30 minutes to muse

30 minutes

I am sitting in a dimly lit cafe 2 stories above Ramallah’s downtown.  It’s a little past rush hour, it’s dark and cold outside, and the streets below are full of honking cars and pedestrians.

I love this little restaurant I’m in, called Ziryab.  It has the feel of counterculture, and I’m told it used to be quite the haven for artists.  Now its a refuge from the chaotic pace of Ramallah living.  The music is calm, the lights are low.  There is a fireplace with a fire going strong and the art on the walls looks like someone’s private collection.  The candle on my table is glowing inside a candle holder made from a note that was written by a Palestinian in an Israeli jail.  There is one like it on every table, each handwritten.  I usually read these, but tonight I just can’t bring myself to do that.  Sometimes the fact that we are living under occupation is overwhelming to me.  As it should be.

I’m alone for the first time in months and months.  I have 30 minutes before a friend meets me for dinner, which I am very much looking forward to.  Across the street and 3 stories up, I can see a big Christmas tree with white lights in a window.  Before I moved to Ramallah I would never have imagined that life in Palestine could have such a veneer of “normal”.  But there are gyms to work out in, coffee shops with a decent cappuccino, cell phone plans, pharmacies, banks, electricity bills…and there are Christmas trees in December.

nice capp from Zamn. (though no one, and I mean no one, can hold a candle to Houndstooth Coffee in Austin, TX)

of course there are Christmas trees here.

Christmas Season in Palestine

One strikingly different thing about living in Ramallah compared to living in the states is the consumer culture.  There is no way to consume products on a massive scale like we do in the states.  Yet.  Hang on, the West is working in this starting with SUVs and KFC.  I feel a little protective of Palestine’s people when I see KFC here.  I want to warn them!  It’s a slippery slope, my friends.  There is a KFC going in near the town center and the building looks more like a department store than a KFC.  It’s palatial.

One thing that stops Ramallah from joining more heavily in consumerism is actually the occupation.

A bakery in the old city of Ramallah. Not exactly Panera (thank goodness). The wood is for the oven, of course. You can bring bakeries here your bread dough to bake, or any meal you need to bake for a small price. It's like renting oven space and it's handy if you don't have your own large oven to bake in.

Many things have to be imported, and that makes them expensive.  There is no reliable, timely postal service for mail outside the West Bank, so even if I wanted to get a pair of shoes from Zappos I couldn’t.  I can’t order from Amazon, and there is no Costco.  No Target.  There is Abu Habib’s…but that’s another story.

Abu Habib's "supermarket" (imagine taking your 2 little kids in here). Photo taken from the entry door. We call this the 7/11 of Ramallah. You can get nearly ANYTHING here and now he has a store across the street that sells toys, too. Hi Amo Tareq! We miss you.

There is no online ordering of anything at all.  And trying to find a certain item in town from any of the hundreds of tiny little shops is deliciously like a scavenger hunt.  A scavenger hunt in a Big Lots.  I love the seek and find aspect of all the little stores full of various things—except when I have to bring my 2 kids with me.   I never know what item will turn up where, and it took me months to find bobby pins.  Not at super markets, not at pharmacies, not at salons.  I found them at a store that sells slippers, scarves, and jewelry–kind of like a teeny tiny Hot Topic, staffed by 3 large young men who were smoking and wondering what I was doing in their little shop.  Bobby pins:  check.

I didn’t even know I was such a well-trained consumer until I started to think about going home for a visit.  I started to crave all the things I can get there that I can’t get here.  The urge to buy my kids some stainless steel straws and BPA free snack cups is almost choking me.  But WHY?  We have been 100%, totally and assuredly FINE here without that stuff.

I love the colors of this old home in the old city near the bakery

Target’s logo is red and white.  Santa’s suit is red and white.  Coincidence?

And as for Christmas consumerism, the pinnacle of all consuming in America, I haven’t heard of a single Christmas madness sale or seen even one ad with Santa’s image and a discount pasted across his chest.  In fact, I haven’t seen Santa and his huge sack of purchases at all.  In Ramallah tomorrow there is a Christmas Bazaar which promises local West Bank handcrafts with traditional Christmas treats (warm wine, nutmeg cookies and roasted apples).  I’m really curious to see what this other way, this Target-free way, of doing Christmas is like.

My fellow expat mom blogger over at Revolution from Home has a great post about her experience of returning home for a visit to the American consumer culture.  I love what she has to say.  Check it out here.

Some little video slices of life

Here is a little video of old city of Jerusalem sales tactic caught on tape.  “I tell you again, I don’t push you to buy anything.  Only if you like it, I give you good price.”  Setting:  Old city of Jerusalem in a shop full of hand painted religious icons, owned by a young Armenian man (whose voice you will hear).

Laila sings a lot, and I absolutely love it.  And now she makes up her own songs, drifts off into her own world with them, just like I used to.  Here is a little “Merry-go-Round” song.  I wonder where she gets the idea that a song ends with a flourish:


happy boy

Sufyan is learning to say, read and write his Arabic ABCs.   He is really proud of himself, and asked me to take this picture:

Sufyan practice writing arabic alphabet

And here he is saying the Arabic alphabet (more or less…it’s coming along)


Mom Thought For Today: on powerlessness

Just about to go into meltdown. My poor little girl!

