Sunday, 29 January 2012

Chapter 102 Ads on wheels

A form of advertising that's gaining popularity in Nablus.

Now that's my idea of a yummy car ;)

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Chapter 101 The great maqloubeh race

If my students have learned nothing else, they have learned that Miss Sara's favorite food is maqloubeh.

It's been on their worksheets, slipped into their readings, used as essay topics and inserted into grammar examples.

Maqloubeh, by the way, is a traditional Palestinian dish that is sublime.

It is the layer cake of the savory world.

A base of spiced rice, covered with layers of fried vegetables. Normally any combination of potatoes, eggplant, tomatoes and cauliflower. These are then often topped with cooked chick peas and slow boiled chicken or meat.

Then there's the flip. 'Maqloubeh' translated into English literally means 'turned upside down'. The dish is cooked upside down in a big pot and then flipped onto a large tray where it sits like a cake, ready to be eaten.

Despite months of this intense subliminal messaging campaign, no surprise maqloubeh delivery was made to my desk in the teacher's room.
During yet another in class discussion of maqloubeh, I told the class that the student who brought me maqloubeh would receive an A in their weekly test.

I was only half joking. 

By this point, many of my colleagues had become aware of my maqloubeh quest and decided to get in on it. Team points and bragging rights were being offered to classes from second grade up to 7th to the kids who brought maqloubeh for Miss Sara.

Suddenly entire processions of maqloubeh started arriving at the staff room, enough to feed all the teachers!

Each dish outdid the previous one. Often accompanied by side salads and drinks.

At one point, we had received 10 maqloubehs in one week.

I returned each pot to my students filled with sweets or chocolates and made a thank you call to mothers I knew personally.

"Tell me honestly Sara, was my maqloubeh better than the other mothers?"

Apart from being extraordinarily well fed for a fortnight, it was a beautiful gesture on the part of the students and their families. And a tribute to the famous generosity and hospitality of Palestinians.

Not to mention their cooking skills.

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Chapter 100

100 chapters.

100 stories that have altered me. Some very little while others with an impact that will never be erased.

It's always been about Palestine. It's always been about trying to highlight the story that the media misses:

That behind the politics and images of war, there is life here. And life is always worth saving.

A quick glance over my shoulder reminds me that 18 months ago it was meant to be 3. 3 months that were meant to be enough to absorb all the wonder this little country has to offer.

They weren't. Not by a long shot.

Friday, 20 January 2012

Chapter 99 All the time

They've lost their novelty haven't they? The checkpoints I mean. Isn't everyone just about over it by now?

I'm not speaking in terms of big ideological principles either. I'm not talking about 'events' or 'historical moments' or indeed moments of any importance whatsoever.

Just plain old life.

I'm talking about your random, uninspired, uneventful Tuesday afternoon when there ain't shit goin' on but the rent type of day.

I'm talking about one of those days when it's cold and raining, and all you want to do is get to where you're going so you can then make it back home, because the only place anyone wants to be on a winter day like today, is under the blankets and in front of the heater.

That kind of day. Made up of a long series of unremarkable moments that should have no reason to stick out in your memory.

That is until the kind of moment where you're pulled out of your escapist reverie as the car stumbles to a halt and it slowly dawns on you that you are now at the end of, what will soon be the middle of, a hundred car queue leading up to a spontaneously manned check point at the entrance to a Zone A city, leading to the kind of moment where it hits you like a canceled holiday that your day has now officially been hijacked.

Because it has. And you have no way of knowing how long it will be until you get it back.

Hours will go by as almost every car is stopped, passports and identity cards demanded without so much as a reason, let alone a 'hey, how's it going?'.

Trunks of cars will be searched, calls on walkie talkie radio phones will be made and all the while the line up of cars keeps growing as people get increasingly edgy at the fist shaking, foot stamping, head banging helplessness of it all.

And a frustration that literally feels like it's eating through your body, starting at the very core of your being and burns its way through your organs and bones. A frustration that is only just barely being held back from exploding through your retinas and splattering onto the passenger seat in front of you.

Don't even try to hit me with a 'well I'd be fine with it because I know my turn is coming' either. Because you wouldn't. Nobody would.

Allow me to direct your attention to the Qalandia checkpoint into Jerusalem.

There is no 'one served off you go, next please' sequencing here.

There is no friendly customer service agent you can address your letter of complaint to because you've missed your doctor's appointment or the bored 4 year old next to you has peed on your shoes. 

This is military occupation. This is 'you will stand there as long as it takes and if your friendly checkpoint service agent decides to take another break to check Facebook, have a chat or just stare at the ceiling for half an hour then you'll just have to wait it out won't you'.

This is not 'this will just take a minute sir, as painless as possible' ushering people through to the other side.

