The Story of Fatmah Haj

This is the story of Fatmah Haj (Um Ihab). Aged 71, she decided to join a basket weaving course in the Sindyanna of Galilee Visitors and Workshop Centre in Kufr Manda. She now works and learns with Jewish and Arab women.

Fatmah was born in the village of Kaukab Abu-Alhija in the lower Galilee. Like many women of her generation, she was married at 17, to a local man. For about fifteen years she worked as a teacher of art and craft in the village primary school. However, she had to leave her work in order to fulfil her obligations as a wife and mother. She says that her father, who was a high-school teacher, encouraged her and her sisters to study for a profession: “Every woman who went through high-school could be a teacher. It wasn’t necessary to go to college or university.” She adds that in the old days it wasn’t customary for women to continue with their studies; they would marry young and that was that.

Fatmah has three daughters, three sons and sixteen grandchildren. Her daughters all continued with their education and work outside the home. Lately, following her youngest son’s marriage, she started thinking about using her newly found free time productively; that was when she chose to join the basket weaving course in Sindyanna of Galilee’s visitors and workshop centre in Kufr Manda. “The first basket I weaved took me back years, to the time I taught craft at school. Sewing, basket weaving, crocheting, drawing on canvas and glass; I was greatly moved.” She adds, “It was wonderful to go back to craft work after so many years.”

Fatmah arrives at the workshop in Kufr Manda every week; she never misses a weaving meeting. Her fingers work fast and she progresses. But there is another side to her participation in weaving workshops, apart from the creative one:

“On the one hand I’m learning a new skill and doing things I haven’t done in years, and on the other I feel as though I’m using my time usefully. So I spend my time more usefully, instead of spending all day doing house work, when there’s only my husband and me at home, instead of sitting around with my neighbors, wasting time with talk and gossip. I tell my daughters about my weaving work with enthusiasm, I show them my work, which I continue at home, not just on the course. I really enjoy the weaving and other activities in the visitor’s centre, especially the Hebrew course which I have also joined.”