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Baking bread with Najiha

A deep metal tray brimming with rising bread dough in hand, Najiha emerges from her home. Her youngest daughter, Taghred, is by her side. Najiha disappears around the corner for a moment, returning with a bowl of flour, ground from wheat grown in their fields at the foot of the village in Yanoun (in the Palestinian Territorities).

Karin Brown kneads dough with Najiha’s sister, Tammam.
Karin Brown kneads dough with Najiha’s sister, Tammam.
Ten steps from her front door lies a crude construction that houses her underground oven of hot rocks. With a stick Najiha pushes aside the mound of ashes covering the oven's lid. This thick blanket of gray has kept the rocks inside warm in preparation for the morning's bread-baking. She takes a ball of dough, flattens it on a second tray, lifts it and between her hands works it in the air, stretching it into a large round shape. With the oven's lid removed, she flips the pizza-shaped dough onto the hot rocks and replaces the lid.

While the first bread or taboun bakes, Najiha's husband, Kemal, arrives. He carries a pot of freshly brewed black tea with sage and a plate of homemade sheep cheese. Najiha places the chunks of cheese inside the oven at the edge of the baking bread. After some minutes she hands her husband the cheese (browned on all sides) and the warm taboun. The bread's texture is chewy where thick and crisp where thin. Breakfast is served.

Gathered around the outdoor oven this Friday morning, people experience a quiet start to a day off from school and work, a day meant to be shared with family. This morning's bread-baking ritual began the night before as Najiha's eldest daughter prepared the dough, a straightforward combination of whole wheat flour, water, yeast and salt kneaded for nearly 30 minutes and requiring obvious arm strength. Every day the women make seven or eight rounds of taboun. Some have their own oven. Others share theirs with a family member. All here prefer it to the comparatively pricey and tasteless white pita bread made in town.

As Najiha finishes baking her bread, Kemal's sister arrives ready with dough for her family. As the bread continues to bake, the women talk and coffee is poured. Kemal sings a song, his hum sustained, lingering in the air. Looking into the distance, just above the smoke rising from his cigarette, Kemal's eyes settle on the Israeli outpost lining the ridge overlooking Yanoun. It is a momentary reminder that the villagers aren't alone, and Kemal sings on.

Brown's views are personal and do not necessarily reflect those of her organizations, the ELCA or the WCC.

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Discuss outreach:

Jeff Wild
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This week on our blog:

Andrea Pohlmann writes about Pentecost.

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Sonia Solomonson (right) asks "Why Mother's Day?"

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