As it is getting quite hot during the day, we for an early morning walk around Ramallah and towards Arafat's tomb.
We live close to what is considered the centre of Ramallah, Al-Manara Square, a busy roundabout that many people may have seen on the news at some point. This square has undergone quite a lot of changes over the years, to the extent that it became the laughing stock of Ramallah. The current design eminates the design from the early 20th Century, which shows four lions representing the four major families of Ramallah.
It may be surprising to hear that these lions represent Christian families, as Ramallah is originally Christian. It only became predominantly Muslim after 1948 with the creation of Israel and the widespread expulsion of Palestinians from their villages and cities.
From Al-Manara square we walked through the main market, but at 7.30am it was not yet in operation!?! So I took a picture of the local bakery, which was in full swing making various kinds of delicious smelling bread. One of the many falafel shops had also finished its morning preparations and was ready to go.
There were also many shared taxis or "serveece" around. They are a great way to travel cheaply to other parts of the West Bank. You find the right stop, get into the 7-seater van, wait until it fills up and pay the driver en route. I spotted a serveece with Palestine's most famous cartoon character that represents a refugee boy: Handala. The cartoonist, Naji Al-Ali was assassinated in London in the 80s and is buried there.
We walked past Ramallah's main mosque, which is nice but not necessarily a standout unless you are really into mosques! Instead a colourful shop opposite the mosque attracted my attention.
Once again I was very surprised to see a settlement so close to the centre of Ramallah! A five minute walk from the main square we could see it very clearly.
Back to more pleasant parts of the walk... a really nice school built by the Quakers over 100 years ago. The British used it as a hospital during WW1 and it was also used as a refugee shelter following the Nakba.
A bit further down the road we came across an educational garden that promotes environmental awareness, which just looked so luscious and inviting.
By this time we are actually in Al-Bireh, Ramallah's twin city and I hope I don't offend anyone by saying that I really consider it part of Ramallah.
Al-Bireh's borders reach up to the Al-Manara square which is a bit weird. Al-Bireh is more strictly Muslim so you cannot sell alcohol there. This means that some shops around Al-Manara square can sell alcohol, while others cannot...
Next up is Ramallah's Art Academy. It was closed but I still took some nice photos of the building... another beautiful building, with an interesting street sign, hopefully part of the Academy's installation. A sign outside the building marks the (shockingly short) distance to Jerusalem.
An entertaining story about this Art Academy is when it hosted a Picasso painting several years ago. It must have been a mission to get the right approvals to bring the painting over to Ramallah from Europe. This also meant that the painting had to be guarded around the clock, and apparently it was almost impossible to take a photo of it without also including the two men that guarded it with their lives!
En-route to Arafat's tomb we passed another vacant house that looked like it would shape up so nicely if renovated properly. It seems that Palestinians are quite good at ironwork, and I love discovering the different patterns they come up with for doors, fences and gates.
We were surprised that the guards at Arafat's tomb took matters into their own hands and exceptionally let us into the complex at 8am. We definitely enjoyed being the only visitors in sight.
Arafat's tomb is a big and bright complext built out of Jersalem stone (according to my guidebook). However, as we found out through our trailing guard, who turned out to be an excellent tour guide, the whole complex - from the dimensions of the mausoleum, to the positioning of the slabs, to the number of trees and shrubs - has been very carefully thought out to symbolise Arafat's and Palestine's struggle. It also incorporates a vision for the future... I will describe these in more detail in a separate post as it is too much for now. The site is definitely much more impressive when you know more behind the designers' intentions.
Opposite the tomb is a square that used to show the flags of all countries that recognise Palestine as a state. At the moment it is just full of empty flag poles. Luckily the reason is not politics but renovations... though with no builder in sight I wonder how long it will take to get it back up and running.
We found an interesting mural of Arafat by the square... not sure what to make of it but it certainly has character! He looks a bit sick but I think they got his lips right. :)
The 10 minute walk back to Al-Manara square was swift as we were getting thirsty. The walk ended with a fresh juice from the local juice-guy and another funny discovery - this time a barber had used Nick Carter's face in their shop front (from boyband The Backstreet Boys famous in the 90s). I wonder if he still has enough money to sue them?