inadvertent picnic

This morning my friend asked me to go find a friend of hers from college. It turns out he has quite a famous father, Bassam Shakah, who was not only a former mayor of Nablus, but also someone who survived an Israeli terrorist attack from a follower of rabbi Meir Kahane’s Kach party, a party that has conducted several such attacks and that advocates expulsion of all Palestinians from the country so that they can finish the job of al nakba. In the attack Shakah’s car was bombed and he lost both of his legs. I asked around what area of Nablus the family is from and someone gave me the name of the area. I knew it was generally up the mountain a bit and about 3-4 km away so I drove up around that distance, stopped, and asked a taxi driver where the area was. He told me “you’re here.” And then they asked me what I was looking for. I mentioned the name of the family’s home and it turned out I was standing in front of it. They were not home, but I left a note under the door. I decided to continue driving up the mountain to get a view of the city.

I was driving up Mount Gerizim; Mount Ebal on the other side of Nablus–the one I photographed earlier with the Israeli military base and checkpoint at the top–I think is forbidden for anyone to travel up to the top. But on the top of this mountain is the famous Masri house–castle really–and I wanted to drive up to see it or at least see what the view looked like from there (see photographs above). I drove to the top of the mountain and on another mountain on the other side of Nablus I saw yet another huge Israeli Aggressive Forces (IAF) military base overlooking Mount Gerizim and the valley in between where Palestinian villages lie (see photograph below).

When I reached to top I didn’t find the Masri house; instead I found the road closed with an IAF checkpoint with a bar closing off the road to drivers (see below).

I turned around and as I was driving down the mountain, just after that checkpoint, I asked a group of thee men if there was a way to see the Masri house. There wasn’t, but they invited me to join them. They were having a picnic in a lovely shaded area with lots of olive and pine trees surrounding this little plot of land with a beautiful view. They had made a little fire where they cooked maqmoura–a mixture of vegetables and chicken (see photos below: especially for Rami).

The food was delicious and was finished off with some grapes and fresh dates, which I’ve never had before, as well as some araq. I must have spent about two or three hours with them–I lost track of time–and it was endlessly delightful. Precisely the sort of way one’s day can unfold here–meeting interesting people and sharing delicious food. They told me many stories about what their lives in Nablus are like. One of them had his house bombed by the IAF. All have spent time in Israeli jails for their work in resistance (two Fateh, one DFLP). Many still have family members in the jails. At one point they all began lifting up their pant legs to show me the bullet wounds they suffered at the hands of the IAF. One had almost his entire calf eaten away by a surgery as a result of his bullet wounds. It reminded me of the scene in the movie Jaws when they are on the boat and they all begin to compare their “war” wounds of sorts. All of this discussion was conducted in Arabic, by the way, and they were so nice about explaining words I didn’t know, using Arabic, so that I believe my Arabic improved tremendously just by spending the day with these men. Then they started to serenade me with Um Kalthom songs and wanted me to sing an Arabic song back to them. I forgot the name of my favorite song in Arabic so I sent a text to Tam Tam who wrote back immediately and reminded me: “أناديكم.” Once I heard the name again I recalled the lyrics and we all sang along. Here are the lyrics of the song for anyone out there in cyberspace who wants to follow along:

أناديكم.. أشد على أياديكم
وأبوس الأرض تحت نعالكم
وأقول أفديكم

وأهديكم ضيا عيني
ودفئ القلب أعطيكم
فمأساتي التي أحيا
نصيبي من مآسيكم

أناديكم.. أشد على أياديكم
وأبوس الأرض تحت نعالكم
وأقول أفديكم

أنا ما هنت في وطني
ولا صغرت أكتافي
وقفت بوجه ظلامي
يتيماً عارياً حافي

أناديكم.. أشد على أياديكم
وأبوس الأرض تحت نعالكم
وأقول أفديكم

حملت دمي على كفي
وما نكست أعلامي
وصنت العشب الأخضر
فوق قبور أسلافي

أناديكم.. أشد على أياديكم
وأبوس الأرض تحت نعالكم
وأقول أفديكم

I didn’t remember all the lyrics, but I was able to remember most of them at the time. Before I left the youngest one in the group–the one who is unmarried–offered me a marriage proposal. My second one in about a month. Both of them after knowing me for only a few hours. Fortunately, he understood that the only husband I’m looking for is المقاومة.


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