At 8:30, we were to meet up with fellow volunteers in Birzeit the village, in front of some building we passed about 3 times. We were ready! We had our frozen water, sun block smeared onto our faces like a second skin, caps, sunglasses, ipods, wet wipes, cameras, etc. When we first went to sign up a couple of days ago at the student affairs office, the list was long. However, there was only a few people straggling around. Yeah, that piece of information wasn't important or interesting, sorry. Anyhoo, we piled into the cars of the farmers and other volunteers, and we were taken to a stretch of land that had 40 olive trees. The family owning the land were hard at work already. Since we're so friendly looking, we made quick friends with the daughters and sons, who informed us that during this time of the year, they're up at 4 am and return home only once the sun has set, for four consecutive days. Some have to take a few days off from school or their universities, and apparently, our university faculty aren't so lenient or understanding about that. Shame, considering all the sanctimonious crap they spew out, with us being the representatives of a wonderfully cultured traditional land, and how olives are the symbol of symbolism, and how it is our job, nay our duty to follow through with the correct representation of yada yada yada.
We got to work immediately, dividing ourselves roughly into two groups working on two trees. It was fun, and for a while the only sound heard was the plopping of the olives as they rained down on the canvas sheets spread underneath and around the trees. The first hour and half went by pretty quickly--it's true what they say: the most work gets done in the early morning. As we got to know the family more (a father, three daughters, and two sons), we truly began to appreciate what they do. Picking olives is HARD. It starts off as being fun, hanging around the outskirts of the trees, but then you cannot move on to another tree until every singly olive has been picked. This is no exaggeration either, EVERY SINGLE OLIVE must be picked. We amused ourselves by climbing onto ladders then going more primordial by scaling the upper tree branches, but lordy the sun was fierce and we felt dizzy and heavy-headed and with all the sweat dust and dirt clinging to us, suddenly the hours seemed long and distant. Getting attacked by freaking giant mutant grasshoppers broke the monotony a bit. We feel proud that we didn't dance around screaming like our heads were on fire. Cool as ice baby.
The family were as generous and as hospitable as you could imagine; at around 11 we all sat down to eat a late breakfast that consisted of humus, bread, salads, cake, omelettes, and sardines. After that, the father went off to pray the Friday prayers, and his offspring pretended to laze around, all the while cracking us up as they demonstrated their dynamic relationships between each other and their making fun of some random man who we initially thought was part of their family. Turns out that said random man was there out of his own goodwill, but he couldn't keep his trap shut, bossing everyone around and acting like he had much more experience than everyone else. He'd go around beating the branches with a stick so that in a matter of seconds, we were all under a haze of shimmering dust, coughing and simultaneously glaring at his pretentious self. The father and the other guys came back from prayer, and went on working with us. We loved the father, who is now 3mo to us. Such a sweet kind gentle soul-we'd pick olives for him next year for nothing. The sun by now was heavy and close and burning a hole right through our brains, so our initial enthusiasm turned into lethargy, to the point where we just sat on the canvas and started throwing olives into a bucket after de-twigging them, all the while not minding the thousand and one white spiders having a field day around us.
We have such renewed enormous respect and appreciation for those families who work tirelessly and without so much of a murmur of complaint for very long hours. We have friends whose families own land who hate this time of the year precisely because it's such hard work, but as long as the company and atmosphere are great, we really don't mind. Sure, taking a nap under one of the shaded trees was what we fantasized during our lethargic state, but there's something special about picking olives. We didn't mind the fact that our hands and arms were stained reddish brown streaked with the oil of a few crushed olives, or that each tree took as many as three hours to be completely stripped. Internationals/ajnabiyeen, some independently others in coordination with NGO's love helping out too. Cut off from the sound of cars and streets, being rooted in land made of red earth so carefully cultivated and cared for, making new friends and chatting companionably away, we felt more love and pride for our country. Not to regurgitate all the wasted symbolism of olive trees land and country to nationalism, we felt intense love and pride for who we are.