Tag Archives: Family

An Oasis of Humanity

“Oh my gosh! What a view!” I had not anticipated it. As I turned and gazed across the open expanse, I was looking toward the site that the Hamdan family would enjoy from their home not yet built. An open picture of southern Palestine lay below. Olive groves; small villages; open desert in numerous hues of red, yellow, and brown; and the village of Fawwar at our feet below.

I paused for a long moment and inhaled deeply. In the two-and-a-half months that I had lived in West Bank, this land and its people had seeped into my heart. So similar were these people and their country. Like the desert land of their home, these people transformed austerity into their thriving home, abundant in harvest and community. In my moment of reverie, I acknowledged how intimately connected I felt to this desert land and more so to the people who inhabited this place.

A sputter of a humming machine broke my trance. As I stirred from my meditative spell, I realized that folks had jumped busily into action. Inside a small concrete shed, Fahim had powered up a small generator. Suhana and Tahira were busy preparing tea and biscuit snacks. Faisal and Hamza each held a long garden hose and were focusing on their task of watering the garden.

Mohammed called me and offered one of two chairs on a small concrete platform. Out of respectful consideration, I sat, accepted a cup of tea and played the part of guest. But I was antsy. Everyone was busy with various tasks. I couldn’t just sit and watch. I hurried to gulp down my tea, then sprang up to assist Farouk with the primary task of the day.

Through the months of spring, Fahim and Faisal had driven to their plot three times each week to spend two hours watering plants from handheld hoses. Although father and son enjoyed visiting their future home site, the task was burdensome and time consuming. Farouk had an improved solution–installation of a drip irrigation system. 

The lot, roughly a half acre in size, was already filled with young green plantings. Predominant was the line of young olive trees, which had been planted on three sides near the perimeter. Of course, the western side looking out across the valley remained open so that the family would forever enjoy the view. The entire lot was being transfomed into a garden. Long rows of vegetables and herbs were springing forth into springtime growth. In Palestine, all of this young greenery needed watering, often and regularly.

Farouk was already busily orchestrating the irrigation system. At his instruction, sons Mohammed and Masood were unrolling the long lines of black hose tubing. After father demonstrated to the boys, they began cutting lengths of tubing so that there would be a break at each plant. Beginning at the top of the lot, the boys spread the new hosing around the perimeter so that each olive sapling would have a drip joint. 

It fell to Farouk and me to accomplish the arduous task of joining the cut ends with the drip-irrigatiion joiners. The fittings were tight and required a surprising amount of muscle power to fit together. None of the boys could do it. Fahim, a slender man of small frame, did not have the strength. Only Farouk and I could manage it. And after a couple dozen arduous connections were made, my hands and arms fatigued. Only Farouk had the strength to complete the couple hundred fittings.

When it was finally completed, everyone gave a rousing cheer. Hoses were attached to the water spigot in the shed. At Farouk’s bidding, Faisal turned on the water. Everyone watched in eager anticipation. Slowly the line of drips joiners sprang into action. We all watched and followed our eyes as the water seeped forth from successive irrigators. When the final joint at the bottom of the garden put forth a steady drip stream, we all hooted with delight. Hurrah! 

Now Fahim and Faisal could visit their land every other day, turn on the generator and the water spigot, and sit back to enjoy the view while watering was accomplished labor-free.

A simple thing–this day, this task, this accomplishment. It’s what these people do in everything. They live and work and play in their desert home. In their simple tasks, they transform a barren landscape into an oasis of humanity.

Palestinian Stuffed Grape Leaves

I found this recipe and guide online at a site called Arab Recipes, Your Cooking Guide. I cannot find a name associated with the account. So until I do, I simply give credit to the kind knowledgeable person who shared one of my delights from Palestine. To the adventurous reader, trust me. The time and effort you put into this recipe will be greatly rewarded by family and your grateful palate.

I realize that most will not prepare these, but it’s fun to read how they are made.

Throughout the West Bank, villagers sell plastic bottles stuffed with grape leaves.  My mother gave me this one. 

Waraqa Dawali, or Palestinian Stuffed Grape Leaves

40-50 grape leaves

1 cup rice, soaked, rinsed and drained

1/2 lb grassfed ground beef or lamb

1 tsp sea salt

1/2 tsp pepper

1 tsp allspice

2 tbsp olive oil

Seasoned stock (chicken, lamb, beef) or water, enough to cover

1.Before you make your grape leaves, make sure that your leaves are clean, and the stems are removed.  Blanch the grape leaves for four to five minutes until they are tender but still firm enough to roll. 

