By now, we're all used to being stared at like we're some rare species of giraffe on the lam from the Qalqiliya Zoo- probably because we're all devastatingly attractive, but I guess being the only white faces in Nablus could play some minor role as well. For the first time yesterday, we found ourselves on the other end of the goggling. Emerging from the corner store were two Westerners oh my god.
Richard and Daniel were German journalists passing through Nablus to interview Munib al-Masri, the West Bank's richest man, UT educated and the owner of a stand-out Renaissance-style mansion on one of Nablus's many hills. (More about him here
; he's pretty interesting). After a few brief moments establishing just what exactly we're all doing in Nablus, of all places, the conversation took a familiar turn.
"So what is there to do in Nablus?" Daniel asked. "Like where do you go at night?"
"Uhh... Upstairs? Or Piano Bar, I guess, if that's closed," someone offered, gesturing up the street to its English sign. "There's no piano and it's not a bar, but it's not bad."
Daniel and Richard seemed vaguely nonplussed. "What about downtown? Where can you get a drink?"
We looked at each other. "Ramallah?" A moment of silence. We are fish out of water here, or what's worse, Westerners out of beer.
Upstairs and Piano Bar have quickly become the unofficial TFP hangouts in Nablus. Piano Bar is secondary, really, and in practice we only end up there if the much more interesting- and interested- staff at Upstairs decide we aren't coming and close up around eight. We- Sara, Ellen, Ciaran, Nick, Jeremy, and me, sometimes with the additions of Helen and Jon when they can escape their much heavier workloads- find our way to Upstairs most nights, and almost inevitably walk into a room empty of patrons except for an old man or two smoking silently near the door.
I have a theory, formed initially in Senegal, that the hat trick of the worst parts of American culture are often the first to be scooped up overseas- pop music, McDonalds, and Yankees hats. The last two, in general, are mercifully absent in Palestine, but Upstairs has its share of the first, and we often walk in to Mariah Carey playing over the speakers until someone voices a preference for Arabic music and the staff, who clearly agree, turn up the volume to conversation-prohibiting levels and dance their way back to the counter.
One of the waiters, Mohammad, a tall 24-year old, invited us to a birthday party at the cafe. We didn't know whose birthday it was, or who would be there, or if we should bring anything, but we presumed there would be cake and that was good enough for us. We showed up at eleven-fifteen to a totally vacant place with place-settings for twenty. "Be here at eleven, absolutely no later than eleven-thirty," we'd been warned (via Sara, our utterly indispensible translator). "We won't start without you." No danger of that when everyone else is running on Arabic time, apparently- despite being a quarter hour late, we beat the birthday girl to her party by a good twenty minutes.
There was in fact, as you will be excited to hear, cake. There was also shisha and guava juice and coffee and sahleb, which is an almost indecently delicious hot drink made from orchid flour and milk (which does not, Nick, taste like soap, thank you), along with plates full of cookies on every table. The total bill came to zero shekels; we were waved off, coins in hand, by the manager as we tried to pay. Stomachs full of cake and pockets (relatively) full of money, we waved goodbye to Mohammed, who will,insha'Allah, marry the birthday girl come summer, and (I swear to God) Saddam Hussein, a nineteen-year old who spent the last two years in an Israeli prison for throwing rocks at the IDF.
Another beautiful day in Palestine.
P.S: Have a video. Courtesy of Ellen.