Answers to the Abraham Path Trivia Quiz

Last month we sent you a quick quiz that tests your knowledge about the Abraham Path. Now, we are happy to explain the answers! But first, we would like to thank all those who submitted responses, as well as the five winners who will each receive one of our new Abraham Path T-shirts. Be sure to keep an eye out for an email with instructions on how to claim your prize.

For the rest of you, here are the answers:

This group preserves its ancient priesthood and continues to practice its religion in a temple atop
Mt Gerizim.

  • Answer: The Samaritans
  • Well known from the biblical stories of the “good Samaritan” and of the woman whom Jesus asked to draw water from a well, this ancient religious sect has survived for millennia despite severe persecution. In the present day, they live primarily in two communities: one is located near Nablus on Mt Gerizim, which is considered to be the holiest place for the Samaritans; and  a second, Neveh Marqeh, is near Tel Aviv.
  • Further Reading: http://abrahampath.org/path/nablus/nablus-sites/mt-gerizim/

Archeological evidence found at this site, also known for its substantial expanses of copper slag,
gave rise to new understanding of human history, indicating that humans developed patterns of
settlement and consolidated religious practice prior to the advent of agriculture.

  • Answer: Feynan
  • Wadi Feynan is unique for its rich archeological history that dates back some 9,000 years. Hikers can easily spot the remnants of settlements ranging from the Neolithic era all the way to the Mamluk era; but the most notable feature is the estimated 100,000 tons of copper slag spread across the landscape, a testament to the valley’s importance during the Bronze Age.
  • Further Reading: http://abrahampath.org/path/dana/dana-sites/feynan/

This site along the Abraham Path offers a unique opportunity to experience all four of Jordan’s
biogeographical zones in just a couple days’ walk. The four zones are: Mediterranean, which is primarily found in the highlands; Saharo-Arabian, which is primarily located in the northern region; Irano-Turanian, which is the eastern semi-desert regions; and finally, the Sudanian Penetration biogeographical zone, which represents the tropical influence on Jordanian geography.

  • Answer: Dana Nature Reserve
  • Due to the fact that it covers all four biogeographical zones, the wildlife diversity is incredible. There are an estimated 700 species of plant, 200 species of bird, and almost 40 kinds of mammals. The village is home to a world famous ecolodge, so enjoying the beauty this region has to offer is a true pleasure.
  • Further Reading: http://abrahampath.org/path/dana/dana-sites/dana/

This mountain is made of halite and grows at a rate of 3.5mm per year. Home to many unique geological features such as the world’s longest salt cave, towering halite pillars, and plentiful fossils, this area is great to explore; just make sure you don’t look back when you leave.

  • Answer: Mount Sodom
  • Rising 250 meters above the Dead Sea but still well below sea level, this ridgeline is home to a salt pillar that is commonly associated with the story of Lot and his wife, who turned to salt when she looked back as they fled from the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. These days, the area is home to a spectacular variety of fossils, short hiking trails, and caves to explore. Climbing to the top is also well worth the views.
  • Further Reading: http://abrahampath.org/path/arad/arad-sites/mt-sodom/

The rocky canyon of Wadi Qelt is believed to have inspired this famous line from the Psalms.

  • Answer: “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.”
  • Made famous by its reference in Psalm 23, this isolated and barren valley is now home to St. George’s Monastery, which was built high on the steep, rocky edges of the canyon. Originally built in the 4th century, the impressive frescoes and beautiful decorations stand in stark contrast to the shadowy valley below.
  • Further Reading: http://abrahampath.org/path/jericho/jericho-sites/st-georges-monastery/

This city is the ancestral hometown of a woman called Aisha bint Ahmad al Baouni, also known as Aisha al Baouniya. Renowned within her own lifetime as a Sufi mystic, poet and calligrapher, Aisha preached and published in great centers of 15th century Islamic thought such as Cairo and Damascus.

