Wednesday, February 27, 2008


Mosaics fascinate me. Especially the oldest ones that depict visual reality long ago. Birds and gazelles and maps. They are in a way very primitive digital photography, capturing in colored tiles sights seen and valued by people long ago.

Tiled floors of any kind are also great fun for children to play on. They make up games to go with what ever pattern might be there.

Through out the years we've tried to take our children to historic places so that they may see and feel first hand what great thinkers and dreamers through out history have written about.

Not all our travels have been to the Middle East. When my husband goes on business trips sometimes we have been able to join him and while he works we play. He has had many trips to
Massachusetts. Walden Pond has always been a favorite for me. It's in Concord, Massachusetts which is a treasure trove of authors' homes.

"Henry David Thoreau lived at Walden Pond from July 1845 to September 1847. His experience at Walden provided the material for the book Walden, which is credited with helping to inspire awareness and respect for the natural environment."

There is a path that runs along its edge through the woods around the lake sized Walden Pond which makes for a very pleasant hike.

In the States I have been easily able to take the kids to interesting places on my own. But not so in the Middle East. I would not know where to go. Nor do I speak Arabic well enough to be understood. But more importantly I simply do not have the head full of history that my husband does.

My husband when speaking English, often explains what he is thinking with an expression or saying or proverb in Arabic. He'll say it in Arabic first, and then translate what he said he said into English for me. Sometimes he will translate it literally, and I find such translations enchanting. Such a different world really, with everything from polished marble to wild camels creating a very different and more diverse folklore vocabulary than we have here in the west.

Here are some examples from
A Collection of Palestinian Proverbs
  • "Elli 3ala raasoh baT7a y7asses 3aleiha"
    Literal: He who has a flask on his head can keep touching it.

  • "Elli 3ando 7enna y7anni daan 7maaroh"
    Literal: He who has Henna can use it for his donkey's ear.

    • The above two proverbs are used in a sarcastic sense of describing people's pride: "IF he's got something to be proud of then he can be so (away from us)"

Proverbs and mosaics both take colorful bits and pieces, arranging the mundane precisely and pulling it tightly together to make something which is much bigger than merely the parts. Synergy... marriage can be that way too- and good friendships.

And for me at least, the idea of mosaics
takes a logical leap up into stained glass windows, with glass rather than tiles, glass that becomes brilliant when the sun hits it... glass designed to pull together a compelling picture- and a story for those who might not be able to read.

Wandering around on the internet today I found a fascinating site on Mosaics in Palestine...

Mosaic of Bilad Al-Sham - Exibition The exhibition presents the copies of ancient mosaics representing different Palestinian cities and prepared by the Palestinian team participating in the ...

I like that this was prepared by a Palestinian team..and that so many people world wide are doing what they can to keep culture alive- to preserve and share a very precious heritage: And I like that this endeavor included training six Palestinian young people to cover the needs of a number of different pieces of mosaic in different sites all around Palestine:

The exhibition presents the copies of ancient mosaics representing different Palestinian cities and prepared by the Palestinian team participating in the Bilad Al-Sham course. Panels and pictures illustrating the work undertaken during the course are on view throughout the exhibition.

In this room you see four modern copies of ancient mosaic floors with representations of Palestinian cities. The originals are found in the Church of St. Stephen in Umm al-Rasas (Jordan).

One thing certainly does lead another... I really am fascinated by all that one can explore with the Internet!

The traditional Arabic term Bilad al-Sham (Arabic: بلاد الشام , also transliterated bilad-ush-sham etc.) is a name for the whole Levant or "Greater Syria" region that today contains Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Israel, and the Palestinian territories (sometimes excluding the Jazira region in the north-east of modern Syria). The term etymologically means "land of the left hand", referring to the fact that for someone in the Hejaz facing east, north is to the left (so the name Yemen correspondingly means "land of the right hand"). The region is sometimes defined as the area that was dominated by Damascus, long an important regional centre — in fact, the Arabic word al-Sham الشام standing on its own can refer to the city of Damascus.

I like that websites everywhere are growing a positive paper trail not only introducing West to East, but also proving Palestine- and showing at least a bit of its beauty. And I like that people bother to add into Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, information that used to be impossible to find or even know unless you were a scholar with a huge library of reference books.

And so in growing a private personal garden for Palestine today, I think it is important to spend some time exploring and enjoying treasures that can be found on the Internet. Capturing ideas and colors and shapes that can be used in our gardens.

Mosaics can be made- or bought. Some can be made into tables. Play with idea- and pull the pieces together into something you like... or want to remember.

And in growing our public Garden for Palestine, I would have a large mosaic map of Palestine- historic Palestine, made by modern hands and eyes looking to capture Palestine's beauty and dignity and significance to so many people. And in Arabic as well as English every village would be noted somehow. Perhaps on a poster.

From outside the garden one would see the key shaped entry, the way in- and looking into the garden itself the mosaic map of Palestine.

But until then maybe this will have to do:

Narrations of the Nakba
An-Najah University

Monday, February 25, 2008

Lavender ...

©2006 Publications International, Ltd.
Lavender is an aromatic full sun perennial.
See more pictures of perennials.

"Lavender is an aromatic herb originally hailing from the Mediterranean. The genus name, meaning to wash, alludes to the ancient custom of scenting bathwater with oil of lavender or a few lavender flowers. These perennials tend to be shrubby, usually with square stems and narrow evergreen leaves that are white and woolly when young. Flower spikes are terminal clusters of lavender or dark purple flowers, blooming in late June and bearing a pleasing scent."

On weekends, when he might have free time, I often ask my husband to take me to the grocery store. I can drive myself but I really like life better when he drives. I can sit back and happily day dream out the window, idly watching the passing scenery and seasons. I find being a passenger with my husband at the wheel very pleasant and relaxing. Sometimes we listen to classic music, sometimes we listen to rock, or jazz, or the news on NPR. Sometimes we simply enjoy a bit of peace and quiet with no need to listen to anything at all, except perhaps the car's well tuned engine.

