Day 14: Welcome to Nachlaot

Welcome to Nachlaot (pronounced Nah-latt or Nah-la-watt). Our new home. And yes, it is in the Jewish part of town, but don’t hate. It’s the cheapest place we could find for the length of our stay. And I like to think of it as an experiment in dawah and Israeli treatment of Muslims in general.

Driving around town the other day, we found out that we are very close to the city center (including the government buildings) and within walking distance of the Old City. This must be why we have to sit through 20-30 minute traffic everyday. But not today…

Nachlaot is famed for its open market, Machane Yehuda. But we haven’t been there. I think the Jewish prices for food are more expensive than the Muslim prices, plus we want to support the Palestinians as much as we can.

The good thing about Nachlaout is it isn’t an Israeli settlement in the modern sense of the word. It’s one of the oldest neighborhoods in west Jerusalem and it’s construction began in the late 1800s, built as a residential space for Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jewish communities of the Old City (those more or less coming from the Middle East). Today though, it is mostly known as Jerusalem’s Soho district, as it is filled with artists, musicians and hippies. There are also synagogues on every corner seems like. Googling Nachlaot, I found, “Gentrification has also moved in, with foreigners, usually from English-speaking countries, buying up Nachlaot real estate and replacing its venerable buildings with opulent Jerusalem stone luxury dwellings.” Whoops! But we aren’t buying…we are renting…

Today, it is very quiet…except for the sounds of children in the streets. Hassan wants to take the trash out and drive, but I’m afraid for him to do either. I’d think taking the trash out is considered work–I think of it as a chore anyway, which is why I hardly ever take it out. But, he takes the trash out anyway, and I stand ready to do what I have to do if need be.

But there is nothing to do. I hear what I perceive to be yelling in the streets. But Hassan comes back telling me that those are the sounds of children playing and people are just strolling around. Do we want to take a walk?! Heck, yes! We never got the adapter to the computer, so all we have is our thumbs and iPhones and some lame tv shows. So yes, yes! Out we go!!

There have been only three times that I’ve tied by scarf back here: the first day traveling here, the second day being here, and today. Since we don’t speak Hebrew and have only known our neighbors for two weeks, we don’t know quite what to make of them and their precepts for violence. I figure I better look like the orthodox Jewish women of the community here for the safety of our family and Hassan should keep his cap on to match so they can’t tell he’s not wearing a kippah/yarmulke (Orthodox men and women alike cover their heads). Actually, on the first two days, we were met with more scowls and frowns and stares. A handful of neighbors were nice…one young woman and old man who helped lead us to the street of our apartment on the first day, an old woman who gave me a blessing in greeting me down the street (One doesn’t have to speak Hebrew to know someone’s goodwill ;), two women who helped us decipher the parking signs and when to pay the meter, the grocery owner on our block who helped us buy essentials (we later found out he has a Palestinian delivery guy), a young American girl who told us to ask for Thousand Island dressing at the kosher pizza place because they didn’t really have salad dressing…

Then there’s this guy. We met him yesterday. An old man with nothing better to do than fuss at us on the eve of his holy day. We were getting out of the car and he asked us if we were lost. I don’t know how I was able to understand this, as he was speaking Hebrew, but again, I think some things translate well over language boundaries. Body language and tone speak louder than words. Hassan said “no”. The man continued to fuss over us. Hassan said we only speak Arabic and he didn’t understand. The man kept saying “Yamin, yamin!” (to the right) as if we were trying to find East Jerusalem where the Muslims live. Hassan said “we live here” in Arabic; the old man replied, “This is a Jewish neighborhood.” That much I understood. He used the word “yehuda”. We were unwelcome here by this man. Big old bully!!

But that viewpoint didn’t reign over our other neighbors. Our first week, one middle aged man never met my smiles or shaloms (Hebrew for peace and “hi”). He just seemed to frown. But now he tells me “shalom” with a hand up in a friendly gesture and a kind-of smile. I think he figured, “oh, well, looks like they are here to stay”. I’m sure he could also tell that we weren’t up to any trouble. We were just happy going about our own way, minding our own business. And these are the kinds of cultural appreciation, life changing moments I live for.

But back to today. We leave our apartment to an odd sight. None of the traffic lights are working, it’s oddly quiet, and there are people walking as if it’s trick or treat time. There are actually always people walking in the streets, but never strolling right smack dab in the middle!!! Looks like we are going to be walking in the middle of the street for our first time today. But, we left our stroller in the trunk..can we open our trunk without starting something? I hear the Torah being recited…oh no, we parked next to a synagogue. We open the trunk…the recitation seems to hush as worshippers glance outside the windows. We take out the stroller and close the trunk. The recitation continues and life goes on. No problems here. Case closed.

