Story by Samar Khrawish, Summer 2018

Olive trees and their produce have always been a part of my identity. Olive trees, olives, and olive oil have been incorporated in my life on many different levels, but all for similar purposes. The theme of healing is recurring in my cultural practices and family stories surrounding olive trees. The plant itself is often associated with healing, identity, and peace. Some of its healing properties have been supported by science while others have yet to be scientifically proven. For instance, a story that has been told in my family that signifies this pseudoscience is when someone has a cut, they should tie a string around the bark of an olive tree to encourage the cut to heal properly.

The oil that comes from olive trees is one of the most widely used healing elements in my family. It is used to strengthen, lengthen, and heal hair. It can be massaged onto any part of the body that aches or is sore to aide in the process of healing. It is also used as a syrup to soothe a sore throat and as a balm to smooth out the digestive system. Even when healthy, people in my culture will still use olive oil in any of these ways as a preventive measure.

The sacredness of the olive tree is something that has been ingrained in me since I was a child. One memory opened my eyes to the sacredness my family bestows on the olive tree. In the summer of 2004 in Palestine, I was seven and my brother was five. We had a field of olive, fig, and almond trees in our backyard that we would climb on and play around in. At some point, we began picking the olives off of the tree and threw them at one another. A few minutes into it, my mother came out, saw the olives on the ground and, of course, reprimanded us. I remember how upset she was and she proceeded to explain how much damage we caused with our actions. In that moment I began to comprehend just how important the olive tree was to our identities and culture.

Truth be told, all these healing elements seemed very mythical to me at a young age. I think my skepticism came from the fact that I grew up in Chicago but spent only some of my summers in Palestine, which created a gap between my identities. However, the olive tree’s benefits, produce, and sacredness were all constant in my life across these different spaces and identities. The uses of this plant and all of its components is knowledge I know I will carry for the rest of my life.