I like the way my husband shifts gears and makes the engine race- but not too much. But what I like best is he has eagle eyes. Often he will see some wild creature and he'll point it out, slowing the car so I can notice it too. Owls, egrets, hawks, butterflies, cats and mice... and deer. No matter how urban the environment seems to be, he has a knack for noticing wild life, both flora and fauna.

I like having him in the grocery store too. He has a knack for knowing what fruit to buy. He is very serious as he studies each specimen with care. Some he smells, some he gently squeezes testing for firmness, and all get a close visual examination.

I too know how to examine and buy good fruit- but the real trick he has is in knowing which fruit our kids will eat this week. Whatever tempts him, usually tempts our sons too. Whereas I simply don't have that magic touch, even if I try to buy what I think he would buy for them. The basic formula, which I call the Fruit Rule, is also true of deli meat and breakfast cereal and what to have for dinner. (It also applies to what movies to rent). All in all, as the boys have grown older, getting man sized appetites, I save a huge amount of time, money and bother with my husband's help grocery shopping.

Yesterday, on the way to the grocery store, my husband said, out of the blue: "It's time to start thinking about planting the lavender seeds, we have to plant them in a few weeks."

Lavender... loverly lavender. I adore the stuff. We have problems growing it here in our backyard, but my husband keeps trying anyway. His uncle, Amu Zuhair, has a huge fragrant hedge of lavender on his farm that overlooks the Jordan Valley. The lavender hedge is below the back porch and there is a bright red railing where you can lean and simply relax into the view while smelling lavender.

In the Middle East Friday is the day off and it is always a pleasure to be invited to some one's farm to enjoy the day with relatives. Cousins of every age get to play together and usually there is a scrumptious feast. Sometimes the gatherings are huge, and sometimes they are small. Although visiting family and friends does not have to be limited to Friday. Anything but. Family is very much your social life every day of the week.

One weekday visit to Amu Zuhair's farm his charming daughter, on hearing that we were there, showed up with a tempting array of traditional delectable deserts- all homemade. And we had hot tea served in little glasses. It was wonderful- better than many a four star restaurant.

My dear friend, The Lady of the Links, sent me an intriguing link recently about "Birth Right Palestine" I was utterly delighted and entranced, it sounds like a great project- and perfect for Palestinian Americans with
no immediate family living in the Middle East, who want to connect to and learn more about real life- in Palestine.

"Birthright Palestine is a unique program created by Native Palestinians for Diaspora Palestinians."

Birth Right Palestine will teach you Arabic, no matter what level you might be on (Arabic Lessons). I was very impressed that they can accommodate a huge range of needs and abilities. If you don't speak Arabic they make sure you are staying with a family that has at least one English speaker while you learn beginning Arabic. "Beginning Arabic teaches students colloquial spoken Arabic in the Palestinian Dialect." And if you do speak Arabic they will teach you to read, speak and write classical Arabic.

But what is really compelling is that they try to place you with a family, a family that will fed you traditional food as well as make you part of their life while you are there :

Host Families

Being that you are a Palestinian born outside of Palestine, we are assuming that your parents did not leave their native homeland by choice and rather unwillingly abandoned their homes due to the grave difficulties that they faced under occupation and war. Thus, your parents, as well as their descendants (you) are technically refugees. You are a refugee because the reason you are living in a foreign state is due to the fear of persecution in your homeland simply for being born an Arab.

Thus, all participants will be living with host families in the Dheisheh Refugee Camp. These families will adopt you as a family member and care for you as one of their own. They will allow you to penetrate the local social-life by inviting you to family events, such as weddings, funerals, clan meetings, family-visits, etc. They will help you improve your Arabic language skills through daily practical use, and accommodate your every need...[more]

I would call this "Birth Right Palestine" a noble and necessary endeavor...Looks to me like many people every where also doing what they can to be growing gardens for Palestine, in many different ways.

There were numerous thoughts flickering through my head as to what direction to go in my blog Growing Gardens for Palestine for today. So many tempting thoughts and ideas pop up all though out the day on what I might do. I've started to keep a list for it simply because it is fun to think of all the different ways one might honor and remember Palestine- and peace... and gardens.

Last night I thought I was going to meander off into music and started gearing myself up for that, but then this morning I felt mosaics would be more fun to think about today. But somehow gatherings is what emerged, as I looked at pictures of lavender and wondered about what to blog.

And so today in a private personal level in growing a garden for Palestine, it is time to start thinking about planting lavender.... "
Many people appreciate lavender (Lavandula angustifolia or Lavandula officinalis) for its aromatic fragrance, used in soaps, shampoos, and sachets for scenting clothes. The name lavender comes from the Latin root lavare , which means "to wash." Lavender most likely earned this name because it was frequently used in baths to help purify the body and spirit. However, this herb is also considered a natural remedy for a range of ailments from insomnia and anxiety to depression and mood disturbances. Research has confirmed that lavender produces calming, soothing, and sedative effects."

"In the Middle East... one finds a group of interrelated names that have an independent origin:
Arabic khuzaama [خزامى] "

Planting lavender- and pleasant memories.

Any garden is a good place for gatherings, for family and friends to met up and enjoy the fresh air and beauty of the day. Some people have garden weddings. And so in growing our imagined public garden for Palestine I would make sure that weddings and other such celebrations are welcome, especially children's birthday parties. I would shape space for groups and have chairs and tables available. Tables with embroidered tablecloths- but more on that detail some other day.

