My Big Olive
As the summer nights in Ramallah emerge, and as many of our sons and daughters return from their countries of residence, the city is pregnant with a festive aura, a feeling that something good is coming. Ramallah’s famous summer breeze carries with it a promise of happiness, excitement, late summer outings, barbecues and lazy mornings. Ramallah has been a summer vacation destination for decades, and impressively it has maintained its elegance throughout the 1967 war, two intifadas, the hand over to the PA, the flooding of all kinds of new inhabitants from all over Palestine and the world.
Ramallah’s elegance lies in its reluctance to wake up in the morning. Walk around early in the morning, and it is a ghost town; stores start to open their doors around 10 a.m. Its elegance lies in its old store signs that, for many Ramallah residents are old and ugly, but photographers from all over the world have descended onto the city to capture these exact signs. They are the essence of Ramallah’s beauty. Ramallah’s elegance lies in the smell of ice cream outside Rukab and Baladna. The wifs of ice cream made with gum Arabica carry me to a time when coming to Rukab was a family activity; you eat ice cream first, followed by a glass of room temperature water. That was my father’s mandate. My favorite was the green (lime flavored) and yellow (lemon flavored) ice cream. As we got older and Baladna ice cream opened for business, the family outing to Rukab faded into a memory and ice cream became something you shared with your friends after school. We walked to Baladna; we sat upstairs and placed our orders. Our taste has become sophisticated and complicated, instead of a few scoops of ice cream, we now ordered a chocolate milkshake, or a banana split, or the infamous chocolate MUD; my sister’s personal favorite. Our lives although scarred with curfews, demonstrations and friends being arrested, didn’t seem too complicated at the time. We still managed to talk about what other teen girls all over the world occupied their time with, boys, dresses, haircuts and whatever girl talk came up.
Today, we, my girlfriends and I, much prefer to discuss this over drinks at Azure and a plate of tabbouleh, not because the ice cream is not good, but because we know what ice cream does to hips and waists, and we have, I am afraid, succumbed to weight loss pressures, and have turned into calorie counters. I still, every now and then, every blue moon, allow myself a large serving of Baladna ice cream. But these days I just buy a large container and take it home, where I can enjoy it in the privacy of my living room, where I am free to travel with every bite back to a Saturday afternoon with my girlfriends at Baladna ice cream.
I have recently developed sensitivity towards preserving memories. I have a need to remember and not to forget the good old days; a sign of age, maybe? I am not sure. Or perhaps it is because you cannot walk through Ramallah’s streets without seeing the change happening right in front of you, new buildings, new shops, and new people. All is very exciting, but it provides you with the need to hold on to your memories. After all my greatest and longest running love affair to date is with Ramallah. She is consistent, steady and always there. Ten years in the US did not stop me from running back into her arms.
In the past two months Ramallah appeared in the New York Times twice, a small Palestinian city with a night life rivaling Amman, and a city that insists to proudly name its streets after Palestinian martyrs. Regardless of your opinion on either subjects, one has to admit that such a mix is quite unique. If international journalists write about the city,then why not someone who is in and off Ramallah. Why leave her portrait to be painted by others, when no one sees her like we, her children, do? By no means am I an award winning writer, so kindly accept my humble attempts. After all this is the age of blogging, social media and Facebook notes. I would walk Ramllah’s streets looking to observe. I would visit its restaurants looking to experience, and I would engage in as many discussions about the city looking to discover other people's Ramllah. We live in a country with no guarantees; one day we could be opening a new cultural center; another we could be picking up lost pieces of art from its rubble. So why not take a moment to document what we see, feel, smell and hear now? So that when later comes we have the written work to remind us. Change leaves nothing untouched. Perhaps preservation of our memories is all we have to maintain our history. Or maybe remembering the past remains far more concrete than speculating what the future holds. Or perhaps, just perhaps, the ever changing Ramallah landscape causes those of us who are in love with the city to want to preserve what we know and knew. This was our backyard, our play ground. It is where we first fell in love, where we learned the pain of loss, and the hope of desire. It is where we cried, walked in funerals, ran after Israeli jeeps carrying our friends in them. We are off this town; it breathes life in us as much as we breathe life in its streets. And as the city builds more high rises, and landmarks like Cinema Dunia’s building disappear, we humans, the most emotional beings on earth, want to hold on to memories.
During my childhood years, Cinema Dunia wasn’t open, but I still remember very clearly the steps leading up to the three arched doors. The doors were made of metal. It was a medium sized building, and had three columns rising on top of the doors. No one went to cinema; there were no films playing and cars would park on the pavement in front. And when we walked past it, my mother would always say that back in the day Cinema Dunia was the place to be in Ramallah. We would play on the steps after ice cream or while our parents stopped to chat with a friend on the street. You can imagine my grief when in one of those summers I returned from the US to find that the building was replaced by a parking lot! More recently, after I returned from the US to live in Ramallah permanently, I was pleased to find the space was being prepared for a new building. Secretly I hoped the architects of the new building would be as in love with this city that they would want to recreate Cinema Dunia’s steps as a tribute to a landmark in our city that was so unjustly and unexpectedly erased. Only a person with a romantic disposition would think that such a train of thought is the most logical one. Today the new building is ready, and while it looks very modern, I can’t help but dislike the blue lights illuminating its rooftop. Not only does it look like an airport runway, it completely changes Ramallah’s very humble but very dear skyline.
For us who love and live in this city, what we are left with is our own photographic memories buried deep within. We are like mothers who enjoy watching their children grow up, but continuously pull out their baby pictures yearning for those cute giggles. Ramallah will continue to grow, and my memories will at least preserve a part of it that belongs to me....
“Memory is an act of the past in the present…” -Unknown
R.W Rafik started this blog along with several of her friends. Please feel free to comment on our opening piece in the comments section. For personal comments please feel free to send us an email to: email@example.com