Bathed in black, the jubilant men methodically made their way in my direction amid drumming, clapping and shouts of well wishes. As they came into view, the groom was quickly hoisted up onto the shoulders of two men in the wedding procession while the bride, the only woman, followed behind. Garbed in a white traditional gown with a red patterned bodice and wearing a matching red and white headscarf dotted with jewelry pieces dangling against her forehead, the Palestinian bride took her place in the spotlight alongside her husband-to-be. The audience in the overflowing room of now standing-only spectators was about to witness the enactment of a traditional Palestinian wedding. The dozen male performers, heads swathed in the commonly wrapped black and white checkered scarves securely tied in the back, enthusiastically danced reminiscent of a New York chorus line. It was an incredible experience.
The wedding enactment was just one of the highlights of the inaugural Palestinian Heritage Week recently held at Katara the Cultural Village in Doha, Qatar, and co-sponsored by Katara and the Qatar-Palestinian Friendship Association.
In addition to the live wedding enactment, the Ibdaa Palestinian Troupe, who were featured in the wedding, performed 30 minutes’ worth of lively and high energy folk dances. “This traditional folk dance extends for numerous years and features holding of hands to reflect the unity and solidarity of Palestinians,” explained the festival organizer.
Ibdaa, which means ‘to create something out of nothing’, is a grassroots initiative of Dheisheh Refugee Camp. Founded in 1995, Ibdaa reportedly serves more than 1500 children and young people annually through various programs, while providing job opportunities to more than 60 families in the Palestinian camp.
Ibdaa’s mission is to provide an environment for the camp’s children and young people to develop their ability, creativity and leadership skills through social, cultural and educational activities that are not readily available in the camp. It strives to empower the children and instill in them confidence and strength to face their difficult future, while educating the international community on the Palestinian refugee issue.
The Ibdaa troupe performs dance pieces that tell the history, struggle and aspiration of Palestinian refugees by intertwining debkeh traditional Palestinian dance, and theatrical choreography. This traditional folk dance has existed for many years and is recognized by the holding of hands to reflect the Palestinians’ unity and solidarity.
The Askalan Palestinian Band took to the stage next singing folk songs. Their music featured keyboards, vocalists, background singers and an electric oud. A male and female singer took turns belting out traditional songs with uncanny passion. Although everything was in Arabic, and I was at a loss to know the story and meaning behind the song’s lyrics, it was a very moving performance.
As part of the weeklong event, an artisanal exhibition highlights homemade crafts, such as silver jewelry created from olive leaves (a symbol of peace), mother of pearl pieces including a large replica of “Dome of the Rock”, glass blown products, ceramic items and floor tiles, olive oil soap, time-honored embroidered clothing and tapestries, and crafts made from olive tree wood. Most of the embroidery work, including abayas, scarves, accessories and bags, features traditional Palestinian embroidery, known as tatriz, which is produced through a woman’s collective.
The eclectic fusion of blue, green, brown and turquoise colored glass products caught my attention. I quickly purchased two beautiful and delicately-appearing matching goblets. The twin wine glasses make a stunning conversation piece and are heavy and well made. Though non-dishwasher safe because of the glass content, they will withstand steady use and future moves.
The collective at Ibdaa Cultural Center in West Bank provides an alternative income source to the families. It also strives to preserve the ancient cultural heritage that has been passed down through generations of Palestinian mothers and daughters. Women from West Bank and Gaza have made all of the products displayed.
As part of Adel Fair Trade initiative, Palestinians are striving to build an economy under occupation. Adel is a pioneer national marketing program supporting products and cooperatives of marginalized families in terms of fair trade and fair price principles for both producers and consumers with the goal of improving their economic situation.
Some of the Palestinian-made products available to sample and for sale included olive oil, olive paste, makdous (stuffed baby eggplants mixed with nuts), atayeb, a dried tomato and olive mixture using all non-chemical ingredients, which we purchased, sheep cheese, red chili sauce, sweet pumpkin jam, natural honey, grape molasses and various whole wheat and couscous products along with an array of dried spices, and an impressive and mouth-watering selection of sweets, such as harissa and kanafeh. All of the Palestinian recipes are passed through generations, authentic and grown and produced using local raw materials free of unsafe and unhealthy chemical ingredients and preservatives. Information passed out claims the product’s standards match international and national standards.
Emad Abu Zuluf, chairman of the Palestinian-Qatari Friendship Association explained to the press that apart from strengthening relations between Palestine and Qatar, the association has been instrumental in becoming a bridge that has facilitated cultural communication by sharing and promoting its culture.
The music was upbeat, the audience multinational, and the evening highly entertaining and educational. Seeking out other nationalities and learning about their cultures is one of the great rewards of being an expat in a foreign country. It is a journey of constant discovery.