Content note: aftermath of violent police clash.
Our second visit to the Souq was much more successful than the first, and led to us buying most of the things we needed for our kitchen from this kindly posing gent. We did not buy the ‘THE VOGUE LIFE’ flower-patterned toilet brush he stocked, which I sometimes regret. But soft! this is a post about the first visit.
Having walked the covered markets of Aleppo, Damascus, Amman, Marrakesh and Fez I felt I was prepared for the bustle, the colours, the wonderful arrays of spices and T-shirts with horrendous renderings of English slogans that Nablus souq would presumably present to me.
So I was not expecting the clear, quiet calm that I encountered when, on one of my first days here, a few foreign students and I followed the vague wave of a taxi driver’s arm into the old city streets lined with stalls.
Instead of warily lifting my long dress to evade sheep blood and ass pee and whatever else floors the souq by mid-afternoon, I could walk full-skirted without worry. The stone floors, worn to a marbly polish, one side with steps for donkeys and people and one side be-ramped for dollys and carts, were cleanly visible and spotless except for odd patches of the morning’s wash-water; the puddles not yet dehydrated, as out of the sun as they are in the safety of the souq.
Hardly any shopkeepers called to us to advertise their wares; just the odd polite ‘hello’ was aimed at us whilst other market stall holders yelled their usual schtick in rapid dialect, a habit I guess they’ve long passed considering growing out of. A few barrows nudged us aside, but I was never pressed against an ample backside as I am used to when a sharp-elbowed determined shopper needs to pass.
And so we strolled leisurely, and probably I never
shut up to the others about how wonderfully peaceful this souq was compared to the others I’ve been to. We passed an alleyway which would have taken us to a hammam and another which led to a kunafeh seller – kunafeh is the sweet cheese pastry Nablus is distinguished for. We turned a corner and a smell hit the nose.
This smell – and thank you for bearing with the overused adjective – this smell was acrid. Shortly after our noses noticed the reek, our eyes noticed the lazily macho heavily-armed police. They stood around as if too bored to chat, practically kicking at cans, large gun-barrels protuding from somewhere around the mid-abdomen.
Shortly after I noticed the armed police, I picked up on the burnt out car next to them. Half-remembered sentences from reported conversation with our guesthouse staff at breakfast trickled back to me. Shootings… old city… violence… sirens… two more this morning.
We had gone so far towards them, I thought, it’s better to keep on walking. Others, locals, were walking up and down the street as though unbothered, and the road was not closed, and so rather than draw attention to myself and friends, the two of us in front resolved on averting suspicion by continuing as we were. We were already passed the car when we realised the other two had not followed.
People, you know how awkward it is at when you walk the wrong way and you feel everyone is watching you, honestly, walking straight back past a freshly burnt out car and armed police makes it so much worse. It was pretty much like something out of a high school movie. I’m pretty much Drew Barrymore. People.
So, the souq is not always as clean and quiet and calm as all that. The press of people has returned. This was over a month ago, and the effects of that shooting and subsequent protests and arrests are still being felt, in a sadly, horribly inevitable chain of consequences. But we don’t always have scenes of burnings or explosions on hand, nor can we now walk so restfully and naïvely through the souq.
In cheerier news, here’s that VOGUE LIFE bog brush.
My dear Olympia knows all about that.