  • Answer: Baoun
  • Recognized by UNESCO for the significance of Aisha’s contribution to Islamic thought, her hometown is nestled in the lush Ajloun Region, which is home to numerous archeological sites and villages that are famous for their local wares.
  • Further Reading: http://abrahampath.org/path/ajloun/ajloun-sites/baoun/

For hundreds of years, this soup has been served free of charge in a kitchen located in the old city of Hebron to many a hungry passerby, whether pilgrim or local

  • Answer: Abraham’s Soup
  • As one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, Hebron has seen its fair share of travelers. While the soup is reprentative of its unique approach to visitors, don’t miss out on the city’s uniquely layered history. The old city’s layout follows the Hoash model of habitation, where families built additional structures surrounding a central courtyard as their numbers expanded. These courtyards were further divided based on ethnicity or occupation, leading to a city that is home to concentrated sections that have a long history associated with a particular craft or people. Famous examples include the Glassmakers’ Quarter, the Yoghurt Quarter and the Armenian Quarter.
  • Further Reading: http://abrahampath.org/path/hebron/hebron-sites/hebron-old-city/

Believed to be the third oldest in the world, this church is supposedly built on the site where Jesus healed a group of lepers while traveling to Jerusalem from Nazereth.

Abraham planted this type of tree after he had dug a well when he first arrived in Beersheva. Digging the well and planting this tree represents a crucial shift in the Abrahamic story, indicating a change from a nomadic lifestyle to one of sedentary agriculture.

  • Answer: Tamarix Tree
  • While at a glance this area doesn’t seem like the most obvious place to stop a journey, its dry climate and lack of visible water belies the fact that it lies above a narrowing subterranean riverbed that pushes the water to just below the surface. Digging a well in this area promises to quickly reach the water table.
  • Further Reading: http://abrahampath.org/path/beersheva/beersheva-sites/abrahams-well/

According to tradition, this city houses the cave where Abraham’s mother went into hiding while she was pregnant with Abraham. She was fleeing from King Nimrod, who had ordered all children born that year to be killed in response to a dream he had that foretold of a child who would end his rule.

  • Answer: Urfa or Sanliurfa
  • Sanliurfa – which translates to ‘glorious Urfa’ –  lives up to its name with a history that includes one of the oldest religious sites on the planet, as well as a town-center that includes an incredible system of fish-filled canals and an old market that is world renown for its spices and craftsmanship.
  • Further Reading: http://abrahampath.org/path/urfa/

This mosque, once visited by famous explorer Ibn Battuta, is reported to have been built on the site where Abraham prostrated himself in prayer that God would not destroy the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham’s nephew Lot, who lived in these areas, is said to be buried nearby.

This mountain, named for a ninth-century Sufi mystic, is now home to a shrine symbolizing the mystic’s grave. Local veneration of the site is traditionally so great that one twentieth-century doctor recommended that his patients take their medications nearby – not because he believed the medicine would be more potent, but because he believed his patients were more likely to have faith in his prescriptions.

Call for Photos of Cultural Heritage in Syria and Kurdistan

The Abraham Path Initiative is working to develop a walking path across the Middle East that retraces the journey of Abraham, the legendary ancestor of over half of humanity, who is known for his hospitality and kindness toward strangers. This path links thousands of years of history and countless layers of diverse cultures that characterize this beautiful, complex region.

Contemporary geopolitical realities unfortunately make it impossible to develop some sections of the trail, but we still hope that one day soon the entire route will be accessible to walkers. In the mean time, we are including these regions in our growing online guidebook to highlight their cultural heritage and to allow travelers to experience them virtually.

We need your help! Since we cannot travel to some of these areas to photograph sites ourselves, we are issuing an open request for photos of these locations.

Please send us your best photos of the following places along with a short caption or title. With your permission we will publish them in our online guidebook with full attribution.

Your images will not be sold and will only be used to promote cultural heritage along the Abraham Path. Wetransfer.com or Dropbox transfers are appreciated. Please share this message with your network to help us reach others with a connection to these places.

