Saturday, September 29, 2012

Welcome to Palestine! A country in waiting!

by: R. Kafri

Welcome to the land of waiting.  People here are born waiting. Waiting to return to a homeland lost, and from the looks of it, in the most desperate moments, lost forever.  Waiting to return to a home they still carry a key for in their hand and a memory in their heart, an image hidden in the folds of their dreams, that sadly and in the most realistic moments, they know no longer exists.

 In Palestine you wait for Ramadan, just like you wait for a breath of fresh air in a crowded restaurant in NYC, you wait for a  tasree7 (permit),  you wait for the paycheck, or even worse you wait for the job.
You wait for schools to open, for the strike to end, for the checkpoint to be removed, for the accident rubble to be cleared. You wait for the Allenby bridge to empty, you wait for the doctor to finally come in on time.

In Palestine you wait. You wait for your dreams to happen.

You wait to leave the refugee camp, you wait to leave the village, you wait to arrive to Ramallah, you wait for destiny to embrace you, but she really never does.  In fact at the first stop she slaps you hard in the face and leaves her mark, and then you spend a lifetime waiting for that wound to heal. It never does. 

In Palestine you wait to graduate, you wait to find a job, you wait for the next job to be better.

In Palestine you wait to get married, then you wait to have children then you wait for them to grow, then you wait for them to become doctors…trust me they will not.

In Palestine you wait in line endlessly to receive permission to see Palestine that is yours.  And after you finally get a chance to see her, you realize she looks nothing like what your grandparents described, and nothing like the country your mother cries over.  You wait to see her, only to realize, she did not wait for you. 

In Palestine you wait for the birth of a child anxiously with the hope she is not born on a checkpoint.  In Palestine you wait for  the hunger strike to end.  You wait for sons and daughters to be released from prison, only to be rearrested again, at the next checkpoint on the next trip, on their way to find a job and start a life.

In Palestine you wait for your paycheck only to have it hijacked by hungry loan payments and red hot gasoline prices. 

In Palestine , you wait endlessly in Qalandia to get home.  Keep waiting…this might take hours. . 
You wait for the summer to end in the hopes that winter will bring more peace, and you wait for winter to end in the hopes that summer will bring more warmth. 

And in Palestine you wait  for the next eruption, the next intifada, the next incursion, the next war…And that always happens

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

On Running

by: R. Kafri

Dedicated to all women runners.  Actually to all women out there who seem to always be running to something or from something. Here is to running towards your dreams and not away from your fears…

The road does not ask questions. It does not care if she is wearing hijab, or shorts. The road does not judge if she runs fast or walks slow. It is not bothered by her earphones or her choice of music.  It does not label her as liberal or  conservative.  It does not question her ethics based on her hair color or her clothes.  The road never wonders what she does for a living, or how many children she has. It does not ask  about her age, or when will she get married. It does not encourage her to get married young or old.
The road is present every day, she can go to it at her leisure. The road curls around her village, her town, her neighborhood or around her house; it offers her solace from the noise that is her life.  The road will not beat her, it will not put her down. It will not judge her for being Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, or Hindu for that matter.  It will not ask her if her shoes are expensive or cheap.  The road will not stop her from pursuing her dream, it will not pull her out of school and marry her off to a man triple her age.  The road is there for her to run on it, to free her mind, to rest her soul from all that is ugly, all that is violent.  The road will not rape her, or rob her of her innocence.  It will not leave bruises all over her body. It will not promise to love her only to control her.  The road with its dark asphalt, its sharp turns and soft hills, will offer her a good morning summer breeze or a good evening winter chill.  The road does not care  if she gave birth naturally or if she even opted for a C-section. The road will not ask her how many months did she breast feed and then judge her  motherhood based on that.  It will not label her too skinny, too fat, too dark or too light. 
The road will not ask why her dress is too short, or her skirt is too long.  It will give her space to think, because she can think. It will give her a place to feel because she can feel.  The road will not debate with her whether she has the right to open bank accounts for her children, or if she can remarry if the love of her life died. The road does not care if she was single, married, divorced, widowed or none of the above.  The road will not promise to love her, marry her, father her children and then slaughter her over a custody battle.  It will not throw her in a well for a crime she did not commit.  It will not kill her because she is a woman.
The road will never question her honor, and it will not kill her in the name of honor.  The road is there for her to stand, demonstrate, RUN, walk, play, laugh, scream.  And sometimes the road is there for her to get away or at least try to get away, so the next time you see a woman running frantically, if you are not ready to propel her to what she is running towards or protects her from whatever she is running away from, just make way so she can at least get away…

