Tag Archives: Ramallah

August 15th, 2014

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m only a quarter Palestinian. So it came as a surprise to me when my mother called a week ago to tell me I have around 500 distant (but directly traceable) relatives in Ramallah. At least, these 500 were coming to the wedding my second cousin Eman invited me to. His son, Karim, is getting married, and the festivities have lasted three days. I missed the first day, but I arrived in Ramallah on the 14th for the “small” family get-together, including commercial loudspeakers and dabke dancing until 4 am. When I woke up, Tessa and Giulia had arrived (my cousins had kindly invited them as well). Between lunch, wedding preparations, and the salon, the day quickly disappeared, and before we knew it we were in a van, one among, twenty, rushing to pick up the bride.

There was already a crowd when we arrived, so we barely caught a glimpse of white before she vanished into the groom’s car. Then they took off, and all the other cars followed, ours included. The groom drove behind a camera truck, filming the entire drive; so of course, every other car wanted to be in the frame. I’ve seen crazy drivers before. I’ve been in our minivan when my dad was going 80 mph down a windy cliff road. But no driver has ever made me fear for my life the way this one did when he turned Ramallah Radio 103.4 way up and rocketed us straight for a four-way merge. He slammed the breaks at the last possible moment, and the groom’s black Audi had to drift to avoid being hit. Our entourage of vehicles kept this up the whole trip: fishtailing, beeping, and blasting music, with kids hanging out the windows and exhaust pipes popping. All I could think was that my parents are worried about me for the wrong reasons. If anything kills me in Palestine, it will be the drivers, not the rockets 80 km away in Gaza.

We arrive safe and sound, only to be immediately swept into the growing crowd around the groom. I don’t know where his bride went, but Karim was surrounded by a troupe of drummers and cheering friends. As the troupe beat out a quick baladi rhythm, his friends rushed him and began tossing him in the air. For the record, Karim is neither small nor thin. But that didn’t stop the crowd from throwing him five feet in the air and carrying him on their shoulders.

I made my way for the hall, and was a little shocked to find that the two floors were gender-segregated, before remembering that this was a Muslim wedding. Up on the women’s floor, 250 ladies unraveled their scarves and revealed elegant dresses and complex hair-dos. Then the bride appeared on the silver carpet, clad in sparkling white from head to toe. Even with her veil on it was obvious that she was gorgeous. But then she too removed her scarf, and the groom arrived to accompany her for the first dance. After that, the night was blur of flashy dabke dancers, Arabic electronic music, cake-cutting, fireworks, a bizarre giant plastic ball for the newlyweds (?), and presentation of the dowry for the bride. The formal matrimony ceremony actually occurs in private, so there was no altar; just a swanky white couch on a stage, overlooking the masses. Arabs party late, and by the end, the three of us were exhausted.


Palestinians are known for their hospitality, and my cousins really push the stereotype. At 3 am, they tried to offer us dinner, and only let us order a taxi back to Nablus when we insisted we had work in the morning. Even then, they slipped the payment to the taxi driver and told us not to worry about it. It was simultaneously frustrating and incredibly endearing. This taxi was a lot a gentler than the groom’s entourage, and on the way back I dreamed of dabke and wedding cake.




August 10th, 2014

Today, I had my first meeting with my most difficult and fun class yet. 30 kids ranging in age from 14 to 18 years old were stuffed into this tiny room at the Nablus Medical Center, dancing and yelling and eager to start class. Until meeting them myself, I would have never believed they could be more rambunctious than my eight year-olds. The boys were especially energetic; they wanted to know where we were from, what we played, if I could teach them drums, guitar, how to dance, etc. Some of them were only a year younger than me, though I kept that to myself. With the help of our translator, we finally got them to calm down. The nice thing about teaching older kids is that, even with an Arabic/English communication barrier, it is much easier to get them to understand what you want. Within forty-five minutes they had learned all the basic rhythms and Solfege that had taken the other groups a week to fully comprehend. The lesson was over fast, but not before one kid and I had a quick jam session with drums and trumpet. As they were leaving, the students started clapping and singing our names: “Giulia, behebik, Camellia, behebik.” It was extremely noisy, but endearing nonetheless.

Straight after that, I took a taxi to Ramallah for a quick visit. I have some second cousins there that I wanted to meet. They’re related to my mother, but I was going to meet them before she did.

I fell asleep in the car and woke up in Ramallah. While waiting in the heat for my cousin, one of the men who was in my taxi bought me a water from a nearby cafe. This is one of the things I absolutely love about Palestine: strangers being randomly kind to each other, especially men doing something nice for women out of the blue, is neither uncommon nor creepy. If someone offers you some tea, or decides to guide you to your destination free of charge, you just thank them and remember to pay it forward in the future. Hospitality is built into the culture.