Every guest in all their finery would arrive to walk through the key shaped entry, remembering and honoring historic Palestine- every inch of it, and lavender would be there somewhere in my garden for Palestine, near a fountain, so you get both the sound of splash as well as the fragrance of lavender in the air, washing your spirit clean.

Rub your hands into lavender and the fragrance clings and you can carry it anywhere.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Poetry continued-

The Ruins of Kafr Bir’im. 2006. Photo Credit John Halaka ©

The other day some one sent me a message mentioning a film called "The Presence of Absence in the Ruins of Kafr Bir’im" A Film by John Halaka

I am always entranced by the way the land holds onto ruins- to hints of time past. How flowers bloom and life goes on no matter what. This is true everywhere- but it is most poignant in historic Palestine because the Palestinian refugees have been wrongly denied their inalienable legal, natural and sacred right to return to original homes and lands.

Even if there is no obvious structure left, often gardens planted long ago come back to outline what was once- within living memory- when the children of historic Palestine were simply free to ramble anywhere and every where in the land of their ancestor's birth. And their parents were free to live and work and build libraries and grow gardens honoring a storied past as well as a promising future.

I suppose, inspired by the message in my email
"The Presence of Absence in the Ruins of Kafr Bir’im" , I should ramble off into talking about films or photographs or..., well many many things really, as my mind and heart tends to leap and tumble every where, eager to explore so many different aspects of what Palestine was as well as what Palestine might be- but I cannot help but think of poetry again today:

"Shot on location in the ruins and cemetery of Kafr Bir’im, a Palestinian village located in the Northern Galilee, the film introduces the viewer to Mr. Ibrahim Essa, an elderly poet who survived the ethnic cleansing of his homeland in 1948. Mr. Essa’s family has lived in Kafr Bir’im for the past 700 years. Through his narrative and poetry, Ibrahim Essa recounts his experiences as a youth in the village, the hardships of a life in exile and the intense emotional, physical and historical connections to the land that he shares with the 5,000,000 Palestinians who currently live in the Palestinian diaspora. Mr. Essa employs an ancient oral tradition of poetry that, in style, is similar to what is now referred to as “Spoken Word Poetry.” This improvisational oral tradition has been around for centuries in Northern Palestine and continues to be used by farmers and villagers to express the community’s intimate relationship to the land; a yearning for past times; and their cultural, psychological and physical attachment to the ancient and modern ruins that exist throughout that region." Description of The Presence of Absence in the Ruins of Kafr Bir’im provided by John Halaka:

One of my favorite bloggers is Umkahlil. Her blog is a treasure trove of information - and integrity: Umkahlil often remembers significant Palestinian poets and honors them by inserting them into the conversation where ever she can. For instance:

Beloved poet and Palestinian patriot, Kamal Nasir, a Christian, assasinated by Ehud Barak in 1973, addresses exile and return in this excerpt from "Kamal Nasir's Last Poem,"

Tell my only one, for I love him,
That I have tasted the joy of giving
And my heart relishes the wounds of sacrifice.
There is nothing left for him
Save the sighs from my song...
Save the remnants of my lute
Lying piled and scattered in our house.
Tell my only one if he ever visits my grave
And yearns for my memory,
Tell him one day that I shall return
--to pick the fruits.

Do your worst.

Here we shall stay.

We guard the shade

of Olive and fig.

Tawfiq Zayyad

One of my own favorite poems is by the late Tawfiq Zayyad, poet, former Mayor of Nazareth and Knesset member:

All I Have

I never carried a rifle

On my shoulder

Or pulled a trigger.

All I have

Is a lute’s memory

A brush to paint my dreams,

A bottle of ink.

All I have

Is unshakeable faith

And an infinite love

For my people in pain.

Another favorite poem of mine is by Hanan Ashrawi

Hadeel's Song

Some words are hard to pronounce—
He-li-cop-ter is most vexing
(A-pa-che or Co-bra is impossible)
But how it can stand still in the sky
I cannot understand—
What holds it up
What bears its weight
(Not clouds, I know)
It sends a flashing light—so smooth--
It makes a deafening sound
The house shakes
(There are holes in the wall by my bed)
And I have a hard time sleeping
(I felt ashamed when I wet my bed, but no one scolded me).

Plane—a word much easier to say—
It flies, tayyara,
My mother told me
A word must have a meaning
A name must have a meaning
Like mine,
(Hadeel, the cooing of the dove)
Tanks, though, make a different sound
They shudder when they shoot
Dabbabeh is a heavy word
As heavy as its meaning.

Hadeel—the dove—she coos
Tayyara—she flies
Dabbabeh—she crawls
My Mother—she cries
And cries and cries
My Brother—Rami—he lies
And lies and lies, his eyes
Hit by a bullet in the head
(bullet is a female lead—rasasa—she kills,
my pencil is a male lead—rasas—he writes)
What’s the difference between a shell and a bullet?
(What’s five-hundred-milli-meter-
Or eight-hundred-milli-meter-shell?)
Numbers are more vexing than words—
I count to ten, then ten-and-one, ten-and-two
But what happens after ten-and-ten,
How should I know?
Rami, my brother, was one
Of hundreds killed—
They say thousands are hurt,
But which is more
A hundred or a thousand (miyyeh or alf)
I cannot tell—
So big--so large--so huge—
Too many, too much.

Palestine—Falasteen—I’m used to,
It’s not so hard to say,
It means we’re here—to stay--
Even though the place is hard
On kids and mothers too
For soldiers shoot
And airplanes shell
And tanks boom
And tear gas makes you cry
(Though I don’t think it’s tear gas that makes my mother cry)
I’d better go and hug her
Sit in her lap a while
Touch her face (my fingers wet)
Look in her eyes
Until I see myself again
A girl within her mother’s sight.