Send to photos@abrahampath.org.

We are especially interested in photos of the following places:

Syria:

Jabal al-Aqra (incl Ras al-Basit and Kessab)
Ugarit
Qalaat Saladin
Apamea
Masyaf
Krak des Chevaliers
Aleppo
Deir Semaan, Qalaat Semaan
Dead Cities
Ebla
Hama
Homs
Maalula
Seidnaya, Nebi Habil
Damascus
Shahba
Qanawat
Bosra
Palmyra

Kurdistan:

Kilis
Mardin
Tur Abdin
Deyrulzaferan Monastery (aka Mar Hanania, Saffron Monastery)
Mor Augen (St. Eugene) Monastery
Monastery of Mor Gabriel
Ibrahim al-Khalil Crossing
Zakho
Amadiya
Duhok
Lalish
Al Qosh
Erbil

How Bedouin Survive in the Desert without Gear

A few weeks ago, we compared the typical trekker’s packing list with a Bedouin gear list in this blog post; the comparative simplicity of the Bedouin list was incredible. But how do Bedouin get by with so little in the harsh desert climate? Shay Rabineau follows up on his last post with a bit of explanation:

During our trek across the Sinai, each of us probably carried a total of thirty or forty items. Most of those items were in our overnight packs, which traveled by camel. Some were in our daypacks, which we took with us while walking, and the rest were in our pockets.

But right away we noticed that our Bedouin guide carried much less equipment. He told us that even this was more than he would carry if he were traveling on his own. So we asked him: What would you carry if you were crossing the desert by yourself?

He thought about it and listed a few key items right away: water, tea, a knife, and something for making a fire. When we pressed him, he added a couple more things: a lightweight blanket for the night and a few handfuls of food. But this short list was hard to believe. We had more questions:

Wouldn’t you need to carry more than just one or two water bottles?

He told us he could go from spring to spring; and if he needed to, he could walk a day without any water.

What about boiling water for tea?

Not a problem – in places where people regularly camped, there was usually a tin can left there for that specific purpose.

He was similarly dismissive about most of the rest of our questions:

What about a flashlight?

I don’t need a flashlight if I have fire.

What if you make it into camp after dark?

I would never make my camp after dark.

But you smoke. What about cigarettes? 

OK, I guess I would bring cigarettes too.

It is clear that wilderness skills and local familiarity can enable hikers to carry far less. The Bedouin guides who have intimate familiarity with the rugged terrain of the southern Sinai Peninsula are an amazing example of this. How do they do it?

First, they are familiar with the Sinai, its navigable paths, its caves and shelters, and its food and water sources. What may look like a remote wasteland to outsiders is surprisingly rich in resources to the people who know the area. Springs, cisterns, wells, and oases provide water and nourishment when necessary.

Second, they are acclimated to the terrain and climate of the Sinai and know their physical limits when traveling. One of our guides said that in mild weather, he could walk about a day without needing water, and could get by on a handful of dates for food if he had to.

Third, they are well-connected with the other Bedouins across the Sinai. In the event of an emergency, Bedouin guides know where the nearest human settlements are, and are adept at scanning the landscape, near and far, for signs of human presence.

Fourth, they know how to adapt to the dangers of the desert in different seasons. During the heat of the summer, they might carry more water; during the winter season, they watch the weather, keep an eye out for flash floods in wadis, and are sure to camp on high ground.

All of these factors help keep local Bedouins from getting into trouble in the first place, and enable them to trim down on emergency gear. Their comfort with the desert helps them also weed out gear western hikers might consider essential. The wadis of the Sinai are clean and sandy, so groundsheets and camp chairs are unnecessary. Warm weather eliminates the need for a tent or a sleeping bag; our guides generally slept in their clothes and added warmth by wrapping up with a single blanket.

