Category Archives: Arabic

Adventures in food: a triptych

1. Kubbe.  I accompanied my roommate one day this week to her field site, a neighborhood slightly east of where we live: Schunat HaTikva, or the “Neighborhood of Hope.” I have been hearing for weeks about this tiny, hole-in-the-wall restaurant where the owner has been dishing up kubbe for nearly half a century. For those of you who aren’t familiar wtih this particular dish, kubbe is a Middle Eastern version of an empanada: meat stuffed into various types of dough [semolina, rice].  The Lebanese and Syrian versions are made into torpedo shapes and fried, but this places served Iraqi-style kubbe: a semolina flour version, steamed and served with amba, a mango pickle sauce. See for yourself:

Kubbe! Amba on the right and Iraqi pita on the left...

The restaurant is known for its kubbe, but they also serve up more parts of a cow’s body than most of you would like to think about [lung, anyone?].  As a bonus of sorts, we were served stuffed intestine [filled with rice and meat].  It wasn’t bad, actually…

2. Pita.  Between interviews in Jerusalem this past Thursday, I stopped at a bakery near Machne Yehuda, the open air market, for some Iraqi pita [like the kind you see above].  I ordered my pita from the baker in Arabic, asking a [probably very funny sounding] question about how well it would keep for multiple days.  This funny sounding question led to a lengthy discussion [well over 30 minutes] with my new friend Hassan and his co-worker Zion, about people, friends, life, and politics.  Nearly all in Arabic, I should add.  And I should also add – I understood most of it.  Not bad considering how little I’ve used the language in the past few months.  But mostly it was yet more evidence of how little it takes – just a question, and a funny sounding one at that – to show people that you care enough to try.

…And just how little showing that you care enough to try translates into new friends.  Hassan, my new baker friend, took my number and called me later on to make sure I had his. [Funny but true: I was on the way back to Tel Aviv when he called, sitting next to an Arabic speaking woman.  She laughed out loud when she heard my Arabic…but complimented me on trying, at least.  Ha.].

Here’s Hassan doing what he does best:

3. Olives. And Politics.  I bought the pita for a trip I took Friday with Rabbis for Human Rights* [RHR] to accompany Palestinian farmers harvesting their olives.  The organization accompanies Palestinians 6 days a week, throughout the year – during the planting, pruning, plowing, and harvest seasons.  We’re nearing the end of the harvest season now.

Our group – about 10 of us – headed to the settlement of Tsufim:

Tsufim, a settlement in the West Bank. The broken line represents Israel's pre-1967 borders: everything East is occupied territory. And to give you a sense of how small this place is: we were only about 25 minutes from Tel Aviv!

Why to Tsufim, if we were accompanying Palestinian olive harvesters? Well, turns out that this particular family’s olive groves are within the settlement itself.  That means that in addition to having to obtain permission to cross the separation barrier, they had to get permission from the settlement to enter their land [whose land??] to pick their olives.

Olive trees on left, fence on right. Need to get through one to get to the other...

The day itself was relatively uneventful, politically-speaking.  No settlers bothered us, and in the 5 hours we were there, we managed to finish harvesting most of the olives on the trees [we worked on about 10 trees – the family has about 30 overall, and had already been to the area twice for harvesting in the week before this one].  I managed to use my Arabic some more with the family we had joined, but once the talk turned political [“what led you to join us today? Why are you here?”] I struggled to express myself and we switched to English, instead.

The day in pictures:

A gorgeous olive tree...

As the olives get picked off the tree, they fall onto these tarps...

...which then get consolidated into these buckets

...hard at work


* One of the more thoughtful gifts Neil and I received for our wedding was a donation made by my brother and sister-in-law in our name, to this organization, in order to help them plant new olive trees.  The organization plants trees to replace ones that have been cut or burnt down by Israeli settlers. Having now been out with RHR and having a better understanding of the reality of the olive trees – I now appreciate this gift all the more.  Thank you…


what a difference a word makes

dear readers,
i do not foresee too many more posts this summer (on my end, at least) – next week is my last week here and i am overwhelmed by the things that need to get done before i leave, not to mention the words that must be memorized before my final exam next week! but i wanted to share with you just how inspiring it’s been to be able to use my arabic, as full of errors as it may be.
as i think i mentioned in an earlier post, i have been spending an afternoon or two a week in the old city, doing homework with classmates and speaking arabic as much as possible. our conversations are full of mistakes and many english words (or hebrew, depending on who i am with) make their way into our sentences – – but the effort is there.

and the effort has been met with such warmth! arab hospitality at its best – – just for speaking a few words of a shopkeeper’s mother tongue.

i plan on continuing with my arabic as much as i can this given year and in the future – but the response i’ve received in the past few weeks has proven to me that even just a little bit makes a huge difference. this is so important for the kind of work (and research) i do, and i knew that before – – but it’s been made all the more clear during my time in jerusalem this summer.

more of Jerusalem

i took this picture from the mt. scopus campus of the hebrew university of jerusalem (where i’m taking my arabic class). it’s not the best photo, but (i hope) it gives you a sense of what it’s like to look over the old city from the university. (this picture is the result of me trying to put together a panoramic…it didn’t come out so well, sorry. neil, you’ll have to help with this when you get a chance!)

the arabic class, by the way, is really kicking my butt (and no, to all interested parties, i don’t know how to say that in arabic yet). i have become very, very good friends with both of my dictionaries, and i’ve been listening to israeli radio in arabic (i learned the word for “junction” the other day!), but there’s no doubt about it – there are days when i feel completely overwhelmed. however, this afternoon after class, i went with two of my classmates to the old city, where we found a cafe at which to sit and do our homework…and speak lots of arabic with others sitting there. it definitely felt good to be using the language in a setting other than the classroom – after all, that’s why i’m learning it!