This is 'you are disempowered as all hell and there ain't nothin you can do about it but stand around sun, rain or snow til your turn comes up.'

This is hordes of people let through a few at a time through a turnstile that locks remotely and suddenly just when you think you're about to get through.

That's what it is. Not once, not twice. Not during times of instability, uprising or violence. All the time.

It takes hour after frustrating hour, after who-knows-when-this-will-be-over hour out of your life.

All the time.

Qalandia Checkpoint - source

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Chapter 98 The park

Next to my school is one of the few parks in Nablus.

It could be beautiful. But it's not.

Carpeted with trash and broken glass, most of the jungle gym facilities are broken or falling apart with chipped paint.

People also bring their horses there to graze. 

It gave me great joy one day to see a group of young men and women who took the initiative to form a park clean up group and volunteer their time on the weekend.

Trash builds up though and within a few hours it looks like a passing hurricane unloaded a compost heap on its way to somewhere warm and exotic.

Some pictures for you.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Saving Samar

Update: Samar's operation was successful. God bless.
A quick update for everyone who's been following the #SaveSamar campaign.

She arrived in Italy on Saturday and is being operated on today.

Thanks to the PCRF for the update.

To everyone who was a part of this:

Way to start the new year!!!

Friday, 6 January 2012

Citation - Olives

I don't generally enjoy fiction novels that take place in the Middle East. I find that the culture is badly misrepresented, the politics over simplified and the endings too neatly tied up to ever bear up to any real examination.

Recently I read the inestimable Alexander McNabb's 'Olives - a violent romance'.

I could not put it down.

Alex has spent decades living and and traveling around the Middle East (of course he's still only a spring chicken but... you know) and is a walking library of knowledge about it. Not only in terms of the history and politics, but also in terms of how things work; the relationships between people and the logic behind how things happen.

This comes through in his book and is woven beautifully throughout the story which travels between Jordan and Palestine and captures both with accuracy.

It is the story of Paul, a young Englishman, who takes a job in Jordan and finds himself deeply and accidentally entrenched in a high stakes political game of subterfuge and deception.

As events develop, Paul is caught between Aisha, the girl he loves, her powerful Palestinian family, his job at the ministry, and being blackmailed by British intelligence to deliver sensitive information about their work and politics.

The story takes place as the Jordanian government opens up bids to privatise Jordan's dwindling water resources - a highly politicised playing field which involves many of the region's most powerful players.

I don't want to give too much away but I highly recommend this book.

I also want to add that Alex self published this book and bypassed the world of compromise that most authors have to go through to get published. 

Check it out at 

On there you can find all the information you need about how and why it's available as well as Alex's journey to publication.

Happy reading :)

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Chapter 97 On the down low

She went on with her story, deftly slicing courgettes into discs as the children were in the other room, supposedly doing their homework. 

The pot bubbled quietly on the stove.

'I just happened to be out there you see. Just sitting outside on the balcony. Anyway the lady on the fifth floor had a man come visit her. At 1 in the morning. Imagine. He didn't leave again until three. I mean, of course they could only have been doing one thing... he's been by more than once you know.'

'What were you doing out on the balcony at one in the morning?'

She shrugged and smiled as she pulled herself out of the chair to scatter the vegetables into the boiling water. 'Well, you know... I just happened to be there. Everyone else was asleep so...'

So she waited it out until two hours later to see what time the man left. Naturally.

Ah the Nablus grapevine. One of the most efficient information apparatuses in the world.

Despite being the West Bank's largest city, everybody knows everybody in Nablus. Or at least about everybody.

'You're one of the foreigners that lives up the hill right? My aunt's cousin's sister's friend lives in your building.'

'Well yes, I mean after all, his barbershop was burnt down after his son had an affair with the wife of the man he had earlier got into a fight with.'

'Oh dear, you should see these Ramallah girls. What they'll do for 20 shekels.... tsk tsk the shame!'

'So I saw the police report which had been filed and the three of them were caught in an abandoned apartment and you don't even want to know what was going on.... come closer and listen...'

'Of course we had to ask them to leave the hotel, we can't have the police coming in here and giving us trouble for that type of thing.'

There is no end to the delight Nabulsis take in a scandalous, whispered tale over a steaming cup of tea after a hearty dinner.

As in many other communities, one's history is their constant companion and scandals erupt quite regularly only to be eventually forgotten when eclipsed by an even more shocking event.

Most quickly learn to balance their chosen lifestyles with a healthy dose of discretion.

I will say this however, tea with Nabulsi ladies is never boring.

Sunday, 1 January 2012

Chapter 96 A cool little corner

Ili Kan. One of my favorite sheesha places in Nablus.

More and more funky little places cropping up.

Cannot get this pic upright for some reason

Awesome painted ceiling