2.5 degrees of separation

courtyard of palestinian home in the old city of nablus
courtyard of palestinian home in the old city of nablus

so i’ve got two friends visiting me in nablus this weekend. the story of how i know them is one example of how small the world is. they are a married couple and one is from boise. her father is a professor at boise state university in the business school where my ex used to teach as well. i never knew her in boise, but when i was living in lebanon she had emailed me. she was in graduate school at the time and she had been attacked by students because of things she said in classes that were pro-palestinian. she was asking her father for advice. it turned out that one of the other students in her program was a dear friend of mine from deheishe refugee camp. but that is not how she found me. she emailed her father about this scenario who talked to my ex, who had recently been to palestine with me, and figured out that he knew our friend from deheishe too; my ex gave her my email and we became friends. when i moved back to boise last year she returned for part of the year as well and i got to know her and her husband. now she works for the galilee society and her husband works for decolonizing architecture here in palestine.

a quiet old city on a friday
a quiet old city on a friday

that is story 1. story 2 is that a palestinian friend from amman emailed me the other day saying she was coming to visit family in palestine this weekend. she wanted to come to nablus and hang out. i haven’t really talked to her much since i left amman, but i knew her through my next door neighbor. but we also have many other friends in common in jordan. when she met up with us today she brought a friend along with her. that friend lived upstairs from my friend from boise when they both lived in italy. and my friend’s new partner is a friend from beirut. i know that friend from beirut because that friend is good friends with two lebanese friends of mine who used to live in washington dc; they lived downstairs from my best friend from college. my best friend from college lived with, for many years, a friend and colleague of my friend visiting from amman today. did you follow all that? all of this led my friend who lives in amman to say, “in the u.s. it may be 6 degrees of separation, but here it is 2.5 degrees of separation.” and it is really quite true. and it goes on and on. this same friend’s partner’s ex is now dating one of my former students. and i love this part of living here that someone you meet always knows someone else you know. i could probably devote an entire blog to this phenomenon.

israeli terrorist bullets through zeit wa' za'atar's window
israeli terrorist bullets through zeit wa' za'atar's window

after we left the restaurant we walked around the very dead old city of nablus. it’s friday so everything is closed. totally empty. i think it is the first time i’ve ever been there on a friday. not that i expected things to be open, but i wanted to walk around and look for my friend rula’s family house. her family fled nablus in 1948 for jordan from an area of the old city called 7arit al faa’oos.

rula's family's street
rula's family's street

when we were walking around the old city we found the general area of rula’s family’s home and started asking about it. some people gave us directions and we knew we were in the right area because there was a planter with a plaque for a martyr from her family on the street. one little boy, laith, who must have been about 8 years old decided he wanted to take us to the house himself. so he became our self-appointed tour guide.

martyr from rula's family
martyr from rula's family

when we arrived there was a padlock on the door to the courtyard leading to the house, but laith found a way to get it off and we were able to go inside. the courtyard was clearly a beautiful garden at one point and there was still an orange tree there, though i cannot tell whether or not it was old enough to have been there before her family fled in 1948. there was some really beautiful detail to the home, though it seems as though now it is being used as a storage space for other families on the street and, unfortunately, as a garbage dumping ground for those families as well. oddly, whoever is using that space, though, is also planting beautiful plants in pots in the courtyard amidst the rubbish.

orange tree at rula's house
orange tree at rula's house
rula's family's house
rula's family's house

after we spent time looking around rula’s home i gathered some soil for her and we walked out. laith was really enjoying taking us around, i think, and so he wanted to show us more places in the neighborhood. there was another martyr’s memorial near by that had a special flower he wanted us to see, though when we got there no buds were on it. then other nabulsis standing around watching laith talk to us about the area we were in they started advising him of where to take us next. so we went back into the area closer to rula’s family house and down a very narrow alley way. the street dead ended at a gem: a gorgeous old nabulsi home that was refurbished and turned into a beautiful restaurant. when we arrived there was a wedding party using the space, but the owner was in the courtyard and invited us to come in and have a coffee on the house. the restaurant was stunning and i am so happy to know about saleem afandi restaurant; i am definitely going back to have a proper meal.

saleem afandi restaurant
saleem afandi restaurant

oh and one final little 2.5 degrees of separation story: the friend of my friend who was also visiting nablus for the day…it turns out she has met my friend rula’s husband.

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