I held up my red Trader Joe's bag and mimed putting produce in the bag. The shop owner nodded to affirm that I could use my cloth bag as a shopping basket at the produce store near the city center of Ramallah. After I'd filled my bag with Romaine lettuce, apples, passionfruit, pears, oranges, and a pineapple, I brought it to the back of the shop where the cashier stood. One by one, I set my selections on the counter, reaching deep into the bag to make sure that there was nothing left in there. "Is your bag empty?" the cashier asked with a friendly smile.
"Yes. I think so." I picked up the bag from the bottom and flipped it over, shaking to make sure no fruits were hiding in the corners.
"No. Don't do that," the man said darkly and with a small cringe.
"Shaking the bag? Is it bad luck?" I asked.
"No… it's a mistake. You think I don't trust you."
"Oh, no, I said. "I shook it for me, for me to make sure there was nothing left. For me."
"Okay. If it's for you, it's okay."
Trust. It seems to be a delicate and tender subject here in Palestine. I've had more than one encounter like the above. Proof offered too bluntly, as if in a hurry to show that one can be trusted is embarrassing in this culture. Perhaps in the U.S., we too feel some sense of slight embarrassment if we ask for evidence that the bag is empty, that we aren't dealing with a shoplifter. Yet here there's a stronger sense of affront, perhaps to a thicker sense of honor, if someone provides too fast a proof of their own honestly. It's almost as if the other person is saying "Seriously, stop trying to prove yourself! I don't doubt your honestly. By thinking I doubt you, you are basically calling me a suspicious miser, and that is highly offensive."
In a similar vein, I've often paid for something with a bill that is too large. When I first arrived, if the change was tiny (1/2 shekel, or the equivalent of 13 cents) I might say "keep the change," only to be meet with a vehement "no, no" and to find the change thrust upon me.
The positive side of this cultural element is generously given trust. Yesterday morning I went down to a martial arts studio-gym that recently opened up not far from our apartment. They offer personal training and gym membership. I had emailed earlier about setting up a personal training appointment, but when I arrived, I discovered that the gym didn't take credit cards, which was the only payment method I brought. The manager of the gym, who had met me only once before, said "That's alright. You can pay next time. Shall we start with some cardio?"
As I relate this incident, another one comes to mind. A shop owner is telling me, "you can pay next time." Since I don't remember anything else about the incident, I'm not sure if I went back and paid him. I hope I did.
Although this extensive trust in customers seems to my American entrepreneurial mind like poor business practice, it does warm my heart to a culture that I haven't always felt warmly towards.
Another heart-warmer is walking around town with our new puppy, Jelly. I was afraid people would be fearful or antagonistic towards her, since it's not a culture that is big on dogs. Instead, some simply ignore her, and others are downright friendly. I took her on her first car trip since the one that brought her from the shelter to our apartment, and when we got out, a group of young men began whistling and making kissing sounds in our direction. Instead of my usual sense of annoyance at young men making kissing sounds at me, I thought "they are talking to Jelly," and they were.
They asked what her name was, and then called her name, "Jelly Jelly Jelly." I went and did my errand, and when I passed by them again, they said "Jelly Jelly Jelly!" They seemed totally absorbed in her charms, and not in my perceived charms, and I was grateful. It occurred to me that this dog is going to change my relationship to men in Palestine. She is my protector (she seems to bark at people who I'm afraid of and to be friendly to people I like) and she is also a friendly diplomat - a sort of buffer zone - who will ease gender relations for me. Yes, it also occurred to me that men here (some, always some, not all) treat dogs the same as they treat women...
But that is another blog post for another time.
Many of you have been worried about me and Prince Charming with the escalating violence here. Thanks for your care, and to those of you who have sent messages our way. We feel safe here, but we are taking precautions to stay away from protests. Charming has been working very hard, and his NGO has been an important voice for peace in the media lately. He's had a vital role in managing the emergency response, and I'm very proud of him. He's helped save lives and will help save many more. If things escalate much further, we may have to evacuate. But for now, we seem to be as safe as we were in Los Angeles.
Finally, for those of you who are excited about my book Minimalism for Grandparents: Decluttering for Health, Happiness, and Connection in the Golden Years, you can like the Facebook page here. I think that those of grandparent age, as well as youngsters, will get value out of it if they have an interest in living a simplified, meaningful life.