Bedouins are resourceful to the point that they don’t just survive in the desert; they thrive. A few scraps of dead wood, gathered during the day’s walk, are enough for building an evening cooking fire; loose clothing is perfect, when kneeling, for fanning embers into flame; a rusted tin can found in the bottom of a wadi makes a fine tea-kettle; and a bag of flour and just a few other staples can give rise to a surprising variety of backcountry cuisine.

Add a camel to the equation, and a Bedouin guide can travel almost without limit.

Photo by Evan Bryant/API

Past, Present, and Paths in Between

As-salaamu Alaykum!” we called in greeting, wishing peace upon the small figure sitting on the large rock ahead.

Walaykum as-salaam,” he responded, deftly deflecting the peace back upon us and pairing it with a bemused twist of his eyebrows.

“We’re walking to the other side of this wadi. Do you know any good paths?”

Silence. Then, with a loose gesture to the left, “If you walk that way for about half an hour, you’ll find the road.”

“Thanks, but we don’t want the road. How have other people gotten across?”

“They take the road.”

“But before the road was there?”

He shrugged, stood, bestowed another measure of peace upon us, and strode off.

Mark, the coordinator of this scouting trip along the Jordan Trail, shook his head. “Modernization has effectively erased these trails from local memory,” he lamented.

Though I instinctively sympathized with this implied nostalgia for times past, part of me wondered if I was right to do so. If we’re traveling through these regions to better understand the modern Middle East, I thought, maybe we have to start by acknowledging its modernity – not by clinging to some artificial, romanticized sense of the ancient. Maybe – I still couldn’t help sighing – we have to give this region the dignity of realizing that times have changed?

A few hours passed, and we were making progress down the steep bank of the wadi. Then we reached the edge of what appeared to be an entirely sheer cliff face. The group fanned out, seeking any small footpath lying unseen between the rocks. After a solid half an hour of exploration, Amjad called out: “Donkey poop!” We rushed over and crowded excitedly around the droppings. If local shepherds had gotten their animals to this point, there must be a trail nearby! We laughed at Amjad’s unexpected exclamation and continued forward, winding down the narrow path that did indeed exist. I continued to chuckle as we went, feeling my earlier angst subside. Maybe times haven’t really changed so drastically.

The next day, we wandered across a Bedouin man sitting outside his tent. We greeted him, peace was exchanged, he offered us tea, and we began to chat. He was eager to share his stories with us: Stories of the many summer months he’d spent alone in his tent. Stories of fabled gold hidden in the hillside. Stories of magical maps. And other stories that sounded less like something from Aladdin: Stories of the various business endeavors he’d undertaken while spending the winter months in town. Stories of his adventures serving in the military. Stories of the colorful characters he’d met studying in university. I listened to his tales with a smile, shaking my head.

I may still catch myself trying to confine the region to a series of either/or dichotomies: the past or the present. Antiquity or modernity. But its people know better.

 

Water Etiquette in the Desert

We are always exploring new and exciting regions that are associated with Abraham’s heritage. Evan Bryant recounts his experiences on one such trip in the southern Sinai Peninsula: 

We arrived at Moiyet Mileihis (Mileihis spring), a magical oasis in an orange, red and yellow striped sandstone basin at the foot of Jebel Mileihis, on the third day of our 11-day trek in the Sinai Peninsula.

A single robust palm tree near a shady alcove in the sandstone cliff betrays the life-giving water flowing from the spring hidden behind it, filling a small manmade pool below. Arriving at this place was a very welcome treat after a long, hot slog through the loose sand of Wadi Mileihis – each step of the way only acheived 70% of what I’m accustomed to with firm footing.

Most of the others in my group were already sitting in the shade by the pool when I arrived sweaty and panting. I promptly dipped my hands into the cool water to splash my face.  Refreshed, I sat down beside the others.

After a short pause our local contact Ben said to our guide Musallem:

“Shall we take this opportunity to talk about water etiquette in the desert?”