Dr. Riyam Kafri-AbuLaban is an assistant professor of organic chemistry at Al Quds Bard College based at Al Quds University-Abu Dis. She is the founder and managing partner of Riyamo Natural Body Care Products in Ramallah. She co-writes and co-manages The Big Olive, a blog about life in Palestine and Ramallah as seen by two young professors teaching and living here. She is married to Ahmed AbuLaban, and both have recently joined the fearless frontlines of parenthood with their beautiful and lovely twins Basil and Taima. She can be reached at 

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Our Writers in This Week in Palestine

Our Dearest Readers
We are sorry for the silence on the blog, but between end of semester woes for Tala and returning to work for Riyam, it has been a very busy summer.  Rest assured we have not stopped writing. Writing is central to who we are, it is a passionate drive that wakes us up every morning.  We have actually been writing a lot. Tala is working on her memoire and Riyam has been contributing to This Week in Palestine and working on a tiny writing project of her own. We want to share with you the link to the latest issue of this Week in Palestine where both Tala and Riyam have published work.  "My Dearest Students" is a letter written by Tala to her students at the end of a very trying semester.  "For Yara" is a story about human survival written by Riyam about a mother surviving her daughter's death.  Enjoy the read and we will be back on The Big Olive very soon.  We are turning Two this July!!!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

To Paris: A Letter to the Jabaa' Checkpoint Soldier

by: R.Kafri

Dear Jabaa' Checkpoint Soldier
                I am going to Ramallah. I will always be going to Ramallah when I pass you.  Day in day out, that will always be my destination.  Where else could I be going in my Palestinian plates car and Palestinian ID passing through your precious little checkpoint? Paris, mathalan [for example] ? For the thousandth time, I do not speak Hebrew.   No, I do not carry any fancy foreign passport.  Yes,  I speak English fluently, because I am smart, I worked hard, and instead of spending my teenage years learning how to use a gun, I spent them holed up in my room, reading books and learning how to use my pen.
Much to your surprise,  I am a professor of chemistry, of all subjects.  Please collect your jaw off the floor.  I spent eleven years studying abroad, in the United states to be exact.  I did not consider remaining there, and I did not apply for a green card. The only green card I carry is my Palestinian I.D. It does not grant me any privileges, in fact it has sometimes deprived me of  basic rights, like the freedom of movement in my own country.  But I hang on to it dearly, and  will not replace it with the “good” green card, as you so eloquently put it. Where is that accent of yours from? Russia? Is that why you came to "Israel", looking for the equivalent of a"good" green card? 
Don’t you get tired of stopping my car every day? Isn’t it a bit monotonous to be asking me the same question? “Where are you going? Lawain?” Every day I have to discipline my urge to get  lippy with you .  I have to stop the words from throwing themselves at you and then exploding in your face (no pun intended, or maybe it is).  What I really want to say in response to your ridiculous question: To Paris!! I am going to Paris!!  Through your checkpoint I hope the world will receive me with wide strong arms. I hope it will cradle my dreams and handle them with care, and that it will not crush them like you have managed to do with the hopes and dreams of all Palestinians in the past present and many generations to come.  To Paris, so I can have creamy butter croissant, and good coffee early in the morning, and fine aged wine with my deliciously fresh salad in the evening. To Paris, so I can attend contemporary dance festivals  and poetry readings. So I can walk in open air markets.   To Paris, so I can meet smart educated people, and have endless philosophical discussions filled with rhetorical questions pondering the state of the world.  To Paris, so I can sit on my window sill and yearn for better times at home.  So I can live and breathe everything Palestinian like it was the last breath after a long struggle with a terminal illness.  To Paris, so I can never forget your checkpoint and the long boring humiliating unnecessary delays, so I can carry the cries of a pregnant woman giving birth at your checkpoint in the creases of my wrinkled dress, and the endless spaces of my soul. To Paris, so I can tell the world about my students sitting on the ground, shirtless, handcuffed for one reason and one reason only…they don’t carry the “good” green card.  So I can write countless blog entries about men, women and children who were once trying to get somewhere but never did because of your checkpoint.  To Paris, so I can write about Palestine like a distant land that inhabits the warmest chambers of one’s heart, so close yet so unattainable.
But wait just a second!  I do that already, all day every day right here, just twenty minutes beyond your checkpoint in a tiny little town called Ramallah. So NO of course I am not going to Paris, I am still going to Ramallah.  And I still yearn for Palestine and better times, every day, all day.
Please wipe that shocked look off your face.  Release the grip on your gun. And relax the angles of your mouth, it appears that you are smiling, or maybe just smirking.  I am not an untamed animal trying to escape my cage, I do not have a tail growing out of my behind. This is not a zoo.  I am a woman, and to your grave disappointment you and I belong to the same species. We are both Homo sapiens, a.k.a  humans.  Contemplate THAT  while you wait to harass the next car passing through your precious checkpoint.  In the meantime, I am still going to Ramallah!!!