Cool Shey Tamaam
My husband = Zowji = زوجي No problem = Mish Moshkilay = مش مشكيلة Tea with mint with sugar = Shai bee nana bee sukar = شاي بي نانا بي سكر Everything is perfect = Cool shey tamaam = كل شي تمام
I feel like I'm REALLY close to being able to read Arabic. I'm able to sound out many words on street signs if I give myself plenty of time. Knowing what the words mean is a whole different ballgame. But I have a fun feeling of a whole new world opening up. It's like being five and learning to read all over again.
A Beer for Jesus
This weekend, Prince and I jumped in the car, which had newly fixed air conditioning. AC, my friends, can save the world, or at least save a hot summer drive in Palestine. The AC was good for our marriage, and we actually enjoyed the drive to the tiny village of Taybeh, getting lost only a few times.
We arrived and drove almost straight into the microbrewery. It is tiny. No one seemed to be around. We left and came back. It looked like a garage with the door open. Should we wander around alone, we wondered?
Prince Charming thought not. We weren't even sure we were in the right place.
"You're right. This is weird." I said.
Finally, out of curiosity we wandered in, and we saw someone we had missed before: the daughter of the owner of the microbrewery, Ms. Koury. I'm sorry I can't remember her first name. Her family established the brewery in 1994. She very kindly gave us a tour. It was wonderful to see a successful enterprise where the owners obviously cared a great deal about the pristine quality of the product. We didn't get the free taste of beer at the end of the ten minute tour that the brochures promise, but it was rather early in the day and we also forgot to ask about it. We left with a box of beer and a couple photos of the brewery:
Taybeh changed it's name from Ephraim (of biblical fame) to Taybeh when Sultan Saladin passed through in 1187 and thought the folks in the village were hospitable and generous. Apparently, that's what Taybeh means, although we also heard that it means "delicious" so maybe the people tasted good too.
Jesus stopped by this village for a rest before his crucifixion. It's too bad the Taybeh Micro Brewery wasn't around in his day; I think he would've enjoyed the beer quite a bit, especially considering the series of really bad days coming up for him. Today, Taybeh is the only "Christian Village" left in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, although there are many towns with Christians in them.
After our tour of the microbrewery, we endured 2.5 miles of spiritual and physical testing out in the desert outside of Taybeh on a lovely hike under the blazing noon sun. In the middle of our death march, we took refuge under a large olive tree. Much to our delight, the tree did not shrivel and die, but provided shade for our half hour rest and consumption of water, dates, peaches, and almonds.
We took the tree, and the spray-painted rock markers, to be a sign that we were on the right path, both spiritually and geographically, and continued a short ways to gaze at the dark mouths of caves in the hills surrounding Taybeh.
When we got back into the village, we found Peter's Place, a brand new restaurant that was "soft open," meaning that is was so new it hadn't had it's official grand opening yet. Ms. Koury recommended it, and we are so glad she did and that we climbed up the hill to the middle of the old part of the village to find such an oasis.
It was also so new that the menu had just a couple options: salad, seasoned bread, and/or hot meal:
We decided to sit outside where the patio offered cool breezes and nice views. To finish up this post, I'll add this video which captures my general fatigue and joy at sitting down with a cold beer after a hike on a hot and dusty day.
The new place has significant charms, including a shower with four different kinds of water massage and a radio. However, as of right now, the internet and hot water (as well as a long list of other lesser functions) are kaput. The landlord promised in a very passionate telephone conversation (passionate compared to US landlords, perhaps normal here) yesterday that we can trust him and that it will all be working very soon.
I didn't feel hungry, but I felt lost. I began to cry. I wanted to lie down. I remember that my instructor came over to me and said "What's wrong?" I shook my head, saying something like "I don't know, ahhh! I don't know….no snack yet, I lie down here?"
He gave me the most bewildered look, and said something like "You just beat Bronx girl, and now you are crying?"
It was a Little Things are Big Things moment. It's not the big fight that'll get you. It's missing your snack two hours later.
Early this morning I went for a very short jog on Al-Teera, the main road in Ramallah that is acceptable for women to run on alone from what I understand. I paused to take this photo of pink flowers and a minaret in the background:
Later, I noticed our neighbors were grazing their goats in the front yard:
And finally, here is the amazing view from where we are staying right now. It's a good general view of a lot of the city, as well as a lovely grove of olive trees in the valley below: