Friday evening and there are nine of us crammed shoulder-to-shoulder in the TFP car, a lurching green affair which seems held together more by magic than physics. Ellen and I perch on spare tires in the rear while Mohammad and Saddam narrate the drive in song, drumming with abandon from the backseat. Mohammad seems to know everybody in Nablus; he pauses now and then to shout out the window or wave at passersby.
We're headed for Sky Nablus, a half-park half-cafe stretch of light on the side of Mount Ebal, visible from anywhere in the city. The reverse is also true; standing at the railing by one of the shisha stands, with minty smoke on the air, Nablus unfolds in front of you. It's not a big city- 130,000 people live here- but it seems larger from above, all silence and light. To the west, someone told me the first time I visited, you can see Tel Aviv.
Sky Nablus is busy tonight. The benches are crowded with women in white scarves and men stroll down the drive, carrying trays of tea and coal. We double-park and disentangle ourselves to climb out and meet the rest of our group. We're maybe fifteen in total- half of us ajaneb, half Palestinians.
It's another hot night, which seems even hotter in the wake of a merciful three-day cold snap. The girls are sweating in our long-sleeved, high-necked tops, even more envious of men's light t-shirts when we leave the road and climb the stairs to a dirt path for a secluded clearing for dancing and singing. Jon's brought his banjo, Ciaran his guitar, Saddam the drum; for two hours Johnny Cash songs compete with Arabic chanting, above it all raucous laughter and its source, the messy Arablish which is our best shot at understanding and being understood.
Always welcoming, the guys from Upstairs were transformed over the weekend into our closest- well, pretty much only- Palestinian friends. "If you need anything, tell me. This is my city. I will get it for you. I have connections here," Moath tells us at least twice a day. That he knows people is obvious- Moath, nearly as much as Mohammad, can hardly take a step down the street without being hailed by a friend or waved at by a shopkeeper. And willing to help us? Last time made his frequent announcement, I was already sipping from a free cup of sahleb which he'd brought to me from Upstairs; the time before, he was taking Nick and me on a tour of Rafidia after insisting we accept gifts from the antique store. I've stopped worrying that we won't make any Palestinian friends and started worrying that the ones we have will bankrupt themselves to make us feel at home.
Sorry for the brief and belated update. I'll try to keep em coming at a better pace, but for now let me make it up with some pictures- none, as per usual, taken by me. The first three, from Oktoberfest, belong to Ciaran, and the last three are Sara's, taken in the old market in Nablus.