CADFA Summer School Wednesday September 6th.
Walking up the hill from our meeting centre in Abu Diss takes us around ten minutes before we come to the university campus of Al-Quds. It’s impressive. Lots of large buildings, wide walkways, architectural features. A wide depression in the paving lined by concentric rows of stone steps, like a miniature amphitheatre, has a large fountain at the centre. Many of the individual buildings and departments have been financed by wealthy diaspora Palestinians and it all looks clean, modern and efficient.
We are met by staff and students who welcome us with cool fruit juices and lots of smiles. Some of our group know the students from visits and it’s clear this is going to be a very friendly exchange.
It’s hot. We’re led into the cool of an air-conditioned room we take our places in a large circle.
We’re around 30 visitors and Al-Quds students so the first task is to break the ice and get to know each other. We introduce ourselves individually before we play a few games – funny slapstick games where we have to get up and do silly actions, eliminate each other through swift reactions, generally get to know each other and relax. .
Our first formal meeting is with the Dean of Student Affairs who outlines the history of Al-Quds University (AQU) and its success. With over 13,000 students and several campuses the mere existence of AQU is a great achievement, given the obstacles and continual harassment by the Israeli authorities. The separation wall makes life very difficult – many students from Jerusalem and the West Bank choose to live in Abu Diss rather than endure the lengthy travel and routine humiliations of the checkpoints, but even travelling between campuses often involves passing through the checkpoints.
We’re told that Israeli soldiers can invade the campus at any time, with or more often without any form of provocation and always without warning. Such incursions are regular, as often as once a week, with tear gas grenades, rubber bullets and live rounds. We’re shown the destruction caused by some of these raids – photos of lecture halls and admin rooms filled with rubble and smashed equipment such as photocopiers. Students have been shot on the campus and it seems there is no protection, so the continual threat of violence hangs over these students, including our new friends.
There are several museums on campus and on this first day we visit two of them.
First, the Mathematics Museum. This is a large hangar-like building next to the separation wall, which adjoins the university. It’s a large space filled with interactive demonstration pieces which all illustrate various mathematical principles. There’s a chessboard with Perspex columns arranged on the squares which are filled with rice grains to illustrate exponential growth. There are pendulums, wooden rings on metal spigots, charts of numbers, all kinds of simple machines to explore. Our guide takes us though half a dozen of these, explaining the mathematical principles. It’s fun. The museum is the first of its kind in Palestine and over eight years has seen over 250,000 visitors, mainly young children but also their families.
The second museum, a five minute walk from the first, is the Science Museum. Here again we find a succession of appliances and demonstration pieces and the museum director takes us on a tour. We see various machines grouped under themes such as electricity, audio, kinetics, visual phenomena. Many of the demonstration pieces are sophisticated and our group happily experiments with, for example, an exhibit which demonstrates the interaction of different wave forms. The bicycling skeleton is a little macabre, the chair of nails surprisingly comfy.
For lunch we’re taken to a campus / café ‘Sudfeh’, which is vegan. It’s the first vegan restaurant in Palestine and part of a project to foster animal rights. The exchange team has negotiated a special deal for us and those who stayed (several meat-cravers went elsewhere) had a treat: An outside table covered with dishes of various kinds with dips (humus, ful, baba ganoush), salad, halloumi, tomato… with plenty of bread, mint tea and cold drinks included. We couldn’t eat it all! The meat-eaters who came to eat their sandwiches nearby seemed surprised at our spread.
After lunch we all returned to Dar Assadaqa (House of Friendship), which is here the Abu Diss side of the exchange is based.
We have a rota. Each team has to take turns cooking a communal meal, and tonight is maklouba! Luckily one of the Palestinian volunteers is helping out as we need expertise for this dish.
Well, we can say that the evening meal is a great success. Everyone has lots of delicious food, and we are joined by family members of the Abu Diss staff. Those tiny Palestinian girls can dance really well (talking about 5-year olds!
Having made various enquiries we have a general idea about how prepare maklouba, unless we’ve been misled by Ollie our man on the inside and whose identity must be kept secret:
You’ll need enough chicken pieces for everyone (1-2 each), rice, vegetables, cooking oil (not olive), salt, pepper, spices.
Clean and chop vegetables for the salad (cucumber, tomatos) nice and small.
Fry the vegetables for the dish (potatoes, cauliflower and carrots) for the main dish, remove from the pan, set aside.
Season the chicken pieces, mix with chopped onion and garlic and fry in the oil. When the pieces are well-browned, add water to cover the pieces well.
Add the vegetables. Add rice – as an estimate I’d say half as much rice by volume as the amount of water, but our informant was a little hazy on this point.
When the rice is cooked the meal is ready.
To be on the safe side I’d recommend investing in a book on middle eastern cookery – maklouba is a regional standard and I’m sure there will be less risk of failure than by following the above!
There was a fair amount to wash up but with plenty of volunteers this was soon done and our first full day was over. Tomorrow – Jerusalem!