Not So Sincerely,
An Educated Palestinian Woman ( possibly your worst and your government’s worst nightmare and Palestine’s best potential) 

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Letter to Laila

The following piece was first published on Mashallah News on April 12, 2012 

by: Tala  Abu Rahmeh

Dear Laila,
I couldn’t believe you were finally here until I counted your 10 fingers. They look like real fingers, creased from all the struggle to come into the world. They look like you were clawing your way out, and that idea alone makes me deeply love you.
You looked too tired for a 4-day-old, as if you are storing sleep for years of sleeplessness to come; ones when you’ll be pinning over a crush, studying algebra, applying to graduate school or singing a lullaby. The nights when you will watch dawn break out could be more than your new body can bear.
Your timing was impeccable. You knocked your mother’s stomach at 2:30 am, knowing that Qalandia checkpoint will be empty, and your grandfather would not have to curse traffic (since your father has agreen ID and can’t come watch you swim into the world). The car whizzed through the ugly gates, but was searched at the entrance of the Israeli hospital. How can you claim your Palestinian identity if you’re not a suspect while still in the womb?
As your mother screamed you out, Palestinian houses were being demolished, and a kid was nursing a bump on his head from a floating gas canister, but then you came, and the glory of your little body silenced all the dangling rifles. Your grandmother, beautiful with curls, held you so close so you can hear her heartbeat. What else could possibly matter?

When I saw you, I understood, for the first time, how one could love somebody to their bones before they really know them. You insisted on sleeping on your belly (you have opinions already), and breathed the world in and out. When I held you, I could see your lips pouting and your pinky clutching on to mine. You blinked because the sun bothered you, then you succumbed to a squeal. Your hunger these days is bigger than you.
I wonder about this world you’re waking in to. My head is cloudy and I’m scared, but there seems to be so much love in the folds of you, and love like that cannot be let down. I see dusty roads and young soldiers screaming for IDs and I think, I never want you to hear the screech of this terrible loneliness. I don’t want you to get in a car every single morning wishing this whole country could just collapse in on itself. I don’t want you to feel the way I do today; disappointment with a committed desire to runaway.
What does it take to be happy these days? Perhaps you could tell me, because you have brand new eyes. Perhaps its the little things, like when a mother throws herself in front of her child to protect him from a bullet, or when a doctor artistically removes a sharpnel from someone’s thigh, but why must our joy come from the overcoming of suffering? Can it ever be about a quiet day, a sunflower or a really good book? Is it so bad to be one of those awful normals, who think about lunch instead of the fastest way to meander an Israeli jeep?
Today, without having a hint of an answer, I wish you this: one starkly bright morning, you rise slowly to face your mirror, and you see the acne scares, the tousled hair, the broken nail, the scarred knee, the unread books and the body issues and think, how lucky am I for this to be me? And in that moment, you will finally be.
Your loving aunt,

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Goodbye Letter

"My beautiful mother passed away three year ago after a graceful battle with Ovarian Cancer."