2. Mix together the rice and meat stuffing.  Line the bottom of your pot with grape leaves to prevent sticking.

3.  Roll your grape leaves (see tutorial below)

4.  Pack your grape leave in tightly into a heavy pot, seam side down, creating a new layer when necessary.  Pour in enough stock or water to reach the top of the grape leaves.  Whether you use stock or water, make sure to add a little salt to taste.  If you like, you can place an inverted plate on top, and weigh it down with something heavy, to prevent the grape leaves from unfurling. 

5.  Bring to a simmer and cook for an hour to an hour and a half, or until the grape leaves are very tender. 

To Serve:  Squeeze some fresh lemon juice over your grape leaves and serve with a bowl of plain, whole yogurt for dipping. 

Tutorial:  How to Roll Grape Leaves

Start with washed grape leaves.

Boil for five minutes, or until tender.  Arrange into stacks, facing the same direction.

The leaves have a smooth side and a side with raised ribs.  Make sure the ribbed side is facing up.  Then place one teaspoon of the filling on the leaf, and shape it like a small log.  If you’re like me, you’ll be tempted to over stuff it.  Try to resist.  My mother made me reduce my stuffing on my first several attempts. 

Fold over the base of the leaf, pressing down tightly.

Turn the sides in.

Roll as tightly as you can.

Place seam side down in your pot, packing in your leaves tightly.  Follow the recipe above, and soon you will be able to dig into this: 

Family Meal

West Bank–Fawwar, 2014

Noise in the front doorway, sounds of cars passing on the street. Holy Day prayer service had ended and more guests had arrived for weekly family gathering. 

I was introduced to Farouk’s sister Miriam and her husband Fahim. Three young women extended hasty greetings and then disappeared into the kitchen to assist Leya. I caught the name of one, Noor, a niece of Farouk. Younger sons Faisal and Hamza extended polite greetings and then disappeared with their cousins to play outdoors in the courtyard.

There were a lot of names in a strange tongue. I wouldn’t remember them all for awhile. 

The house filled with chatter in Arabic and much laughter. At least I could understand one of the two. Occasionally, someone spoke to me in English. I was offered more tea—enough times to be water-logged by the time we were called to table.

The dining room has one purpose—gathering to eat. Aside from one cabinet for dishes in a far corner, the room was filled with one long wide table. Eighteen of us (I counted.) gathered around the long table. I was ushered by Farouk to a seat at one end to honor a guest. Farouk sat at the opposite end. 

When we were seated and blessings were offered, the women jumped into motion. Platters and bowls filled the table in rapid order. I could not keep count of the dishes. Some were familiar—hummus, pita bread (which I learned to call khubz,) olives, lemon wedges, baba ganoush. I was introduced to something new and delicious—rice and flavored meats wrapped in grape leaves. Delightful—I never did learn to pronounce the name of it.

As the platters were distributed, hungry hands lifted them and began filling plates. The center of the table had remained bare. Suddenly, I understood why. Leya emerged carrying a gigantic platter, which she placed in the middle spot. A heaping mound of bright yellow rice (what we might call rice pilaf) was piled high with pieces of roasted chicken. Why I never took a picture of this display, I can only regret. This platter of food proclaimed abundance that must be shared.

Leya reached for my plate and dished up a generous portion of rice with two pieces of chicken. Once I had been served, hands reached in from all directions to fill plates around the table. And no one would let me finish. Each time my plate leveled so that I could see china, someone offered me another portion. I finally had to raise my hands over my plate and declare myself finished.

Throughout the meal, conversation bounced about the room. Everyone had something to say about one topic or another. I couldn’t understand a word of Arabic. But it was clear—these people had passion about their lives and were eager to share it. I observed no discrimination of age or sex. Men, women, boys all spoke at will. Usually two or more people were speaking at once. Lively, animated, passionate, friendly—these people shared bonds that were evident even to a stranger, who understood not one word. 

Frequently, someone would pause. The room would quiet, while one or another person spoke to me in English. For a few minutes, he or she would update me on the discussion and tell me the different opinions and points of view.

One conversation made a deep impression. That topic will be the focus of our next memoir.