January 12, 2000
Pushing my way through the crowded streets of the Arab quarter of Jerusalem is no easy feat! The end of Ramadan (the Muslim holy month of fasting is almost here) and everyone is out buying food and gifts and new clothes. The barber shops are full, the sweets shops are emptying. For people who have been fasting every day during the daylight hours for almost a month, they sure are cheery.
I elbow my way through the Damascus Gate and out of the old city into Arab East Jerusalem. Pears and balloons seem like good gifts, so I buy some on my way to the minibus.
"Ramallah! Wahedi Ramallah!" the driver calls out that there is one wahedi (seat) left going to Ramallah (the capital of the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank). I squeeze in, suddenly realizing that balloons weren't the best idea, and the minibus enters the bumper-to-bumper traffic out of town.
In the back seat, two men strike up a conversation with me. Abdul and his friend Suhair were students of English and French together at a university in Nablus and now Abdul is studying in England. "Will we become characters in your story?" Abdul asks me with a sly grin. "If you'd like!" I tell him.
We walk through the bustling city in search of a Palestinian telephone card and Palestinian telephone while the muezzin's call to prayer echoes out between the two mountains of Nablus. All the shops immediately close as everyone stops to eat. Suhair pulls a block of peanut candy from his pocket and offers me some with a smile. "I guess you will share Iftar with me!" he laughs. "Inshallah (God willing) this is the last Iftar of this year! Hopefully Eid will be tomorrow."
He leads me into a mall where a clothing shop still has its doors open. Suhair is warmly greeted by the two men inside, and soon another arrives with a steaming tray of food. The store becomes a restaurant, and I become the special guest. Rabeha must be worried about me, but I can't buy a calling card until after Iftar, and the coin phone outside doesn't work, so I might as well enjoy!
For them breakfast is a traditional Palestinian dish known as msahan, layers of bread and chicken, covered in spices, onions, and olive oil. We follow it up with cups of yogurt. Even though I usually don't eat meat, I find it delicious! I am constantly amazed at the hospitality I am shown by the Palestinians I meet!
Muslims follow a lunar calendar, where each month goes from new moon to new moon. They did not know if the moon would return tonight or tomorrow, but everyone was hopeful that Ramadan would end tonight, including me. I didn't want to have to fast tomorrow, and I'm tired of not being able to eat or drink water in public!
The place is decorated with bright cloth and festive lanterns, the waiters are dressed in spiffy Palestinian costume. The adults (me included) eat soup and puff on the nargilas (water-pipes with fruit flavored tobacco), while the two little girls run around dancing and stuffing popcorn into their mouths. (I can't get away with that sort of behavior anymore.)
We clap along to the tabla (drum) and the oud (stringed instrument like a guitar). Every song that the singer belts out seems to be about his "habibti", or "sweetheart." That's one word you learn quickly in Arab countries! Many of the men get up and dance, but the women all stay in their seats and just clap or wave their arms to the beat. Oh well, I had fun anyway.
Friday, January 7
All afternoon and evening
Family members who live elsewhere, in Diaspora, are remembered fondly during this time. It is very difficult for Palestinians to travel. Most are not permitted to visit family in Israel or Gaza, and even neighboring Jordan is difficult. Traveling to other countries on a Palestinian passport can be almost impossible.
Eid al-Fitr will continue for four whole days. During that time, all the schools and businesses are closed and everyone celebrates with family and friends. After all this food, you would think they need to fast again!
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