Monday, 27 February 2012

Chapter 108 Nazareth - a city of two tales

There are two Nazareths. 

One is the Nazareth of legend. Stunning Ottoman architecture, floating spires, and fantastical churches; standing; watching; outliving us all. Setting the stage day after day for religious pilgrims and tourists.

Cobbled, winding pedestrian roads leading through a quaint old market.Sunshine dappling through huddled, hunched buildings. Carpentry workshops and little shops carved into ruins and coffee shops peeking out from beneath old Roman staircases.

The smells of spice shops, wood shavings and wafts of sheesha smoke. 

Wonderful little restaurants.Candle light careening off ancient walls. To die for, absolutely mind blowing fusion food eaten with fine wines and followed by sinful deserts.

But there are two Nazareths.

The other is the only remaining Arab city in Israel.

Previously a majority Christian city, Arab immigration post '48 shuffled the deck and a 2009 census puts the Muslim - Christian split at 70 - 30.

This other Nazareth weeps at the lack of jobs for its frustrated youth. It offers dark corners and alleyways to family feuding, often ending in violence.  Poorly lit streets house drunken teenagers with little to do.

There are two Nazareths.

This, the impression of an outsider, can only be as accurate as the small window of time in which it was experienced.

Go. See its beauty and its hardship. Come back and tell me how many Nazareths you see.

Carpentry dates way back in Nazareth. Beautiful carvings, all hand made

In the tiny carpentry shop
Inside the famous White Mosque (it's only white on the outside)

The awesomest spice shop ever, 3 small rooms, dried fruits, infinite spices and all the machinery next door

At the spice shop

The White Mosque indoor courtyard

In the courtyard of the White Mosque

Roman ruins inside a coffee shop

Entrance to the Church of the Annunciation

Church of the Annunciation - the massive outdoor area

Church of the Annunciation - the entrance to the church

Church of the Annunciation - inside

Church of the Annunciation - inside

Recently uncovered ruins

In the old market

In the old market

A view of Nazareth - many steps were climbed to bring you this picture

Saturday, 25 February 2012

Chapter 107 Legal tender

In 1927, the British Mandate introduced the Palestinian Pound as legal tender.

It replaced the Ottoman lira and the Egyptian Pound, which had slipped into circulation following the fall of the Ottoman Empire.

The pound was made up of 1000 mils and, in accordance with Article 22 of the Mandate's charter from the League of Nations, featured the word 'Palestine' in English, Arabic and Hebrew.

The money remained in circulation until Israel's creation in May 1948. It was demonetized in Israel after September 15, 1948; June 9th, 1951 in Gaza; and June 30th, 1951 in Jordan.

Now you can find them in one of the many antique stores around the city. The coins are not expensive however bank notes, rare to find in good condition, can sell for up to 1,000 Jordanian Dinars.

Currently the standard currency throughout the West Bank is the Israeli Shekel. The Jordanian Dinar is also commonly accepted even though the currencies are not tied.

Some consider the Palestinian Pound to be a 'dormant' currency; waiting for its day to come again. 

a one pound note, a large doughnut shaped 20 mil coin, a smaller doughnut (5 mil) a bronze 1 mil and a silver 2 mil

Prints of Palestinian bank notes on a heap of antique coins

The reverse side of a 1927 mil coin

a 1942 1 mil coin

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Chapter 106 Antiquing

Lots of antique shops around Nablus. They have specialized buyers that travel to all the neighboring villages to value and buy old items and family heirlooms.

Dusty shop walls literally overflowing with knick knacks, old tea sets, jewellery, furnishings and stories.

History on shelves... 

Monday, 20 February 2012


I was delighted to be asked to write a guest blog for Alexander McNabb's blog. This is his second blog and expands on the realities and background behind his recently published book Olives - A violent romance.

Alex asked me to write about my experiences crossing by land from Amman to the West Bank. I've made this crossing twice in two years and it was not easier the second time around.

The post is linked here.

I hope you enjoy it!

