Yesterday, I experienced olive picking for the first time. We went to Beit Leid, a village of 8,000, to help a family pick their trees. It was actually a lot of fun even though it involved hard work and long hours. In a sort of masochistic way, I realized I really enjoy physical labor. I never really realized this before, but I remember loving the exhaustion that being on an archaeological dig brought. I always felt accomplished, as if I had earned how exhausted I felt. And I had the same feeling after picking olives from 7 in the morning to 5 at night. We had a few breaks, of course, but I never got tired of picking them. I slacked a bit at the end after our meal on the hill, but never once was I bored. I got to climb trees, throw olives down on tarp below, lie down under a tree, and experience something vital to Palestinian culture.
Olives are the main source of income for a lot of the villages and they claim their olive oil is the best in the world. The olive trees are also at the center of the conflict between settlers and villagers. Settlers, in their attempt to confiscate land and damage a village’s economy, often burn or cut down their olive trees. This is detrimental because an olive tree has to grow for at least ten years before it will grow olives. It has been a damaging technique used since ancient times. We did not experience any settlers, thankfully. Our international presence was supposed to urge them to stay away, due to the fact we can take pictures and report.
We even had a “wrangler” of sorts to start us out in the morning. Umm Nour’s (mother of Nour) sister would ride with her son to take us up the hill. She shouted “Yulla, yulla!” (c’mon, c’mon!) at the house as we were finishing our coffee. We piled into the car and she continued to shout in Arabic and laugh, and she very soon become my favorite old crazy person. I assumed she was coming picking with us, but when her son stopped on the hill, we all got out and she waved goodbye as her son drove them off. She had been there merely for the ride, which made it even funnier. Sure enough, she was there to greet us in the car when her son came to pick us up. As the car came upon some sheep herders and their flock, she opened the window to shout at them to hurry up and move, shouting “Itla, itla!”. We lovingly nicknamed her Yulla. This was one of my favorite days here so far.