Whether the timing of this question had direct reference to me or not, I didn’t know. But at that moment, a creeping embarrassment came over me as I realized that table manners had been nowhere in my mind since coming to the spring, and perhaps my birdbath didn’t quite comply with the desert standard.

“Yes. Let’s talk about water etiquette,” said Musallem.

Ben continued:

“Do you see the teapot and the water bottle there on the edge of the pool? You always use those to take water from the spring. Never use your hands directly in the water. We all have to come to this one spot in the desert, so it’s essential to keep it pristine.”

Now my ears were red. Yes, partially because of the sunburn, but doubly so with the embarrassment. I felt like an awkward barbarian in the presence of Bedouin civility.

Up to that point the real significance of oases in the desert had never occurred to me. Throughout my life I’ve always packed in my own water or used modern filters and tablets for water purification. I’d never relied directly on Mother Nature for my water supply and certainly never in a barren wilderness like the Sinai where that survival necessity is so scarce.

Just then, sitting at the foot of that spring, I suddenly saw in my mind’s eye the centuries fly by and the thousands of desert dwellers and pilgrims who had come before me to that very place to fill their “ghirbes” (Bedouin goatskin water bladders). Who knows – Moses himself could have drunk from these waters!

I was humbled.

And a deep sense of gratitude filled my heart for the opportunity to learn the vital lesson of water etiquette in the desert––at the source.

– Evan Bryant

Photo Credit: Evan Bryant

The Sanctuary of Wilderness

“It is a demanding hike, but what we see around us just repays all the efforts,” said Nasser Kaabneh, our bedouin guide from the area of Jericho. I looked around me, taking in the distant landscapes of grayish-blue hills merging with the dusty sky. Then I glanced under my feet, noticing golden lizards squeezing in amongst desert rocks. I could only agree with Nasser’s words.

The silence and solitude of the wilderness between Jericho and Bethlehem encourages spirituality. I noticed fellow hikers closing their eyes, letting a pleasant gust of November’s wind to cool their faces. This is a place where any bit of shade, cave or rock is a sanctuary where a person could sit, relax and meditate.

We’re not the only ones. This atmosphere has long attracted religious leaders searching for exclusion, settling the area and establishing spiritual centers of various faiths. Our path today brings us to two of these: Nabi Musa, a 13th century Islamic shrine dedicated to Prophet Moses and Mar Saba, a 5th century Christian monastery initiated by St. Sabas.

As we left the domes of Nabi Musa behind, we prepared ourselves for the nearly twenty kilometers of desert trail ahead. But the landscape around us gave a boost of a energy that helped us walk faster and further, always curious about the views waiting beyond the next hill. Each time we arrived to the top, the pleasant feeling of accomplishment was obvious on everyone’s face, particularly when we were rewarded with the sight of the desert fortress of Hyrcania. We explored the fortifications, examined the scattered cubes of an ancient mosaic floor. Some of us were even brave enough to visit fortress’ underground chambers.

Finally, the spectacular sight of the Mar Saba monastery met our eyes. We stopped at the edge of the valley, admiring the breathtaking sight of jagged cliffs, a narrow river gorge and  . a clustering of ancient monastery buildings huddled precariously along the opposite canyon wall. The men were allowed to explore its intricate streets. Unfortunately the women could only enjoy the views on the outside – legend says that a woman disguised as a man once crossed the monastery’s threshold and caused a severe earthquake. We prefered to respect monks’ ancient rule.

When we reached our destination, a bedouin tent in the middle of the desert, we had a chance to enjoy our reward: a tasty meal complete with a red sunset and the rising of the night’s first star – another perfect place and time for a spiritual contemplation.

Author and Photo Credit: Beata Andonia/API

 

Photography Competition Held on the Abraham Path

Selection of competition entries:

On October 25th, 2014, students of Al Najah University of Nablus hiked from Nebi Musa to Mar Saba in order to participate in a photography competition held along the Abraham Path. Organized by Masar Ibrahim Al Khalil (MIAK), the activity took place thanks to a generous support of the World Bank State and Peacebuilding Fund.

