In our nature, however, there is a provision, alike marvelous and merciful, that the sufferer should never know the intensity of what he endures by its present torture, but chiefly by the pang that rankles after it. The Scarlet Letter
Nablus is a beautiful city in the northern West Bank. I’ve been before, but I’m beginning my final countdown of cities that I need to visit again before I leave. It’s a city that has a lot of pain and suffering from the two intifadas, and has a much different vibe than Ramallah, or really other West Bank cities.
My friend, who is from Jenin and spent time in Nablus during the second intifada, and has taken me around Nablus before, was able to join us again for the afternoon. When we first arrived, we went to this hidden restaurant that my friend had told me about – though he wagered that I wouldn’t be able to find it (stipulation: I was not allowed to ask anyone), and if they hadn’t actually recently posted a sign outside with the words “mud3am” or ‘restaurant’, I definitely would not have guessed where its location was. But, the food was delicious and cheaaaaaaaap and we ate a lot. My other friend who joined had never been to Nablus before, so after eating, we began the basic tour around the Old City, a labyrinth of alleyways and markets and houses and stores. We stopped at the hamaam, the Turkish bath, al-Shifa, which was built in 1624 to have some coffee and tea. We walked around, and as he had done for me before, he showed us the intricate alleyways that connect houses and apartments, a true maze of interconnectedness. This is one of the reasons the IDF wouldn’t enter the Old City of Nablus during its incursions during and after the second intifada, because the risk of getting lost or cornered was just too high. My friend, who lived in the Old City, said it took him 3-4 months to remember exactly how to find his house!
Then we grabbed a service taxi and went up to An-Najah University, the largest and (some argue) most prestigious university in Palestine. It was founded in 1918 as a school, then became a college, and then a university in 1977. Between 1988 and 1991 the Israeli military declared the university a ‘closed military zone’ and it was shut down. As with other Palestinian universities, when the Israeli military shuts them down for extended periods of time, the faculty and students meet for lectures and classes at homes and other private places.
It’s a beautiful campus – well, two campuses, actually, a new and old, to account for the massive number of students. There are over 16,500 students in 19 faculties.
We walked around, my friend had actually gone to university there so he knew his way around and, per usual in Palestine, all the security guards and faculty and administrative people (at least those who were there during his time there many years ago) remembered him and welcomed us warmly. Of course, we were quite a show for the actual students who were hanging around campus, two American girls taking in the sights! But it was fun, and a wonderful view of the mountains of Nablus, and it was great to see another Palestinian university to compare it to Birzeit, where I took classes.
Then of course we went back to the Old City and ate knaffeh. Having thoroughly stuffed ourselves, we hopped into the service back to Ramallah.
Back in Ramallah, one of my best friends here, a Palestinian, it was his last night before leaving for 6 weeks in the States on a cultural exchange program. Which, if you recall correctly, I will actually already be back in the States by the time he returns to Ramallah. It was really the first serious goodbye, and really very difficult to handle. I got home after saying hugging possibly for 5 minutes straight, and started thinking about all the good times we had together here, both just one-on-one time and also all the group times our friends had together, over the past 9 months or so. All of our weekly brunches at the same exact restaurant, all of our trips together, all of our movie-watching nights and hanging out at restaurant nights. Of the people here who made me feel less like a tourist, this guy is one of those who tops the list, though the list is blessedly long. I’m not really sure I’m going to be able to say goodbye to this place or these people.