If words have meaning, Mama,
What is Is-ra-el?
What does a word mean
if it is mixed
with another—
If all soldiers, tanks, planes and guns are
What are they doing here
In a place I know
In a word I know—(Palestine)
In a life that I no longer know?
That poem in turn reminds me of one of my favorite youtube videos
Outlandish Look Into My Eyes

I want my garden to be a place of peace- of progress- and potential. I don't want it to be a Holocaust museum obsessed with the horrors of what was- although there must be a place for remembering.

Yesterday I received a charming note concerning Growing Gardens for Palestine:

"My garden is my own personal therapy, i love the feel of dirt in my hands and feel joy watching things grow. I have a date palm that I planted from a seed and this year it looks as if we will have dates, so very exciting. Thank you again, Diana"

And I just noticed that my favorite blogger Umkahlil left two comments in the comment section of Growing Gardens for Palestine Poem in Your Pocket Day is April 17th concerning poems:
umkahlil said...

What a beautiful way to start my Sunday. An inspirational post, and a brilliant poem that evokes so many memories of my childhood growing up with loving aunts, uncles, good Arabic food, Arabic coffee, summers going from the garden, where we'd bring in tomatos, eggplant for our lunch or dinner . . . my mother, her sister, my sittie (grandmother) traipsing around the vineyards of Kern County, picking their grapeleaves for the season . . . my mother laughing as she recalls my grandmother who'd just come over from Ramallah, running around the vineyard as if she were a young girl. Keep these beautiful and inspiring posts coming; what a brilliant way to inform people of the beauty of Palestine and its people. Now I will make hummus for my daughter's birthday, recalling my father teaching me how to "break the tahini," as I stir and pound the bit of hard tahini left in the jar (I didn't make it to the Syrian store lately to get the nice smooth tahini one finds at the top of the jar). Then I'll cut into little pieces the leg of lamb for either putting on top of the hummus or the rice (Uncle Ben's, of course), and I'll remember my mother complaining how hard it is to sit and roll grapeleaves, and our neighbor, the manager of the local Sherwin Williams, who used to stir the tahini with the machine he used to stir paint, telling her, "Why don't you stand, then?"

February 24, 2008 12:50 AM

umkahlil said...

I'd like to add some links here for some beautiful poetry. One must access the video (linked to below; scroll down to "Summer Camp in Bi'rim") to appreciate the beauty of the following poem as it's spoken in Arabic by the poet:

Your beauty is God given
Your beauty is God given
A human being strains to describe it.
North, south, east, west
Vistas of hills and valleys
When you tire on the way and feel thirsty
You may drink of al-Safra from the well
And on a dessert of figs you may feast
Feast on a dessert of figs of Bayad and Ghazzali
Tarry as you near the grapes
And when you approach the vine
Give thanks, and lift up your voice
Your people, Bir'im have not died
And will not forsake a grain of sand from you
As long as you have men like these
As long as you have men like these
Who continually strive for justice
they do not care what others may say
And they always say to the oppressor
Our Bir'im is more precious than money.
And the return will never disappear
We will return contented
We will forget the bitter days.

February 24, 2008 6:45 AM
Poetry and gardens- both can be therapeutic, as well as informative, each in their own way... to everything there is a season turn turn turn...

To everything there is a season,
a time for every purpose under the sun.
A time to be born and a time to die;
a time to plant and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
a time to kill and a time to heal ...
a time to weep and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn and a time to dance ...
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to lose and a time to seek;
a time to rend and a time to sew;
a time to keep silent and a time to speak;
a time to love and a time to hate;
a time for war and a time for peace.

ecclesiastes 3:1-8

Palestinian Poppies

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Poem in Your Pocket Day is April 17th

In Growing Gardens for Palestine, I think it is important to notice and feature Palestinian poets and art.

My email box is very full- it is hard to sort through all my messages, easy to lose what might be important. Names I know and love I click on right away. Priorities.

One of my personal priorities in life is poetry. Simply that- poetry. This week another one of those emails that I love to explore landed in my box:

National Poetry Month Posters on the way


It's hard to believe that February is nearly over but it's true--National Poetry Month is little over a month away. This year the Academy is celebrating with a nationwide Poem in Your Pocket Day. Find out how you can participate at

poster 08In other exciting news, the 2008 National Poetry Month poster has been printed and is on its way to you. If you don't receive your poster by March 15, please contact the membership department for a replacement.

As always, the poster is being sent free of charge to thousands of classrooms, libraries, bookstores, and individuals across the country, along with information about how teachers and students can take April as an opportunity to celebrate poetry. If you know of a classroom that would like a free copy, please encourage them to sign up.

Your generous membership donations are what allow us to provide this educational resource every year and, as always, we are very grateful for your support. Have a great spring and a wonderful National Poetry Month.


Audrey Ference, Membership Coordinator

To find out about poetry events, readings, and resources in your area, please visit our national poetry map.

For poetry books, CDs, gifts, and apparel, check out our gift shop.

Renew online or give the gift of membership. Your dollars make everything we do possible.


I duplicated the entire email so it can be explored at your leisure - meandering off where ever you might want to go. Personally I find the national poetry map quite intriguing. It's fun to explore and dream about where I might go someday. Ramblings I might take.

But what enchanted me most this week was not the map which I have seen and explored before but the idea-
Poem in Your Pocket Day


Poem In Your Pocket Day

Celebrate the first national Poem In Your Pocket Day!

The idea is simple: select a poem you love during National Poetry Month then carry it with you to share with co-workers, family, and friends on April 17.

