Friday, December 3, 2010

Hammam, Old City, Nablus

I might have said Project Hope doesn't have jolly-ups, but the other evening we were all invited for an evening out at the local steam baths. We contributed 10 shekels each (2GBP) and this included a meal, music and an interesting location. At the entrance to the baths, down an old stone alley and under an arch, there was a sign which read that the site had been built in 1225.

Inside there was a central pool with fountain, surrounded by many 'narguila's', which I believe translates as 'water-pipes', where you smoke tobacco through a container of water and a pipe. Around the sides of the room, and raised on a stone plinth, were banks of comfortable seating, with deep cushions and blankets. Towards the front there were several tables and a stage.

It was still in use as a Turkish Bath, and it was amusing to see men wandering in and out of a small side arch, dressed in only a towel, but we had taken it over for the evening as the Director of Project Hope knows the owner (of course, it's a small town!) and it's certainly an excellent venue for what he had in mind: the International volunteers kicked the night off by playing guitar, an Englishman first, then a Scot, then an Irishman with his mandolin-type instrument.

Then came the locals, with their poem reading, in Arabic and English, and here the locals got quite emotional as the contents were about the history and people of Palestine, followed by some traditional music and singing, by a professional player and one of our local volunteers on the mike. The locals were all clapping and started dancing, getting quite animated. There were only 3 Palestinian women there, I noticed, two of whom wore traditional dress (covered up) and one of whom wasn't - the wife of our American PH worker.

After an hour or so of music, the food was brought in and put around the pool, together with piles of fresh flat-breads. Tea, coffee and soft drinks were available, and we tucked in. We wound our way home a while later, through the deserted streets of the ancient city of Nablus, remarking that the locals were so trusting that the shops often leave their wares outside all night, with one particular place having rows of dresses and children's' clothes hanging up. It was a wonderful evening, and a glimpse into another culture, convivial and communal.

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