A Wander Round the Town - Ramallah Part III

Here I am, in the capital of the Palestinian Authority.  Let it first be said that this isn't a big trip - I've come on a reconnaissance mission (or as we Brits say, a 'recky').  I can't even stay the night, as I've got to meet someone, back in Jerusalem, this evening.  Still, it's only late morning and I believe I can see quite a bit in three or four hours.  I've deliberately reached out to no-one on this trip - I simply want to amble around, take in the view, have a wander.  Bottom line - I've no fixed plan.

The first thing I realise, after a few minutes walking, is that Ramallah is relatively small.  I mean, ok, it's not a village but it's no 'big city; in fact, its centre consists of two main streets, filled with stores, cafes, kiosks  and hawkers.  They're selling a bewildering array of  wares, and doing a brisk trade from what I can see, since it's almost Ramadan and everyone's desperate for the perfect gift.  There's a hustle and bustle about the place, but with a friendly 'local' kind of air.  I amble around the 'Hisbah' produce market, which again is doing big business.  


Everywhere I look, fruits and vegetables are being snapped up - not to mention large trays of baklava (treat for the 'Ifhar' - the meal that Muslims hold to break their daily fast this time of the year).

Before I know it, I'm at the 'Star and Bucks'  - the hilarious spoof on the Starbucks chain name.  With signs printed both in Arabic and English, I'm not sure this is just a mischievous stunt to pull tourists in (which apparently it's succeeded in) or a political statement.  Either way, I enter and buy myself a cappuccino, which is served in a mug with a logo that's not unlike it's US namesake's - same green and black design, same font.  It does, however, offer alternatives to a cup of joe - namely non-alcoholic fruit cocktails and shisha (hookah) pipes.  What really interests me, however, is that I see men and women sitting together here - socialising.  That's something rare in Palestinian society (in fact, I've been told that it's unheard of outside Ramallah, where social norms are still very conservative).

After my coffee, I figure it's time to make a pilgrimage up to the Mukata’a  -a two-block compound with a white tower that is seen easily from all over the city. In it are certain government offices but the big draw, of course, is Arafat's mausoleum, which is next door to the building where he was held under siege by the Israeli Army in 2002.  It's a quiet, yet grand area, complete with marble flooring.  A long courtyard leads you into his tombstone where (as long as you aren't obnoxious or disrespectful) photographs are allowed.

After I've stared at his final resting place for a bit (guarded by two - I must say very cheerful - guards - I head off the museum there.  It's not bad - giving the visitor (in some detail) the history of the Palestinians, as well as the creation of Israel.  I'm not going to go into detail here about the political bent of the museum - I'm a leftist but I'm also an Israeli Jew.  Suffice it to say, it's well worth a visit (and I encourage you to make your own mind up about what you read, as I would do similarly were you visiting the Israel Museum in Tel Aviv).

Back in the centre, about to hunt down another number 18 bus to take me back across the checkpoint, I figure I can't end this afternoon without an ice-cream from Rukabs - an institution here, I'm told.  

The family's been in business since 1941 and their unique selling point is that the concoctions they sell are super-stretchy - like elastic.  I ask the server what the special ingredients are - he tells me it's salep {a wild orchid root) and dried mastic ('miska' in Arabic).  I order the caramel, which has has a distinctive texture and a slightly odd flavour (not unpleasant, just unusual).  I'm told that this is how icecream was made traditionally in Arab societies, which is why people love it here - it's a taste of their childhood.  

I'm sorry it's been such a short trip, but I've done the hard bit - actually crossed over.  Next time it will be easier, and I'll surely stay longer.  I plan to return soon - this time to meet locals, attend a music festival or theatre performance, and stay over.  There's much more to see, and learn.  But this was a good enough beginning.