Ruqqaya comes in like a gust of wind. She stops, hesitating just for a moment. Then she advances again, resolved. All the family is behind her, silent and attentive to every word and move: sons, daughters, grandchildren, sons and daughters-in-law, cousins and relatives. To her, the As Samou’ Cultural Centre has no secrets.
“This is my father’s home and, before him, my grandfather’s. My family, together with my uncle, my father’s brother, inherited it from my grandfather.” She moves lightly and quickly despite her age and here, among the hosh’s stones where she was born and bred, everyone is listening.
“This house is really ancient. My grandfather built it, piece by piece. Every new room meant something. Everything you see today, everything, was born from one marriage after another. The family first started living in the caves, under the ground level, because they were safe places. Then, little by little, the family grew and new rooms were built. At one point we were about 20 people living here. At that time, we were a wealthy family and we had livestock: cows and camels.”Ruqqaya stops for a moment, takes a breath. She looks at the main entrance and smiles. “See, there are two doors which become one. One for the people, but the bigger one was for the camels!”
A laugh erupts from the audience. They have never stopped listening. Ruqqaya’s words and gestures redraw a map of the place, the restored hosh which today has become a Cultural Centre. What today is the room on two levels for the storytelling workshops for the kids, was once a livestock shed: the animals downstairs used to keep the people upstairs warm during the cold nights of As Samou’.
“With the day labourers and others helping out, in the end we were even 30 people: ploughing, seeding and growing plants as a means of livelihood. People rarely bought anything: they only did this when they couldn’t get it from the land. We have always lived here, as long as my father and uncle were alive. It was nice. Today these walls are full of memories for me.”
Ruqqaya’s eyes are bright behind her glasses. She adjusts her veil to conceal a moment of melancholy. But it soon goes away. She smiles again, radiant. “My sister and I got married on that terrace!”, she says pointing at where today there are two beautiful rooms for the travellers and the space for the Centre’s music and dance shows.
“I am so happy about this restoration. Little by little, over the years, we left, following our sons and daughters towards new lives, new homes, new cities. This house was about to be destroyed, demolished, forgotten. Today it has come to life anew for the whole city. It’s great,” Ruqqaya says, looking around with satisfaction.
“It will be everyone’s home! Music, life and laughs will be part of it again. It is our Palestinian identity: the old houses, our rooms, this is all our heritage, this is us, Palestinians. These houses are our origins. We started from here. In As Samou’ there are no rivers or sea. But this city is the symbol of Palestine, and if someone is willing to know Palestine, he or she should visit As Samou’ and its traditional houses.”
That same day, one of Ruqqaya’s brothers brought a gift. A bottle with the picture of the founder of the family and some sand from Saudi Arabia. Their family arrived many years ago from there, and some of them went back there, after many generations, to live and work in Saudi Arabia. But in that bottle there is a link, a story and a message which keeps passing from one generation to another. And the house today has started to live again, ready to receive new stories.