Expat Magazine

Expat Surprise: No Olive Oil in the Holy Land?

By Miss Footloose @missfootloose

Wouldn’t you think that finding olive oil in Palestine would be easy?  Of course you would.  But I have news for you: It isn’t.  Well, it wasn’t for me when I first moved to the Holy Land and went in search of it.

Expat Surprise: No Olive Oil in the Holy Land?

Ancient olive trees in Hebron, Palestine

I love olive oil, and I was delighted at the thought of now being able to use the Biblical variety — you know, the kind kings were anointed with!  The kind the ten virgins were using in their lamps! Imagine!

So, soon after arriving in Ramallah, I went shopping to stock the kitchen with various needed supplies, including of course, olive oil.  Now, just walking around Ramallah is an adventure. The old center is a warren of a place, the narrow streets coming together at, and moving away from, numerous traffic circles.  Trust me, you’d better keep track of your whereabouts or getting lost is as certain as death and taxes.

Expat Surprise: No Olive Oil in the Holy Land?

Downtown Ramallah

Brisk commerce takes place along these narrow streets.  Shops of all sorts tempt the eye and nose: spice shops, coffee shops, jewelry shops, pastry shops and so on. (Middle Eastern pastries are in a league of their own, dripping with honey and butter and filled with nuts.  But let me not stray here.)

Brimming with enthusiasm, I went foraging for olive oil in a number of small grocery stores.  All of them carried bottles of oil: sunflower oil, corn oil, soybean oil, but, alas, no olive oil.  I was flummoxed.

And worried.  Had a plague of Biblical proportions descended on Palestine and destroyed all the olive trees?  Had I somehow missed this catastrophe on CNN?

Surely not.  I had simply not found the right store.  Seek and ye shall find.

Another day, another seeking in the shops.  No olive oil. I trust you understand, dear reader, that I was not going to live in Palestine and use corn oil from Texas, so my quest was taking on a distinct epic flavor.  But wherever I seeked, I found no olive oil.  Let me explain here that, having been in the country a mere few days, I was a language cripple, and had not a single Arabic word at my disposal.  Except inshallahInshallah, I would find olive oil.  But God was not willing.

The Holy Land without olive oil!  It was not to be contemplated.  So, what do you do when you have a perplexing question as an expat in a foreign land?  You find a local person who speaks your language and ask.  Of course!

Unfortunately I didn’t know any local person who spoke my language yet.  Fortunately my mate did.  So off he went to his office and asked his Palestinian co-workers: Pray tell, why is there no olive oil in the Holy Land?

Alhamdulillah! Ask and ye shall receive!  The next day we had a supply of oil to last us for months.  The oil came packed in a variety of un-Biblical containers, mostly recycled Coca Cola and SevenUp bottles.  And not only did we get oil, but a motherload of olives as well.  All given to us with love and generosity by our new Palestinian friends.

Turns out there’s plenty of oil in Palestine.  You don’t buy it in the shops because everybody has his own supply, straight from the home village.  And of course, everyone’s oil is the best in the land.  Needless to say, I agree.

Expat Surprise: No Olive Oil in the Holy Land?

Sorting olives

Never again did I suffer a lack of oil or olives in the Holy Land. Friends just kept bringing us more.  When we left to go to Ghana, West Africa, we were presented with copious amounts to see us through in the coconut-oil tropics.  We shipped it and enjoyed it for months.


NOTE:  This took place  some years ago and possibly the shops in Ramallah now carry commerically bottled olive oil.  I should ask my friends.  Or perhaps you’ve been there lately and can enlighten me.

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