Masar Ibrahim Al Khalil aimed to introduce the students to the variety of climates they can enjoy in their country. “Today the students are going to have a desert walk. Normally, the northern part of Palestine [where they are from] is an evergreen area because of a large number of olive trees,” said George Rishmawi, MIAK’s Executive Director and one of the guides for that day.

Most of the people who took part in the competition were Journalism students with an interest in photography. MIAK hoped to connect the students’ interest with the joy of walking in nature. The combination was a great success. Mohanad Assaf, a student from Qufr Laqf, was quick to list the views as a favorite subject to photograph: “I really like to take pictures of nature. I think that this hike is amazing, I love the views, and I would like to thank Masar Ibrahim for taking us here.”

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The winner of the competition, Wala Barham, took the first prize for a picture of Mar Saba at a distance. Photo Credit: Beata Andonia/API

The activity was concluded with an exhibition at Al Najah University on December 1st. The winner of the competition, Wala Barham, took the first prize for a picture of Mar Saba, one of the oldest continuously inhabited monasteries in the world. “I am more than happy. I didn’t expect that I will be the winner. I simply wished to enjoy the outdoors and my hobby – photography. I wish that we will be able to repeat this kind of a great experience and hike again on the Abraham Path.” The second-place winner, Ahmad Tamim, and the third-place winner, Mohammad Karaka, won two free hikes with Masar Ibrahim Al Khalil.

Resilient Landscapes: Tel Ta’anek to Burqin

“The landscape is so dry!” was all I could think to myself as we left Jerusalem and headed north for the first of the Abraham Path’s weekly autumn hikes.

I had arrived in Jerusalem just two days ago, and for most of the last year I had lived in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. There, on hikes or mountain bike rides through dense Appalachian forests, I often had the sense that I was traveling through a series of green tunnels. Prior to that I had lived in Bosnia and Herzegovina and there rarely had to carry more than a liter of water on hikes because of the plentiful, potable mountain springs.

Now what I saw before us was an expanse of harsh, rocky hills rolling down to the Jordan River Valley to the east.

Beautiful, but barren.

How could anything grow here?

Yet when we arrived at the beginning of our hike in Ta’anek – a village of 1,000 people in the northern part of the Jenin Region – and set out on foot, we immediately entered a hardy grove of olive trees that had managed to flourish there for hundreds, if not thousands, of years in the dry rocky soil.

Just a little further up the trail, around a bend, we entered a stand of almond trees. While muted now after the hot, dry summer, our guide Mohammed assured us that they would be beautiful and in bloom in the spring after the winter rains.

Another of our guides, Ahmad, taught me the names in Arabic. Olive tree was zatoun. Almond was los.

“Only zatoun and los here,” Ahmad laughed as I recited the names of the trees as I saw them.

Zatoun

Los

Zatoun, zatoun, los…

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A couple hours later, after winding our way around the outskirts of Ta’anek and another local village, Mohammed stopped beside a small, leafy bush half his height. “All the plants here are central parts of our daily lives. This one here, serlis,” he pointed out the bush, “we even mention it when we have weddings.”

He smiled, “Before the wedding the mother of the groom sings this song to him.” Mohammed then sang a few lines of a local tune in wonderfully melodious voice.

When he finished he roughly translated the text to English (which unfortunately can’t convey the clever rhyme of the original Arabic):

“Mother: Where did you take your shower?

Groom: Under the shadow of the serlis.”

We chuckled. I thought about weddings and the serlis, and I thought about the resiliency of the flora and the resiliency of the people of this region.

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I thought about our guide Mohammed and the resiliency of his humor.

Earlier in the hike he had told me about his failed attempt to enter a master’s program in archeology in Great Britain.

“While I was studying in Nablus, a Palestinian archeologist teaching in Great Britain noticed me. He invited me to study there, assured me that he had the appropriate paperwork lined up, and asked me to take the TOEFL test.” He flashed me a grin before delivering the punchline, “I swear he waited until I got my mark before he died of cancer!”

