“3 for 5, for Obama!”—Strolling through the Old City and other first week exploits

To all my friends who scoffed at my choice of foreign language studies in university: four years of Arabic is finally paying off, big time.  In our capacity as teachers at Tomorrow’s Youth Organization, we interns have ready access to translators and volunteers who help us to overcome language barriers in the classroom. Outside the center’s majestic walls, however, it is up to us to convey to the people of Nablus our thoughts, good will, and commitment to the community.  Pointing, smiling, and nodding can work wonders, but having a foundation in the language of the local community definitely enhances the cultural experience of living in Palestine. Between strolling through the bustling old city souks and stopping to chat with storeowners, getting to know the women in my week one aerobics and computer classes, and just taking the time to admire the rolling hills from the sixth floor balcony, I’m quickly learning so much about the people here. What strikes me the most about the Nabulsis is how welcoming and gracious they are: an hour’s stroll through the old city reveals how misguided many Americans are in their perceptions of Palestinian hospitality toward foreigners. Sure, while walking through the old city last week we interns got a fair share of curious stares, but that’s to be expected when you’re the only two blondes and redhead in the general vicinity.  As we proceeded past the aroma of spices, nuts, and Nabulsi kanafeh (yum!!) we were approached by several locals who wanted to welcome us to Nablus.  One particularly friendly owner of a nearby sweet shop stopped to introduce himself and to hand us each a little candy for the road. Perhaps the most amusing moment occurred as we passed by an older gentleman selling ka’ek by the road (ka’ek is a type of bread topped with sesame seeds): assuming correctly that we were Americans he exclaimed in Arabic: “3 [ka’ek] for 5 [shekels]…for Obama!”

As we meandered up the hills back toward the center, we stopped at a local supermarket to buy some pita bread (Arabic: khubez).  The owner was pleasantly surprised when he learned that I spoke Arabic and that my Mom’s family was originally from Jaffa. He then initiated a lively conversation about Jaffa’s famous oranges—best ones in the world apparently—and encouraged me to visit Yaffa before I returned to the States.  With a dry smile he remarked that Jaffa is a city to which he can never return but joked that he wouldn’t turn down an orange from there if I got the chance to go.  This exchange illustrates another noteworthy trait about Nabulsis and the Palestinians in general: they are among the most resilient people I have ever met.  The upbeat atmosphere at the old city markets, the pleasant exchanges between locals in the street, the hospitality of the women in my computer and aerobics classes such positivity in the face of constant adversity is truly inspiring.


Leila is an intern at TYO Nablus.