Poems from pockets will be unfolded throughout the day with events in parks, libraries, schools, workplaces, and bookstores. Create your own Poem In Your Pocket Day event using ideas below or let us know how you will celebrate Poem In Your Pocket Day by emailing

Put Poems In Pockets

In this age of mechanical and digital reproduction, it's easy to carry a poem, share a poem, or start your own PIYP day event. Here are some ideas of how you might get involved:

  • Start a "poems for pockets" give-a-way in your school or workplace
  • Urge local businesses to offer discounts for those carrying poems
  • Post pocket-sized verses in public places
  • Handwrite some lines on the back of your business cards
  • Start a street team to pass out poems in your community
  • Distribute bookmarks with your favorite immortal lines
  • Add a poem to your email footer
  • Post a poem on your blog or social networking page
  • Project a poem on a wall, inside or out
  • Text a poem to friends
  • Help us expand the list: send your ideas to


    They have so many good ideas- doable ideas...ways one person can easily help poetry be more important in an every day way.

    I like that- for poetry's sake. And for Palesitne's sake I am hoping that on April 17, people who care about Palestine, in helping to sow seeds and grow Gardens for Palestine any where they might be, well I hope people take the time and trouble to find and share a poem or maybe even many many poems by Palestinians. The Palestinians have been oppressed- and silenced in so many ways. So I think we need to make an effort to notice and appreciate Palestinian poetry.

    Write down!
    I am an Arab
    You have stolen the orchards of my ancestors
    And the land which I cultivated
    Along with my children
    And you left nothing for us
    Except for these rocks..

    from the poem Identity Card by Mahmoud Darwish - 1964

    Darwish has many other great poems too- poems for every mood.
    Please don't stop with just that one poem and poet- and idea... or theme. Let Palestinian poetry be alive in every sense and every way. Some poems are political, some are not.

    Do your own research- find your own poems- and feelings- your own mood... seek out and discover what speaks to you- says what you believe needs to be said in a way that you honestly appreciate. What grabs you and makes you feel more alive and connected. I don't want to be an encyclopedia here- I simply want to plant seeds for Growing Gardens for Palestine.

    A dear friend of mine sent me a note regarding "Growing Gardens for Palestine" when I was first bouncing ideas off her. I like to do that and I treasure her friendship. She has a brilliant mind and I can say anything and- well she's just fun to talk to. She is the Lady of the Links- always has something highly relevant that I will find intriguing. Her note to me:

    "Look at Nahida's family photos . . . especially the ones in which she poses with flowers to match her dress . . . these are so lovely. Look for the ones under "family and friends."
    I love the idea of gardens for Palestine. So many Palestinians have gardens where ever they are; what a wonderful feature story it would be. "

    I put my friend's words in green because with her help I always seem to be growing. Our conversations take me farther than I could ever go on my own.

    I was entranced and inspired by the photos my friend, The Lady of the Links, pointed me to. Some photos just seem to be a visual poem- the way the flowers are echoed in her clothes:

    wild ma!92AA638F9B6EA940!321/cns!92AA638F9B6EA940!1271/?ViewType=4

    The website, well worth exploring is called

    Poetry for Palestine

    nahida Izzat

    "I am -Jerusalem born- Palestinian refugee living in exile for over 40 years.
    I was forced to leave my homeland, Palestine at the age of seven during the six-day war.

    I am a mathematician by profession but art is one of my favourite pastimes, I love hand-made things, so I make dolls, cards, and most of my own clothes.

    I also write poetry, and participate in dialogues with known and unknown friends as I believe that communication is the first step of understanding, I believe in building bridges not walls.
    My shy and extra sensitive nature hinders me from public speaking, so I try to compensate for my shortcomings by writing!
    I started writing about three years ago when my friends insisted I should write about my memories, experiences, and my feelings as a Palestinian.

    I did… but it all came out -for some strange reason- sounding -as I was told- like poetry!

    So I self published two books (I Believe in Miracles, and Palestine, The True Story)"

    Nahida's profile sounds like a poem to me, so I'll leave it at that and move on.

    In sowing and growing Gardens for Palestine on a personal, private level, let's remember poetry- specifically Palestinian poets. While I very much like the idea of National Poetry Month- as well as the idea of creating events around Poem in Your Pocket Day, there is no need to wait until April 17th to put a poem in your pocket... Start today.

    And in growing our public Garden for Palestine, we've entered the garden through the key shaped entry, and we've noticed that there is a gift shop. And we've found brochures we can borrow or buy describing the herbs and honoring Arabic and Arabic calligraphy.

    Well there are also poetry contests- poetry for Palestine. And every year in April there is a bucket full of poems- poems free for taking and sharing. Pieces of paper, all different types. And on each piece of paper is a copy of one poem written either in, or inspired by, our Garden for Palestine. And intermingled would be copies of poems by famous Palestinian poets and well known Palestinian poems.

    You can sift through to find one that speaks to you most.

    And there would be weekly- if not daily poetry readings in a quiet corner somewhere in our public Garden for Palestine- all year round. Some of the readings would be for children with poems both by children- and for children. But no child would ever be forced to read- or listen to- any poem. Let them listen if they want- join if they want- but they have to be free not to too. Poetry in our garden should not be forced.

    And just as art gallery openings tend to serve wine and cheese and crackers, in our Garden for Palestine, let's be known for serving mint tea- and memories:

    Mint Tea
    By Mike Odetalla

    A Cup of Mint tea
    Holds a special meaning for me

    The fragrant flavor and smell
    Triggers memories

    That I remember rather well

    Of mothers beautiful garden in Palestine
    Filled with beauty and sites, truly divine

    The flowers, herbs, and vegetables...
    A vision so great
    From which I was torn away at the age of eight

    The mint plants were special in many ways

    They added an aroma that flavored our lives in countless ways

    The mint in my garden today
    Originated from a sprig in my mothers purse as a stowaway

    So with each sip of mint tea
    The memory and flavor of my homeland

    Is here with me…

    A sip from a cup of mint tea
    Is a sip of Palestine for me!

