Monday, 25 January 2010

Haggis-tasting, parties ... and a room for quiet

Living in Israel/ Palestine is certainly very different from living in Zambia. In Zambia several months could pass before a visitor from Britain passed through, but in Tiberias it seems that people come every week, and always very interesting. Another difference is that here there are Burns Suppers! The other day I was called to the hotel to taste chef Oded’s haggis – artichoke stuffed with haggis, haggis in pastry, etc – and give it the OK. Only problem is that I don’t think I have tasted haggis for 16 years! The hotel supper is next week, but on the 22nd I was invited to another Burns Supper on a kibbutz. Coming from Ayrshire, I was a bit of an outsider, as almost all the others were from the Southside of Glasgow, and still had the accents to prove it.

On a miserably wet January evening, the staff party was held in one of the local restaurants. I went along thinking I would ‘show face’ for 30 minutes, then leave BUT it was so good I stayed almost till the end. I was so impressed by the strong sense of togetherness and camaraderie among the staff. They are a real mixture of Arab and Jew, Moslem and Christian and Druze, but cooperate (and party) so well together. Lots of eating and music, and the dancing was traditional dancing often occurring at Arab weddings, which was wonderful. A real celebration, and a thank-you to the staff for all their work through the year.

‘Migdal’ is the Hebrew word for ‘tower’, and we have now turned the tower in the herb garden (part of the old Ottoman town walls) into a Quiet Room for meditation and prayer. It is quite simple with whitewashed walls, but with a rich Turkish rug (well, made in Belgium) and some Ottoman-style tables and lots of shelves and alcoves for books and candles.
I am absolutely thrilled with it and will use it as my base at the hotel. Hopefully it will be used by people of all the Faith communities - though I am becoming very possessive of it!

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Christmas Part Two!

Christmas seems never to end here! Last week, on 7th January, the Orthodox Christmas was celebrated, and I attended the service at Sakhnin. It was held in a new church they are building (memories of Zambia!), and they needed it, as I would estimate 350 people attended of all ages. Quite something, as technically it was a working day. It was a lesson in fashion, as everybody seemed to be in sharp suits and figure-hugging dresses. I felt distinctly informal in my sports jacket. Black was the predominant colour for both sexes. The service lasted for hours, but, as in Zambia, people were arriving at any time. After communion, everyone rushed to the back for the most wonderful cakes, leaving the poor priest finishing the service alone.

I was touched over Christmas and New Year by all the greetings of ‘Hag sameach’ or ‘Kol aam oul ento bkheer’ (happy holiday) by Jews and Moslems, and one of my high points was to receive a Christmas gift from Moshe and Tareq, two of the members of the hotel staff – one Jew and one Moslem (a plate with a picture of Santa and Rudolf in the snow. It is still up, while the other decorations have been taken down).

Another high point was being invited to the Baptist Church Christmas party in Haifa. Along with the bible quizzes (fortunately I was not part of a team, as I would have done very badly), there was the most wonderful Arab music and then a glorious spread of Arab food. Santa also appeared – and it seems that he plays a big role in the celebration of Christmas in the Arab communities.

At some point over Christmas, Galilee turned green – something to remember in the hot, arid months of summer. Amazingly while Europe freezes, Galilee glows with sunshine. Good for my guests at the weekend – Victor and Blessing from South Africa and Carol from the States, who have just finished the EAPPI programme, accompanying Palestinians on the west bank, as they sought to get through the checkpoints. A very different experience from mine, and I admire them tremendously. They have finished their three month stint, and a new team has just arrived. I feel I can offer hospitality away from their daily tensions.

Wishing everyone a good new year!