Three days in a row I left Nablus to explore more of the West Bank. It`s always a notable event to "leave Nablus" because it means pulling out your passport, getting your "don`t mess with me" face on and coming up with a creative excuse for being in the West Bank for the checkpoint soldiers.
Molly and I decided to visit Palestine`s only brewery in the tiny Christian town of Taybeh for a tour and hopefully some samples. We met the very friendly owner and his daughter who explained the different brews on offer (Light, Golden, Amber, Dark). They are also developing a non-alcoholic version to quench the West Bank`s mostly Muslim population`s thirst. Delicious, and it`s only 11am.
The next day I went with Roman, Aby and her friend Cheryl out to the village of Yanoun, a Palestinian village literally encircled by Israeli settlement outposts on the surrounding hilltops. To discourage the settlers from entering and disrupting the village, an international house has been established with volunteers providing an international presence and documenting any disturbances at all times. Beautifully set on the side of a valley with almond and olive trees, and poppies in bloom, we spent the afternoon shelling freshly roasted almonds with three of the local women and sipping seriously sugared mint tea. For more info about Yanoun check out: http://www.yanoun.org/
My final weekend stop was at the western edge of the West Bank, in the city of Tulkarm. Tulkarm is the home of one of our local volunteers, Jafar, and I was kindly invited to meet and stay with his family. Exiting Betiba checkpoint outside Nablus, I entered the international/women/children lane while Jafar took a different one that ended with scanners and metal detectors. The young IDF soldier holding my passport commented that I was from Canada and I was shocked to hear perfect English, forgetting that these kids are living unhindered lives back in Tel Aviv. He asked where I was headed and what did I plan to do? I told him I was "just visiting", but when he asked "who?" I quickly changed my response to "just looking around." He then replied with a "What`s there to see? It`s just a bunch of rocks!" I smiled a wry smile, gave a dry laugh, took back my passport and carried on, careful to wait for my Palestinian friend well out of sight.
Sometimes we meet people who are such a compliment to our own personalities that we hardly notice the instant bond that forms, the ease with which we start talking and acting, and the lack of hesitation to get comfortable around them. This is how I felt walking into the Al-Zuabi household and in general whenever Jafar and I would walk to my classes in Nablus. Warm, welcoming, educated and enthusiastic, I felt at once like I was hanging out at my best friend`s house on a Saturday afternoon. I got a lesson in "shesh-besh" or backgammon from Jafar`s father Hisham; was treated to a delicious lunch with my own stuffed pigeon from his mother Muna, and got the grand tour of Tulkarm, including the Agricultural campus of Al-Najah University, and a nearby village in the company of his sister, Juman.
Our hopes of some nighttime fun were dashed when MegaLand, a real, live, Palestinian amusement park (!) was closed that evening, but we quickly recovered with a nice dinner followed by a movie at home. I feel truly lucky to have met such genuine people -- if only that soldier knew what else what out here.
For all its charm, however, Tulkarm is a tease. From the windows of the house you can see the "separation wall" stretching the span of your peripheral vision. The red tiled roofs of the Israeli communities lay just beyond this concrete eyesore and on a clear day you can see the Mediterranean, a mere 15 inaccessible kilometres away.