    Friday, February 22, 2008

    Honoring Arabic & Arabic Calligraphy

    Arabic Calligraphy

    I haven't told my husband yet about this latest blog and idea- Growing Gardens for Palestine. It's not so much that I am keeping it a secret as he can easily look over my shoulder any time he wants to see what I am working on.

    I used to have a laptop and I'd sit on the soft sofa in the family room to work on my computer. In theory that sounds nice but the reality was that with the kids and the dog and the doorbell and dinner on the stove I spent more time taking the laptop off my lap than I did with it on. So now I have a square table that has moved into the family room, the heart of our home, to become my desk. I have a desk top computer, plus plenty of space for odds and ends. And I have an office chair because they really are designed with the idea of I have to turn around plus I often have to get up and down in mind.

    To my right I have a book case where most of my favorite reference books are. Our home has at least one book case in every room. The formal living room however is the real library. Our best books are kept there, including a wonderful collection of books on the Middle East, as well as books on art, books on religion, history, and poetry- and books on Palestine.

    When our children were little I kept enticing age appropriate books for them in there too, on a low shelf easily reached by little people. Story books by or about Arabs and children's books on Islam as well as pictorial travel books and anything else that I thought might help inspire them to define their own Arab and Muslim identity in positive ways.

    When we are lucky enough to be in the Middle East I am always on the look out for books that simply can not be found here in America. When our kids were little (not so long ago) many children enjoyed picture books sold with a cassette tape reading the story aloud. Since I read aloud to them so much there was no need for me to buy ones in America, but while abroad I would always try to pick up ones in Arabic so they could at least hear proper Arabic when their father was not home.

    My husband works hard, and his hours can be crazy, but like most all the other Arab men I know he really is wonderful with children.

    Culture shock after visiting family in the Middle East is noticing how much more children- and mothers- are cherished by society as a whole, every where we have gone in the Middle East. There is a deep respect for family in the Arab world. You don't notice how much it is missing here in America until you go there to experience it for yourself. And of course there is the classic Arab hospitality - a warm generous welcome which often involves offerings of delectable food, or at least something to drink.

    As my husband grows older he becomes more and more like his father- I hope our sons do the same, because that is a good thing, a very very good thing.
    Thankfully our children have not inherited my math gene...although being bad at math really has enabled me to have quite a sense of humor about it ... : )

    In addition to many other fine characteristics, qualities and talents, my guys all like tinkering with tools, doing carpentry as well as fixing whatever might need to be fixed. I can not help but wonder how far back in time this tendency stretches, firmly passed on from father to son for generations.

    My husband makes me online possible. He is a whiz with computers. I am not. But it is more than that. He helps me have the gift of time and space to do with what ever I want. When my computer 'breaks' he fixes it no matter how busy his own day.

    And every year my husband creates and tends our garden, my own little patch of paradise- my reprieve- my joy and my delight- my inspiration- a beautiful beautiful garden. Sometimes his mother, our children's Teta sends seeds. One year she brought us bulbs for black irises which have thrived so much we have been able to share them with neighbors. Our neighbors get a huge kick out of having blooming things from 'The Holy Land'... and so do I.

    My husband's parents grow their herbs behind their house, close to the back door which leads right into the kitchen. Before the apartments behind them were built I used to love looking out the kitchen window to watch a shepherd with his sheep and goats grazing in the large empty lot. Shepherds use dogs to round up sheep, but what I discovered in the Middle East is that they also toss small stones to startle and redirect their flock.

    Here in Pennsylvania my husband plants our herbs by our front door. It makes sense for three perfect reasons. My favorite being that I like the fragrance welcoming people into our house, and we have a small front porch that fits two chairs where we sometimes sit. But that is not why my husband placed our herbs by the front door. He did it because of the way our house here in hilly Pennsylvania is built, with the front door much closer to the kitchen (which looks out into our hillside back yard)... The front door is a straight short hallway away. To get to the back door you have to leave the kitchen, wander through the family room (past my computer), out into the garden room where you make a u turn to get to the back door. So in a way where he planted our herbs is closer to how his parents have it- even though it might appear to be the opposite.

    I suspect that growing up reading things from the right to left (Arabic) as well as English (left to right) makes for a very adaptable mind- more innovative simply in being able to automatically approach any problem at hand from whatever direction seems to best fit the situation.

    Today in Growing Gardens for Palestine on a personal private level I think one can think about herb gardens and where to put them, as well as what to put in them. One does not even have to have garden space to have an herb garden. Any window that gets sun welcomes a window box- or inside an apartment a container garden- or simply that mug that says Palestine.

    Or if you want to be more subtle- I think learning the Arabic names for the herbs and spices we use from our gardens to flavor our food is a good step towards Growing Gardens for Palestine, both public and private.

    On a personal level one can make labels to plant with each plant. Nicely designed ones that you can write on with special ink (like a laundry pen's permanent ink made to withstand being washed) are easily found in garden shops or in catalogs. Or you can make your own with anything at hand that might last a season- even a stone or a rock.

    If you are lucky enough to know someone who speaks Arabic have them help. English translations optional, but try to have both the Arabic words spelled out for Americans to read, as well as in Arabic calligraphy to honor a wonderful art form as well as the language in its original form. If you want to tip toe off towards a more 'traditional' biblical garden then figure out the Aramaic words too.

    And in my imagined public Garden for Palestine, the garden respects religion but is not obsessed with it- for I want everyone to feel welcome, I would simply do the same labeling- but better. In additon I would have a brochure that visitors can borrow or buy, to help offer up a more detailed history of each herb and its use- as well as traditional and tasty recipes one might try. For example
    Tabouleh - Wheat and Herb Salad

    photo by Edward Karaa
    Tabouleh is a salad like no other. Made with fresh veggies, olive oil and spices, it can be eaten in pita bread, scooped onto pita bread, or traditionally with a fork. In the Middle East, fresh grape leaves are used as a scoop....Tabouleh Recipe

    Thursday, February 21, 2008

    "Come, I'll tell you about Palestine"

    zaytoun logo

    I received a warm note concerning Growing Gardens for Palestine from someone who is one on of the email lists I am on. She gave me permission to publish her note in full:

    RE: Growing Gardens for Palestine...
    Dear Annie,

    Thank you for this idea, it is really inspired! I will think of it when I order my seeds and imagine this year's gardens.

