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A Typical Morning in Palestine…

June 30, 2010

I wake up to the sound of a jackhammer at 8:00 am.

They’re making a nut, candy and coffee store under my apartment. They’ve already been working on it for over a month, starting in the morning before I wake up and working late into the night when I’m trying to go to sleep—drilling and banging directly below my room.

A truck drives by rattling and rumbling as it goes over the potholes in the road; honking. They always honk in front of my building for some reason.

Thoroughly disturbed from my sleep, I get out of bed and wander out to the living room and clean up some of the mess from last night. Having friends over most nights of the week probably isn’t doing wonders for our reputation around town. And here, everybody talks.

But after the latest rumor about the apartment, which contributed to our apartment being investigated by the PA, we all realized that whatever we do or don’t do in our apartment, our Palestinian neighbors will probably assume the worst because we are ijanaab (foreigners).

Our neighbors, along with the guys from taxi office downstairs—which is actually just a front for having two PA intelligence officers stationed near our apartment, watch our every move.

One day, the taxi drivers asked my roommate why he didn’t leave the building all day, and then only to take out the trash. They see everything, and they talk a lot. And in Palestine, gossip travels faster than a high velocity teargas canister.

This is how we ended up being investigated on suspicion of running a brothel out of our apartment.

Another truck honks.

I check the mirror to make sure I’m dressed modestly enough to avoid trouble in the streets—which around here would mean long pants and long sleeves, definitely no chest and preferably no neck either. Everything’s covered and I leave the building.

I walk past the taxi office where the manager is smoking arghile outside. He never talks, I like him. He’s never asked me to marry him or go drink “whiskey” in Jericho.

Mo’een is inside watching a documentary about polo games in Dubai on Al Jazeera. He invites me in for tea but I know it’s just a cheap ploy to hit on me and talk nonstop about his trip to Dubai and all the clubs and money and girls there.

I wave, and without stopping say I’ll stop by another time.

I somehow make it across the 5-way intersection of death, dodging trucks and taxis, and wait on the sidewalk for a service. The public transportation system here in the West Bank is amazingly unorganized but also incredibly efficient. A minute later a service comes around the corner.

I wave down the service and get in. There are men sitting in both rows, one of them moves to sit next to the other so that I don’t have to risk my reputation by sitting next to him; where who knows what could happen in the five minutes between Masyoun and Al Manara.

Over time, I’ve begun to appreciate the sentiment.

In the Ramallah streets, the service is king. Every other car, including taxis, defers to them. A service doesn’t stop to give the right of way to anyone or anything and speeds down the narrowing winding roads like a racing driver. Cars will come to a screeching to a halt in order to avoid breaking the pace of a service.

Its great for getting to work fast for 2 shekels, but not so great when you are in the last row and bouncing over speed bumps. In Ramallah, there are more speed bumps than nut, candy and coffee shops.

The speed bumps are completely unmarked—no reflective paint or anything, so sometimes we get ambushed by them while driving at full speed, making the car fly for a second and then thud to the ground.

After an adrenalin and speed bump-filled ride, we arrive in the center of Ramallah. Forget Israeli soldiers and demonstrations. This is the real battle ground—at least for women, especially an ejnabiyya.

I get out and walk up the road past the unfortunate boy that chops up kilos and kilos of onions every morning outside a falafel restaurant. I feel like I’m being teargassed as I try to avoid the paper and empty plastic coffee cups rolling across the street.

I keep my eyes down—eye contact is 99% fatal here. No way out of the situation without being whistled or whispered at. I make sure to stay well out of the way of passing men, so I don’t give them any opportunities to feel me up.

I cross the street by Al Manara, the main square of Ramallah and ground zero for sleazy men. I see a Palestinian woman who’s definitely from Ramallah. She’s wearing bright purple, knee-high spiky healed boots, skin tight jeans and sweater, with a matching bright purple hijab. She walks confidently, seemingly unaware of all the eyes on her.

