If anything, violence tends to be reinforced because even if it solves nothing at all - it gets attention.

You could point out - and you would be right - that if someone is intent on committing an act of violence they will do so. The difference is there would be a lot less support for violence if a feasible alternative was available.

Julia Bacha, a Brazilian film maker, followed, documented and released the story of Budrus. Budrus is a village in the West Bank that, through non violent resistance, managed to convince the Israeli government to re-route a section of the Wall that would have split their village.

Through her work, she saw first hand the power of non violence and the movements it can inspire. She speaks of screening Budrus around the West Bank and the reception it had from Palestinians who had long given up hope on their words being heard.

I first heard Julia speak at Tedx Ramallah and just recently watched her talk at Ted Global.

Her talk is below and here. It brought tears to my eyes - I hope it inspires you too.

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Chapter 73 Operation extreme redundancy

Something the new people struggle to get used to is the constant commentating that follows them around.

For the bored guy sitting on the curb, it is a moment's amusement quickly forgotten. For a non Arab it is a daily narrative running the gamut of friendly greetings to gleeful obscenities to aggressive insults. It can get intensely frustrating.

It has been suggested that correcting the offenders' incorrect conjugations of curse words would have the double benefit of building bridges as well as soothing the adding-insult-to-injury aspect of swearing at an English teacher in bad English. 

The random shouting things out at foreigners is, for the most part, totally without purpose or point and is likely an exercise in wanton attention seeking.

Case in point:

After about ten minutes of following us on their bikes with barely a breath taken between their shouts of 'hello! hello!' one of the twelve year old boys looks at the other and asks in Arabic:

'hey what does "hello" mean?'

Cue eye rolling and the hot rush of annoyance at the wholly gratuitous badgering in the middle of the street while you're trying to go about your business and have a normal conversation with a colleague.