Dear Mom,

I hope that wherever you are, this finds you well.
Last week, I had to teach a book about a woman’s experience with cancer. During classes, I explained to my students the subtle and not too subtle details of being a cancer patient. Mom, I think I’m getting over cancer. It scares me immensely.

In the past three and a half years, I’ve taken comfort in knowing that whenever I’m incredibly sad, I could resort to worst parts of our life together. To the nights when you couldn’t sleep, to the chemotherapy sessions, to the falling hair, to the last night at home when you wanted crème Brule and you were so sick that Tareq and I had to move you around the house on a blanket. Everything in your body hurt and I couldn’t even touch you. This, to this day, remains my escape when the world crumbles down in my face (and you must know, they’re always little crumbles so don’t worry).

I miss you more than I can possibly fathom without getting entirely overwhelmed. When I look at your pictures I miss every inch of your embrace, your eyes, the way you said “hello” when you called me, and all of our fights. I sit and wonder these days, if you’re proud of me, if you’re looking down and telling whoever is sitting next to you that I’m your daughter, your sunshine that just keeps getting brighter. I wonder if you forgive me better than I forgive myself.
So, without knowing the answer, and without entirely believing anything in my heart, I chose, on this beautiful Friday, to let you go. I want your soul to fly over vast valleys and I want your spirit to watch a waterfall from the top of a mountain. I want you to fall in love and make up for all the pain you felt bringing us into this world, and the guilt you felt when you knew you were leaving us.

Mom, I think you are the most beautiful woman in the world. Your smile will always remain one of the best things that have graced this planet. You have been an amazing mother, a kind daughter and the most precious friend.

I hope you find sometime to visit me and tell me all about your adventures. When you do, I’ll tell you all about mine.

I love you, entirely,


Sunday, March 25, 2012

A letter to Motherhood

the following entry is just for fun. wishing all mothers a happy belated mother's day fully knowing that your job is never done.
by: R.Kafri

Dear Motherhood;

Hello. I don’t suppose you recognize my voice. In fact I am quite sure you are stunned at my audacity in contacting you so early in the game. After all it has only been four months since I have joined your fearless frontlines, but if you could, just for a few minutes, listen to me, I would be forever grateful…Moherhood, you are kicking my butt, any chance you can ease up on me? I know the request is quite funny. I can only imagine your graceful, beautiful goddess self-you know the kind that glides not walks- having a hearty laugh over this rooky’s plea, my very not so graceful, disheveled, not showered for days, spit up filled shirt wearing self. I should probably not ask or pray for easier days. I should just be surprised and thankful when they do happen. Right? After all I have the toughest job in the world-I am a mother (maybe if I stand in front of the mirror, and repeat it over and over it will sink deeper into my brain, oh don’t worry my heart has no problems with it, it was sold on this new title on the first day; it is the practical part that wants everything systemized that gets challenged every now and then.)

Please know that it is not the obvious big sacrifices that are so painful to make. It certainly is not the I will become a stay at home mom for the coming seven months and give up the promotion of my life sacrifice. And it certainly is not I will choose a different career path to accommodate my new post in life-Mother. Those are obvious and come to me as second nature. It is the I will sacrifice my shower to feed my child and risk everyone avoiding me at Friday morning brunch, because I STINK. Or I will give up sleep, until the babies sleep, and risk becoming legally insane. Or I will give up an hour of rest to cook dinner early so I can feed the babies, put them to bed and have one uninterrupted meal (that NEVER works by the way). Or I will sacrifice eating altogether so I can change the babies and get them ready for their doctor’s appointment, only to arrive LATE yet again…And the list goes on..

