Fairtrade on the fringes

15 Aug 2011 15:22

by Harriet Lamb, Executive Director, Fairtrade Foundation

Recently I went to watch comedian Mark Thomas’ one-man show: ‘Extreme Rambling’, which has also been published as a book from Ebury Press. Too often, learning more about the Palestinian situation is a one-way street to doom and gloom; you know you should but you cannot quite summon up the courage. If that is how you feel – I recommend Mark’s book and better still his show which is an absolute laugh, punctuated by moments of still sadness.

Mark is currently performing the show at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, after which there are further dates around the country. It is a very different kind of ‘fringe’ that he depicts in his book however.

Last year, Mark walked the length of the Israeli Separation Barrier, crossing between the Israeli and Palestinian side discovering what life is like for Israelis and Palestinians who help him on his way. Mark is an absolutely ace story-teller – he positively leaps around populating the stage with a cast of larger than life characters from the young Israeli conscripts who bring out his fatherly instincts,  to the B&B owner with stone Snow White and the seven dwarves, and the Palestinian workers smuggling themselves across the barrier to find work. No-one is spared his witty take on life – least of all himself, going into this conflict area armed only with Kendal Mint Cake and a box of blister plasters - and so no-one is a caricature. Along the way, we get a glimpse into life on the West Bank today, and learn the history without even noticing.

Everywhere he goes, the Palestinians live up to their legendary hospitality. At one picnic, his guide Mustafa brings out fresh oven-baked bread, thyme and the olive oil of which farmers are so proud; Mark like the true Brit rambler that he is, provides the Pringles!

Along the way, Mark meets Taysir Arabasi, with ‘the swept-back hair of a romantic lead, and the white jumper and black padded gilet of a market stall holder’. Taysir, who has himself organised a protest walk along the wall, is the Palestinian Director of Zaytoun, the company selling Fairtrade olives and olive oil. And Mark has been generous in his support of Fairtrade. As his show tours the country, he has allowed local Fairtrade campaigners to come and run stalls with information about Fairtrade and selling Zaytoun goods – the olive oil is delicious and I thoroughly recommend the smoked almonds, and big nuggetty couscous which, once you’ve tasted that, puts ordinary couscous in the shade for ever (you can buy these delicious products at Mark’s Edinburgh shows!). What’s more, he has donated the proceeds from the sale of the programme to Zaytoun who have used the money so far to host Palestinian producers during Fairtrade Fortnight and to employ someone in Palestine. So if you can get to see his show, I thoroughly recommend it – but failing that, buy his book and settle down from a good arm-chair ramble and a laugh.

To win one of 5 signed copies of Mark Thomas’ new book, ‘Extreme Rambling’ published by Ebury Press, email us with the answer to this question: Name two Fairtrade certified products that come from farmers in Palestine?

Send your answer, along with your full name and postal address to competition@fairtrade.org.uk by 2 September 2011. Winners will be chosen at random and notified by 5 September.

Image: Fairtrade olive farmer Mahmoud Issa © Simon Rawles 2008

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