Scenes of Nabulsi life through doors and signs
I have been through the Old City of Nablus a handful of times in the past few weeks, and each time I find myself awash in a wild mix of colors, textures, smells, and sounds. Once I enter the marketplace, I usually end up weaving my way, wide-eyed and awestruck, through its maze of clothing shops, vegetable stalls, and bakeries until I tumble out from its dusty alleyways back into a sunlit city square. For the mere sake of processing the sensory information that barrages me each time I visit the Old City, I was glad to be imbued with a sense of purpose and accompanied by a Palestinian peer, Khamis, last Tuesday as I ventured back into the Old City to fulfill an assignment for TYO’s Kalimatna Initiative. Our mission: to photograph doors and signs in the Old City as part of our multimedia kit presenting Nablus to an international audience. Speaking in an improvised blend of Modern Standard Arabic, Palestinian dialect, and English to determine our walking agenda, we set off from TYO for the Old City: wrapping our way through residential areas before entering the marketplace to eventually wind our way out to the major artery of Faisal Street. We wandered into a neighborhood that even Khamis had never visited before, and where the children playing outside, figuring anyone wielding a camera must be a foreigner, chimed “Hello, how are you?” Some children shouted eagerly, “Suwwarini! (Take my picture!)” For those who happened to be playing in front of a door, we happily granted their request.
We found some of the most intricate doors at the local spice factory, on a building next to the National Hospital, and on several of the residences we walked by. We both breathed murmurs of admiration as we passed one doorway rimmed with marmoreal columns. As far as our quest for signs, I interpreted the term in the broadest sense possible, snapping photos of not only the elegant albeit rusty blue-and-white calligraphic street signs but also of several pieces of graffiti art, including the slogan “Palestine forever,” a mosque, and an intriguing silhouette.
By narrowing in on a couple of very specific themes, I felt that I was building a special relationship with the Old City that can only exist when one becomes familiar with the oft-overlooked details that garnish its residents’ daily goings-about. I was made more easily aware of certain points of interest that might have been lost in the rise and ebb of city’s movements but were able to occasionally pop out from my peripheral vision on this excursion. For instance, as we clambered down a stone stairwell, Khamis pointed out an old hammam to me, now mostly fallen into disrepair and occupied by a flock of chickens. In a world that expresses itself as a stream of living moments, I also delighted in capturing fleeting instants of beauty and tension in a still frame. (Such was my justification for stopping to take a picture of a pair of quarreling cats stuck in a hair-raising, mewling staring contest.)
“Tired?” Khamees asked me at one point on our walk. I wiggled my head from side to side in a head bobble, implying, Yes, but ma’alish (it’s okay). Once again, I felt myself swimming in sights, sounds, and thoughts, but rather than feeling that my energy had been drained from me, I felt that pleasant fatigue that comes from soaking in every sight and sound in my path until my awareness has become thoroughly saturated with the scenes of Nabulsi life.
Julie is an intern at TYO Nablus and a participant in the Kalimatna Initiative.