Catching Up: Synopsis

A lot has happened since my last blog. I’ve visited with lots of people, strengthened friendships with some exceptional people and had numerous thought-provoking experiences. It’s difficult to assimilate everything I’ve experienced. Because it’s too much at one time, I will pull all the pieces together after I get back to the States, but for the time being I’ll simply present people, places and things:

If you ever come to Jordan you must visit Majedah’s embroidery shop, Grand Mother’s Dress.  It is filled with gorgeous embroidered dresses and attire with both traditional and contemporary designs. Her shop is in Jabal Alnouza (near Al Hussein Camp), on the second street after the circle, across from the rear entrance of the Diplomatic Security building. It is open from 8:00 am to 7:00 pm everyday except Friday.  Mobile: 079-5021492  {Click on any image to enlarge}:

Majadeh’s employee demonstrating how to create a three dimensional embroidered flower by cutting the threads with a razor blade:

The following is a photo of Majedah wearing her unique design of a wedding hat. Traditionally the hat is made of woven hay.

Traditional wedding hat
Traditional wedding hat

The following is an image of a traditional woven bread plate:

Traditional woven bread plate
Traditional woven bread plate

After placing the wedding plate on top of her head, Majedah talked about the “Emily Post Etiquette” of traditional Palestinian weddings. The night before the wedding is called “Henna night.” Henna night is dedicated to decorating the bride with henna designs by a henna expert who accompanies the mother, aunt or sister of the groom and carries a large tray on her head filled with henna, flowers, candles, green branches, sugar, tea, coffee, chewing gum, nuts, and chocolate. The henna expert applies designs on the bride’s hands, feet, arms and one leg.

Majedah described the activities at a traditional Palestinian wedding, “The ladies dance with the bride. The unmarried girls pinch the bride while she is dancing for good luck, in hopes that they will marry soon. The wedding dress dance is comprised of dancing in front of the women while wearing a procession of seven dresses: white first, then red, green, pink, blue, beige and, lastly, black (symbolizing a bedouin). While wearing the black dress, she dances with her palm extended upward and the attendees put money in her hand.

On the afternoon prior to a wedding, a dinner is held under a tent for the groom, his male friends and the male family members of the bride and groom. After the dinner, the men form a procession and walk to the bride’s house carrying the groom on their shoulders. If the bride lives far away from the groom the groom is propped on top of a vehicle and driven to her house surrounded by cheering males.

An actual wedding procession to the bride’s house that blocked traffic for fifteen minutes:

After visiting Majedah’s shop we went to her house to visit with her mother, Zainab Ali Ibrahim Abu Alafa, in their traditionally furnished Palestinian home:

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Zainab displayed a dress she embroidered in a traditional Gaza embroidery design:Majedah's mother displaying her traditional dressMajedah’s mother displaying her traditional dress

I asked Zainab to share some stories about her youth in Palestine and how she ended up living in Jordan. Zainab was born in 1936 in Al-Masmiyya al-Kabira, located between Gaza and Jaffa. When I asked her to tell us about a joyful childhood memory she said, “I remember my dad carrying me on his shoulders to the sea. We spent the day picking fruit from the trees and eating it while walking.”

In 1948 Zainab’s family was forced to leave their home in Gaza during the war. Afraid of the approaching soldiers, they left at night carrying only the key to their house and the clothes they were wearing. They had been told that they would be able to return to their house in a week or two.

She remembers sleeping in the fields at night and walking from one village to the next, “We were 13 people sleeping in the cold outdoors under the stars. It was very cold and our father covered us with his clothes.” She talked about their farm in Gaza and what they used to plant, “We planted wheat, corn, sesame. The land gave us everything we needed to live, so we gave everything we had to the land.”

When Zainab was twelve years old, a sixty-three year old man who was a friend of her father asked for permission to marry her. Her father agreed. The marriage lasted for five years, during which time she gave birth to two boys. Her husband died and she was widowed at the age of seventeen.

Remembering her first marriage brought tears to her eyes and she was very upset, describing her marriage as a period of her life when she was very unhappy. After the death of her husband, her children were taken away by her husband’s family. Eventually she re-married, this time to her cousin, 3 years older than she was. In time, her second husband became her best friend and her most beloved.

During her second marriage she was happily married and lived in Jericho. In Jericho the United Nations provided food, tents, clothes and some clay shelters in the refugee camps. She stayed in Jericho for 12 years, until 1967, at which time they were forced to move again, this time to another country, Jordan. Zainab had 3 sons and 4 daughters from her second marriage.

When they arrived in Jordan they lived in Al-Karama camp for a week. Because it was over populated, they moved to Al-Husayn camp in Amman where they lived in tents.

Zainab’s daughter, Majedah, talked about her school in the camp. It was a tent and in the winter the rain flooded the dirt floor and it was extremely cold. Zainab added that prior to 1967 the men living in Jericho used to travel to Jordan to work and then return to Jericho.

Majedah and her mother, Zainab
Majedah and her mother, Zainab

Zainab refuses to move from the camp and live anywhere else. She said the only place she will move is back to her home in Palestine. She added, “Palestine is still my home. I will leave everything here right now and go back to my home in Palestine if I can. I will go back with only what I’m wearing.“

It is nearly impossible now for Palestinians who were forced out of Palestine in 1967 to get permission to reenter, even on a tourist visa.

Zainab has visited Palestine three times since being forced from her home in 1967: in 1999, 2005 and she can’t remember when the third visit was. She said that she went to Jerusalem, Ramallah, Hebron, and Jenin on a limited tourist visa.

When asked about her life in Palestine, she described the weather and said they did not use refrigerators even in the summer because the weather was so cool and the air was so clean. She talked about the life-supporting nature of the trees, foliage, wild flowers and herbs and that the villages lived off of what they grew and the animals they raised.

She related how dresses were made and embroidered in the past: “A group of women would sit together and sew on a dress for 45 days.” The group embroidery sessions were an important component of the women’s lives and they took great pride in their workmanship. She said the ukaiah, a traditional head piece trimmed in gold coins, was made and worn by women, and some women put a coin on their chest as a measure of good luck.

Ukaiah head piece with gold coins
Ukaiah head piece with gold coins

Pet birds in a room on the patio, another part of the roof houses chickens (used for eggs and food):

Majedah's sister
Majedah’s sister
Dinner at Majedah's–grape leaves and chicken
Dinner at Majedah’s–grape leaves and chicken

Preserving olives from roof top olive trees:

Suzanne in Palestinian dress
Suzanne in Palestinian dress
Suzanne in Palestinian dress
Suzanne in Palestinian dress

Leaving Majedah’s:

2 thoughts on “Catching Up: Synopsis

  1. Captivates the heart, the memory, and the imagination; in the stories told, in the designs and life shown, in the humanity throughout. Thank You for such a vivid, honest, and meaningful narrative.

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