Chapter Four is entitled Ramallah — Palestine has its own beer? The beer was one of the many surprises that greeted me when I moved to Ramallah, sight unseen, in the summer of 2004.
In this chapter, the book is still in ‘travelogue’ mode. Most books on the Middle East either start shallow and stay shallow, or start so deep most Americans get lost before they begin. Mine starts at zero and ramps the reader up to a wide-angle and sophisticated understanding of the Israel/Palestine conflict.
Once the reader has a good sense of the local flavor and the situation on the ground, I begin to transition into narrative journalism. Extensive footnotes from respected sources generalize the specific stories told.
Here’s a section from Chapter Four called “Sangria’s.” It was one of my first nights in Ramallah. Muzna was one of my coworkers. She’s still a good friend today.
Here’s the excerpt:
One day after work, Muzna invited me and a couple of other coworkers to join her for drinks at a place called Sangria’s. We walked to Al Manara and turned right toward another traffic circle called Duwar al Saa’a, the Clock Circle. There had apparently been a clock in the circle at some point in time, but now there was only a white stone column rising from a fenced-in circle of shrubbery. A massive candy shop, shawerma stands, office buildings, and trees surrounded the unmarked monument. One of the buildings had a cartoonishly large pair of glasses on the side that advertised an eye clinic.
We turned right again and walked downhill on a street I’d never been down before. The view opened up to the hills, valleys, trees, and white stone houses on that end of town. We soon arrived at a row of elegant old buildings made of tawny hand-cut stone. The one we turned into was unmarked except for a small wooden sign that had ‘Sangria’s’ carved into it.
Inside, an empty foyer led to an outdoor corridor that opened onto the most enchanting beer garden I had ever seen, built on a grassy hillside and enclosed by stone walls overhung with flowering vines. The tables on the upper terraces were shaded by large canvas umbrellas, and the lower tables sat under leafy trees hung with strings of lights. A grass hut in the center served as a bar. Waiters were busy distributing olive oil candles to each table under a clear, darkening sky. The crowd was young and stylish, the women dressed in club clothes, with almost no headscarves in sight. It was the last thing I expected to see in Ramallah.
We found a table and I asked our waiter for Turkish coffee and a nargila [hookah]. Everyone else ordered a beer called Taybeh.
“Where’s the beer from?” I asked once the beers had arrived.
“From here,” Muzna said. “Taybeh is a Christian village not far from Ramallah. They have a brewery there.”
“Really?” I was surprised again. I had assumed it was foreign, or possibly Israeli. “Can I try yours?” She handed over her frosty longneck, and I took a sip. It was medium-bodied, refreshing, with just the right amount of hops.
“Wow,” I said. “That’s a good beer.” Muzna smiled.
Just then a goofy Happy Birthday song came on over the loudspeakers at ear-splitting volume in Egyptian-accented Arabic. Two waiters emerged carrying cakes with giant sparklers spewing fire out the top. The birthday party had ordered enough cake for everyone on the patio, and after the birthday girl made her wish and the sparklers burned themselves out, the waiters handed out pieces of it.
I happily accepted a plate, but when Muzna was offered one, she shook her head and said, “La, shukran.” (No, thanks.)
The waiter raised his eyebrows and asked chidingly, “Leish?” (Why?)
I laughed out loud. It was good to be back in the Arab world.
You can get Carlsberg or Heineken, too. Or Sex on the Beach or a Black Russian.