Reem Mawasy works on traditional Palestinian needlework at her home in Faradis

Reem Mawasy works on traditional Palestinian needlework at her home in Faradis

Needlework is a shared heritage

A teacher in Israel honours her heritage with traditional needlework

Sometimes when you travel everything is different, sometimes it’s reassuringly the same.

On a recent trip to Israel, I found what had always been in my mind Biblical villages were in reality busy cities with road and building construction everywhere.

People from around the world come to Israel to visit and live, with a variety of languages, food, clothing and customs.  There are plantations of bananas by the blue Mediterranean and a road sign that warns about camels crossing in the Dead Sea area. Grapes grow and tulips bloom in the Golan Heights and catfish swim in the Jordan River at one of the sites supposed to be where Jesus was baptized.

In this new and ancient, foreign and strangely familiar country, I was pleased to have the opportunity to meet Reem Mawasy, like me a woman who lives and works in the modern world but keeps in touch with tradition. My way is quilting, her way is through beautiful and intricate traditional Palestinian, Syrian and Italian embroidery.

“I liked it always since I was a little girl. I learned some stitches from my mother and then I learned on my own and from my aunts. Once I went to Jordan to learn from a woman who has made 800 traditional dresses,” said Mawasy, who has a master of education degree and is an art and Arabic teacher at a middle school.

Her work includes boxes, cushions, lamp bases, book covers, trays, coasters and picture frames, as well as children’s clothing.

“Whatever is linked to art I like — colour, design, line. I look at museums and books and explore the different styles. Now I am teaching younger and older women these styles,” she said.

“I think this is in my blood. I do so much because I work fast and I always want to see how it is going to turn out. My grandma used to have to tell me to go to sleep from sewing. It has become a custom with me, especially when I am not teaching in the summer. I sit in the cool breeze and do it for hour and hour until the night cools off. I do so many designs and now I am starting to work on my own designs.”

This summer, I will think of Reem doing her needlework as I do mine and about how, while many things are different all over the world, in many ways we are the same.

And, thank you, Reem, for sharing your love of needlework with me, showing me how much people have in common wherever they live in the world — and for teaching me how to make pitas.