I am sure you are in stitches over this letter and wonder why anyone would bother telling you any of this. Actually I am almost ashamed to be saying these things outloud. But I am sure that every new mother has thought about these things and was too afraid to admit them. So forgive me for asking again, can you please go easy on me, and other mothers like me. I ask you to please remember that just a few months ago, we were carefree, sometimes careless individuals who could have not fathomed holding a life in their hands. And by the way can you please ask other more trained soldiers in your frontline to stop telling the biggest white lie known to human beings? It does not get easier after the first three months. I KNOW, by now, that the shit has yet to hit the fan (excuse my French, I should probably learn new vocabulary now that I am raising children), that once those little feet hit the ground, they will hit them running and that is most certainly accompanied by cyclones of chaos, toys, and long hours of baby tv. But I am also SURE that with these tiny cyclones of madness come hurricanes of contagious laughter that can melt icebergs, and floods of excitement for the countless firsts, and endless days trips, play dates, and lunch dates with Teta, Khalto and Amto (grandma, mother’s sister, and father’s sister). I understand that the happiness that has come my way will only get bigger, louder and better…and the challenges will also get bigger, louder and harder…

Motherhood, I fully realize that my daily sacrifices seem trivial in the face of world hunger and the many starving children that do not have neither breast milk nor formula, so forgive me for my selfishness. I am also aware that given the country I live in, I am so lucky for the plethora of bounty we have, and that unlike most mothers who live elsewhere I don’t need an Oprah special to remind me of poverty, hunger, apartheid, oppression and suffering as it resides just a couple of streets away. I am fully aware of all my fellow mothers whose children are sick, or imprisoned or injured. And I KNOW that it is only a stroke of blessed fate that my children were born into this family where they will find endless nurture, love, and colorful childhood memories to cheer up an entire nation. Please know that I am thankful for the plenty of everything…

But, I still cannot help but want to ask for your help. If you could just grant me the grace, the intelligence, the patience, the compassion, the strength and most important the health to live it all, the bravery and the courage to admit not to always enjoy it all and the long life to look back and smile at it all, for me, my husband and our tiny village of loved ones helping us through it all. That is all I ask. See, quite simple isn’t it?

Thank you for entertaining my words and taking the time to listen. I think I am done for now…Oh no, rest assured you will be hearing from me again…very soon. Oh and one more thing, before I let you go, since it is mother’s day here, and I really want to bake a cake for my mother, is it too much to ask for an easy day today? Thank you, Motherhood. Talk to you soon.



Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Diaries of a Daily Commuter:Next Stop...

by: R.Kafri

Thank you Israel! As a daily commuter from Ramallah to Abu Dis, and someone who has been delayed in Qalandia anywhere from one hour to three hours, only to turn around and travel through rural areas to get home after a long day of teaching and sculpting young minds, and someone who has sat in her car 3, 4 5, 6, 7 and 8 months pregnant in the white hot summer sun at the entrance of Azariyyeh waiting for the random checkpoint to be removed so I can travel exactly five minutes to get to campus, and the nearest bathroom, I want to thank you. Thank you so very much for this ingenious idea, this amazing creation of yours, this beautiful surreal, euphoric notion….The Peace Train, a railroad track that runs around the West Bank connecting Palestinian cities, illegal settlements and Israeli cities altogether. Oh no, please, this is not unreal at ALL; this is not in the least bit a ridiculous, unrealistic, crazy idea at all. Will you be including a stop in Gaza too?

