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Snippets from the West Bank - Journey to Nablus - Danny Whatmough Snippets from the West Bank
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25th October, 2012

I’m writing this in a hotel in Ramallah. We came up late last night to go out to celebrate the birthday of one of the international volunteers at Project Hope.

Coming to Ramallah after Nablus is a bit of a culture shock. It’s the administrative centre for the Palestinian Authority and is far more vibrant and feels almost western in places. There are neon signs everywhere and a few bars selling alcohol hidden away in little side streets – one of the reasons that this was a draw for us last night.

It’s a big shift from the conservatism of Nablus.

Today is the start of a week-long holiday for people here in the West Bank to celebrate the Islamic festival of Eid. This means no lessons for a week and lots of travelling around. The plan is to go from Ramallah to Jericho today and then onto Bethlehem before spending a few days in Jerusalem.

I thought I’d pull together a few little observations that aren’t worth full blogs posts but still interesting nonetheless.


Eid is one of the most important Islamic feasts and celebrates the willingness of Abraham to sacrifice his son Ishmael. It is a time when Palestinians return home to their families and eat a special cake containing dates.

The celebration commences after the Hajj (the pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia) which concluded this week.

Those who have families living in Palestinian settlements in Israel have to apply to the Israeli government to get a ‘permit’ to cross the border. There seems to be little clear reasoning behind whether or not permits are accepted, leaving many disappointed and unable to return home.


My Arabic is slowly coming on. I have a lesson a week provided by Project Hope and then also have two private one-on-one lessons on Wednesday and Sunday with a local student called Yousef.

The deal is simple, he teaches me Arabic for an hour or so and then we switch and spend time chatting in English.

All the students here are very keen to practice their English, especially with British volunteers. Everyone you meet for the first few days offers to help you learn Arabic in return for some English conversation classes.

So far I’m learning simple phrases and vocabulary. It’s actually quite logical and grammatically seems far easier than English. Written Arabic is harder though. Yousef and I spent a few hours on the alphabet and writing words. I can write my name (which means ‘ear’ in Arabic – something they all find quite funny) but that’s about it at the moment!


The food here is simple but tasty. More or less everything revolves around pitta breads which are thicker and larger than those we get in the UK. You can buy a kilo of pitta breads for about 5 shekels (80p) from little bakeries that exist everywhere.

The most common accompaniment is hummus submerged in olive oil and it is pretty incredible. Sometimes it is topped with minced meat. The other two must-have street foods are shawarma (spit roasted meat kebab in pitta with salad and hummus) and, of course falafel. The falafel is unlike any falafel I’ve tasted before. Crispy on the outside but moist and crumbly inside. A bag of five falafels costs about a shekel (15p) and makes the perfect snack.

The other speciality of Nablus is a dessert called Kunafeh. It’s hard to explain exactly but is a dentists’ nightmare. It’s a bit like syrup sponge but without the cake. And in the middle of all the sugar is a large layer of stringy cheese.



When it comes to drinks, alcohol is haraam (forbidden) and is impossible to find in Nablus. There is a samaritan village on one of the mountains I’ve yet to visit yet where it is possible to get beer and wine. Elsewhere in the West Bank, it is much easier to get alcohol but Nablus is one of the most conservative cities when it comes to religion.

Arabic coffee is strong and definitely an acquired taste but one I’m getting used to. Tea is black and usually contains either mint or mixtures of cinnamon and even sage.


I only really have one class at the moment. It’s at a community centre in a village on the edge of Nablus called Balata Village. The class is made up of about 20 children mainly aged between 8 and 11 but some are younger. I head out there twice a week – on Tuesdays and Saturdays – with a local volunteer called Ameed who translates for me.

My knowledge of Arabic words such as ‘listen’ and ‘be quiet’ are scarily well honed.

The kids get very excited by the lessons. At the moment I have concentrated on rhythm and singing simple phrases. I taught them ‘Heads, shoulders, knees and toes’ last lesson and we always end with a game of musical chairs.

When we get back after the Eid holiday, I’ll have two more classes to add to this and I’ll also start some Arabic lute (Oud) lessons.


Football is very popular here. Everyone supports either Barcelona or Real Madrid and I’ve already been to watch a few matches in a cafe with some of the local volunteers accompanied by Arabic coffee and shisha.

We also played football one night and there is a Palestinian football league (five teams of which are based in Nablus). On Saturday we plan to go an watch the Palestinian women’s football team play in Bethlehem.

Football in Nablus

Football in Nablus


At the moment the weather is more or less perfect. It usually reaches about 30 degrees in the daytime and get colder at night. There are Mosquitos everywhere but so far they seem not to like me too much. Others haven’t been as lucky.

The weather should cool over the next few weeks and the rainy season usually begins in about mid-November.

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