Report: Olive Harvest Time in Palestine

this basket full of olives was handmade by a neighbor and friend of the family. pretty, isn’t it?

The last 2 days have been windy, and the wind is coming from the east and is full of dust.  It’s the “Toez”, the same wind that greeted us last February on our first morning in Palestine.  It’s strange to be familiar with something here.  I feel a sense of completion in opening the suitcase that has our winter clothes, a settling in to what is supposed to be.

the city with a haze of dust from the Toez. Taken on my walk home from Farashe.

This is the olive harvest time of year.  I drive around town and see women in traditional dresses (Toub) climbing up on ladders amongst the olive trees.  They are harvesting olives.  What they gather will supply them with olive oil for the coming year, but the lack of rain this year has made the harvest less juicy.

We see them by the roadside, and I know they are harvesting on bigger lots of olives elsewhere.

horseback olive pickers on a main road.  

We saw these young guys riding horses through town on the morning of the olive pressing (see story and pics below), and we were told they may be using horses to get to hard to reach olive groves where carrying big sacks of olives is not possible without a beast of burden. (that sentence used to read “breast of burden” which was a hilarious typo of mine.  I guess Laila’s been nursing A LOT!)

Well, I am too shy to stop and photograph these women in their toubs, so I took my kids to Teta’s house and we “helped” her harvest her olives over 2 days.  An olive harvest is something I would never miss, and the kids loved it!  Outdoor play time, whacking of trees with rakes and hoses, gathering and dumping olives and stones.  What’s not to love?

Sufyan knocks olives down with the rake
Laila picks olives
sufyan picks olives 
gathring up the olives

After the olives were harvested, and after one of the women gathering fell hard on one foot when an olive branch broke under her (an injury I am told is common this time of year!), they were put in sacks and my family returned the next day to take Teta and her olives to the olive press in Old Town Ramallah to get her olive oil.  What an experience!

Olives piled in our trunk, ready to go to the press.

Now, an olive press in old Ramallah is much more than just the act of getting some olive oil.  This place was a little factory built into ancient stone walls with people from surrounding villages waiting for their oil–people who actually need that oil.  It’s not a tourist stop where you can buy “Real Holy Land Olive Oil!”.  It’s a part of life and living by the seasons and at the mercy of rain and with lots of hard work.

the olive press factory

It was a tiny, loud, and grimy factory full of olives and people waiting for the oil from their olives.  It was in old Ramallah, as I mentioned, which means it was in the part of Ramallah that looks like a movie set with it’s old stone walls and tiny shops and even tinier streets.  I loved it.

next door to the press in old Ramallah.  There is a tarp over this part of the street.  This, in my opinion, is a stroke of genius for sun shade that cities everywhere should do more of. 

And once the olive press guys saw me touristing it up, one of them took it upon himself to show me around and point out great things to snap a photo of.

olives waiting for the press. Each tub has an owner.
olives are loaded into a big vat and from the bottom a conveyor belt takes the olives up to be washed
olives washed and dumped into another vat
smooshing the olives…
beautiful fresh green olive oil
people filling and weighing their olive oil. 

As I understand it, you should be ready to argue with the guys over how much your harvest weighed vs how much oil they gave you from it.  Plus, if you want your own oil from the exact olives you harvested, you have to wait a bit longer until the group olive pressing is done.  I could never make it here long term, I just can’t argue over money.  Still a problem for the mid-westerner in me.

Teta shared a bottle of the oil from her harvest.

The oil is such a deep spring green color, and I think it’s lovely. It’s quite acidic when it’s this fresh, so we are letting it “rest” before use.

While in medineh al ‘adimeh (the old city) I saw another shop that caught my eye.  Next door to the olive press factory there is a very small nut roasting operation.  Here it is:

the roaster
roasting nuts.  You can see his entire space in this photo.  Small, as I said. 

Part of his process is apparently to get the nuts to a certain doneness, and then lay them in the sun to dry a bit more. On the sidewalk.  These are peanuts laying out in front of the argileh shop next door:

peanuts drying in the sun

I will probably never get used to the relaxed health codes here.  In order to be safe we only eat food from places we have tried before or that family recommends.  And I don’t let the kids eat peels on fruits and veggies when we are out of the house.  I doubt other people wash their fruit and veggies as thoroughly and compulsively as I do (scrub with soap and water, then a vinegar with grapefruit seed extract and water soak, then rinse in filtered water).  It’s a little crazy, I know, but even with this regimen we still get belly complaints pretty often.  Much more than we ever did before.