Just out of curiosity, how will this work exactly? Will you provide recorded announcements clearly explaining what a passenger is to do when arriving at the next stop? I imagine a very serious deep voice with a heavy Israeli accent, coming through loud crisp speakers: “Next stop Ramallah Central Station, if you are Palestinians you may depart the train. Israeli citizens are strictly prohibited from traveling to Area A. Expatriate NGO employees will be subjected to harassment, interrogation and long hour delays the next time they depart Israel via any of its borders, should they travel to the territories.” The doors open for a few minutes then automatically close, and the train travels at high speed. Voice comes back on: “Next stop Jerusalem the Old City, welcome to a land lost, Palestinians not carrying permits are not to exit the train. Special permits are required for those wishing to pray in the Aqsa Mosque. Israelis and foreigners…Welcome to Israel!” Within seconds the train takes off again. I guess fastening your seat belt is a very good idea as the train would be traveling at high speed and considering how short these distances are, screeching halts are to be expected at every station…“Next Stop Maale Adumim: please watch for heavy New Jersey and New York accents that might shock you as you get off the train.”… “Next Stop: Abu Dis, please be advised what once used to be a suburb of Jerusalem is now nothing but a passersby corridor that leads to Bethlehem. Traveling to Area C is not recommended due to political unrest, unless you are a settler looking for a cheap mechanic to fix your car.” Of it goes again, swallowing the land with all its flashing scenes… “Next Stop: Bethlehem…the cradle of Christianity…Christian pilgrims may depart the train only if this is part of their Holy Land/Israel Tour, if you are traveling through the West Bank, please see the expatriate advisory note on harassment, and possible arrest when attempting to depart the state of Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East.” The train goes off again, you hang on really tight as it speeds through the hills passing one settlement after the other…. “Next stop: Kiryat Arba, please watch for armed fanatic settlers, any suspicious looking Palestinian is at risk of being shot…DEAD…in the HEAD. Also we would like to advise you not offend any incoming passengers by sitting in their seats or any seats for that matter…tell you what if you are Palestinian, we strongly recommend you move to another car, or depart the train altogether. Your life may be at serious risk…Next stop…….

Forgive me, I should probably give you a chance to explain this proposed project, I got carried away in your La La Land conjuring up fast trains carrying Palestinians, Israeli and settlers all in the same confined space. But seriously, there are so many questions that need to be answered. Who will sell the train tickets? Who will collect them? And most important how will the money be divvied up, will the Palestinian Authority keep the income that comes from tickets sold in the West Bank? Will you offer snacks? Kosher and Halal? What will the cars look like? To avoid conflict, will you designate certain areas to Palestinians and others to Israelis and settlers, perhaps the back of the car-stand only-for Palestinians? I think Rosa Park might just walk out of her grave if you do that. What about security? Isn’t that your main concern always….security…Israel’s right to defend itself? How will you maintain it, railroad checkpoints? “Next stop a random railroad checkpoint, the train will come to a sudden and forceful stop; you may lose balance and drop your belongings on the floor. Please watch out for any luggage that may fall off from the overhead compartments. Palestinian Authority passport carriers please step out of the train for random check…this check is for your own security and safety. So what if you feel disrespected and humiliated. Security comes first…” Oops I am sorry, here I go again…did not give you the chance to quite explain… Just one more thing and I hate to be the one to rain on your parade of great imagination (you should genuinely consider writing the next Harry Potter series with this imagination), but in order to build the railroad track, won’t you confiscate more land like you did when you built the bypass roads? Again I hate to be a party pooper here, but if you keep confiscating lands, there will be no place for us to live don’t you think? Or wait is that the point? The aim? The goal? "Next Stop…Diaspora…”

