star-crescented love

In daily dose on March 14, 2010 at 10:05 pm

It was Valentine’s Day and I, of course, was at UJ, going door to door in pursuit of happiness and, more immediately, a college email address.

As I climbed the millionth stair, I saw a girl there, on the floor up above. Our eyes met. We smiled. I doubt it was love.

I asked her a question. She didn’t know. Was I not from here? and I thought, does it show?

America, I said to unwonted applause. She gasped, clapped, laughed without pause.

My father studied his master’s there, in Iowa — yes, in Iowa somewhere!

With a 2-gallon purse on her shoulder, a snazzy phone in her hand, she flew down the stairs and bid me follow her down. Her Robin Hood boots treaded with an important gait. She had no class now; I wasn’t making her late.

We went from room to room on a scavenger hunt, but we made no progress, punt after punt.

Then, as my class drew near, she looked at her phone and said, Oh dear. I cannot spend any more time with you now. I cannot stay here. My boyfriend and I have a date, I fear.

Hijabis with boyfriends — well that’s something new. 

You know, she replied to my silence, Muslims can have boyfriends, too.

I wondered, then, if there was a space within the word. For boy friends and boyfriends are different, I’ve heard.

What brought us together was fate. I love him and he loves me — she left no room for debate.

And how did you meet? I wanted to know. Was it on the beach or under the snow?

We were at a picnic — my family and his. He saw me and I saw him — that’s how love is. Oh, it was perfect from the start. He was my knight in shining armor; yes, he stole my heart. (I figured there must be a mishap. Humans, not trees, were now dripping sap.) And our families have been friends a long-time. We are so made for one another, we practically rhyme. I mean, my parents dote on him, and he tried to propose — but until we graduate my father’s opposed. See, I have a boyfriend, but I’m not like those girls on the street, those girls who fall for some guy they meet.

Now it was all clear. She was a rebel indeed, on the wrong side of family, society and creed.

the rain fall

In daily dose on March 1, 2010 at 3:41 am

The man held up two fingers, one for each of his wives. Next, he held the tip of his index finger and shook it.

“She’s paralyzed, the waist down, can’t move. Go, bring your mother,” he instructed one of the children.

S, bint el hara (their neighbor), explained again that unfortunately we were not from an NGO. We were not here to build rooms or to give them better roofing. We were here only to document their conditions in hopes of conveying them to a broader audience. We would make no promises, for we could not keep them.

They didn’t believe us, I don’t think, for they kept asking if we’d taken their names down and if the help would know their address when it arrived.

The man’s present wife served us over-sweetened tea, but its sweet scent was lost amidst the overpowering smells of animal droppings. The steam rose doubly quickly, for we stood in the center of the house, an unpaved square that boasted two canopies — a leaky zinc one and another intangible one made of a material that turns red-orange but doesn’t rust.

Pheasants and chickens, also eager to avoid the rain, shared the small canopy with us. With hands cupped around our tea glasses, we watched as the sky showed off its various card tricks: thrusting weak spades into the muddy ground, slicing the air with rain sharp as diamonds, then slowing until it seemed the heart of the sky would stop pounding altogether.

One of the children, undeterred by the slings and arrows of outrageous weather, stood directly under the rain. There were three open-mouthed bins set out to collect rainwater for rainless rainy days. The bins were full to the brim. With water dripping down his face, he tried to wash his feet and sandals — an impossible feat, given that both would instantly be muddied as fast as they were cleaned. He ended up perching on one of the bins, his little sandal bobbing up and down beside him.

“Here she is — my wife,” the boy’s father commanded our attention once again. “Paralyzed feet, but no treatment.”

To my astonishment, the woman peered at us from behind the wooden gate, standing on her two allegedly paralyzed feet. We, all of us, looked at her mystified and expectant. Her husband waved her in. He wanted us to take a good look, to help her out.

As she came forward, it became clear that there was indeed a problem — not (what I understood to be) paralysis but something crippling nonetheless. She walked as if her feet had been incorrectly screwed on, as if her legs carried otherwise dead feet. We were paralyzed with dread as we saw her make what was, even to us, a perilous journey across the mushy shit-covered ground.

The rain had given the Arabic expression — zad itteen billah, made the soil wetter — a new (brown) shade of meaning.

Before we could locate a tray or a ready hand to rid us of our tea glasses, the woman had fallen. Hands and knees went into the slime, and she struggled to rise.

Why did her husband ask her to come across? Did he not know better? Why didn’t we move more quickly? I wanted to kick myself for just being there, for seeing that.

The sky cried hard, out of turn. Meanwhile, the woman, who had every right to weep — she looked at her muddied hand as if it did not belong to her, with dry, almost indifferent eyes.

In Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried, the narrator describes the exhausting search for a friend’s corpse in a river of mud and shit. Vietnam was just that, O’Brien implies, a river of mud and shit: slippery, malodorous, deep, unbreathable and hard to get out of.

Gaza Camp is not unlike.

As we prepared to leave this Saturday, an elderly man told us that, when we were 120-years old, we would remember him as a distant memory merely. I told him that I hoped the camp would be a memory, and I meant it.

I hope that in the camp’s place will be a flourishing city, a city able to stand tall, on strong stable feet. A city that doesn’t fall to its knees. A city like all others that, when promised rain, delights instead of wondering if perhaps this time it shall drown in its own waste.

tying the knit

In daily dose on March 1, 2010 at 1:52 am

We were at a bridal shower, shooting pointed questions at our friend the bride.

“What was your expression when he proposed? When you first heard he was gonna ask?”

She blushed, laughed and shook her head. And we thought, oh, how bashful. But we weren’t about to let bashfulness get in the way of a good story.

“I can’t!” she protested.

“You must!” we insisted.

She shrugged her shoulders with resignation.

“I can’t tell you because — I proposed to him.”

Cake forks settled on paper plates and all eyes converged on the bride.

Not every wedding story is as memorable as that. At most engagements, the stuff of novels is summarized in no more than five words: Our families knew each other. We grew up together. Our friends hooked us up.

Still, I’d never heard the rime from an ancient mariner.  (Actually, I don’t think I’d ever met an ancient mariner.) Two nights ago, however, A’s uncle, a sailor who traveled the seven seas, volunteered the story of his betrothal. His promised to be an interesting one for, in it, three siblings married three siblings.

Though the story involved a seven-year long engagement period and slight miscommunication between suitor and prospective father-in-law, and though it was told with the jocular good-humor of a seaman, the story itself was unremarkable. They proposed. They accepted. The rest was history.

“It was naseeb (destiny), and my naseeb was hiloo (sweet),” he said as he admired his wife with young eyes.

His daughter — a wife and mother herself — moved among us with a tray of Turkish coffee. Someone asked for more sugar.

“Did she say she wants more sugar?” ‘Ammu asked his wife. And though she had her hand cupped over her mouth, her eyes smiled through their thin-frame glasses as if she knew what was coming.

“Well,” he turned to the sweet-tooth, “have my wife dip her finger in it and you won’t be needing any sugar.”

All this got me to thinking that, yes, the initial stitches may have been unremarkable, but the elaborate work done since is beyond remarkable. These were two knitting needles that produced some of the finest work I’ve seen in Jordan. And though the years may have aged everything else around them, they seem to be strong, straight and shiny as ever.

The work this pair weaved between them over the course of these years — these children and grandchildren, this home — these I hope will always warm them because, for what it’s worth, on a cold night in February, they certainly warmed me.