Just outside the Christian church, the Basilica of the Annunciation, there is a very busy Nazareth Market. A more accurate name and one that connects better with antiquity is bazaar. The word bazaar comes from a Persian (Iranian) word for a permanent location where many goods are sold. They are not brick and mortar stores like malls but minimally constructed marketplaces with no real front wall. Their goods spill out into the walkways, displayed in plastic buckets and containers that can be pulled back into the store at closing time. Bazaars are seen all over the world today but are most popular in the Middle East.
A souq or souk is a similar marketplace or commercial quarter in Western Asian and North African cities. The names bazaar, market, and souk refer to the same experience.
Bazaar vendors sell a wide variety of goods, including olives, nuts, freshly squeezed juice, pomegranates, citrus, bananas, melons, meat, candy, cooking utensils, comic books, clothing, beads, and Nazareth and religious souvenirs. Every square inch of bazaar stores is covered. The Nazareth Bazaar sells just about everything a Nazarene needs for daily living and also, because of proximity to the Basilica of the Annunciation, sells Christian, Jewish, and Muslim tourist mementos.
Vendors are small businessmen and stores are often manned by one person. If there are no customers, the vendors stand by the entrance and try to entice people to come in and look at their goods.
In this 90% Arab and Muslim town, obvious Westerners like me couldn’t have been treated better. One Arab Muslim lady tried to get us to come in her store. We said we weren’t interested. She saw we were eating grapes we bought from another vendor and she said, give me those. She walked to the back of her store with the grapes and asked us to follow. She washed the grapes off at her sink and gave them back - a grandmotherly thing. We saw acts of kindness and humanity like this all over Nazareth, Israel, and Jordan.
We struck up conversations with many Arabs, Muslims, Jews, and Christians across Israel and Jordan. Some were tourists from all over the world and some were local citizens trying to make a living to feed their families. And some were young boys who just wanted to have their photo taken with Westerners. They didn’t ask for a copy but they did seem overjoyed to view the photos on the camera’s LCD.
Many people left us with a short prayer for peace. One older Jewish shop owner wearing a suit and a yamaka (Yiddish spelling: yamulke) apologized for his poor English but managed to leave us with three slowly, carefully pronounced English words – I Want Peace. His English message came through loud and clear. I want peace, too.