It is clear to me that my little one’s meltdowns are often based in her feeling powerless and frustrated by her smallness.  She is in the unique position of having an incredibly advanced ability to communicate and to control her body, but she is emotionally and intellectually not even 2 years old yet.  Plus just personality-wise she is given to big emotions with high peaks with low valleys.  It’s frustrating for her.  She rages, and sometimes she spends more than 30 minutes hurling her body at furniture, shoving things and slamming whatever is in her reach.  She can do this 7 times a day.  But as intense as her rage seems, her tears are real.  Her face is heartbreakingly sad.  She needs help in those moments to deal with the overwhelm, and she needs to feel that she has some power.  One thing that has worked a little for us is for me to get down on to her level once she has calmed down some and ask her to try to push me over.  I put up my palms and she places her little palms against them and pushes with all her might and *amazingly* she is so strong she can push me over (wink wink).  It makes her laugh, and I think it also makes her feel more in control and more powerful.

getting better...

starting to laugh again...


I got the idea from the same source that all my best stuff comes from, Carrie Contey.  If you try this, be sure to make it seem real.  Put up some resistance, let your child feel their strength.  Remember there is no question of losing the boss position.  You are infinitely bigger and stronger and more powerful than your child and they know it.  But this little exercise is just like an ego boost for a tiny one who is feeling very small in their world.

Yoga Thought for Today:  on the getting back on the wagon

It’s been 3 weeks without a regular practice.  I had been practicing every single day and then having a visitor combined with Laila’s sudden bought of separation anxiety = sporadic, inefficient and insufficient yoga practice in my life.

Getting back on the wagon is always super frustrating.  I feel like I’m made of jello over inflexible iron bars.  I ache everywhere.  I am totally distracted.  My practice shows me how much ground I’ve lost in terms of mobility and focus.

wait, what am I doing? note the coffee cup.

But, as I keep saying, “Any port in a storm.”  It’s better than nothing and it leads to something.  I just have to plow through this.  Yet more reason to not get knocked off the wagon again.  It’s so much work to get back on.  Ugh.

us. Well, Baba is missing and he's a huge part of this all...but here are the 3 of us.


5 thoughts on “30 minutes to muse

  1. I keep looking for you online. We are in opposing location on the Christmas consumer bandwagon. Germany is much more like the US as far as consumerism, but it is still not even on the same scale as it is Stateside! It is still new to Clair even after a few weeks here. She hasn’t realized that she can ask me to buy her things from stores yet. I hope it stays that way.

    I can feel that change coming over me in these past few weeks though – I WANT in a much bigger way than I do back in Germany. Our needs are the same, but the desire for stuff comes in big waves (usually connected to a trip to Costco). I am also interested to observe my reaction to the externals. I rebel. I tell myself, “no, you don’t need this. Look at the terrible quality. Even if you needed it, it would be better to get something of higher quality even if it costs more.” I keep going to the old stores I used to love and coming out with nothing.

    Something else I noticed is that products that I can buy in Germany are of much lower quality here. I looked at some Levis, which cost like 70 Euros. I can get them here for under $30, but they are not the same product as what I get in Germany. They look and feel cheap and flimsy. The last pair I had lasted, literally 15 years. I can’t see the cheap Levis lasting more than a year or two. Who wants to waste their money on that?

    I am thinking a lot about consumption here because it is all around me, all the time. It is a bit exhausting. Someone take me off this ride! I have a few more weeks. I feel like I will either buy a lot more or refuse to buy anything (most likely, something in between). Need to plan some more day trips with the kids.

  2. My approach to shopping in Ramallah is so different from the States. It kind of goes like this: I’ll suddenly realize that I can no longer live without some item (usually for the house, like an apple slicer, or, my latest -a coat stand). Then comes the adventure; which store can I get it in? Where is that store? What is the cheapest price? How can I use my Arabic to get the best price?I’ll ask friends for references. I especially like it when I can not find the item in the first store I visit – than I get to discover more places I didn’t know about! I’ve found that it is much more fun than the American-consumerism model in which shopping is used as a means to dull your feelings. Have you found the “Super Deal” store in Ramallah – closest thing to a high quality US dollar store, and their straight-from-the-US stock changes constantly, lots of small things to pick up to keep young kids busy too. We’re doing Christmas in Jerusalem this year, and while I am struggling with feeling guilty that I can’t buy my son all these great toys and such like we do in the States most years because we can’t find them or they are outrageously expensive, I find he has no such expectation and is much more comfortable with the idea of a “Christmas-lite” experience than I am.

  3. A lovely post (as always)! Thank you for putting a bit of perspective on the big blown out of proportion American Christmas. We do our best to keep in simple and so far the boys still get more excited about the lights and decorations than the actual presents. Perhaps this is because they never watch live t.v. so have never seen commercials telling them what they don’t have and really need! 🙂

    • The commercials really are a killer in the US! My daughter is 3 and has watched very little live TV until the past couple of weeks visiting the US (The TV is on most of the time in the background at my parent’s house). She is fascinated by commercials! I hope we are back home in Germany before she starts actually asking me to buy her things on the TV.

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