I thought about the resiliency of the people in this region that had allowed them to thrive here for thousands of years.

In Ta’anek before we started walking, Mohammed had explained a bit about the town’s history. “Everyone thinks that history began with the Bible,” he joked, “but caravans have been passing through this region from town to town for many thousands of years. This little town of Ta’anek is mentioned in Egyptian records as early as 4,000 B.C.E. These caravan routes were the reasons why Abraham’s path took him through this area.”

Later as we arrived weary in Burqin, George Rishmawi, Executive Director of Masar Ibrahim, introduced us to the local Byzantine Era Orthodox Church, now nearly 2,000 years old. “This is the third-oldest church in the world and the fifth Christian holy place,” he noted. At this site Jesus had purportedly healed 10 lepers held in quarantine.

I thought about the tough resiliency of the people there today as they continue to carve out homes from one of the hillsides and still have the grace to offer ice water to travelers trudging by.

Riding home I had new appreciation for that dogged, resilient life that surrounded us.

Kulli, kulli! Eat, Eat!

“Kulli! Eat!”

Just barely remembering my manners, I uttered a quick “Shukran,” before taking my first bite, thanking the Palestinian woman placing heaping plates of rice and chicken and stuffed grape leaves on the table in front of me. My gratitude was entirely genuine, and I began to shovel the food down rapidly, eager to replace the last 15 kilometers’ worth of calories. As one of the local guides reached across the table to load up his dish with seconds, he paused, observed all of us in the midst of our feeding frenzy, and smiled. “We have an old Palestinian saying,” he told us. “It’s something like…” he struggled for a moment, searching for the best way to convey the heart of the proverb in English. “It’s something like, ‘As much as you love, this is how much you will eat.’” And, having shared this with us, he shamelessly scooped another mountain of the delicious, home-cooked food onto his plate.eatting

We laughed, agreeing that our appetites had rendered us a pretty loving bunch after our first day hiking on the new Jenin section of the Abraham Path. But the old proverb stuck with me over the next five days, repeating itself frequently in my mind. As much as you love, this is how much you will eat. I was reminded of the phrase later that night, when I sat on the couch with our homestay family in their living room. Next to me sat the family’s grandmother, her face tanned and weathered from 80 years of Middle Eastern sunshine but her eyes still alert and curious and her mouth more given to grinning than to any other expression. Noticing I had finished my (third) bowl of popcorn, she grabbed her own bowl and – despite my protestation – patted me on the back as if to assure me that I would not starve and began to pour half of her own popcorn into my bowl, her rheumatic hands shaking and causing the plates to clink together cheerfully as she did so.

I thought of the saying again as we came to Arabe village and wound our way through the narrow, stone alleyways of the old city. Upon our arrival, two of our hosts from the village immediately brought us a staggering spread of delicious foods they’d been preparing for us all day: musakkhin and mujaddara and harisi, all these previously foreign words which now awaken in me a rumbling stomach and extra-active salivary glands. We thanked the women profusely; they smiled and nodded their understanding. Both chatted with us a bit, occasionally stumbling over a word in English. One of them laughed apologetically, “I’m not so good at English. Cooking food for people – that’s what I’m good at.”

zatarAnd I was reminded of the proverb repeatedly as I walked the trail itself with our local guides. As we traversed the countryside – now drowning in fields of wildflowers up to our waists, now victoriously summiting a stunning mountain, now poking around in ancient stone dwellings – our guides would periodically dart into the surrounding vegetation, emerging with some apparently edible piece of nature and urging us to try it with that ubiquitous Arabic demand: “Kulli, kulli! Eat, eat!” They would then proceed to describe the traditional dishes their wives and mothers and grandmothers had made from the plant; and often, they would supplement this gastronomic instruction with an old folk tale or song featuring the plant. Traditional foods, connectedness with the land, cultural heritage…they are all tangled one with another, the guides told us.

foodAs much as you love, this is how much you will eat. The longer I walked the path, the more I began to understand this correlation. Even if our guide hadn’t shared the proverb with us – even if I hadn’t heard it put into so many words – I think I would still have intuitively felt the truth behind this sentence. I couldn’t have missed it. The spirit of hospitality and community and connection is as alive around the Palestinian table today as it was thousands of years ago when Abraham invited weary travelers to join him for a meal in the shade of the oak trees.

