Sunday in Ramallah

Today was my first Sunday in Ramallah during what will be a six-week stint as temporary Friend in Residence at the Friends International Centre. Three episodes make the day worth writing about: Meeting for Worship; lunch with Kathy Bergen, who used to run the Friends International Centre; and a longish walk around the city in the afternoon.

Meeting for Worship was rather sparsely attended with only nine people present: one member, Nabeel Ajlouny, the father of Joyce Ajlouny, who is the Principal of the Friends Schools; two longstanding attenders, Betty and Mehrene; two school students from the Friends School; Kathy Bergen; George, who tends the garden here; a visiting Friend from Blackheath Meeting; and me. The Meeting for Worship was entirely silent, but I just about managed to stay awake, in spite of having been rather late to bed the night before.

After Meeting for Worship most of us gathered for coffee in the Friends International Centre, which is round at the back of the Meeting House. There was some conversation about the international conference of Sabeel which will be taking place in Jerusalem 19-25 November. Sabeel is an organisation of Palestinian Christians, with supporters from around the world, which is concerned with liberation theology in the Palestinian context. Kathy will be facilitating one of the sessions of the conference. I hope to attend most days as a day visitor.

Kathy and I had a good lunch at a small restaurant down the road. Kathy told me that the restaurant had been completely renovated since she left Ramallah in July. She was given a warm welcome by the proprietor. Amongst the several small dishes which came along with pitta bread there was chicken korma, which I enjoyed in spite of normally being vegetarian.

Whilst we were eating, Kathy told me a bit about the Meeting and the Friends International Centre. The Meeting is even smaller than I imagined, with really only two families, most of whom either live in the US or spend a lot of time there. Jean Zaru, Presiding Clerk of Ramallah Friends Meeting, is currently in the States, but should be returning fairly soon, since she is due to speak at the Sabeel conference. Joyce Ajlouny recently flew to the States again for family reasons.

When we had finished our lunch, Kathy showed me some of the shops and cafés along the street and round the corner. She was greeted warmly by each of the shopkeepers and by some of the passers-by. I registered in particular a small supermarket, where I can get a European-style loaf of bread from a bakery in Bethlehem. They also have a selection of cereals, spreads and cheeses, etc. which I haven’t found elsewhere. The cheeses seemed to be rather pricey, though. There were sometimes Israeli products, such as yoghurt, alongside Palestinian ones. I shall want to support the local economy as much as I can.

Kathy found a taxi to take her to the checkpoint at Qalandia on her way to Jerusalem. I returned to the Friends International Centre to shed my pullover because it was a warm afternoon. I then set off to explore Ramallah. From the Menara, the junction of six roads at the centre of the city, I set off northeastwards. This took me eventually to what I think must be the headquarters of the Palestinian Authority. I turned right and headed southwards. I photographed a couple of large banners displaying photos of Yasser Arafat and two young men who I think must have been prisoners in Israeli jails because there were a few English words, amongst a lot of Arabic, calling for their freedom.

As I continued walking, I found myself in a more suburban area with one or two small olive groves. Across a valley I could see an Israeli settlement on the hilltop – recognisable because of the lack of black water tanks on the roofs. At one point a herd of goats appeared. Two goatherds shepherded them across a fairly busy road. Out in this suburban area I began to wonder in which direction I should be going to get back to the city centre, preferably before dark around 5 p.m. I turned right to go northwards and soon found myself in a busy shopping street which took me back to the Menara. Back at the Friends International Centre, the first priority was to make myself a cup of tea!


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