Few things drive me madder than Middle Eastern souvenir shops full of crap from China. In what way does a cheap plastic camel with big smoochy lips encapsulate the spirit of this quixotic region?
Which is why I fell in love with Ghada’s Corner, a tiny shop in Nazareth, Israel. It’s a colorful mélange of regional handmade crafts, instruments, tools and even homemade food— and everything it sells comes with a side of story, delivered by owner Ghada Boulos herself, a Nazareth native, licensed tour guide and storyteller.
You will find quality Palestinian products, including dresses and purses embroidered by women from Balata refugee camp, near Nablus. You’ll also find salt shakers from Armenia, fairies made by a local Jewish woman, crafts made by Turkish women, smooth cutting boards made with olive wood (a powerful symbol of the region’s agricultural legacy) and adorable felt decorations crafted by disabled residents of Bethlehem. And while Boulos cherishes her heritage, she said it’s not a Palestinian product shop. “I want everyone to feel welcome in Ghada’s Corner, to look at the products and appreciate them,” she said. “The source is the story.”
It took Boulos five years to find the right location for her shop, situated on a corner in the Old City. She wanted to create a meeting place where people could learn about the different cultures she has come to love. There’s also a sort of open diwan, a cozy seating area where visitors are invited to stick around for a while, and a tiny kitchen where Boulos serves hot and cold drinks, as well as traditional Palestinian treats. While everything I tasted was scrumptious (the anise cookies were my favorite), it is the story behind each recipe that gives the whole experience such flavor.
Combining her loves of language and anthropology, Boulos digs for the roots of words, harvests their origins and then shares the bounty with visitors. For example, she says, Palestinian women often sing a song about green sesame: “The green sesame fills the walls, let the shopkeeper open his doors.” Boulos recently learned that sesame farmers line harvested sesame pods against a wall to let the sun work its magic until a little “pop” signals that the seeds are ready. Thus the term “open sesame.” After unearthing an old bsisi recipe made with roasted sesame seeds, carob, olive oil and flour, Boulos started making and selling diminutive bsisi balls (three cost about $2.80). “The explanation is free,” she says.
Frankly, if you come a few days in a row, you might hear the same story twice, and delivered in the same way. Boulos says she has honed her storytelling devices over the years to reach people deeply. During my interview with her, a large group of Hebrew-speaking visitors packed the place to the brim and stood rapt for a good 15 minutes while she talked passionately about the origins of various products in the store. “In general, the locals are very curious,” Boulos says. “People die when they stop being curious.”
Go There: Ghada’s Corner
- Directions: Start at Mary’s Well (map), head southwest for about five minutes, passing Al Mutran and Michel Guest House. Ghada’s Corner is on the right side of the road. Since street names are not displayed in the Old City of Nazareth, it’s best to ask a local to direct you.
- Hours: 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. every day except Sunday; other hours by request.
- Pro Tip: Visit on a Friday while the rest of the city is praying. You just might have Boulos all to yourself.
Explore the world
This year, OZY is going Around the World, bringing you untold stories from every single country on the map, one day at a time, to introduce you to new people, new trends and new places.