Across the West Bank on Foot

There are few places in the world where a good walk can be as stimulating to body and soul as the Palestinian West Bank. That may be a surprise to many, but six years after I took up hiking its valleys and hillsides, these high rewards remain. Here, perhaps like nowhere else, a physical escape up into the hills is also a mental climb down the ladders of prejudice — about what this part of the world is and what it can be.

We wake up in the pretty town of Sebastia and walk towards the village of Arabe on a new section of the Masar Ibrahim, as the Abraham Path is called in the West Bank. Both places are living testaments to the layers and tides of empire that have moved forth and back for over 3,000 years. Their remnants are immense Roman walls, Greek defense towers, and a Herodian palace. And then there is the Hejaz railway that once connected Damascus to Medina with branches to Haifa and Nablus. One of the largest infrastructural works of its time, it collapsed in 1917 just prior to completion. And along with it went another empire. Today, with its tracks long gone, it is a walking trail that snails around the hills of the northern West Bank.

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Near Sebastia: Ottoman railway station reconquered by nature

Our walk in between these places passes through silver-green olive orchards, mixed every so often by almond, apricot and fig trees. Mysterious holy shrines dot the hilltops we pass on our walk — the places where for centuries holy men were revered by people of different faiths seeking cures for their ailments, forgiveness or council. After climbing for a good two hours we reach such a shrine, that of a Sheikh called Bayzeed. Our guide Mohammed tells the story of the renowned Palestinian physician who wrote about the “superstitious” beliefs of his patients and their stubborn refusal to take modern medicine for simple ailments. His resolution was not just to provide pills, but to also send his patients on a walk up to these scared shrines. There, his patients were to ask for a blessing over these pills prior to taking them. Only through a fusion of modern medicine and traditional beliefs did the people oblige.

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In Arabe: restored Ottoman castle

Arriving in Arabe at the end of the day we stay with a local family. The parents speak little English but proudly gaze as their five children engage the strange bunch of American, French, Canadian, British and Dutch guests who will sleep in their home that night. The conversation meanders between their family history, world cup football and the popularity of the local Arab American University where the eldest daughter, Zeina, has learned near perfect English. A Harry Potter book lies on the shelve. I ask her 15-year-old brother, Adham, what he likes to read. “Shakespeare and Marlow”, he says. I think I’m dreaming. A thought crosses my mind: “I used to read that in high school…” Close behind lurks another thought: “They read it too?” Adham explains how he deals with the curiosities of 16th century English poetry: He translates it online. Other than that, foreign visitors to Arabe provide for good conversation practice.

After our group of hungry walkers takes in a feast of a home-cooked meal, Zeina uploads pictures of our group to Facebook. She befriends, tags and shares. Within moments, the Abraham Path family I stayed with last October in Kisas, Turkey, is connected to the hospitality in Arabe, Palestine. Exactly a hundred years ago these villages were part of the same grand empire, with a grand railway project about to spark a travel revolution. Almost. Now four impassable borders separate them. They speak different languages. And yet they are connected. Arab Spring and Winter. Muslims fighting Muslims. The fate of dwindling Christian communities. Occupation. Big themes in the Middle East; sad stories that incessantly cross the world in nano-seconds. They are real stories. But so is Adham’s world of Harry Potter and Marlowe. And his ability to reach out to that world and that world to him. In nano-seconds or through a day’s walk across the West Bank.

Photography by Evan Bryant and Joris van Winckel