Mom Thought for Today:  on catharsis


The other night I met a woman who had had a baby 6 weeks prior.  A reporter and (extremely talented) photojournalist by trade, she started asking me questions immediately on connecting with me as a fellow mom.  Eventually she asked about Laila’s infancy and as usual, I had to pause and breathe before answering.  Laila’s infancy was not easy for Laila or for me.  Or for any of us actually.  I told her that Laila had had reflux and had spent her infancy, in fact her entire first 11 months, in pain and mostly screaming.  Not crying, screaming.   As usual, a big sadness welled up in me that I held back just behind my heart.  Usually people blow right past this with a wrinkle of the nose and a commendation on being over it now.  Not to disparage anyone whose had this conversation with me, but I never feel heard.    “Holy shit!” she said, “My daughter had reflux for 2 days and I thought it would kill me.  That must have been AWFUL.  I don’t think I would have survived 11 fucking months of it!  How the hell did you do that?  Do you have PTSD now or what?”  What a relief!  I usually have the urge to grab my audience by the collar and explain how crying is not like screaming, and how 11 months was a daily eternity and how I felt a great loss over Laila’s infancy and our early days for a long time.

Then she asked me the big question, the one I consider daily and the one I think will propel me to eventually research other women’s experiences with infant GERD.  She asked, “And what’s she like now?  I mean, did the reflux and all the crying influence her personality?”  Well.  If I hadn’t been about to teach my yoga class I am sure I would have wept.  Yes, I clearly have had PTSD.   And I do believe Laila is struggling to recover a sense of calm and trust in the world—and in me.  I couldn’t stop the pain she suffered and I was not always a pillar of strength for her.  Sometimes I was a mess, too.  There was the constant stress and upset it caused us as a family that surrounded her.  Especially me, of course.  Me:  sleep deprived, exhausted, in shock over the constant crying, grieving the loss of contact with Sufyan as Laila’s need was intense around the clock, grieving the calm moments of deep connection to my newborn I had been hoping for, losing friends who couldn’t understand what was going on and why I couldn’t even manage a phone call.


Laila and I are building an exceptional bond now–long after so many baby books say our ship has sailed.  Our bond includes forgiveness.  I no longer believe in a single, all-important bonding window.  It’s a myth.  Your bonding window is your life and all the moments you have with your baby/infant/toddler/child.  So Laila and I are doing the work together, and its AMAZING and lovely to feel this brilliant, energetic spark of a girl in my heart and in my life.

Yoga Thought for Today:  on the jewel in the lotus

Breath before extension.

two nights ago I finally got this mantra that I have heard literally almost my entire life:  Om Mani Padme Hum.

I was practicing and suddenly I heard the mantra in a new way, like for the first time ever.  It knocked me over with it’s truth.

Om Mani Padme Hum.

The precious teaching in the midst of “word-soup”.

The moment when breath and body dissolve the mind into boundlessness.  All you did was show up on your mat.

The love we feel for each other.  We are imperfect.

It’s so beautiful.

Om Mani Padme Hum.

a visit from my boy at the end of practice.

16 thoughts on “Report: Olive Harvest Time in Palestine

  1. Wow Ravyn. What an experience with the olive oil! It looks like Sufyan and Laila had a wonderful time helping. And speaking of experiences, the way you describe speaking about the aftermath of Laila’s reflux speaks to my heart. There were many “rough” nights for us, and after one-too-many in a row my patience would run thin. During those times I would think of you and wonder how you did it for so long. You are strength and grace, and Laila knows that. Both of you probably have some healing to do, which will come with time and through the love & unbreakable (and unique!) bond you have with eachother. 

    I can relate to the PTSD. Last November Todd had upper jaw surgery. It was fairly routine, but there were complications as he came out of anesthesia. There were many ups and downs for the next almost two months, but as soon as the new year came around he was back to “normal” and off to business as usual. I was left lamenting what felt like the loss of two months with Micah, little to no connection with friends or the outside world (aside from doctors and receptionists) and stress piled a mike high. It took so long to feel normal again. It wasn’t until about February that I realized I was suffering from PTSD. I can still feel where I have stuffed emotions away – feel it in my heart and in my body. Sometimes just being near one of the doctor’s offices makes me shake like a leaf. It’s crazy. Even though I know it’s over now – and has been almost a year since – I still feel aftershocks. It is a blessing when someone comes along who allows you to express all that you felt about the experience, even though it is in the past and even though things are better now.

    Om Mani Padme Hum is a special mantra for me. About the time that I was looking for ways to help get out of my funk, someone offered a Reiki treatment to me….and that mantra was passed on by the angels. I used to rock Micah to sleep chanting it over and over. It still puts me at ease when I hear it, though I haven’t actively chanted and/or meditated on it recently. 

    Sorry for the long comment! I can’t sleep & this really spoke to me! xoxo

    • Thanks for this, Hollie. It’s so great to know you are out there! And thank you for sharing your experience. A friend of mine, just last night, put it into words for me: “I just want someone to stand here with me and see what I go through every day. I don’t want advice or how to fix it. I just want someone to know about this.” Much love to you and your family

  2. That is the most beautiful olive oil I’ve ever seen! What a lovely color. The kids look like they are having a fabulous time.