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

A Few Words to a Ramallah Virgin

Yesterday a friend of mine from the US called to tell me that her friends were coming on a tour of the region. She was hoping we would have the time to meet them. I was thrilled to do so. In Palestine, hospitality is built in. You welcome guests into your home no matter how tired, sad, happy, poor or wealthy you are. A colleague of mine recently told me that of all his travels in the Middle East, it is Palestine were he felt most welcome. He was amazed that despite the painful life betrayals, Palestinians remained so welcoming to strangers, and that despite the monstrous apartheid wall, people kept their doors open to guests from all over the world. A small country like this, where cities have been completely isolated from each other, should display severe lack of interest in the outside world, but instead the isolation in this incredibly large open air jail has made Palestinians more hungry for guests. My colleague is continuously touched and moved by the generous gestures of hospitality and has promised me to write about it soon…I am still waiting on his generosity…
As I wrote to this total stranger, I was trying to convey the message of warm welcome and utter excitement to have guests at our house. I started thinking of how Palestine in general and Ramallah in particular is a lot like me, happy to receive guests, sad to see them leave only to smile again at more strangers who dare to cross through the Qalandia checkpoint. During the summer I was browsing through books we have in our library and came across a compilation of pieces written about the city by different Palestinian writers. A reoccurring theme that jumped at me immediately was the description of Ramallah’s kind welcoming arms offered to each one of those writers when everywhere else shut them out. Ramallah was their stable in which the seeked refuge and safety after every other inn turned them away. A few weeks ago, a young Palestinian writer described her great love to Ramallah in a short poem published in Al Hayat newspaper. And I am sure more people will write about this dynamically changing city with its vivacious spirit. Ramallah charms you. ..
When I think of this place I call home, I remember the longing I felt when I was far away, and the comfort that enveloped me every time I came back. The tingling inside as I walked down the streets as a young girl and now as a young mother only to be greeted by familiar faces and places. The joy that overcomes me in a few moments of quiet after the babies have gone to bed when I realize that I am getting a very rare opportunity in this ever changing world to raise my own children in the same place I was raised. I get the chance to watch them live, love, hate, miss, run away and run back (hopefully) to Ramallah just like I did…. I sleep better knowing that if I teach them to love this space, this place this city, they will feel connected to something stronger than a good job in London, Paris or New York…they will feel connected to a home, to a street to a city and most important to a country that desperately needs its young educated and present, and I really mean physically present.
So as I sat in front of my computer writing fiercely (trying to finish before the babies wake up again), I struggled to explain Ramallah and Palestine to a total stranger. Here she was a tourist, coming to visit “both” sides, but who was smart enough to realize that a tour guide cannot and will not tell you the full story. I started to think of the different articles that have appeared about Ramallah recently. I knew that there are two images vividly painted by media about the city: one is poverty, violence, dirty streets, traffic lights that don’t work, ad hock speed bumps peppered randomly on roads, barefoot children selling gum anywhere they can, corruption, and corrupt leadership; another is night life, fun, bars, alcohol, girls in short skirts and LV bags, boys with baggy jeans, iphones and a tinge of rap music in the background, NGOs, NGO workers, intellectuals leisurely smoking argeeleh and sipping on a drink in a chic café, Mahmoud Darwish, Mahmoud Darwish’s resting place, open air souk (market), cultural events, a contemporary dance festival, film festivals, an art scene…a writhing metropolis. But the truth is Ramallah, Palestine is much more complicated. Ramallah has a very special recipe, with even the best of cooks unable to replicate. She is a lot of things. She is the woman busy in the kitchen cooking for all thirty guests in Ramadan, and welcoming them with a huge smile ignoring the shooting pain beginning from her feet and climbing persistently all the way to her neck. She is the vegetable stores in the old city mixed in with the new nail salon that just opened, and the new fancy bakery neighboring the Catholic school which looks directly onto the Friends school that has witnessed Ramallah since the 1800s, which then glances over new buildings and old ones leading to the heart and soul of it all…Al Manara circle which now leads to the newly renovated and less green Yasser Arafat square, which is surrounded by stores from my childhood, my husband’s childhood and even from before that time too. Her streets are busy and spend most of the year dug up as part of municipality rehabilitation projects; the traffic is unbearable at times, and the stores seem full but yet so empty. People throw smiles and hellos but look so drawn and hungry. Young men hang out endlessly in the streets showering young, old and middle aged women with all kinds of comments from the funny to the plain inappropriate simply because they have nothing else to do and nowhere to go. Ramallah enjoys the newly paved and renovated city center, and is beautifully and festively dressed up for Ramadan, Eid El Fitr, Christmas, Eid Al Adha and Easter, yet you catch the sadness, the despair, the underlying poverty. Ramallah is where normal signs of daily life melt so deceivingly with the incredibly not “normal” political situation. She hides her scars, her economic pangs of pain so well. For the untrained eye she seems like a new up and coming center in the Middle East. She dishes up hope with restaurants and cafes and covers up her bruises from years of occupation, military incursions, closure and suffocation. She hides tears for those lost on her streets and commemorates them with pictures as a constant reminder of the never ending ache. She fancily serves herself up as available and unafraid, only to sleep at night anxiously anticipating the next destruction. Of all cities, and all people Ramallah and her inhabitants know that nothing is constant and everything can change in one discontinuous moment in time.
Palestine, Palestinians, and Ramallah have learned to adjust, to build, to move forward as much as they can, whenever they can. They have mastered the art of living with relentless determination. I knew that no tour guide or travel agency can capture all of this in just a few days. I also knew that it would be unfair to reveal the secret to this tourist, this Ramallah virgin. With the sound of both babies waking up I hurriedly wrote: “Dear Judy, We are thrilled to meet you , please let us know when you will be arriving. We look forward to having you over for dinner as a minimum. Kindly, R.Kafri.” And I thought, let Ramallah and Palestine slowly uncover themselves to her, at the end something beautiful is waiting for both the city and the tourist…Love and a new understanding of a place so misunderstood…Let the magic happen…Ramallah, Palestine and Palestinians charm you….

