Contributed by This Week In Palestine on 30.06.2007:
Our Village in the North
By Reem M. Wahdan
It was not until I met my best friend and partner, who happens to also be my fiancé, that I heard of a village in the north called Al-Fandaqomeyyah. At our very first conversation, as I recall now, I asked him: “Where are you exactly from?” He replied, “Well, I come from a village near Jenin I am sure you have never heard of,” and that was completely true.
As I paid my in-laws my first visit, exploring the place was thrilling and royal in a sense that this small populated area lies on a prestigious mountain called Tabbo, filled with extravagant greenery and serenity. Beautiful as it is, it rises right between the villages of Jaba’ to the east, Seelet Al-Daher to the west, Ajja to the north, and Burqa to the south. It is only 23 km south of the city of Jenin.
For a passionate traveller coming from a metropolitan area like Ramallah, where you gradually lose your sense of locality, I felt the connection and intimacy of nature and humans and how they intertwine as soon as we reached the entrance of Al-Fandaqomeyyah.
To the native person, this is life itself. It is familiar and taken for granted, until endangered or lost. But for a first-time visitor, the landscape is wild and untended. To the unaccustomed eye it takes quite some time to absorb the intricacies of the place and relate them to its people and their mores.
As in every Palestinian habitat, the ancient olive trees welcome you into the scenery, almost like a well-used Palestinian carpet, displaying patterns which have evolved over hundreds of years, from the time of the Greek era, passing through the Roman and Byzantine periods, up until the Islamic era of the Umayyads and Mamlouks, who engraved their final touches on the vicinity and its name.
The name was absurd, I thought, and I couldn’t stop wondering where it came from. Trying to figure it out, I split the word into two syllables: Al-Fundok, which means hotel in Arabic, and Meyyeh, which means hundred. Could that small area have hosted a hundred hotels? I wondered.
Yes, there was some truth to my analysis. The first name given to the village by the Romans was Pentacomia, which means ‘hotel’ in Greek. It was named as such because it was a resort for merchants and travellers on the commercial and trade route between Al-Hejaz (nowadays Saudi Arabia), Egypt and Bilad al-Sham (Syria, Jordan, Palestine, and Lebanon). The village then got its final name, Fondouq Bani Ummayya (the hotel of the Umayyads) in the Islamic era after a high ranking Umayyad official owned a hotel in the village, until the name was colloquially altered to Al-Fandaqomeyyah under the Jordanian rule.
As you proceed up the versant of the mountain, images of life begin to appear as you set your eyes on the houses, the children playing in the streets, men wandering around in coffeehouses, where they all meet for a cup of Turkish coffee or a game of cards. You continue in the alleys, and you feel the aroma of familiarity, but also the eyes of the observers, who know for sure that you are an outsider.
The village is built around a central square which comprises the mosque, the general store, and of course the coffeehouse, the centre of male life. Houses in the village are widely scattered. Here one can see the origins of the typical Palestinian house with its functional spaces in the courtyard, the laundry area, and the plain doorways leading to the second floor rooms, which are pretty much the women’s domain. You can also see villagers on donkeys and tractors on their way to and from the fields or orchards of olives, figs, and almonds.
Ultimately, during my few visits to the village, I began to glimpse slices of life represented by places and people who make up the landscape, and feel the richness of the meanings associated with them. Most of the Fondoqlees (people from Al-Fandaqomeyyah) are farmers, civil servants, or workers in Israel, most of whom are males.
Women in the village are uncomplicated. My mother-in-law’s neighbours visit almost every morning to drink coffee and talk about their households’ concerns, their daily chores, child rearing, and to exchange local gossip. And in all this, they preserve the simplicity and humbleness of Palestinian rural life everywhere. Not only do the women tend to the families, they also tend to their goats, sheep, and chicken which produce the primary ingredients for the local delicacies, such as the fresh goat’s milk yogurt that my mother-in-law makes great use of in the sumptuous dishes of her cuisine.
Go farther to a higher altitude and you are astounded by the spectacular view from the top of the village, at 445 metres above sea level, where you can observe the bordering villages at sunset, just when the sun dips to meet the land and create a horizon of the not too distant city of Nazareth. Only then do you understand how your life in the city has deprived you of the luxury of meditation and reflection, which it dissolved in the accelerated rush of its daily beat of life.
In the evenings, family members come in for their final round of visits. They gather around for dinner on balconies and in courtyards that catch the evening breeze coming from the west. And, along with the night dew, you will still hear the laughs and buzz of families’ get-togethers as they exchange the day’s incidents and news, giving their children the space to interact with their cousins and friends. It is amazing how small gatherings become wider, as friends who happen to be passing by are persistently invited for a cup of coffee.
The night then calms down and lies tranquil. Nazareth becomes a cluster of scattered lights far away in the dark horizon. Mothers call upon their children playing in the narrow alleys to return home to sleep, and the only delight remaining is the breeze coming from the open windows, and the hum of trees waving another day good-bye.
Reem M. Wahdan is an amateur writer and freelance translator who is currently employed at the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy – MIFTAH. She can be reached at email@example.com.
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