Hajji Um Kamel al-Ali (Kwaykat)

Q: How old were you when you left Palestine?


A. I was about ten years old.


Q: Whatwere the most popular dishes in Palestine?


A: Mjaddara, besara,[1] mnazaleh [2], red lentils, green beans, okra, cusa, green mloukhia,[3] In winter people cook what they have in their stores:  lentils, mnazaleh, moghrabiyya...


Q: At weddings, what foods are most common?


A. They would cook rice and beans and cusa. Everyone in the village would be invited to the wedding, and none of them would cook on that day, they would help the families of the bride and groom to cook. At lunch time they would all eat together.


Q: What about the ‘Eid? What food was cooked for that occasion?


A. At the ‘Eid, they roasted meat for lunch. For breakfast, we would eat raw liver. People also cooked khabisa and gave it away in memory of the dead. Khabisa is a mixture of starch, water and sugar.


Q: What food would people take with them on the hajj?


A. The hajj was hard because it was a very long journey. People didn’t travel by plane but by camel. The pilgrimage might take two or three months. They would buy food as they went along. Because of the length of the trip and the time involved, food would spoil, so pilgrims used not to take food with them, they bought whatever they needed from shops on the way.


Q: What food was made when there was a death?


A. We used to cook rice, beans, and stews of different kinds, but now people have started to make manaasef and manaqish with meat. In Palestine we didn’t use to make manaqish with meat for a funeral. People used to cook rice and yoghurt, beans and stews. As for meat, people slaughtered sheep when there was a death, but they stopped pounding kibbeh for forty days as an expression of grief for the loss and out of sympathy for the family. Pounding kibbeh before the forty days were over was considered disrespectful.


Q: What food was cooked specially for someone who was ill?


A. The patient would go to the doctor, and whatever food the doctor advised him to eat, he would eat. There was no hospital in Kwaykat but there were hospitals in ‘Akka, so the patient would go straight to the hospital. There was an ‘Arab’ doctor in Kabri who used herbs to treat patients. But anyone who was really ill would get treated by a doctor and get pills, drugs or injections. Diseases in the old days were not serious and could be easily cured. It’s not like that now, when every day there’s a new disease or illness and it’s more deadly than the previous one. It’s because before, people used to eat olive oil, real honey, and all the food, all the vegetables and fruits were 100% natural. There were no preservatives. People used to drink fresh milk every day and eat eggs, and all the cheese and dairy products were home-made.


Q: Was there plenty of water in Kwaykat?


A: Yes, we had plenty of water in our village. There was a well, people would draw water from it in buckets. That water was spring water, people used it for drinking and cooking. In order to water crops, people would dig a well to save rainwater, and use that for their livestock and crops. In summer, anyone who needed water for their crops would take it from the spring or the well.


Q: What crops were most commonly planted in Kwaykat?


A. We used to plant watermelon, sesame, green beans, okra, Egyptian cucumber, cucumber and maize. These crops were not for trading, people planted to supply their own needs.


Q: How did you earn money?


A. People planted wheat and sesame, and after they had taken what they needed, they’d sell the rest to other people. Anyone who kept bees and had extra honey would sell what he didn’t need, and benefit from the money he made. That was how people in Palestine lived, whatever extra olives or olive oil they had, they sold. There was no industry in Kwaykat; each family had a small piece of land that served their needs. The concept of distributing food wasn’t really known because each family planted only enough to meet their needs, and what was left over was sold for money – there was not very much left over. But it was common for neighbours to help each other. For example, if my neighbour had no honey, I would give him some, and if I was in need of vegetables my neighbour would give me what I needed.


Q: What food was cooked specially for a woman who had just given birth?


A. A woman who had just had a baby would eat eggs, omelettes, and khwaya, which was ground cinnamon boiled with bread and sugar. She would also have chicken, and meat and soup. In Kwaykat, people had livestock (sheep and cattle). Nahariyya is near Kwaykat, the Jews were settling in that village, but those Jews were peaceful and lived almost the same way as the Palestinians did.  Nahariyya is between ‘Akka and Kwaykat. It’s worth mentioning that when the war began, Jews came to the mayor of Kwaykat and told him not to leave Palestine. They said if we surrendered and handed over the land, we would live together on this land [Palestine]. But the people of Palestine refused. When we first left Palestine we headed to Aita Sha’b then we moved to other parts of Lebanon, until we reached Bourj al-Barajneh camp. After that we were unable to go back home because the Israelis had control of the whole country. In the old days, moving between Lebanon and Palestine and the other way round was easy, as if you were moving from one village to another in the same country. There were no customs or borders between the two countries until Israel occupied Palestine, and set borders and imposed conditions.


Q: Has the Palestinian dialect changed over the generations?


A. We, the older generation, haven’t changed the way we speak, it’s the same today as it always was. We still speak just as we used to in Palestine. We stayed seven years in a Lebanese village called Haddada, where the people are Lebanese and speak the Lebanese dialect, and we didn’t change the way we speak or dress or the food we eat.


Q: What differences are there between Lebanon and Palestine?


A. Palestine is different from Lebanon. In Palestine we had land and a house, but in Lebanon we have nothing. We used to have a homeland. We came to Lebanon with only the clothes on our backs, we took nothing from our houses. We started our lives in Lebanon from scratch. Lebanese people treated us well. After that, there were what is called rations for the Palestinian people; then they built schools for us in Tibnin. I didn’t go to school, because it was shameful for a girl, she was not allowed to learn, her duty was only at home. When it came to education, boys had priority, it wasn’t for girls.


[1] Pureed fava beans with dried mloukhia.

[2] A vegetable stew made of eggplant, onions, tomatoes and chick peas.

[3] Jews mallow.


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