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Chapter 105 Strength

Nabulsi women are among the strongest women I know. 

A Nabulsi woman of my age is living a life very different from my own. 9 times out of 10 she is married with at least three children. A house to clean, a husband to please, children to raise and, oftentimes, a job to help make ends meet.

She doesn't have the luxury of lazy afternoons sipping coffee while chatting with friends. She's not out shopping for clothes, planning a lunch break at the nearest salad bar.

She's working hard.

Of my good friends is the perfect example of this.

She is 36, with four children under the age of 10. Her husband is currently out of work and she works full time.
So... she wakes up every morning at 5 am to clean the house before getting the kids ready for school. She works a full day for minimal pay. She comes home in the evening and cooks a meal for her five person family as well as her husband's parents, who live downstairs.

She then cleans up dinner which, as any mother knows, is going to be messy if it involves toddlers and babies.

Then the kids have to be cleaned up, helped with their homework and put to bed before she can finally light up her sheesha and put up her feet.

On a good day, she puffs away in peace. On an average day she has to deal with her bored husband who has decided she must now also wear her hijab in the presence of his brothers.

Despite this, she must be one of the loveliest, most cheerful people I know.

And she is not alone. Most of the mothers I have met are of the same ilk.

The mothers we meet in the camps have dealt with the horrors of occupation; the imprisonment of their husbands, sons and brothers, deaths of loved ones and crippling poverty. They have done so with iron in their souls. Still, warmth flows through their touch and compassion colors their eyes, even when dealing with strangers. 

Nabulsi women are among the strongest people I know. 

Friday, 17 February 2012

Chapter 104 Products and posters

The desire to make money, regardless of the means, is well served by the simultaneous existence of the need to make ends meet.

This is also helpfully facilitated by controlling the flow of products coming in and out of a country.

Tapuzina Juice is one of the many Israeli products found on the shelves of supermarkets in the West Bank.

Hummos, skin care, cleaning products, shampoos, clothing, electric goods and medication produced in (or imported via) Israel are also widely available in supermarkets and shops.

A recent Gulf News article states that $3 billion worth of Isreali products are sold in the territories each year.

Choices are limited. International brands are expensive and local production is low.

There is also a slight element of snobbery. Some people prefer to buy Israeli products based on the idea that the quality is better.

While boycotting is not widespread in Nablus, these posters have recently made an appearance around the center of town. They are a part of a wider campaign that was launched last year.

I'm not sure to what extent people have rallied around this movement, but it's there. 

A poster calling for a boycott of Tapuzina and other Israeli products to help fight the occupation

A car sticker of a fist wrapped in a Palestinian flag squeezing an orange

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Chapter 103 Mmmmmusakhan

Warm, doughy flat bread topped with cooked onions, summac*, roasted chicken and almonds... drenched... practically dripping with pure home grown olive oil.

Tear at it with slippery fingers, olive oil running down your arms as you scoop mouth watering mouthful after mouthful into your mouth.

Mmmmm... musakhan. The ultimate Palestinian dish.

If you're in Nablus go to Mashawi Baladna. If you're in Ramallah take a serveese down to Ain Areek and find the Al Falaha Restaurant with its stunning outside seating area.

Plan ahead for the inevitable food coma.

Taboon - the traditional bread that forms the foundation of the dish. Source

Those are each one person portions at Mashawi Baladna in Nablus

At Al Falaha. The chicken is slow roasted and comes smoothly and easily off the bone

The stone oven used to bake the bread

The inside part of the restaurant is very small and white with traditional Palestinian dresses hanging on the walls

The outside of Al Falaha Restaurant in Ain Areek (a suburb of Ramallah). It used to be a separate village however as Ramallah grew it adopted many of the surrounding villages into its domain
The outside seating area in Al Falaha. There's a little playground at the end for kids

A fountain at the end of the garden in Al Falaha

You just gotta dig in

*Summac is a purple spice used fairly commonly in Middle Eastern cuisine to add a lemony taste to meats and salads