Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Picking Olives

Over the weekend, just as I was about to head out for some cross-country skiing, I was shocked to get a call from halfway around the world. My good friend Ian is teaching English at a Quaker school in Ramallah, and he called to say hi. We quickly got down to the essentials: what he's eating.

Ian seems to be eating quite well, and he offered to send me something he wrote about participating in a recent olive harvest. He writes:

Today I went out to a village about forty five minutes or so away to help out with the olive harvest. It felt so good to get out of both the office and the city, and to be working with trees. We picked the olives by hand and let them drop down to tarps that were laid out below the trees.

Each tree usually has enough olives to fill a large burlap sack. I traveled from Ramallah with two friends, one American and one Palestinian, who have been instrumental in organizing the farmers market that just started three weeks ago in the big garden that surrounds my apartment house.

We joined six men in the orchard: two brothers (I think), the other four being one of their sons. The day was full of laughter and sunlight and good conversation (in a swirl of Arabic and English) and tea and Arab coffee and falafel and tahini and hummus and climbing trees to get to the higher boughs and the furthest olives. At the end of the day, we went back to the family's house and had a delicious meal of rice and chicken and string beans in a tomato soup-like dish, and bell peppers and some greens that were cooked up kind of like collards.

After dinner, we went with the family to a wedding party for a relative of theirs. The party was separated by gender, and so the party where I was ranged from shabab (young men) my age in jeans to jiddos (grandfathers) in khaffiyehs. The man who had driven the two women and I from Ramallah was one of the three men who make up the family council of elders for the largest extended family in the village, as well as being in charge of the Palestinian National Paralympic team. He told me all about the history of the village and the family.

The village is the seventh oldest in Palestine, and we saw a mosque that was seven hundred and fifty years old. Also the village is built upon the remains of an (even more) ancient village. I learned about one section of ruins now grown-over by olive trees. Nearby there were Roman and even pre-Roman ruins. On the way back to Ramallah I had a great conversation about politics and philosophy and writing and work and permaculture with my American friend, who lived and worked in Afghanistan from 2003 to 2005.

Now I have a week long vacation starting after tomorrow for Eid Al-Adha (Festival of Sacrifice - which happens after the Hajj - usually about seventy days after the end of Ramadan), and after I finish a couple more letters of recommendation for my students, I will get to have some good rest and relaxation, and I might go olive picking again next Friday.

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