Unlike foreigners, Palestinian girls take a certain pride in being looked at and complimented on the streets, probably because they know the men would never do anything too offensive or dare to touch them.

Foreign girls don’t get that privilege.

Maybe if foreign girls didn’t react stunned when those kinds of things happened and actually made a scene it wouldn’t be so common. But even after a year here it still surprises me. I’m used to western streets where you can dye your hair green and walk around practically naked with spikes around your neck and no one will give you a second glance.

If a Palestinian woman feels insulted by one of the men on the street, she reacts by taking off her shoe and whacking the guy with it. And to give credit to the men here, the offending man will stay still until she is done revenging her honor—or men standing nearby will hold him down.

In order to avoid all that, I walk down a side street that passes the souk which is full of men shouting out prices of vegetables. The alleyway is full of wooden carts piled with cucumbers, tomatoes, onions and pyramids of strawberries. People are haggling over prices and small boys are riding shopping carts around trying to rent them out.

There are old women from the nearby villages sitting on the sidewalks surrounded by fresh mint, sage, green almonds, and grape leaves they grew on their land. They wear traditional Palestinian embroidered dresses and white veils loosely wrapped around their hair as they wait to make a sale.

I pass the money changers standing together on the corner smoking cigarettes stuck in elegant cigarette holders. They’re holding stacks of shekels, dollars, and dinars while gossiping.

I narrowly avoid being run over by services as I pass the central bus station, and mistakenly catch the eye of the guy who sells coffee on the streets.

Now, this is no normal guy selling coffee from a stand on the street. This is a grown man who is dressed in a very orientalist costume made of shiny red and pink fabric, a fez on his head and a giant dallah coffee jug strapped to his back.

To pour the coffee he has to bend over like a child would while singing the “I’m a little tea pot” song. I’ve never seen anyone buy coffee from him and I’ve never asked why they dress up coffee sellers like genies in Ramallah.

My face turns red and I immediately look away as he begins looking me up and down mischievously. He says something to me in Arabic that I don’t catch as I try to get away from him as fast as possible. It would be humiliating to be caught being hit on by the Dallah coffee genie.

Turning the corner, my luck changes when I see my favorite Palestinian male—he’s around 10 years old and one of the kids who sells one shekel gummy candies to people around the bus station.

I give him some shekels and he gives me the gummies with a big smile on his face as he asks me whether I got married yet. He’s worried that I’m waiting too long.

I tell him I’m still too young, and he asks me how old I am. I say 24, and the look on his face tells me that is much too old to be unmarried. I tell him I’ll get married soon and he seems appeased.

With my faith in the male gender slowly returning, I pass the old men sitting on the sidewalk wearing kuffiyehs and smoking arghile. They discuss world politics as the busy Ramallah day unfolds on the street in front of them.

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6 comments

  1. ye3teke el3afie
    That criticism of a strong and offensive, but beautiful and real
    You recounted the experience of age in the story of one day …
    forward Renee .


  2. just telling it like it is. Doesnt mean I respect the Palestinians any less…every culture has its own gender issues. But this is my experience in Ramallah.

    PS: There are more GOOD and respectful men here than bad, for sure : )


  3. For example:

    One time a guy was following me on the streets, and a man in a car pulled up beside me. He asked me if the guy was bothering me, and I said yes. He told the guy to back off, then drove beside me the last few blocks to my apartment to make sure everything was OK…


  4. Thanks for writing Renee, I always enjoy learning more about your life over there!


  5. Renee seems to be totally unaware that she is strikingly gorgeous and would catch the eye of any man, old or young, anywhere on this planet. Even I, your mother, am blinded by your beauty.


  6. Nice description of Ramallah, I couldn’t have described it better! Not about the men starring and all the guy stuff, because I am a male, but the general description of the city. And as bad as it may seem, Ramallah is beautiful!



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