seeds

(Note: This post, especially the photographs, is dedicated to three dear friends who love, appreciate, and desire Arab food most in the world: Baha’a, Rami, and Tamara.)

Working full time on several projects every day (teaching, writing, studying Arabic, activism) over the past several years has meant that some things I just cannot include into my schedule. One of those things, unfortunately, is cooking (because when I used to cook I was pretty good). For the most part living in Palestine, Jordan, or Lebanon it’s fairly easy to find staples in my diet at various small shops and markets so that I can have well-balanced meals. But during Ramadan I have had to get creative about what I can buy and when. Much of the hummus that one can find in Nablus markets seems to be Israeli so I cannot buy it. But I let my patience hold out and I was rewarded. I had no idea that a very famous local hummus chef was directly across the street from my university. I left my office about 5:30 pm the other night so I could go home and have my iftar for the day. As I was walking down the street a bit, searching for a taxi, I saw a bunch of men standing in line waiting for…hummus. The shop (see photo above) has no sign on it (which is probably why I’ve walked by it many times without noticing it), but it’s called Rami’s Hummus. And Rami has been making hummus for people for 27 years, following in his father’s footsteps. He learned how to make it at the age of 7.

The pictures above show Rami making his hummus that so many men gather around waiting for every night, especially during Ramadan, it seems. The hummus is delicious and all the happy customers swear by it and say it’s the best in Nablus, if not in Palestine. Of course, in keeping with the boycott I asked about where the ingredients come from. All of them are بلادي and mostly from Jenin except for the sesame seeds used to make the tahina, which is made in Palestine; the sesame seeds, however, come from Ethiopia and not from the Zionist state. I found it interesting to hear that the one non-Palestinian ingredient came from Ethiopia, and especially interesting that this item was a seed. I had just read an article about the increasing famine and its consequences in Ethiopia in which families are resorting to eating their seeds prior to planting them to ward of hunger:

Martne Harja had prepared her three-quarter hectare piece of land at Galcha Seke village in Wolayita zone of Ethiopia’s Southern Region for the planting season, but her seven children found themselves without food after the rains failed.

“I did not have any other option but to eat the 25kg of haricot bean seed that I had saved from last year,” she said. “I readied my land to plant when the rain came again [but] I knew I would not be able to get any seeds.”

It was the first time in her life that she had eaten her seeds without planting them. Martne is, however, not alone. According to aid workers, many Ethiopian farmers resorted to eating their seeds after unprecedented heavy rains followed by drought last season.

Reading stories like this during Ramadan, I think, can be helpful, especially when you are fasting. I think it is important to remember that there are people who are hungry–starving even–every day. They don’t have a choice about whether or not they get to see another meal or not.

Here people do struggle with making enough money that one can purchase basic necessities like food from. Here is a brief story from Jenin that shows the plight of Palestinians with respect to scrimping for money to buy food:

Hazim, a Palestinian Authority (PA) employee in Jenin showed us the grocery list he was carrying in his pocket and put his other hand on his head, wondering where he would get the money to buy even basic needs. “What shall I do now?” he said, “the month has just started and I’m still waiting for the salary to buy things I need. I don’t think of buying more than that since my salary only covers basic needs, how would I, when Ramadan means higher prices than all other days?” Hazim says that during a normal month, he waits and waits for his salary from the cash-strapped PA. When his check finally arrives, he spends it all on the necessities of life. If there is a wedding in his family, he goes into debt. He said he also went into debt to pay school expenses for his five children.


Here is yet another story about the economic situation and its relationship to people providing their families with basic necessities in Tulkarem:

The price of food is soaring, unemployment is rising, and many ordinary families are struggling to pay supplies and tuituion for the new school year along with food and other expenses for Ramadan. Contributing to the economic stagnation is Israel’s network of checkpoints, walls, roadblocks and other forms of closure. In Tulkarem, and throughout the West Bank, the Palestinian economy is barely coping with these physical impediments. The UN counts 29 such closures in the Tulkarem area alone. Because of these, goods cannot be moved to market, and workers cannot reach their workplaces. Na’il Abdul-Jawwad is an average Palestinian. His monthly salary is 130 shekels, or about 35 dollars. He cares for a family of ten with his meager earnings. He said that his salary could never cover his family’s needs, especially what is required to send his children to school. He complained that prices have risen sharply.