  3. You are forever ruined to industrially produced olive oil. Oh, Palestine, what have you done?

    I think I dreamt of Ramallah last night. I can’t quite remember it. The Peabodys are there (just in from Jaffa), so I read about it just before bed.

  4. Is it just me or are there a lot of strapping, young Palestinian boys in Ramallah? Or are those just the ones who end up in your street scene photos? The one working with olives looks like a Marine.

  5. My oldest had reflux. She was my first, and I thought it was normal. Every single time we nursed, she would throw up (as in projectile vomit) the first and second feeding, and finally, keep the third belly full of milk in her body. She did this for 6 months, until she began to eat solids. And on occassion after that. I mentioned it to others, and was reassured it was normal. I often think I didn’t do a good job comunicating how horrible it was for her and me, to anyone, because after I had my second, I realized how clearly not normal it was.
    I was lucky, though, in that she was my first. I had the time to just be with her. The time it took to nurse, change, sooth, clean up and so on, wasn’t stealing time away from an older child. (We would go through 30 or more receiving blankets a day, 5 or more changes of clothing for me, ten or more for her, each and every day!) I look back, having had two more, and wonder how I ever thought that was normal. For all of this, though, we had the best nursing relationship. Still, I look at her now, at 8, and life is still such a struggle. For her, it seems she still takes everything in and spits it out ten times before she can settle into what the day brings. She is spirited and persistent and she makes most things way harder than they need to be.
    My second had “colic”. He had no problem keeping the milk in, but would cry for hours every night, screaming in such agony. With him, I did resent the time away from my oldest. And I was experiencing PPD. At ten months, all I wanted to do most days was to walk away and leave and never come back. (Such mommy moments they never tell you about).
    My third has been a different kind of baby. No digestive problems at all. An easy way to end (as she is our last). Yet, our nursing has always been a struggle. She is so easy in so many ways, but I’ve never enjoyed nursing her. She is off and on, and wants to share it with the world, and wants to visit and plays constantly. (She is 2 1/2 and we are still at it, we’ll go til she’s three I think.) And I mourn that a lot… that I just don’t like nursing her. It was such a source of joy for me with the other two. But with her, it just isn’t.
    I sometimes wonder what might have been….. did life being such a struggle early on affect my first? Or my PPD with my second, did that affect her, as she got the fallout? (I feel a lot of guilt for that!) Did my son feel that sense of removal I had? Does my “baby” know I often don’t want to nurse, that I don’t really love it?
    I look at all three of mine…. I think these relationships just are what they are. We might bring our expectations into them, but they are just that, our expectations. They don’t take into account the other person, our babies, who are so completely themselves. They bring all of who they are to the table, and with each of them, it is what it is.
    I like the mantra. The thought of compassion. Of grace. For my children. For myself. For those who I don’t understand, for those who don’t understand me. For the person I was, the parent I was then. And letting it all go, with love, forgiveness, compassion. And just being who I am now.
    And letting my children be who they are.
    I love your blog, by the way. I appreciate so deeply, the insight into life in Palestine and being occupied, the perspectives you bring of parenting when everything is new, the yoga moments.
    Thank you for sharing these moments of your life.

    • Rondy, I really enjoyed reading your response. You’ve eloquently put into words what I often wonder about my relationship with my first born. What if, what if, what if?… Then, I realize so much of her personality was already present from the moment she was born (even before that!). Often I confuse who I expect her to be with who she really is. But who she is has turned out to be so much more than I could have ever imagined. Thanks for your perspective, it really made me think.

      • Amy, your E and my L are so much alike that I take comfort in seeing who E is now. She is amazing, strong, creative, funny, smart….and a handful as a baby! But looking at her now makes me proud and happy that L is probably going to share some of those attributes. From here it looks more than worth it. And for the record, I think you were and are a great mom to both your girls.

      • Thanks! Sometimes it is hard to remember that I’m doing my best and that doesn’t always mean perfection. Laila is a very strong girl and she will definitely continue to challenge, I’m sure, but I think that will also make her a very strong woman which is always something the world needs more of.

        BTW, my friend’s husband smashed into the back of our car last night while I was over having a brief child free evening. I’m beginning to think the universe is out to get me!

  6. Just reading this today. I was surprised to hear in the last few years that a translation for,
    “Om Mani Padme Hung” is, “Jewel and the Lotus” and refers to Chenrezig or in Sanskrit, Avalokiteshvara, who holds the jewel and the lotus. Hmmm!

    • yes, no denying the interconnectedness. i wonder what you think of the further extrapolation to mean that the “jewel in the lotus” is kind of a short hand for the essence of ALL of Buddha’s teachings?

  7. Pingback: Yoga in Palestine « Piles of Laundry

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