    An old housemate of mine used to say: "in dark times, plant seeds," i.e., efforts in dark times germinate future happiness. My housemate was an Arabic Philologist from Belgium, and we were living in Egypt at the time, so I don't know the origins of her saying. However, I remember it both when things are looking grim and when I plant my little gardens in the dark, rainy uncertainty of Wisconsin's early spring.

    I will be interested to see what further thoughts and actions arise from your great ideas!

    Kate Zirbel

    I do have a disclaimer- most of my ideas really are not all that original: I did not invent the idea of a garden- but I certainly do enjoy mine. And I like thinking positive thoughts about Palestine in hopes that might help shape a better way forward for everyone.

    While nice notes from very nice people are bright stars that help guide the way, these really are dark times indeed- and very confusing. Who to trust ? Who to believe in? All I know is that I believe in Palestine- I mean the people of Palestine, not any particular politician! I believe in the children of historic Palestine- and basic human dignity- and love....

    There are many maps remembering all the names of the Palestinian villages destroyed by Zionist terror : Map showing the massive destruction of Palestinian towns after al-Nakba in 1948

    There is even a map that can be overlaid on google earth to see what was once, not long ago- within living memory- Palestine's Districts Before Nakba-1948 (for the satellite version or the Google Earth version)

    Palestine is a very special place in the hearts and minds of millions of Arab Palestinians who know with every breath they take that they have a very real legal and moral right to return to their original homes and lands. This is not about religion- this is about the rule of fair and just laws- and respecting basic human rights. The Palestinians know that they have a right to be free to live in peace and to prosper everywhere in what was once, not long ago- within living memory- historic Palestine.

    Yesterday, out and about doing errands I chanced to see that our local stores are starting to stock items for spring gardening. It is still far too early to plant anything here where I live, but it is never to early to start dreaming about what our garden might be.

    In the spirit of that I stood for a long long while admiring garden stones. Perfect for Palestine I thought- rocks with words- inspiring messages really... reminders to plant along the path, tucked in under some fragrant plant that pulls us in close as we grow our gardens for Palestine.

    Silly me bought one. It's not even a real rock! But I wanted it to remind me of messages, things we need to know and remember. It was hard choosing the perfect one. I came close to taking the one that said "DREAM"... but ended up firmly deciding on the one that said "LOVE".

    I brought it home and left it in the kitchen as I want to take my time figuring out where exactly in our real garden I might want to plant it.

    My husband saw it half hidden in the pile of clutter in the kitchen and he laughed at me. Yes I suppose it really is very silly to spend money on a rock- but I like the message- and the reminder. I have to assume that it all becomes much more absurd to him because his gardening has always been a huge gift to me, all his hard work planting and weeding and tending a much more magnificent and significant message of LOVE than that silly little rock I just bought.

    But I still like my rock saying LOVE.

    And so in Growing Gardens for Palestine I think on a personal private level we can look for real rocks, small manageable ones and paint significant messages on them. A little bit like the pet rock craze but more homemade... There are many possibilities for what we can paint on the rocks. "LOVE" is good. And there is no reason to limit ourselves to words. Symbols can be cherished- keys- and of course Handala....

    Painted or not, symbolic rocks we can put in our gardens or pass onto friends as gifts.

    And yes- each rock simply by being a rock might be a reminder of all those small barefoot Palestinian boys valiantly pitching a stone towards an Israeli tank.

    Yesterday in Growing Gardens for Palestine I managed to outline the front entrance for the public garden I am shaping in my mind. So far we have stepped through the key shaped entry .... and today I want to go straight to the gift shop. Yes I want it to have a gift shop even if it is only a little kiosk to the side. I want it to be place you can go not only to enjoy the beauty of the Garden for Palestine, but a place where you can find seeds and small gifts and postcards and some carefully chosen books and other such treasures. One of those treasures being Olive Oil from Palestine.

    Blame it all on Mike that today I skipped right into the gift shop. Yesterday he posted one of his wonderful essays on Al-Awda's list- and the topic is perfect... he writes of Zaatar. He explains Zaatar much better than I can. Mike is one of my favorite Palestinian American writers. He brings so much alive with his wonderful warm essays and letters. And last night on seeing his essay pop up in my email I knew I was going to highlight it as soon as I could. I noticed that at the end of his essay (that can also be found on his web page along with many other inspiring essays, poems and pictures ) he has added some links well worth exploring- organizations well worth supporting. I'll start with those first for they belong in the gift shop ... so browse through them if you want, but don't forget to read his enchanting essay...
    Of Olive Oil, Zaatar, and Mint Tea...By Mike Odetalla

    from Mike:

    PS…Now you can purchase authentic Palestinian cold pressed Extra Virgin Olive Oil and the best tasting Zaatar available, please visit the PCWF web site. There you can purchase Palestinian Oil and much more. By doing so help to support the Palestinian farmers and the children of Palestine!

    Recent studies have shown that Extra Virgin Olive oil LOWERS your cholesterol and is good for your heart and so is helping the people of Palestine, which is also good for the SOUL!!!

    Mike Odetalla..."A seed in the eternal fruit of Palestine"

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    "Come, I'll tell you about Palestine"

    My Home Town:

    The link to the website of Palestine Children's Welfare Fund ...Click to buy Palestinian embroidery online, sponsor a Palestinian child, buy a flag or a Kuffiya to feed one, or a donation of 25 dollars to plant an olive or orange tree in honor of some one you know or to commemorate a hero of yours .

