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Vanishing Journey project: documenting the oral history of Nazareth

"The project is the first of its kind within the historical center of Nazareth which looks into the richness of the cultural heritage and the oral history and personal narratives."

Jerusalem24Riham Abuaita– The Vanishing Journey is a project documenting the oral history of the old City of Nazareth through walks, a paper, a pen, and reconnecting architecture with the human experience and the inhabitants of the city.

Dana Abbas, lead architect at RIWAQ and project coordinator of the “Vanishing Journey” project, tells Jerusalem24 that at the end of each tour, they would end up with an architectural drawing that documents the details of the place, capturing the features of the people of Nazareth and their memories. Their narratives carry the journey into the market, through the alleys of the market, and the neighborhoods.

“The Vanishing Journey” is the first comprehensive cultural project of RIWAQ beyond the Green Line, which they consider a starting point for different projects that can highlight the richness of Palestinian cultural heritage.

Abbas tells us, “It’s the first of its kind within the historical center of Nazareth which looks into the richness of the cultural heritage and the oral history and personal narratives within the historic center and takes us back to a time when the historic center and Souq in Nazareth were a busy area full of life, where villagers would come and trade their crops, the craftsmen were opening their workshops for visitors and buyers, it’s a time where the donkey was the main transportation means within the historic center.”

RIWAQ follows the steps of the vanishing donkey; in a way this is the vanishing history. Especially when the historic center of Nazareth is almost abandoned.

“Through culture these boundaries just dissolve, and you feel like you’re reclaiming these spaces and history.”

“The Vanishing Journey” was organized in a way to tackle the specificities of the site in Nazareth and was initiated by Nazareth-based “Muzayan studio”, who have been a part of several acts to rehabilitate and renovate different areas of the Souq. Abbas says they were keen to start a cultural project to bring life back to the Souq.

Abbas elaborates, “We try to collect stories about the buildings, so it’s not only about the buildings’ environment, or physical environment, or documenting and surveying the buildings, but it’s about how people attach themselves to these spaces, and how these spaces meant something to the society.”

“Collecting oral history was a main element in curating the public program of the project, as the project is based on curating different public interventions within the old city of Nazareth; music, singing, puppet shows, journeys and walks within the historic center…”

One of the walks RIWAQ organized was following the stories and memories of historian Naeela Libbees, and pharmacist Violet Khoury who had her pharmacy in the center of Nazareth for 45 years. “We walked in Sebat Al-Sheikh, a semi-closed space in the Souq, where Naeela used to live… And she was remembering her teenage years, listening to music and studying for her exams, then we went further in the alley where Violet was remembering a very famous doctor who had been a friend of hers… Then we visited the mosque plaza, which is the main public space in the Souq. There was a beautiful coincidence where Violet met a friend of hers and shared common stories and narratives about the area.”

The Vanishing Journey continued a place special to Naeela, which was the studio of her father, Nabeel, the first photographic studio in Nazareth: “Sharing stories of the studio and all the brides and grooms who were shot by her father… This is how we do it, following the stories of the people…”

Abbas says that the project is about opening up to the idea of documenting through different mediums.

“For us, sketching is a way to document these stories and make them approachable for everyone to read and enjoy in an interactive way. So we invited artists and a few people from Nazareth who are interested in sketching as a medium, and while we were following the footsteps of the narrators, Naeela and Violet, we were sketching the stories.”

“Stones are lives,” Abbas continues. “And they were built because people wanted to inhabit this place and make families and have a living, it’s about what it meant to the people. We believe that oral history is an integral part of documenting our cultural heritage.”

For Abbas who is a Palestinian living in the West Bank city of Ramallah, it was a journey in itself: it was her first time in Nazareth exploring the space and talking to the people.

Abbas adds, “Now we know the families and the areas and a lot of funny stories about memories of the people and certain characters, for me it was opening up a wide history and new geography I can relate to. I’m happy that we’re in a way are pushing geographical boundaries that try to separate and divide us as Palestinians: through culture these boundaries just dissolve, and you feel like you’re reclaiming these spaces and history. It’s very personal but very important for the collective memory of Palestinians.

The Vanishing Journey project is with the support of the Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development and under the supervision of Taawon.

Nadeen Alshaer

Alshaer is a Palestinian journalist, a Birzeit University graduate with a B.A. in TV and Radio Broadcasting Journalism. Alshaer has 6 years of experience in journalism. She currently works as a reporter, editor and presenter/producer for PBC-Palestine TV and Jerusalem24 radio. She’s a UN and Kelley School of Business alumna.

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