(photo credit here)
The first time I went to the Manara alone it was saturday afternoon and I was on my way to a yoga class. i had to park and walk a few blocks on the crowded street to find Farashe yoga center. alone.

Al-Manara is the center of Ramallah-what I have been calling, “3rd World Tokyo”. The main activity besides commerce in Al-Manara seems to be prowling young men cat-calling the hot young women in nominal hijab (that is, hijab in name only. yes, there is her head scarf. But does it outweigh the sexy cat eye makeup, the red lips, the red nails, and the skin tight clothes topped off with high heels and a designer bag? Make no mistake, these women know their business). Actually, the gawking is for any/all women who are not completely covered. Ramallah is a progressive city and Al-Manara attracts young frustrated men from backwater villages and outskirts who just want to see ANYTHING less than full hijab. They are annoying to the point of following women around I am told.
Its funny how things happen. I bought clothes just to wear to Al-Manara; crew neck Tees and long sleeved crew neck Tees. And some more crew neck things. And then there I was. Late to a yoga class and sticking out like a sore thumb in my black yoga pants, scoop-neck top and open flowing cardigan to say nothing of being obviously NOT FROM AROUND THESE PARTS. It only took me about 1 block to remember to zip my jacket up ALL THE WAY.
The 12 year old boys (in arabic), “ooooh. I love her.” and whistling like falling rockets followed by loud tongue clucks. Then the older guys (in English after I walk past) “please. PLEASE. PLEEEEEASE????” Harmless. But a friend of mine has actually had to get the police to ask guys to stop following her around as she shops there.
So the charged atmosphere:
around me old women in full hijab–black with bright embroidery down the front, carrying groceries in plastic bags. People walking in the street and taxis weaving through honking, blowing diesel fumes. Private guards and municipal police officers with automatic rifles slung across their bodies. Everyone smoking. A fragrant spice shop with huge, open burlap bags of chamomile, sage, oregano, beans. Wire cages full of pigeons and rabbits. Old men wearing hatta ou iqal, little boys gathered around a box of ducklings and trying to pet them, business men in suits, streets meeting at odd angles, potholes, cracked pavement, steep sidewalks, wind, noise.

And I suppose I will get used to it, but until then I am gawking right back. I mean, this place is a feast for the senses.


2 thoughts on “Al-Manara

  1. I was wondering about the behavior of men there. I remember it took quite some time to get used to the cat calls when I moved to Rome in '97. Actually, I never really got used to it, but I quickly realized it was mostly 'harmless' (meaning, it was mostly a show for the other guys and 'merely' insulting to me). As I began to fit in more, the cat calling decreased, and I started to mimic the way I saw most Roman women behave toward them (no eye contact, no American smile and keep going as if they don't exist). Eventually, I began to pass as European rather than American and that got a little less attention (American girls have built quite a reputation in Rome, apparently).The first time I chopped off my hair was in Rome. That decreased the attention dramatically. Apparently, the Italians weren't that into butch looking women.

  2. Pingback: coming to Ramallah? bring these 2 things « Piles of Laundry in the Holy Land

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