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Delicious Almond Cake...

by: R.Kafri

If you live in Ramallah, belong to a large family and enjoy an ever larger circle of friends, you would know exactly what it takes to put together a dinner party. We were getting ready to introduce our new twins to our group of friends. No easy feat I might tell you as in Palestine the birth of a baby is cause of celebration on multiple levels. While people are expected to come visit and bring gifts, you in return are expected to have a decadent line up of sweets and tiny gifts filled with chocolate to give away. While I would say we had an incredible line up of desserts from the very special Careway drink karawyeh to knafeh, kollaj and other sweets lined up for well wishers, we still had the daunting feat of inviting our closest friends for a get-to-know our babies dinner. When I say closest friends the number is not less than twenty guests and can easily exceed thirty adults, that is, not counting the children. Such was the case this past Thursday. Our guest list was full, our menu was complete and preparations were well under way at least two days in advance. The multiple course meal includen oven roasted meat with 7ashweh rice (spiced rice covered with minced meat and roasted almonds and pine nuts), roasted chicken with potatoes for those none meat eaters, and stuffed kusa and dawaly (zuchine and grape leaves). For starters it was tabouleh, salats arabiyyeh (Arabic Salad), and hummus. And for dessert…..mmmmmm dessert…..the most essential part of a meal, like the end note in a symphony, the last few words in an ever enchanting novel, the perfect end to a long day…Dessert, the part most people skip, but really should be the part all people never ever miss. For dessert I pulled out the big guns…moist chocolate cake, strawberry jello cake (it is strawberry season and the time is perfect to serve this cake) and my absolute master piece, my mother’s very special recipe: Ka3ket Al-Lawz Al-Latheetha (Delicious Almond Cake)….which is indeed delicious. After everyone ate, drank laughed and caught up. Our dessert buffet was rolled out, and pieces of chocolate cake, strawberry cake were carefully cut and served. Then came the night’s star, warm and ready to serve I brought out the almond cake…

The cake batter is very simple with sugar, canola oil, and flour mixed together in equal amounts, eggs are then added ( 4 eggs when using 1.5 cups of sugar), baking powder and a dash of baking soda. The topping is ground raw almonds sprinkled generously on top. After the batter is prepared, it is spread thin on one of the oven pans that come with it. The almonds are sprinkled generously all over, and then it is baked at 175 C for about 20-25 minutes. You know it is done when the almonds have a tinge of golden brown in them. Pull out of the oven and immediately soak with kater (sugar glaze). Serve warm and watch the happy faces around you melt into the crunch, the warmth, the sweet and the absolutely soft. Enjoy the flood of seconds requests from everyone, even those who are watching their sugar intake. This cake warms you up and lifts your spirits. It is like falling asleep and waking up in your lover’s arms every morning. It comforts and reassures you that life is still good. It reminds you that on cold winter days, with the winds howling outside your windows, it is the little things in life that warm you from the inside out. I love this cake for all its goodness. I love that this is a recipe my mother shared with me years ago, and now that I have a home and children I can share it with them. I love the flood of childhood memories that rush through me as I take the first bite, because when I cook, and every time I cook, I want to recreate a memory, a thought a feeling that I once had. And this past Thursday, I loved serving this cake to our guests and loved watching their faces react to the burst of sweet inside their mouth. It was only appropriate that a taste of my childhood was served to mark the beginning of my children’s life. Here is to many cold winters, to a busy kitchen, and countless times of baking this almond cake and watching the happy faces look back at you with gratitude and satisfaction. Here is to creating a childhood taste for my children….

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