So we walk up to the blinking traffic light to find children playing inte middle of the streets, riding up and down the hills on toys. (Did I tell you how hilly this country is? It doesn’t matter where you go…you are taking a hike. My calves burned the while first week. If you are running a marathon, please come here–I’d be surprised if you didn’t win). Speaking of which, we saw a man jogging with a bottle of water…hmmm…I don’t think he’s fasting. Shoot! I wanted to bring some water and cookies out for our walk, but I thought that would blow my cover as an orthodox woman. (By the way, if you think that a black Jewish woman is an anomaly and that they’d never fall for my hijab trick, there are plenty of Ethiopian Jews here…I know, right?!) in DC, we are used to Ethiopians being Christian or Muslim. But I guess there are Jews everywhere, just like there are Muslims everywhere. Case and point: on our stroll today, we saw an Asian orthodox Jew! He was young, like 17, with peyot (the curly sideburns), a black hat, suit, and Torah in hand. Our mouths were gaping open, and I of course, wanted to take a picture. Now, I guess I understand how the Palestinians are so surprised when they see us…

Today was the perfect day for a walk. There were two highlights to it…a Palestinian man also walking in our neighborhood who gave us salaams! Yay! And a young 20/30 something Jewish guy holding a Torah who stooped down to Noora’s level, saying “Salaam! Give me a high five!” (Wait! How’d they both know we weren’t orthodox?! Muslims can always tell other Muslims and I guess (most) Jews can always tell other Jews. There’s always an exception like the woman at the airport in DC :). Some things remain unspoken like cultural subtleties…but I’m going to blame it on my arm gauntlets…Jewish women aren’t concerned with covering their whole arm or neck or ankle area and I tried my best to cover all three in a creative way).

Then we saw it…you know it. Somebody drove a car down a street. and fast. We looked at each other…stones?! We didn’t hear or see any stoning…but as the car drove further out of our sight, we heard a very intense yelling. I wouldn’t have wanted to be in that car. When no one is driving, and kids are playing in the middle of the street, that’s dangerous. If Noora was playing on that street, I probably would’ve been yelling too.

It was nice to get a new view of the neighborhood. Our daughter surprised us by walking almost the whole entire time (so the stroller was more for our old bones). We were outside for almost an hour and a half! She also played for her first time ever on a playground. And I wanted to take her to that playground before, but thought that maybe all the Jewish families would immediately become haters and I’d have to get on the news. My bad. You know, you fear what you don’t understand…what you don’t know. And the only thing to know today is that people are people. We all just want to be left alone to live a little, you know, take a stroll around the neighborhood if we want to or play on the playground.

P.S. We found the recycling locations in our neighborhood–yippee! They are actually right outside the playground that I had been staring at longingly for Noora everyday. You know I didn’t throw away all the plastic water bottles we use everyday. I’m a green monster!

P.S.S. There’s another holiday coming up close to when we leave…a week long holiday called the Sukkoth. People build sukkahs (huts, simple rectangular houses) and live more simply for a few days. They also invite guests to eat in thanksgiving. It’s kind of like the American Thanksgiving holiday, and this is harvesting season over here now. It’s in honor of Ibrahim/Abraham’s (as) hospitality to his wayfarer guests and a reminder to live in the world as a wayfarer. The only story from the Quran that I can connect this to is when Ibrahim (as) tried to serve the angels that visited him before going to destroy Lut/Lot’s (as) town. He was taken aback and scared when the angels refused the food (angels don’t eat food or enjoy carnal pleasures), and this alone shows what a hospitable host he was (as)! I wonder if any of our neighbors are brave enough to ask us to be their guests…after all, we are wayfarers…

7 thoughts on “Day 14: Welcome to Nachlaot

  1. We really didn’t get any stares at the park ven though it was filled with Jewish families talking and some praying. Noora seemed a bit overwhelmed by all of the kids there and didn’t know what she wanted to do so she just started running around. Then we got a turn at the swings and she loved it until…a little boy ran behind the swing I was pushing getting his head smacked with the corner of the swing. He fell backwards hard towards the hard ground. My reflexes took over and I caught his head in my hand before it hit the ground. He began crying then Noora began crying for him. His mom came over and picked him up and cradeled him in her arms and spoke to me in Hebrew. I couldn’t understand but from her gestures and body language she was thankful he was ok and I caught his head before smacking the ground. We left the park shortly after that.

  2. Love your writing […]. I agree,we fear what we don’t understand; which is why educating our children is so very important.I pray that you and Hassan will continue to give Noora the chance to get to know other cultures as she grows up, Insha’Allah. You are right. People are people. Everywhere.

  3. Mom Abdullah,
    If I am allowed – I second your both comments.
    I am a peace activist in my country, and the most important issue we are working on is education, especially the young generation.They are our hope for a better future.
    Sure enough – we , humane being, are afraid of the un-known. As much we get knowing each other – as sooner peace comes upon us.

    • Dear Irit,

      It is my pleasure to engage in conversation with you. Open dialogue is what we need. I will be asking my son and daughter-in-law more about your efforts to gain peace through education as they wind down from their wonderful trip. Keep up the good work. I look forward to continuing disussions.

  4. ..i love your diary and see you definitely know the Nahlaot better (and of course differently) than me. Your perspective as an “Other” in the neighborhood and sensitivity to problems of understanding/misunderstanding…fear and perhaps negative emotions are really appreciated.

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