I am so happy to have been able to reconnect with Hiam Saleh, a woman who agreed to entertain all 39 of us Lutheran pilgrims last May in her home. If that doesn’t tell you something about her hospitality and sheer energy – well, I am about to tell you more. For me, Hiam is one of those people who you feel you have known all your life.
Getting to Aboud is a little bit of a challenge if you don’t have a car. From Bethlehem you first have to get to Ramallah and then it’s another 20-30 minutes. I had the good fortune of being able to hitch a ride with Hijazi, another person from last year whose friendship I was able to rekindle. I had mentioned my hope of visiting Hiam, and since he was going to Ramallah for a visa application, he offered to let me come along for the ride and then swing over to Aboud to meet Hiam.
Once again, I got to traverse that US Aid built road that detours around Jerusalem through the Wadi Nar – the Valley of Fire. This adds around 45 minutes to the trip to the direct route through Jerusalem from which Palestinians are now barred. And it is the only north-south route for Palestinians – one more example of life being made miserable and hazardous for Palestinians at the whim of the occupier.
I do have to say, it’s a breathtakingly beautiful road if you don’t have to get anywhere too quickly and the weather is good.
Along the way we passed by a town under curfew. Both entrances were blocked by the IDF.
Too bad for you if you needed to get in or leave town that day.
We ended up being later than we had planned because Hijazi had to wait a couple of hours for his European visa application.
This is the entrance into the city. I killed the time by roaming the streets of Ramallah.I’ve done so much walking during this trip, I’ll be surprised if there aren’t holes in my boots when it’s over.
The area around the German/French consulate was really pretty, with old buildings and lovely gardens.
Of the cities I’ve visited in the West Bank so far: Jerusalem, Hebron, Jericho and Bethlehem – Ramallah definitely seems the most urbane. It is where most of the Palestinian Authority government offices are located and it has quite a cultural/art scene. I noticed quite a few hipster types among the more traditionally clad Palestinians.
Hijazi still waiting to be seen at the consulate.
When we finally made it to Aboud, Hiam had a huge meal waiting for us: Maqloobeh, which means upside down.
It’s one of the most famous Palestinian dishes. It’s made with layers of rice, vegetables and meat (usually chicken) in a pot which is flipped onto a platter when everything is cooked, hence the name. It was quite a treat. She also had some wonderful date and almond Easter cookies to go with Turkish coffee to top it all off. After our late lunch, Hiam was ready to take us for a tour of her little town.
This is on the balcony of Hiam’s house.
And this is the view across the street from her balcony. I love the domed roofs on the old Palestinian homes. It takes me back to the picture books from Sunday school classes.
Hiam has lived in the village of Aboud for most of her life; however, her family sent her to England for nursing school in the 1960s. While she was there, the 6-day war erupted. When things had settled down a bit, and she embarked upon a trip back home, she encountered the shock of her life. As she was attempting to enter Israel and showed her Jordanian passport, the Israeli customs official told her she was not allowed in. Exasperated, Hiam explained that she was merely trying to return home to her country after being abroad studying. To that the official curtly stated, “this is not your country anymore.” Through a series of coincidences and pulling of strings, she was able to get a very short term visa and made it back home to the country where she was told she no longer belonged.
Amidst all of the turmoil, arrangements were made for Hiam go to the United States to continue her nursing studies. She ended up living in the Boston area for several years, and worked for awhile at Malden Hospital where my son Peter was born. I love these coincidences. The other one with Hiam is that she has an unusual, antique German wall clock that is the identical twin of one that I inherited from my mother. After around ten years in the US, Hiam craved returning to her home and was able to do so. Fortunately, her family home was still intact and for the most part, the Israelis have left Aboud alone. Her extensive nursing training was put to good use in her community.
First stop on our tour of Aboud was across the street from Hiam’s home to the original family home which is now inhabited by her nephew and his family.
The gate to the old family house which is in the foreground.
The courtyard of the old family home.
Hiam is very, very close to her nephew’s three little girls who she calls, cheeky monkeys and they did not disappoint.
You can barely make out the shadows of the two younger girls who were bouncing with excitement when they saw their Ama approaching.
The little girls were just as adorable as Hiam had promised.
The youngest and I decided to do some selfies – hehe.
And then her older sister decided to get in on the action. The girls had some fun teasing me about my faltering attempts at Arabic. So, after a nice visit with the girls and their Mom, we were off on our village tour.
Aboud is a really beautiful little town of around 3,000 inhabitants. It is populated fairly evenly by Muslims and Christians whom Hiam likes to point out get on together very well. They do tend to live in their own sections of town, as do the two different Christian populations. Hiam said that in all of her life she remembers only one substantial conflagration between Christians and Muslims and that was basically a teenage neighborbood brawl which was quickly dispersed by the police. It sounded to me a little like the sharks and the skins.
We stopped and chatted with a number of people along the way. Hiam knows everybody in town. This is the priest of the Orthodox church which hosted my pilgrim group for lunch when we visited last year.
As we were walking, Hijazi spotted this flock Egyptian vultures migrating back up from their winter post.
Although the town is picturesque and quiet, it is far from immune from the indignities and hostilities of the occupation. As we walked down the main street of Aboud, we came to the end, except it didn’t used to be the end. The street used to continue as one of two ways out of town.
The road, however was blocked by a mountain of dirt and concrete to “protect” two illegal Israeli settlements which have been built on Aboud village lands after uprooting many ancient olive trees. Apparently villagers dug this egress through the road block and so far it remains open, at least to this extent. Resistance comes in many forms.
This is on the other side of the roadblock looking onto the settlement. There are plans to confiscate yet more Aboud land for the separation (Aparthed, if you will) wall.
The other thing Hiam told us about was a recent raid in which nearly every house was stormed my IDF soldiers in the middle of the night. She says that she was lucky because hers was one of the last, and so she was already awake at 6 am when they came pounding on her door. I asked her what prompted the raid, and she had no idea other than it was probably some sort of drill. The soldiers frequently ruthlessly tear apart homes during these raids, and children are traumatized. Of course there is no recourse for damage, physical or psychological, because it’s all about Israel’s security. I get so angry when I hear these stories and it never ceases to amaze me how in stride most Palestinians seem to take it all. I guess, what choice do they have.
Sun setting on the sweet little town of Aboud.