I’ve talked about Laila in a couple of posts, the lovely woman in the Hebron Souq (market) who sells beautiful hand made items from the nearby women’s cooperative. I finally was able to get out there with her help to see how it is all done. The Women in Hebron Cooperative is actually located in a village about 10 kilometers outside of Hebron call Idna. A young man and friend of Laila’s escorted me to the Service (Serveese) station to find one that would take me there. As I’ve explained earlier, these are the yellow vans that hold 7 passengers and are a cross between a taxi and a bus.
It was another one of those situations where I just put my faith in the goodness of the people around me and Allah that things would work out. I always thought that I was a fast walker, but this fellow was a challenge to keep up with, weaving between parked and oncoming cars and heavy foot traffic through the busy market streets of Hebron for ½ mile or so until we got to the station which is a multiple story parking garage pack-jammed with identical yellow. vans. The young man pointed me to an older gent who was apparently going to be getting on the Idna van as well. At that point, he pulled a bunch of Palestine trinkets out of his pocket. So, I realize, okay, this is the part where I pay you, I asked him how much one of the plastic bracelets are, and he tells me 10 shekels. Wait a minute! I paid the guy in Tel Rumeida 4 shekels for an identical one. Sigh. I gave him 10 shekels knowing that it was worth no more than 4, but he was a good chap in dropping what he was doing to get me on the right Serveese and a guy has to earn a buck.
The man I followed into the Service was heading home to Idna. So, out of the hands of bracelet boy, and into the hands of a stranger from Idna. We spoke falteringly with his limited English. At one point he handed me a handful of little slightly fuzzy, green pods that I have seen overflowing in barrels in the market recently, and had wondered about. I thought maybe they were fresh, unhusked almonds. I asked him how to eat it and he demonstrated by biting right into it and eating the whole thing. It was not a nut after all. It was a sour, green-applish tasting thing. I can’t say I really liked them, but they weren’t bad either. I need to figure out what in the world they were. When we arrive din Idna, he pointed me in the direction of the cooperative and as soon as I walked through the door I was greeted by Laila’s daughter, Maysa. She showed me around the workshop a bit.
This lady, Aisha was teaching a younger woman how to make rugs. Aisha agreed to the photo but her apprentice declined.
These are examples of some of the dresses the women make and embroider. These two are both wedding dresses. Maysa took me to a stack of folded dresses and told me to pick one out to try on.
This one actually fit quite perfectly. It was made from thick, lush velvet.
She then brought in lunch of chicken and rice and tomato salad that we ate with Aisha.After that, she took me into the workshop, and this is where the real fun began.
There were five young women working on the sewing machines. They were stitching together pieces that had been embroidered into little zippered pouches, cases and bracelets. There are over 125 women employed through the cooperative, many of whom work at home doing the embroidery.
They made a place for me next to one woman (I need to get her name) who proceeded to teach me how to do the cross stitching that is emblematic of Palestinian stitchery. She asked me to write down my name, I thought, so that she could remember it. Well, the little sampling she had me working on turned out to be my name. I would slowly do three or four stitches, and then she would whip out the rest of a letter and start the next one, and so it went until it was done. Then, however, came the surprise. She handed the piece across the table to girl at a sewing machine and she in very quick order turned it into a bracelet by stitching a backing onto it with cords for ties. The whole time, the girls were laughing, occasionally asking me a question in faltering English, me sometimes trying to answer in even more faltering Arabic. At times they were probably laughing at me, but it was all in good fun, and I couldn’t help but to laugh along with them.
At one point they seated me at a sewing machine and let me have a go at it. I thought, “no sweat. I’ve been sewing all my life”, but these machines are heavy duty and it was sort of like learning to drive a stick shift car. Every time I pressed the pedal, it roared out of control. The girls had a good laugh over that.
I had brought in a box of candy, and that got passed around and heightened the joviality. This was an aspect of Palestinian life I had experienced for the first time – this girls only, letting loose atmosphere. It was so fun and joyful and productive, all at once. Maybe not whistling while they worked, but certainly a lot of giggling.
As soon as my friend had finished the bracelet, she started another piece, this time with my name stitched in Arabic. About this time I was getting a little nervous about getting back into Bethlehem and home before dark, and let them know I needed to leave soon to catch the 4:30 Service. She quickly finished stitching my name in Arabic and again, handed it across the table where the other girl made it into a little pillow. I started to leave, and she insisted on first finishing if off with embroidery around the edges. She was not about to let me leave with an unfinished item. Maysa also gave me an absolutely beautiful pencil case.
These are my treasures. And below are examples of some of the many different beautiful things made at the cooperative.
I’d really like to see them market to the U.S. to import stores. The items are so beautiful and it’s such a wonderful way for these women to help support their families. Until then, you can buy things online. You can also “like” them on Facebook. http://womeninhebron.com/ And https://www.facebook.com/pages/Women-in-Hebron/127546997276604?fref=ts
So the ride home was a bit of a challenge as needed to get back to Hebron first to catch a bus back to Bethlehem. I caught my Service in Idna and it was a raucous ride with 3 men in the back seat who all knew the driver and each other and they were whooping it up pretty much the whole ride. I knew they were talking about me at one point. Finally, one of them who spoke fairly good English deliberately got my attention with a loud, “Madame!” I turned around and proceeded to converse. After the obligatory “where you from?” “what’s your name?” line of questions, he proceeded to tell me that they guy next to him wanted to marry me, and it was love at first sight. Haha! At my age, I have to say, rather than getting offended at these sorts of things, I’ll take it when I can get it. Anyway, my admirer insisted on taking a picture of me with his phone, so what’s good for the goose is good for the gander. I took one of him.
You just never know what you’ll encounter on your rides on the Serveese.