    “The ink of the scholar is holier more than the blood of the martyr"- Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him)

    Of Olive Oil, Zaatar, and Mint Tea

    By Mike Odetalla

    I could not wait to get home yesterday. My wife had called me and told me that a package from Palestine had arrived. I relish these “care” packages from my mother and brother in Palestine. They usually send me, amongst other things, pure, cold pressed, virgin olive oil. It cannot be brought anywhere in the world. This special oil you see is by no means ordinary. It comes exclusively from my family’s ancient olive orchards. Some of these trees are hundreds of years old and were planted by my forefathers who had for many years before me, enjoyed their bounty. The reason I was excited was because I had also asked them to send me a couple packages of dried whole leaf Zaatar (wild thyme that grows in the hills of Palestine) and last, but not least, some of mothers famous cracked olives.

    The cracked olives are also from our own trees. They were hand picked, cracked, and pickled by my mother’s own loving hands. My kids often tell me that no matter what their grandmother makes, it always taste better than anything they ever tasted. My eldest son attributes this to the “special grandma hands” that prepare these foods. Zaatar is a stable in the Palestinian diet. It is served on the side with meals and sometimes as a snack.

    The Zaatar is usually picked in spring time from the hills of Palestine. After drying, the Zaatar is then mixed with sumac and other spices, ground to a semi-powdery consistency, and the sesame seeds are then added. The ground mixture is then served with olive oil on the side. The proper way to eat it is to first dip a piece of bread in olive oil, and then dip it into the Zaatar. The oil makes the Zaatar stick to the bread adding to its delicious flavor. I cannot count how many breakfasts and midnight snacks in which I had eaten Zaatar. My children today in America eat the Zaatar that grows in the hills of the village of my birth, just as their forefathers had done hundreds of years earlier in Palestine. In fact the Zaatar and olive oil they eat today comes from Palestine exclusively. The hills and orchards of their ancestry still provide them with their favorite food. The thread continues…

    Whole leaf Zatar is very hard to come by here in the US. I have tried many times the small packages of “organic wild thyme” that is sold at obscene prices here in the US, but to no avail. The taste does not even come close. The “zest” is missing. That is why I was so excited. My mom, who lives in Palestine, makes some of the most delicious salads out of Zaatar. The taste of her salad is beyond description. In fact, when I returned to Palestine last June with my wife and kids, the first thing that I asked my mother to make for me was breakfast that consisted of her famous Zaatar salad, cracked olives, and her home made cheese. This, along with a pot of the mint tea, was the dream meal for me. Zaatar salad is made by using fresh whole leaf Zaatar, olive oil, salt, and fresh squeezed lemon juice from the lemon trees that grow just outside our window.

    When I went back home to Palestine in the spring of 2000, I could not contain my excitement. This was my first trip home to Palestine during the spring time. I had not experienced spring in Palestine since I left in 1969. The hills that surround my village were ablaze with greenery and color. I was nostalgic for the days of my youth in which I had spent endless days playing and exploring the hills of my village. I convinced my younger brother, my cousin (who was visiting from California), and a few friends of ours to meet us and head for the hills to pick wild Zaatar (the wild variety has a bit more zest and flavor than other varieties). We decided to make an afternoon of it. We packed home made goat cheese, fresh sliced tomatoes, some nuts and seeds, a few sprigs of mint, a tea pot, and a portable gas cook top so that we would be able to make mint tea on the hill top. Along the way to the hills, we stopped by my aunts home which is located midway up the face of the hill.

    We were pleasantly surprised to find her baking fresh whole wheat bread in the taboon (a clay and earthen wood fired oven whereby bread is baked over small, round, and smooth stones just as it had been for hundreds of years in the villages of Palestine). She gave us a half dozen hot loaves of her famous bread (the likes of which I have yet to taste anywhere in the world). Armed with hot bread, we continued to the top of the hill. Once we reached our destination, we spread out in our hunt for the elusive Zaatar plants that grow only during the spring in the hills of Palestine. When we had gathered enough of these elusive plants, we spread out a blanket and our “picnic” started. The fresh Zaatar, hot fresh bread, and mint tea.

    This was by far one of the highlights of my trip to Palestine. It conjured up many memories of olive harvests and the simple pleasures of life on one’s land that the Fellah of Palestine had enjoyed. It was not hard to imagine that this scene must have been played out countless times before by the people of Palestine. The attachment between the Palestinian people and their land is, in my mind, unparalleled.

    As the sun began to set, bathing the entire village and the surrounding hills in its golden glow, I sat silent, sipping my tea. My mid drifted to the Palestinian refugees who were forced from their lands and can only dream of this scene as they suffer in the miserable, squalid, and cramped refugee camps. These scenes are now no more than distant memories, passed down from the elderly to the children, who listen in wide eyed wonder.

    I also could not help but think of the Jewish settlements that seemed to dwarf and indeed dominate the village of my birth. It seems that every time that I see them, they look as if they have gotten bigger and moved closer to the village. Indeed these settlements do in fact keep getting bigger and swallow more Palestinian land. To my mind’s eye, they look like they are about to “pounce” on the villages below. Their domination of the Palestinian villages is a symbol of the occupation and what is seeks to accomplish in Palestine. The aim is to dominate and subjugate the Palestinian people and their lands. But as I look at the lone ancient olive tree that stands on the very top of the hill, as it has for hundreds of years more than Israel has been a state, I am heartened.

    The tenacious windswept tree, which grows in the direction of the winds that have been buffeting it for hundreds of years, is still standing proud much like the people that planted it and many more trees like it in Palestine. It has survived and actually thrived in very harsh and inhospitable conditions. So too will the people of Palestine…We remain!