Thursday, September 30, 2010

My favorite Palestinian beer (and it's not just because it's the only Palestinian beer)

It's that time of year again. The time of year where everyone is Facebook-ing and Twitter-ing: "HURRAY! OKTOBERFEST!" and then "Meh....hungover...." Or maybe that's just my friends...

I suppose that since I lived in Germany it would be reasonable for me to now write about the time that I went to the Oktoberfest in Munich. I could. Because that night involved a variety of fun incidents. And by fun I mean not fun. At all. We were a bunch of broke exchange students who thought that we could save a few dollars by staying up all night instead of staying at a hotel like not students  adults  normal people who prefer to spend their money on a hotel rather than beer. Or those very fortunate people who can afford both beer and a hotel. Lucky bastards. It ended up being a disaster. The individual responsible for holding onto our train tickets thought it would be a good idea to take Ecstasy, not tell anyone and then wander off alone into the night with said train tickets. A few of us then wandered to the movie theatre to see Broken Flowers just so we could sleep somewhere warm for two hours before finally giving up and retiring to the Munich train station to spend the rest of the night on the floor. 

Incidentally if you're ever stuck in Munich for a night with nowhere to sleep (for some reason, this has now happened to me twice), I recommend taking the subway to the airport and sleeping there. This is likely illegal, but more comfortable than sleeping in the underground, the train station or a movie theatre. Trust me on this one. The line between vagrant and poor student is a fine one, and that train station is drafty. 

So, I could write about that in detail. My experience at that Oktoberfest is postworthy, but I am going to defer it. Because I would rather write about the Oktoberfest in Taybeh. 

Mmm, beeeeer

Taybeh is a small town outside of Ramallah in the West Bank and it also happens to be home to one of my absolute favorite beers

I had been a fan of the beer since my first visit to the region, and when I found out a few friends were planning on heading to Taybeh for the Oktoberfest, I was eager to tag along. It meant going through one of the more notorious and unpleasant checkpoints, commonly referred to as "The Container," but I couldn't turn down an evening of music, friends and Taybeh beer. 

I lived in a small town outside of Bethlehem, and I was self-conscious about purchasing alcohol. Generally grocery store purchases have extreme potential for awkwardness (please see this blog for a very accurate portrayal of that awkwardness). The potential for awkwardness increases when you have only a few stores to choose from and all of those stores are owned and staffed by very genial Palestinians who will remember you and say hello to you on the street, stopping to ask if you are settling in nicely to your new home. This will cause you to think that if they remember you, they probably also remember what you buy. Purchasing toilet paper and feminine products just got about 50 times more awkward. 

Also...during my first few weeks I had a little trouble figuring out which white package of salt-like substance was table salt. It took me 5 tries. As evidenced by the photo below. The table salt was kept in a different section from the rest of the spices which is why it took me 5 tries to find it. I didn't think to look next to the flour and sugar. 

Is this one salt? This one? No? This one? What about this one? Dammit.

So my grocery store trips were always an adventure and I was slightly self-conscious about buying what I felt might be perceived as copious amounts of beer. Yes, I lived in a predominantly Christian town and drinking is socially acceptable, but I didn't want anyone thinking I was an alcoholic. The problem is that Taybeh beer is really good beer and it was really hot outside and sometimes I had a long day and just needed a beer. And by sometimes, I mean every day. 

One evening I went into the shop and thought I would just go ahead and purchase 4 beers at once instead of my customary one a day purchase. As I walked up to the counter with my 4 beers and a bag of chips, the shopkeeper asked if I was having a party. Lightbulb flickered. I responded, "Yes. Absolutely. I am definitely having a lot of people over, and I am 100% not planning on drinking these all by myself." From that point on, that was my technique. Anytime I purchased more than one beer at a time, I made sure to mention that I was having people over. That way I looked like more of a good hostess and less of a raging alcoholic, which is always a good thing. Please see Miss Manners for more detail on this subject. 

The material point of all of this being that I really love Taybeh beer and was really excited to go to the Taybeh Oktoberfest. 

Saturday evening rolled around. My friends and I piled into a shared taxi and headed to Taybeh via the only road available for Palestinians...the Valley of Fire. I'm not making that up. I'll post about it sometime. People often ask if I was ever afraid for my life while living in the West Bank. The answer is, no. Except for when I had to take the bus to Ramallah via the Valley of Fire. 

It took us a little longer than normal to get to Taybeh because whoever is in charge of city planning decided that the eve of a big festival would be the perfect time to rip up the only road going into town. But eventually we did arrive, and it was absolutely fantastic. The beer was delicious, the music was fun, the people were great. There were a number of troupes performing traditional dances and I, for one, absolutely adore Palestinian folk dance performances.* The culture, the costumes, the's spell-binding. 

This style of dress is my favorite. 

At around midnight, we decided it was time to head home although the party was still going strong. We had a long drive ahead of us and we were all exhausted. 

Not far outside of Bethlehem, we rolled slowly toward the Container checkpoint. I was sitting in the front seat and everyone handed their ID's to me as we approached the Israeli soldiers standing guard at the checkpoint. I rolled down the window and handed one of them our ID's. He flipped through them, handed the Palestinian ID cards to a fellow soldier and asked me where I was from. 

"I'm American," I said, "from California."

 "Ohh, California," he responded and he turned to another soldier who had sidled up beside him. He smiled and then with a heavy Israeli accent he began softly singing.

On a dark, desert highway. Cool wind in my hair 

The other soldier joined in. 

Warm smell of colitas, rising up through the air. Up ahead in the distance, I saw shimmering light. My head grew heavy and my sight grew dim. I had to stop for the night

And then both of them were standing there, a full moon hanging heavy over a shadowed desert landscape, singing loudly and off-key. 

Welcome to the Hotel California. Such a lovely place (Such a lovely place) Such a lovely face. Plenty of room at the Hotel California. Any time of year (Any time of year). You can find it here.

I was torn between being amused by this unexpected spectacle and being saddened by the significance of the words they were singing and their particular relevance to this situation. You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave. I smiled wearily. I was semi-drunk, exhausted, slightly car sick, they had semi-automatic weapons and I'm not exactly a fan of that song.** But there was nothing to do but sit and listen to the performance in its entirety. Two Israeli soldiers, their weapons slung over their shoulders, belting out an Eagles' ballad. 

Though I had spent a fair amount of time in Israel and was familiar with its side of the story--its sorrows and shortcomings--and knew that my Israeli friends had served in the army, Israeli soldiers nonetheless made me nervous. Numerous unpleasant experiences with the Israeli Defense Forces had left a bitter taste in my mouth. But in this moment, I felt like I was watching two kids dressed up in soldiers' uniforms, simply singing a song they liked in the middle of the night in the middle of the desert. Somehow I found this heartbreaking. They sang the entire song. I clapped--the staccato sound echoed across the valley. They handed us our ID's and we continued on. 

*This is a really, really poor quality video of one of the dances. It was taken with my little pocket camera and is only to satisfy the desperately curious. I tried to take a better video but I was distracted by a handsome Palestinian dancer on stage had had too many beers am a terrible photographer ....I'm not really going to come out on top here no matter what I say so I'm giving up. 

**No offense to Eagles' fans. It's a good song. It's just that people have a habit of singing it to me when I tell them where I'm from. Their enthusiasm has unfortunately dampened mine.


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