November 15, 2015

An old Palestinian lady

This wasn't behind the wall - the old Palestinian lady was walking in front of the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem, while Ahmad and I were having coffee. Ahmad spotted her from far in the crowd, because she looked tiny and ancient, somewhat bent, leaning on a broken stick. What struck me most at that point was her beautifully embroidered dress.

When passing our table, she stopped for a moment, as if somehow she had felt that we had expressed interest in her. She didn't beg for anything, but looked so sad! I contemplated giving her some money, but asked Ahmad first. I still find it hard to figure out in which situations money is accepted readily, and when it is considered an insult. He thought it was appropriate and she was eager to take the money. Then, Ahmad offered her a chair at our table. I don't know in which culture this is the norm, but where I come from, one doesn't offer a person who looks homeless to join your table in a restaurant. I would never have done it, but I love this form of hospitality toward a complete stranger, who looks as bewildered as she did.

Ahmad addressed her as "hajje". (For a man, this would have been "hajj".) "Hajj" is a form of address reserved for people who made the pilgrimage to Mecca (hajj), but used also in respect for the elderly. Note: One has to be careful in the use of this term, since not everyone enjoys being considered old. He asked where she came from and what brought her to Jerusalem. Hajje told him that she lives with her daughter near Ramallah, but her son in law doesn't treat her well, so most of the time she stays elsewhere.

Ahmad called out to another friend who happened to pass by, and he joined our table as well. We considered that hajje is probably hungry, and asked the friend to fetch her something to eat from the restaurant. The friend came back with a falafel. I asked how much it was, but this time my offer to pay turned out inappropriate. He looked surprised and responded that it was on the house.

At some point, hajje said that she would love to find some clothing for the night and started to cry. I thought by myself that clothing may not be the most urgent thing she needs, but Ahmad referred her to a nearby shop. She stayed at the table.

We had to go, all of us in different directions, and we left hajje behind. I wonder if we could have done more and am still curious whether she went to the shop or not.


  1. You didn't mention that you know a thing or two about (good quality) Palestinian embroidery ...... but i see it's in the links.

  2. Thanks Bettina, you are right, I should have mentioned that.
    Lots of embroidery available at: Peace Center for Heritage