My cousin arrived a few minutes after I did. Emad speaks enough English for us to converse, and as we walked to his car he told me his son was getting married this Friday, and that he wanted me and my friends to come. 600 people are coming to this wedding, and most of them are related to me. I’m only one quarter Palestinian, yet I have some 500 relatives living in Palestine.


(Emad, with Ramallah in the background, and Jerusalem waaay in the distance)

Emad’s family really wanted me to have the traditional Palestinian experience. As we sat in the living room drinking Arabic coffee, they had me try on a tob, which is an embroidered Palestinian dress, typically worn at parties and weddings. Then they served maqluba for dinner, which is one of the most recognizable Palestinian dishes. “Maqluba” means “upside-down” in Arabic, and it’s made by flipping meat over onto a plate of rice and then pouring hot yogurt on top. I wolfed it down, forgetting that in Arab countries, the hosts will keep serving you until they see that you physically can’t eat anymore. By the time I had to leave to catch a taxi back to Nablus, I was stuffed with lamb and rice, and looking forward to the wedding on Friday.

August 2nd, 2014

Having just come from Brandenburg in Germany, images of the Berlin Wall are fresh in my mind. More than 100 km long and 3.5 m high, it stood as a functioning symbol of oppression for nearly 30 years, before finally being brought down in the reunification of West and East Berlin. I was amazed as I looked at this wall that divided an entire city, with every square inch of it covered in expressive graffiti that protested the segregation.

The Berlin Wall was nothing compared to what I passed on my way to Nablus today.

After meeting for the first time over coffee, the other volunteers and I climbed into a bus that runs from Jerusalem to Ramallah, crossing the Green Line which supposedly divides Israel and Palestine (I say “supposedly” because Israel tends to view this internationally-sanctified line as a general guide, erring on the side of Palestinian land). Along this line runs the Israeli West Bank Barrier. That’s the formal name for this huge slab of concrete, barbed wire, and sniper turrets that stretches for at least 650 km from North to South. At 8 km high, it is twice the size of the Berlin Wall, it symbolizes the systematic oppression and segregation of Palestinians that was begun 66 years ago, in 1948. And like the Berlin Wall, Palestinians have been painting it over with artwork decrying the occupation.

Luckily, it didn’t take us too long to pass into Occupied Palestine. We reached Ramallah soon after that, and then it was only a forty-minute taxi ride to Nablus.

The first thing we did was check in with Project Hope, which is Music Harvest’s partner organization in Nablus. While Music Harvest sends volunteers to teach music in Palestine, Project Hope organizes a broad range of volunteers, from English and French teachers to translators and administration. We signed the documents we needed to sign, and then Hassan, our new Arabic teacher, showed us where we will be living for the next month and a half.

The flat consists of three large bedrooms, a living room, kitchen, and bathroom, which I would share with Tessa and Giulia, the other two Music Harvest volunteers, whom I met in Jerusalem that morning. With our own rooms and free Wi-Fi, we figured we’d settle in pretty quickly. But it wasn’t long before we were up again, following our translator, Anas, around for a quick tour of Nablus.

The second largest city in Palestine after Jerusalem, Nablus consists of one large city and three refugee camps, with a total population of around 192,000. It’s nestled in a valley, and as Anas led us down into the Old City center, the city grew dense with chocolate and nut shops, cafes, boutiques, fruit stands, taxis, and people going about their daily business. Most were Muslim, and as you look around you see a sea of colorful headscarves, as much a fashion statement as any other item of clothing. Right in the middle of Nablus sits a modern mall opposite the entrance to a souk, which is probably as old as Nablus itself. It’s into this souk that Anas led us, to show us the heart of Nablus.

Without him, we would have gotten lost. The souk is a maze of shops selling everything from olives to ceramics to clothes and towels. From all sides, butchers and fruit vendors yell or even sing their offers at you, and customers are constantly squeezing around you as they make their way to one store or another. After a several turns, we came to a cafe, where Anas had us buy falafel. One sandwich was only two and a half shekels, about 80 cents in US dollars… and it was some of the best falafel I’d ever had. On the way back up to our flat, I was seriously considering the logistics of eating falafel three times a day for six weeks.

My flatmates and I finished that long day by chilling out and making pasta. Giulia’s Italian, so she directed the cooking, “the real Italian way.” While waiting for it to boil, I practiced trumpet for the first time in weeks. I sounded like shit, but it felt good to know I would be falling back into the old practice routine.

Right before bed, I went outside and managed to catch the Adhan from the mosques and my first sunset in Nablus. It looked like this: