Thursday, July 05, 2012

Haifa Trip with Arab and Israeli women

Summer has started in Jerusalem. It's hot, it's sizzing during the day, only to cool off quite drastically in the evenings. The weather catches people off guard, tourists especially, and they now know they have to bring sweaters after the sun goes down.

But speaking of non-tourists, I went to Haifa with a group of Palestinian and Israeli women who like to eat. Couldn't find a better group for me. Muslim and Jewish foodies. Fuck the politicians. Women and food will bring peace to the region, I'm convinced of that. The group is called Kitchen of Languages. When I signed up to go on what was advertised as a "trip for Palestinian and Jewish women to Haifa", I had no idea who these people were. I get on the bus with 2 friends - the bus had already picked up the group from the Hebron area, Tarkumia more exactly, and they were already blasting Arabic music and dancing in the aisles. I was nervous beforehand because I just didn't want the group to be "political" because politics stress me out. It was Friday, my day off, I wasn't cooking and I refused to get stressed, especially that I was away from my family. I also found out that these woman could hardly speak any English or Hebrew and they knew as much of those languages as I did Arabic. So no heavy discussions there. I got up and danced, and one of the organizers suggested a dance contest.

"No way" I told her. "I'm not gonna compete with Arab women who've been belly dancing since the age of two."

So I was happy to find out during our trip that this group gets together to cook in each other's homes.

We make a pit stop to pick up some women from Tulkarem and I see some of the women picking a certain kind of weed with short leaves out of the grass.

"What are you doing?" I asked one of them. She understood me enough to answer in halting English.

"We cook with this".

Someone else chimed in - "But you can eat it not cooked"

That's all the English you need to know sweetheart. I just love learning from the natives!! I hoped no dog pee'd on it, I thought, as I put the leaves in my mouth.

We get to Haifa and we put our pot luck lunches on the benches. The Jewish women brought pasta salads, cake, fruit and I brought a rather tasty quinoa salad. I thought let me stick with western food because last time we had a women's Arab/Israeli pot luck, I bought mejeddra and it's certainly nowhere near as tasty as theirs and so half of it was left uneaten. I had more success with "my" food as the whole thing went quickly. The Arab women had homemade bread stuffed with lamb meat. That seemed to be their staple food for the day.

On to the Bahai Gardens where we were met by bilingual guides who spoke mainly in Arabic because there were more of them than Israelis. The gardens are beautiful, but not my style. They're too pristine. I enjoy looking at jungle-like gardens, not perfectly manicured ones. The day was hot and everyone was "schvitzing", especially the covered up Arab women. Once inside the theater where we gathered to watch a short film on the Bahai religion, one beautiful but sweaty woman threw off her head covering yelling "Fish Islam" - which kind of meant "to heck with Islam". I understood and laughed. Of course back on the street her head covering was back on and she was in Islamic mode again.

We landed afterwards on the Hof Hacarmel beach - our entire busload. We plopped ourselves down on a shaded area of the beach and noticed many Israeli Arab families there, staring at our group like we landed from a different planet. The women in these Israeli/Arab families were secular, in bathing suits and I could feel a bit of tension coming from the elderly covered up Arab women from the West Bank towards the Israeli Arabs. They weren't interested in conversing with one another, even though they could speak the same language, and I was frankly surprised. Could that even have been a glare from some of the women towards the Israeli Arab families? I thought I did notice that. I wondered why. What were they thinking? That they're sinners because they're secular? That they're traitors because they're Israeli? That they're jealous because they're Arab Israelis and free to go to the beach whenever they want or to travel all around the country whenever they want not needing permits? It could have been all three.

I watched the surfers - the waves were perfect for surfing and with another woman who couldn't speak my language, nor hers, we walked together, picking up unusual shells and rocks to take back home. I wonder if her family will be jealous that she went to the beach and saw the sea. Most haven't been to the sea since the 2nd intifada - 10 years ago or so.

Back on the bus -less dancing,less animated talking. We were all tired and it's a few hours to get back home - for all of us. But we promised to meet after Ramadan and cook food for each other to our heart's delight!