Unique moments from a Palestinian child’s memory of her land

olive tree branch

Every time I sniff the aroma of earth, I feel a sense of nostalgia for that spring day that I spent with my grandparents in our land, enjoying its charming beauty and the delicious food of my grandmother.

Lovely morning with grandparents

It's 8 a.m., and the brilliant golden arms of the sun hug the land as my grandparents and I sit under an orange tree enjoying the sight of its green leaves that glimmer in the sunlight, the delicious smell of its white flowers and the sweet-tart taste of its fresh fruit.

Forty-five minutes later, we had a mouthwatering breakfast – thyme manaqeesh baked in the clay oven, olives, and olive oil prepared by my grandmother.

Palestinians and olives

I loved the shimmering olives and the golden olive oil. They reminded me of the harvest seasons, when all the family members gather to pick olives. We Palestinians have a special relationship with the olive tree and everything it produces. I asked my grandfather, “What makes that unique connection between us and this tree?”

“It’s a long story ya Binti! The strong roots of olive trees in Palestine are as long as Palestinians’ roots; therefore, Palestinians’ love for olives grows year by year and reaches the point where Palestinians would water them with their blood if the world ran out of water.”

“I’ll take care of our beloved,” I promised my grandpa.

clay oven

Thyme manaqeesh with my grandmother

I enjoyed eating the delicious soft thyme manaqeesh that my grandmother prepared and baked in the clay oven.

I still remember how she made the manaqeesh. First, she put flour, some salt and some sugar in a bowl, then she added olive oil and water; she mixed them well and cut the dough into pieces. Next, she covered the pieces with thyme, the green gold of Palestine, and olive oil, and sprinkled them with sesame seeds. Eventually, the aromatic smell of the fresh manaqeesh wafted through the air, telling us that it was ready to be eaten.

The clay oven 

I asked my grandmother, “How did you make this amazing oven?”

“I put stones in a semicircle and covered them with straw, then I combined the clay with water, and put it on the straw. I made sure that I left a main hole in the front part of the oven and others around it. The air enters the oven through the holes and helps light the fire. Finally, I leave it two days until it dries.”

“Wow, could you teach me how I can bake in it, grandma?”

“Sure, dear,” she said. “To bake in the clay oven, you need to put a baking tin inside it, then you put firewood under the tin, and light the fire. After fifteen minutes, put whatever you want to cook in the tin. While baking, you have to close all the holes, apart from the door. After a while, you will have yummy food!”

field of flowers

Among our lands flowers

By sunset, my grandfather held my hand and took me on a walk around the fields of flowers on our land. It was a breathtaking view; there was a wide variety of flowers that have different colors, shapes, leaves and scents.

The carnation is one of the most lovely and prolific flowers that decorate Gaza. It is a symbol of beauty and uniqueness. This flower grows to 60 centimeters or more tall. The carnation has shiny green leaves and many petals, which have three popular colors: white, red and pink, and sometimes it is bicolored. Moreover, it produces a scented oil that is used in perfumes. Also, the eugenol, liquid delivered from the oil of that plant, is used in dental work as a painkiller and the dried seeds are used as a spice in Arabian coffee. 

The rose is another pretty flower that blossoms in spring and fall. It has pinnate leaves with five (rarely seven) leaflets. Two liquids are extracted from the flower petals: rose oil and rose water. The former has a rich floral fragrance; ergo, it is used to produce the finest perfumes worldwide. The latter, however, has a distinctive flavor and is used in the Middle East,  especially in sweets such as Turkish delight and baklava.

“Gazans plant many other types of beautiful flowers such as Gerbera Jamisoni flowers, Loanda, and Qazaniyah,” my grandfather said. “These plants always give us the sense of honesty, love, and hope.”

“I love my land, and Ill take care of all these flowers along with the olive tree,” I promised my grandba.

“And I love you, my little girl!”

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Mentor: Jaylyn Olivo

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