The Olive Harvest

October 7th, 2009

olives“Stand still! Ok, look at me…” my aunt aims her new red Samsung digital camera at me, as I stand in the olive tree.

“Who would think you would come from America to pick olives!” We’re going to send this to your mom in America!” She thrusts a freshly broken olive branch into my hand.

I balance on the thickness of this hundred-year-old tree, holding the branch like the Statue of Liberty’s torch. I peer down through the branches and the skinny leaves into the camera and pose. Through the branches, I can see teta as she sits and gathers the olives that have built up in piles on the tarp with her big hands, chipped bronze nail polish. Her legs spread before her in a V. Squirming beside her are my three kid-cousins who shovel through bags of potato chips that they just bought with grandma’s liras.

They are not humored by the olive picking; they find it “boring.” We bribe them to pick out the good olives that are mixing with the bad ones on the blue tarp. Five-thousand liras per bucket! And so they scurry and fill and then find a shortcut by filling their bucket from the already picked buckets full of the good olives. They are savvy. In the end, we give them their fees. After all, they are only kids looking for a bit of entertainment. My uncle stands on the ladder and furiously rakes bunches of olives from the branches with his hands. He softly disciplines the kids from time to time.


My uncle’s wife works on her own at a small tree. She too is small at no more than five feet and one hundred pounds. Her face flushes a deep red, but she says nothing. I almost forget she is there. She is good with her tiny hands, but only has been able to prove it within the confines of a village. Her beauty shop, which was stationed near the steep road up the mountain, was closed after the July 2006 war with Israel. It wasn’t hit or anything. But, it wasn’t time for waxes or facials, or her favorite – skin peels. But though the war was a practical and timely excuse, this wasn’t all. The collapse of such endeavors is not only because of war, as many Lebanese (and those who know Lebanese) often take comfort in sweepingly claiming. Other things happen. The villagers see you talking to the next- door barbershop owner, taking breaks and laughing. Your clients complain too much and tell you how to do your job. “No, no, the eyeliner should be thicker.” These things can break you if you are too weak. When you know that you cannot possibly change people’s minds and you feel as though the village has a grip on who you can be, well then you close up shop and go home.

Our village.

Our village.

But home is where you will find the villagers living in earshot. The ones who know what your mother’s grandmother said fifty years ago. The ones who wish you diplomas and marriage and a home, and kids soon after. The ones who know the sound of your car engine. The ones who altogether mourn the loss of a fellow villager. The ones who will gawk at that short skirt you’re wearing while selling you a bag of bread. The ones who know when your menstrual cycle should begin (remember, earshot – no joke!). The ones who make you feel safe that there will always be an eye on your kids, wherever they are playing in the village. The ones who make your life a reality TV show with all their watching and gossiping. The ones you can love and hate. The ones who are so much a part of your history, your blood. They’re the ones who are draped around their family’s olive trees, adjacent to your family’s lot where your grandfather soon arrives in his energetic way.

Three months ago, jido quit smoking five packs a day although he was energetic then too. My grandmother asked him if he had eaten and handed him a manouche. It is startling – this mundane exchange – for I have not seen them communicate directly for a year. The olives go everywhere as I pull and pick. She hands him a manouche with cheese. And I see him smile. She is shy. I remember years ago when he said, “Your grandmother is the best,” and she had smiled coyly and held her head up as she served us the usual lavish meal. It has been awhile, but here under the zietouni, the silence is broken.

I would like to read: Zeitoun, by Dave Eggers – a new book…Review

6 Responses to “The Olive Harvest”

  1. I didn’t know you where such an amazing writer. I really enjoyed reading this excerpt into your life. I have dreamed of picking Olives in Lebanon. I truly envy you. As you can imagine I grew hearing stories about the meditative and tranquil experience of picking Olives. It is a staple of the culture and God willing next year I will do it. When you write about how she thrusts a freshly broken olive branch into your hand and the need to send a picture of this to your mother instantly reminded me of a few passages from Khalil Gibran’s book The Broken Wings. These excerpts talk about not just the Olive trees but that tranquility and the human family connection I assume you got while there. For whats its worth here are a few of those excerpts.

    In the midst of the gardens and hills which connect the city of Beirut with Lebanon there is a small temple, very ancient, dug out of white rock , surrounded by olive, almond, and willow trees.

    I left my solitary abode and walked to his home, taking a new route, a lonely path between olive trees, avoiding the main road with its rattling carriage wheels.

    Anyway I look for to reading the rest of the posts!!

  2. CJ says:

    Rima, Rima, Rima…I had forgotten how well you write..I really can’t wait to read your first novel..I know there is one in you! I will be looking forward to one of the first copies autographed by a famous best selling author! You know how I love a good book! Get busy on it will ya?

  3. Rima says:

    Thanks for your replies Alex and CJ!

    I appreciate you reading :)

  4. zane says:

    This is very enjoyable and engaging writing. I started reading and could not but ignore the work I am supposed to be doing. I know this blog will be marked among my favorite sites. Look forward to reading more!

  5. Angie McQ says:

    I am really enjoying this.

  6. Kather says:

    This site is amazing! I am thoroughly enjoying reading all your experiences! Keep the blogs coming!

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