While these two stories are just from Tulkarem or Jenin, the same can be said all over Palestine. The struggle is the same. That said, going down to the old city market this morning after Friday prayer I found it bustling with Ramadan supplies going quickly. In fact, I took a stroll around the old city to just enjoy the atmosphere. When I returned to buy my iftar supplies many fresh items were already gone (and this as only about 1PM).

And in spite of the economic issues that plague most families here, Palestinian generosity is at a premium. In fact, the first night I went to Rami’s Hummus shop to buy some of his amazing hummus, one of the men standing in line with me refused to let me pay for it. He bought my first batch for me. I argued, but to no avail. Likewise, two taxi drivers this week, both from Balata refugee camp, refused to take my money when they drove me home after work. And Jawal (my mobile phone company) seems to have given out extra minutes or credits to its users this month. Ramadan tends to carry a different energy with it–a heightened sense of gratitude perhaps. And this in spite of the fact that people are hungry, often, hot, and sleepy during this month. I can hear this every night from my apartment as I listen to families laughing over their dinner, their children playing outside our building, and the dancing and singing to the tabla that I am enjoying each night.

The pictures that pepper this blog post are mostly from the various people I buy my produce from. Some of these people sell the same products all year long; others sell certain items only during Ramadan, or more of certain items only during Ramadan. Fresh and dried dates, for instance, which are pictured above, from Eriha. These dates are the most amazing dates I’ve ever had in my life. Even the dried dates are incredibly fresh, soft, like butter. They melt in your mouth. I have never had dates that tasted so good–not from Egypt, not from Saudi Arabia, not from anywhere.

There are lots of little shops in the old city of Nablus selling various Ramadan food items; there are also a number of people selling and making treats on carts that they put in front of shops or that they move around the old city. Some of the Ramadan sweets that I took pictures of (see above) are on such carts in the middle of the old city streets.

There are also people squeezing fresh juice on carts (like the pomegranate juice pictured above), as well as tamil hind and lemonade juices, which they then bottle or bag for you to take home for iftar. The pomegranate juice, however, much to my dismay seems to only be squeezed from Israeli pomegranates (you can see the sticker on the fruit in the photograph above if you look closely), thus I will be spending a fall without one of my favorite fruits. I suppose that means no sawdat dajaj either?

And speaking of boycott, I will also definitely not be eating any oranges or drinking any orange juice while I’m living here, it seems. All of the oranges I found here in Nablus are coming from Yaffa in 1948 Palestine. In other words, all of these oranges are coming from the orange groves that the Zionists stole and now use to market the formerly Palestinian crops. It is especially sad to see such boxes of oranges here. It feels like rubbing salt into a wound to see stolen Palestinian oranges being cultivated and sold by Israelis every day.

And anyway I wonder just how good those oranges are anymore if Israelis had their hands on them. I hear many stories from friends who come from small farming villages about the difference in taste, quality, and health between Israeli-grown and Palestinian-grown produce. One reason seems to be an Israeli penchant for pesticides and GMOs like their American farming friends (who also destroyed an ingenious agricultural system when they destroyed all of the various Native American tribal lands and people). But I have heard even more disturbing news, though this is only through friends so I cannot confirm it. It seems that Israelis have been pushing their genetically modified seeds on to some Palestinian farmers. This means that the farming and produce here could dramatically change over the course of time. However, the same friend told me that there are older village women who are maintaining the traditional, historic, pure Palestinian بلادي seeds and making sure that they are not corrupted or polluted by mixing with the kind that the Israelis are pushing. It makes me think of the situation in Iraq with Monsanto forcing its seeds on Iraqi farmers. Though this is particularly damaging as Monsanto, which is, to be sure, doing this globally has particular consequences as once you accept their seeds you’re forever bound to using them.

My last picture here is one of my favorites. These boys sell me my bread every couple of days. They are very cute and sweet and love to chat. But look closely at this Nabulsi bread. It is very different than the normal Arabic bread one finds in the rest of Palestine. And it is a hundred times more delicious and fresh tasting. I adore this bread and will find a way to bring some to Lubnan next time I go.

For now, Ramadan Karim, with 1.5 hours to go until iftar.

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