Before Christmas, the St. Mark’s Middle East Working Group sells olive oil from the Canaan Fair Trade Company in Burqin on the West Bank. Profits are sent back to Episcopal institutions, such as hospitals and children’s centers. A number of us spent the night with some of the olive farmers and this account was posted by Mary DeNys on her travel blog.
It was getting late, so we drove to the Canaan Fair Trade center, where we were to meet our hosts for the evening. While we waited, we were taken on a tour of their facility where they process oil from olives and almonds. Finally the time came to go to our hosts for the evening. Two of my friends, both named Karen, and me were staying with one family. We climbed into the back seat of Emad’s pickup truck; other folks piled into the truck bed, and we were off. He dropped off two groups at different houses, and then took me and the Karens to his house. It was quite a cultural adventure.
There we were with a group of about half a dozen women, two men, and a varying population of children, none of whom spoke English.
One of our number had about a dozen words of Arabic. The Ancient Granny–who was probably my age–took my hand and spoke long and earnestly in Arabic. One of her granddaughters tried to explain to her that I did not understand. Upon which, Grandma took my hand and declaimed yet more earnestly, which completely cracked up the granddaughter. Somehow, we managed to communicate our marital statuses and how many children we had of both genders. They managed to tell us that our host was one of twelve offspring of Ancient Granny–six men and six women. We figured out that at least one of the women with us was his sister and another was his wife. But it was pretty confusing because most of the family lived within two blocks (at most) and different individuals wandered into the circle, accompanied by various children off and on all evening. It was a gathering heavily skewed to women, most of whom were shouting at each other and laughing heartily. It was a raucous and jolly group. The men were very quiet.
Eventually, Dana, our host’s niece dropped by. She is studying English at the local university, and she was eager to practice. That helped a bit, and her efforts emboldened her nine year old sister who spoke the best English of the group.
When we arrived, we had been served the largest, most delicious dates I have ever eaten along with tea. But we saw no sign of dinner. Then at some point, we realized that the women were discussing how they were going to feed us. This did not make us feel secure! We later learned that this kind of discussion is “part of the dance.”
As you can see from the picture, we ate well!
One of the . . . relatives? . . . neighbors? . . . friends? was Christian. When they learned that we were Christian (How many times a day do you have to pray?), they urged us to go see the local church, the Church of the Ten Lepers, which wikipedia confirms is the third oldest church in the world. Faraj had wanted to take the group there in the afternoon, but there was no time. So we would go there.
But first we had to go to the soap factory! The young Christian woman and her husband have a small factory where they make olive oil soap. So okay, to the soap factory we went. Emad, silent as ever, loaded us all into the truck and drove us, It was quite interesting to see the vats of soap and the molds into which they poured it. They gave each of us a bar of soap. We were most grateful, and then we thought that since they had hosted us, it would be good to buy some soap. This became complicated. The couple insisted that we should take the other bars too as a gift. We felt bad, because we were then depleting their inventory, and after all, they had only wanted to give us one apiece. After much negotiation–“Take it as a treat for your children.”–we managed to leave a few shekels and move on to the church, which a neighborhood boy opened up for us. It was really lovely.
The nave is actually 18th century. It is the “leper cave” that is so very old.
After we returned from the church, Dana begged us to come with her to her house (only two minutes!). So we went and met her father–her mother and sisters had been in the group at the table. He turned out to be a boys high school principal who spoke quite good English. We chatted away, with him quoting Wordsworth to us, for some time. But we were pretty wiped out and so bid our good-byes and headed back to Emad’s house. The children had been put to bed in their parents’ room, so we got the kids’ room with beds covered with images of Spider Man and some Arab knock-off of Barbie. I can’t say I slept well, but that’s me. My roommates did fine despite a fine cast of goats and roosters.