Coffee, art and riots
Nuha puts a 300$ turquoise and silver necklace around my neck and says, no, leave it on, you can send me money on Sunday. I know you won’t cheat me.
No, dear, after what I have witnessed in the past few months I have not even a slightest inclination to play games with the universe or any of her creations, no matter how great or small. So yeah, I won’t cheat you.
We drink tea with mint in her Ramallah shop filled with true art, all created by loving hands, from jewellery to lamps and furniture. Cross-stitched purses in brightest colours… “Take this, look at those colours!” she is passionate. “It’s all handmade in Gaza!” Indeed, the certificate inside says Gaza. I stare at the incredible oddity in my hands, run my fingers across the other one. MADE IN GAZA… “Handmade by local women,” she goes on, “so the more I sell, the more often I will be able go to back there and bring them money and buy more from them. The men have no work, so this is how we manage to locally empower women.” Because I am from Norway, and because I am here, she inevitably makes assumptions. “Women is good, women is good”, I tell her. “So you travel to Gaza regularly?” I smile, fingering a purse.
The jewellery she makes herself. She wears every new piece for a day to check how it feels, whether it is uncomfortable on the neck, whether it sits well. Her Norwegian friend just ordered her four pieces of jewellery, and by the way she also just briefed a Norwegian diplomat on the financial aspects of the Hamas-Fatah unity government. It’s about payment of salaries to government employees, and even banking… She is a journalist with good education from abroad. “You should come have lunch with us one day” … a new Norwegian friend…
“You know, now we have one purpose, our opposition to Israel, but once we get a state, we will kill each other! There is political discord, the factions, there is massive injustice, and women are treated as second-class beings, did you know that we had 6 women who were killed by their husbands in the past month!” “In Ramallah?” “In Palestine. One woman was getting a divorce from her husband, and he stabbed her in court. He took out a knife and stabbed her to death in court.”
I want a beer, so Muslim Nuha drives me and my friends to the Christian part of town, where they call someone to get us a hubbly-bubbly (sheesha) and generally create a lot of commotion local style. It makes sense to discuss Octoberfest. That’s Ramallah’s best-kept secret.
When we drove into town, mid-day, I saw a small gathering a few blocks from the checkpoint, with some journalists, and an ambulance crew, and people in vests of some organisation I didn’t know. As the bus drove on, I saw two guys in press vests and with filming equipment running in the direction of that, quite innocent and unnoticed, gathering… So I thought, oh, maybe action today?
I think modern man, with all the equipment and information and convenience that offers protection from the unexpected, has buried his intuition way too deep. In places of conflict, everyone is a psychic. This is the only way to survive. You learn how to pick up clues from the universe.
When I asked Nuha about police officers on the corner, “why, is there some protest going on today?”, she replied, oh no, they just love to show their presence. Oh really dear, you’re a journalist that has just briefed a diplomat, do you think I’m a Norwegian tourist? You think I haven’t been to Ramallah before? You think I haven’t choked on tear gas? (And no, I’ve been through revolutions since 1991). I know when I see policemen in knee protectors to the right of the tiny bus station that Ramallah boasts that I should not believe you. Because I have not seen them there before. That’s, really, just why. And so when we walk down the street and see more officers on another corner, I say briefly to my friends, “I have no idea what’s going on, but keep your eyes and ears open, just in case”. Ramallah is safe, Ramallah has soul, I love Ramallah, but nobody wants to be in the wrong place in the wrong time.
“Can we smoke here?” I ask the bar owner. “You can smoke EVERYTHING here,” he answers emphatically. I choke on whatever there is to choke on.
In the market, we buy coffee and amusing light green cucumbers that taste like heaven. Everything is walking distance, but for some reason people say “It’s ten minutes walk, is it OK?” when you ask for directions. So I assume there are a lot of Americans here. We all assume, something or other.
The truth was, today was Naksa day, the mourning of the Jewish victory in the Six-day war. Mustafa Barghouti, a local politician, was wounded in checkpoint riots. And when we arrived at the checkpoint, tyres were burning at the foot of one of the control towers, but just a remnant of kids with a few stones were left, and four bored soldiers, so nothing much to talk about. An army van with supplies came in as we were changing buses, and although they were rushed, nobody really cared. That’s the problem of having lived here, or anywhere else in the same situation, for too long. Apprehensive, but desensitised. You know where to look, and what to expect, and when to be careful, but emotions are gone. And so is interest. I’ve stopped reading the news after three months. Now I just want coffee and beer in Ramallah because it’s cheaper.